Hear that lonesome bugle blow

By Posted on Mar 02 2019 | By

March 9th fundraiser to aid restoration of North American Elk

In 1855, a hunter took careful aim at a lone elk in southwest Virginia. Resting his sights carefully on the 700-pound bull he slowly squeezed off a shot and unknowingly dropped the last elk in Virginia.

Thus ended centuries of the regal animal’s existence in the Old Dominion.

The exact nature of the last elks’ demise here is conjecture but for certain it was a combination of hunting pressure and loss of habitat that saw the noble Cervus elaphus fade from our mountains and valleys.

Much like the buffalo who would be brought close to extermination in the late 1880s by professional buffalo hunters who slaughtered up to 250 animals a day, elk had the unfortunate luck to thrive and die in an era when killing wild game was dictated by hunger…or greed.

But there is a Warrenton resident who has spent 29 years tirelessly working to reestablish elk throughout the U.S., with an emphasis on Kentucky, North Carolina, and especially Virginia.

It’s a success story that many are only vaguely aware of and positions both wildlife enthusiasts and hunters for unique outdoor experiences for generations to come.

Meet Danny Smedley, a retired senior manager for an electronic funds transfer company, who ignited his passion for elk and elk hunting 29 years ago when he picked up a magazine called Bugle, published by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation headquartered in Missoula, Montana.

“I was out in Yellowstone on a family vacation after my first child was born. I looked through that magazine and was very impressed and joined the foundation,” Smedley said.

“About six months later, a gentleman who had been a former chair of the national organization invited me to a meeting in D.C. He said they were thinking about starting a Warrenton chapter of RMEF.

“I attended that meeting and for 29 years have been involved with both the foundation and organizing the local fundraiser that supports our cause.”

In the beginning
The RMEF was founded in 1984 by four guys sitting around a western elk hunting camp opining that unless action was taken both elk habitat and the species itself would disappear. Its success is measured today by the 500 active chapters and thriving herds around the country. Over one million elk roam the western states.

The organization’s template was taken from the pages of Ducks Unlimited who worked tirelessly since 1937 to successfully preserve wetlands and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, other wildlife, and people.

Today RMEF has brought over seven million acres under conservation easement providing critical survival habitat for the America Elk. While the emphasis has been on western land preservation, individuals like Smedley and cadre of other dedicated sportsmen have achieved similar success in the eastern U.S.

There are now some 13,000 elk in Kentucky, 200 in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 200 near Grundy, Virginia, 1,000 fittingly thriving in Elk County, Pennsylvania, and 100 in the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.

By any measure, the success of the relocation of these herds represent diamonds on an elk’s rack. Moreover, the location of some of the herds is on reclaimed strip-mining land, often located in some of the poorest sections of the country.

“Down in Grundy they’ve got little cabins, a visitor center and viewing stations throughout the area. Last year we had 350 people visit the area and pay $30 each to see the elk and listen to them bugle,” Smedley said.

The positive economic impact on these rural areas cannot be understated. Moreover, as is often the case in re-establishing one species, it serves to boost the advantages for a variety of other wildlife.

Hunting is conversation
This is the slogan of the RMEF and underpins why the hunt is an integral part in saving a threatened species.

Smedley says he is often asked about the dichotomy between hunting and recovering threaten wildlife. Actually, the two go hand-in-hand. He cites as an example the tale of two birds: The America Wood Duck and the White-Billed Woodpecker.

The former thrives as both a game duck and successful survivor because Ducks Unlimited became its “sponsor”, recovering wetlands and building hundreds of thousands of duck boxes. Today it is one of the most numerous ducks in the country for the mutual enjoyment for both birders and hunters.

Conversely, the latter had no sponsor and today the White-billed Woodpecker is extinct. “A species can lose out if it does not have a purpose and a sponsor,” said Smedley.

This year the RMEF’s local fundraiser will be hosted at the Fauquier County Fairgrounds on March 9th from 3:30 p.m. till 9:30 p.m.

In addition to speakers updating attendees on the success of elk restoration nationwide, there will be games, live and silent auctions with prizes as exotic as a premier elk hunt in Wyoming, an Illinois Whitetail hunt, a 10-day African safari valued at $16,000, and a two-night cabin Virginia elk tour.

High-end hunting rifles, numerous pieces of art, jewelry, and a host of related items will also the gifted to the lucky assembled. A catered big game banquet will round out the evening.

Join some 200 other sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts and learn more about the valued work of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Tickets are $85 each, $135 for couples and support the goal of elk revival throughout the United States. Tickets can be purchased by contacting John Overend at (703) 930-7594. For information on the foundation itself or on making a donation, reach out to Danny Smedley at (540) 222-4994.

Tickets can also be ordered online at A digital tour of the world of elk recovery can be taken at

Finally, consider visiting any of the east coast elk recovery areas and be riveted by the sound of the haunting bugle call of this stately king of the forest.


Published in the February 27, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES