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Pennsylvania Elk Hunt Opportunities Increasing

If you had told my friends or me while growing up in western Pennsylvania that someday you could hunt elk in our state, we would have said you were crazy; after all, there were probably less than 60 in the state, and it was rare to ever spot one.

I would have been even more shocked if someone had told me that one day, I would harvest one of those elk, but in 2009, it became a reality. I was one of 20 bull tags that were drawn, and I was fortunate to take an 8×8 that turned out to be the fourth largest in the state that year. Well, there are great memories, but bigger elk have been taken since my time, and far more opportunities exist now.

Back in 2009, there was only one elk season that you could apply for, but now there are three separate seasons. There is an archery season from Sept. 16-30 and the general season from Oct. 30-Nov. 4 and the late season from Dec. 30-Jan. 6, 2024. The application fee is $11.97 per season, or you can apply for all three seasons for $35.91. When I applied in 2009, there were a total of 20 bull tags available, and by 2020-21, 36 were offered, and in 2021-22, there were 56 available, and in 2022-23, 60 bull tags were available. Now for the 2023-24 season, 65 bull tags will be available; 18 bull tags for the archery season, 30 bull tags for the general season, and 17 for the late season. There will also be 79 cow elk licenses available, but that number has dropped over each of the last three years to help increase calf production rates. Based on an aerial survey, our elk herd is estimated to be between 1,200 and 1,400 elk, down slightly from the previous year.

So, how much in demand is a chance to hunt elk in Pennsylvania? Well, a total of 56,640 individuals, which includes at least one individual from every state in the nation, applied for a Pennsylvania elk license for the 2022-23 seasons. If you think that number is high, look at this next figure. Someone paid $327,000 to hunt a bull elk this fall! Each year since 2009, there has been a special auction to acquire what has become known as the “Governor’s Tag,” which gives the high bidder a chance to hunt in any hunt zone in an expanded season to harvest one bull elk. In 2009 that tag went for $28,000, and in 2015, it brought $52,000. It went to $105,000 in 2018 and then jumped to $275,000 in 2022. In addition to that, the Keystone Elk Country Alliance raffles off one bull elk license each year. The winner can hunt in an expanded season in any elk hunt zone, and the package also includes guide service, meat processing, a shoulder mount, and a chance to be filmed for a T.V. show. Last year’s raffle topped $400,000. Tickets are available at The Game Commission proceeds from the auction go to benefit elk management, and the Keystone Elk Country Alliance uses all raffle proceeds to support their conservation education programs, elk habitat improvements, or permanent land protection.

Clearly, Pennsylvania’s elk hunting opportunities have come a long way. I know it can be difficult being picked in that drawing with so many being involved but trust me, if you are lucky enough to get drawn, you have a chance to bag a pretty good bull.