There’s little doubt that deer hunting in Pennsylvania is a big deal; maybe not as big as it once was, but still, it’s our most sought-after game species. As the various deer seasons approach, the excitement grows — as does the preparation — pre-season scouting, gun cleaning, practice with the bow, and a number of other related practices.
As exciting as it may be, however, I’ll have to confess that preparing for and going on my first elk hunt a number of years ago tops the cake. There’s something about hunting a creature as majestic as the elk — in an environment you have never encountered before — that raises the excitement level.
Some years ago, some friends and I spent a couple of weeks on a hunt in Montana in the mountains just north of Yellowstone National Park. Steve Yeagly, who unfortunately passed away recently, and I camped in a small two-man tent high up near tree line. We each hunted alone in different directions throughout the trip, and on the second day of the hunt, I spotted my first elk while hunting a mile or so from our campsite.
The elk stood up a hundred yards away, and the ‘massive’ antlers slowly turned in my direction. By the time he spotted me, I squeezed the trigger, and the 6×6 soon dropped. It was a good 6×6 — not actually ‘massive’ — but it sure looked that way to me when I first saw him.
My son, Brian, recently told me that he and some buddies are heading off on their first elk hunt; they plan to head west in October to hunt in Colorado. I’m sure the excitement is beginning to build as they prepare for the trip. To be honest though, most people — even if they are dedicated hunters — will never get to view elk in their natural wild settings.
But that doesn’t have to be the case — we have wild elk right here in Pennsylvania. Most people know that, but once in a while, I run into somebody who doesn’t seem to understand that the elk in Pennsylvania are running free and wild and they can even be hunted if you are lucky enough to be drawn for a permit.
In 2009, I was fortunate enough to be drawn for a PA elk hunting tag, and on the second day of the hunt I dropped a large 8×8 — that’s a story for another time.
While you may never be fortunate enough to be drawn for an elk tag here in our state, you can, however, still enjoy the great viewing opportunities that exist — especially as fall approaches.
Roughly speaking, elk can be found north of Snow Shoe and Clearfield north to Emporium. Saint Marys, Weedville and Penfield border the west and Renovo on the east. While elk may be spotted anywhere in that area, there are specific viewing areas that are best to check out since these locations almost always have action — especially in the fall. Winslow Hill, just north of Benezette is probably one of the most popular viewing destinations. You may also want to check out the Hicks Run Viewing area along Route 555 near the Hicks Run Cemetery and Hoover Farm Viewing Area at the intersection of Wykoff Run Road and the Quehanna Highway.
Now is a good time to head up to view Pennsylvania elk since the bulls are actively seeking cows and that means bugling and big bulls sparring with their now fully developed antlers. The ‘bullfights’ usually peak around Sept. 20th, and it can be exciting to watch and photograph. Late afternoon or early evening is probably the best time to see elk.
Do not attempt to approach, elk even though they seem like they are not interested in you. Stay off private land and don’t park on well-traveled roads. You may also want to visit the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette. To learn more, go to the Game Commission’s website at http://www.pgc.pa.gov or the Keystone Elk Country Alliance’s website at http://www.ExperienceElkCountry.com or Pennsylvania Wilds website at http://www.pawilds.com.