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Pennsylvania, a Trophy Big Game State?

I suspect that most of us never thought of Pennsylvania as being a state where you could rack up a fairly high-scoring big game animal, especially when it comes to elk, but we may have to rethink that a bit. I’m certainly not a trophy hunter by any means, but years ago, I went off to Montana in hopes of bagging an elk; after all, that seemed like a good state to hunt elk with a reasonable chance of scoring. I hunted alone in the mountains north of Yellowstone, and I managed to bag a decent 6×6.

Years later, in 2009, I was fortunate to get drawn for a bull elk tag right here in Pennsylvania, and on the second day of the hunt, I dropped a nice 8×8 bull — much nicer than my Montana elk.

The point is, we may not have as many elk, but the chances of nailing a real good bull are pretty good right here in Pennsylvania. Albeit, you have to be lucky enough to draw a tag in order to hunt elk here in our state.

Case in point; Duane Kramer, a Washington state resident, was fortunate enough to win the 2020 Keystone Elk Country Alliance elk tag raffle. Kramer bought $600-$800 worth of tickets, no doubt increasing his chances considerably. He chose Elk County Outfitters as his guide service; they had photos of six or seven elk, all with antlers of more than 400 inches. After several days of hunting and some close calls, Kramer finally dropped an exceptional bull. How exceptional? There was speculation that the bull might score in the 460 range, but all antlers up for record book consideration must dry for 60 days before they can be officially scored.

In the end, the Elk County, Pennsylvania bull scored 455! That makes this bull Pennsylvania’s No.1 all-time nontypical elk taken with a firearm. It is pending further review by the Boone & Crockett Club; it presently stands as the sixth largest nontypical elk ever taken anywhere. Not bad, Pennsylvania.

Not only are we raising some eyebrows in the elk hunting scene, Pennsylvania has also gotten its fair share of attention when it comes to bear hunting.

Years ago, when I spent some time working with Gary Alt, the bear biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission at the time, he told me that our state had some of the largest black bears in the lower forty-eight states. Between 2016 and 2020, 75 bears were taken in the 600–699-pound weight class, five in the 700–799-pound class, and one actually over 800 pounds.

The trend continues; in 2021, a 722-pounder was taken in Franklin County.

By the way, Lycoming, Tioga, and Bradford Counties each put eight bears in the record book, and no other counties had more. I should point out that bear records do not go by weight but rather skull measurements, so a very large, heavy bear may not necessarily make the record book depending on skull measurement. However, you look at it though Pennsylvania has a good number of very large bears roaming about.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our deer hunting here in Pennsylvania; while we may not be at the top of the record book list, I think there is little doubt in most hunters’ minds that Pennsylvania’s deer rack sizes seem to be on the increase. I have seen more photos of bigger racks than ever before.

Most hunters I talk to seem to agree, too, that those bigger racks may well be due to the change in regulations that prevented the shooting of smaller racked bucks. I think, too, that many of us seasoned hunters are becoming a bit more picky — not wanting to shoot the first legal buck that comes by.

When it’s all said and done, the chances of taking a record book deer, bear, or even elk is certainly possible here in our own state. Record book or not, however, we still have access to some pretty good big game hunting.