LADY LUCK PAYS OFF
BY MATT FREY
THE STAR NEWS
A last-day decision to fill out an application resulted in the hunt of a lifetime for Lydia Pernsteiner of Medford, who filled her tag on Sunday, Oct. 27 during Wisconsin’s second-ever managed elk hunt.
Pernsteiner took a mature 5x5 bull toward the end of daylight hours while hunting public land near Clam Lake, becoming the first woman to successfully harvest an elk during this rare hunting opportunity in Wisconsin. “I love whitetail hunting and I’ve been bear hunting,” Pernsteiner said. “I’ve always wanted to go elk hunting but never had the opportunity or the chance to go. When this happened, it was amazing that I got to do it in Wisconsin. Definitely quite an experience.” The effort to reintroduce elk to Wisconsin started in 1995 with the release of 25 elk from Michigan near Clam Lake. The Clam Lake herd now numbers over 200 elk and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources opened that herd to hunting last fall with 10 bull-only tags being issued. Five went to Wisconsin Chippewa tribes, four tags were issued through a random statewide drawing and a fifth was issued through a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation raffle.
That process was repeated this year as Wisconsin residents interested in the DNR’s random drawing of its four available tags could apply May 1-31. Nick and Lydia Pernsteiner submitted their applications on the 31st.
“We were actually coming back from Eau Claire, Nick and I,” Lydia said. “It popped up on my phone that it was the last day to apply for an elk tag. I’m like, ‘might as well donate my $10.’ I got done and Nick’s like, ‘are you going to fill mine out?’ I said, ‘I suppose I can.’” A couple of weeks later, Nick took a call from Kevin Wallenfang, the DNR’s deer and elk ecologist, saying he had been trying to get a hold of Lydia for several days.
“Nick’s like, ‘well what’s this about?’ Kevin said, ‘well I can’t tell you,’” Lydia said. “Nick was like, ‘well then I can’t give you her number.’ They went around for a couple minutes then Kevin’s like asked how we were related, and Nick’s like, ‘I’m her husband.’ He’s like, I suppose ‘I can tell you, you’re going to find out anyways.’ ‘Find out what?’ ‘Well she was a lucky one that got drawn in the lottery for the elk tag.’ Nick’s like, ‘shut up! You better not be messing with me!’ Nick called me at work and said, ‘there’s going to be a DNR guy calling, answer, you won an elk tag.’ I was like, ‘sure I did.’” The call from Wallenfang came later that afternoon.
“He said, ‘congratulations, you’re the first woman to win an elk tag,” Pernsteiner said. “I was like, ‘sweet!’” While preparing for the hunt, Allan Koffler of Shay Creek Sports in Medford outfitted Pernsteiner with a new Browning .338 rifle and, by another stroke of luck, Pernsteiner made contact with the Heath family of Sawyer County. Mark Heath, owner of Whiskey Ridge Meat Processing and Sport Shop in Radisson and an experienced western United States elk hunter, became her hunting guide.
“A lady at work told me about Tim Hartwig,” Pernsteiner said. “‘He snowmobiles with the Heath boys up there. Give them a call, they live up that way in Loretta.’ I called Jeff (Heath) and he said, ‘well I’m leaving to go out to Wyoming that opening weekend, but I’ll set you up with my brother Mark.’ I’m so glad he did because Mark is a go-getter. He was with us every step of the way.”
The Pernsteiners made some scouting trips to the Clam Lake area and joined lucky lottery winners from Cameron, Cumberland and Grand View as well as the raffle ticket winner from Hazel Green at a mandatory elk hunter orientation session held there in September. The hunters learned about the history of the reintroduction project, tips for hunting them and were given their kits to collect tissue and blood samples from their elk, if they were lucky enough to harvest one. They also went into the field with Wallenfang and DNR wildlife biologist Laine Stowell where Pernsteiner had her first upclose encounter with a big bull.
“It was actually really cool,” Pernsteiner said. “In the morning they took us out and they bugled and brought them right in. Laine bugled one in, it got within 60 yards and he’s like, ‘because they’re in full rut, this is the part where you might want to start looking for a tree.’ He’s like, ‘they get kinda crazy.’ He got within 40 yards of us and he stepped out on the logging road. It stepped back in the clear cut and barked at us. I didn’t even know elk could bark. Kevin’s like, ‘that, in elk terms, means screw you.’ Then he just moseyed off like it was no big deal.”
The main portion of the elk season began on Oct. 12 and ran through Nov. 10. A second phase is also open Dec. 12-20. The Pernsteiners and Heath hunted the first three days of the season, seeing elk each day but there were no opportunities at a big bull.
After taking a weekend off, they were back at it starting on Oct. 25. Pernsteiner also had the whole following week off of work, if needed, to bag her bull.
The hunting crew saw a small 5x5 late in the day Friday. A nice 4x5 outsmarted them on Saturday morning. Elk were nowhere to be found on Sunday, until the very end.
“It was getting to the point where we actually split up,” Pernsteiner said. “Nick took
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our truck and he was driving around and I jumped in with Mark. We were checking different places. It got to be 5:20 or somewhere in there and Mark’s like, ‘we got one more thing that we could check. We’ll check this clear cut that we haven’t checked in over a week.’ “We drove back like a mile and a half on this little trail back there. He’s like ‘there’s elk sign everywhere,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘Mark, Mark, there’s one standing right there.’ It was probably like 150 yards away from us. He gets his binocs up and he said, ‘that’s a nice one. That’s a 5x5.’ So he’s like, ‘what do you think?’ I said, ‘l like it, let’s go.’” Pernsteiner said the biggest thing Heath told her is that hunting elk is much different than hunting whitetailed deer. She saw that first hand when she and Heath were able to stalk their elk and find a good shooting line.
“We kept walking slowly and he’s just standing there, just standing,” Pernsteiner said. “I’m thinking if it’s like a whitetail, he’s just going to take off and bolt and I’m never going to see him again.”
The bull eventually walked off the logging road it was on and into the clear cut, just as Heath hoped it would. Pernsteiner fired two perfect shots and the bull, which weighed 578 pounds after being field dressed, went down after going about 40 yards.
“I was actually kind of speechless,” she said. “Mark, I think he was happier than me because he was like, ‘this is the best part of helping somebody. Just having somebody get one.’ I was just in awe. It was so big.
“Three of us could barely get his head positioned to take pictures,” she said. “Instead of quartering him out there, Mark called his two boys, they were at some friends. We put him in an Otter sled and we drug him out of there.”
The Pernsteiners are having the bull mounted by Brian Bucki of Buck Stop Taxidermy though Lydia said they’re still not sure where in the house it will go.
Lydia said the distinction of being the first woman to fill an elk tag in Wisconsin is neat.
“Outdoor Bound TV has been in contact with me,” she said. “(Kurt Walbeck) texted me (Oct. 29) and he’s like, ‘I think you broke the internet.’ He sent me a screen shot that showed I had over 11,000 reactions and 61 shares. It was pretty cool.”