Update From Pennsylvania Elk Country-Visitor Center Hours

According to Paul Staniszewski, Monday December 20th was an overcast day with steady snow in the Benezette area. He and Ron Saffer traveled there that day to photograph elk and found that the large herd of more than 120 cows and calves were still utilizing the Gilbert Viewing Area.

Paul also says," after the hunt this year, several people mentioned to me that the bull in the photo below, was one of the larger bulls that was shot.... Well, this is a photograph that I took of him in town yesterday and I'm happy to report that he is alive and well."

Bull Resting In Benezette: Photo by Paul Staniszewski
We thank Paul  for sharing this photo with us.  They also saw several more bulls and report that bull #36, "Fred" was spotted on Gray Hill.

 Paul also sent the 20011 schedule of operation for the Visitors Center.  Please verify this information from other sources before traveling to Benezette as changes could be made at any time.

The Keystone Country Elk Alliance has announced the days and hours of operation of the Visitors Center for 2011 as follows:

DAYS and HOURS for 2011:

January – March: Saturday & Sunday Only | 9am – 5pm
April – July: Thursday – Monday | 9am – 9pm
August: Wednesday – Monday | 9am – 9pm
September – October: 7 Days a Week | 8am – 8pm
Grounds open Dawn til Dusk
November – December: Thursday – Sunday | 9am – 5pm

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Controlling Pennsylvania's Elk Population-Is Shooting Necessary?

Elk In Hunt Zone 2-Day Before Elk Season: photo by W.Hill

In the most recent post, Pennsylvania Elk-As Wild As Any?, a reader raised an excellent question:

"I also own a family camp on Houston Hill, and we are privileged enough to have Elk come right into our backyard. Elk on our mountain seem to be a little bit more skittish than the ones around Winslow Hill, but not by much. I know that's a subjective comment, but it's the only way I know to describe it. I agree that hunting these Tame Elk is like shooting fish in a barrel, but how would you propose we control the Elk Population if we do not hunt them? I would love to hear your ideas/proposals."

I begin by stating that I believe that the Pennsylvania elk herd is of more value to society as an easily viewable natural resource than as the object of a limited hunt in which only a small number of people will ever participate.  With that being said though, there is room for both world class tourism and a hunt to co-exist in Pennsylvania, but for this to be, the herd needs to be managed in different ways in different areas.  Hunting for the sake of hunting itself should be conducted  in areas well away from  Winslow Hill,  but  it is uncertain as to  how wild elk in these areas are also. For example I have heard from reliable sources that they find the elk on Moore Hill to be as wild as whitetails in many cases, yet  certain stories of hunts in  the remote areas raise a flag in my mind. One of these describes a situation in the Quehanna Wild Area in which a hunter fired a "challenge shot" at a bull at short range (sounds like another word for missed...in all of my years of hunting I have not heard of firing a shot to challenge an animal, but such is the way the story goes ). The party then followed the animal's tracks to a nearby food plot where the bull was feeding in spite of being recently shot at, and the hunter then killed the animal.

But I digress, let's assume that elk in areas such as Quehanna, Moore Hill,etc. are sufficiently wild to justify calling shooting them hunting, this does not excuse trying to portray the elk on Gray Hill or Winslow Hill as being "as wild as any" and portraying shooting them as being a challenging hunt, yet, by looking at PGC harvest maps it is obvious that most of the elk killed since season resumed in 2001 have been taken in the Winslow Hill /Gray Hill areas, and the 555 corridor.  With that being said,  there are possibly times that elk in this area would need to be shot to control the population, but that should be limited to antlerless elk only, and it should be plainly stated up front that this would not always be a fair chase hunt, but rather the necessary removal of surplus animals. The animals would be just as dead, but at least we would be honest about the situation.

2001-2009 Elk Harvest Map: Source-The Pennsylvania Game Commission

In the documentary film, "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", I advanced several ideas designed to give further protection to the large bulls that frequent the elk viewing areas. These ideas should  result in less killing of acclimated elk as well.

One possibility is to retain the current No Hunt Zone as an area where no elk of either sex would be killed, with problem animals being relocated by trap and transfer. The No Hunt Zone should possibly be expanded to protect the areas in the Medix Run, Benezette, Rt 555 Corridor.

Alternate No Hunt-Population Control Only Hunt Zones From "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd"-map is approximation only not accurate in fine detail.

Second would be a substantial zone around this area which would be a population control only hunt. There would be no bull tags issued for this area and only enough antlerless tags to contain the population at an acceptable level. It would not be portrayed as a challenging hunt, but rather as a population control tool, held only when strictly needed and not utilized as an excuse to conduct a yearly hunt.

At this point it is not clear that we are at the place where we need to control the size of the Winslow Hill sub-herd by shooting.  According to The Management Plan For Elk In Pennsylvania 2006-20016,( In the following quote, BCC means biological carrying capacity or the amount of elk the habitat will support and SCC means social carrying capacity or what society will tolerate) " The BCC for elk in Pennsylvania is unknown, but there is no indication that the population is reaching it. None of the studied indications mentioned above have been observed. In fact, elk appear to be reproducing and reaching weights above what is expected and survival rates are normal to high. The SCC is also unknown at this time. However, indications are that number hasn't been reached either. Most interested parties haven't complained of too many elk and would actually like to see more. As we gather more information, we will balance the numbers so that we do not go over the BCC but still maintain an elk population that provides enjoyment for the people of the Commonwealth.(written by elk biologist Jon Marc DiBerti)

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Pennsylvania Elk-As Wild As Any?

Today we explore another segment of Ms. Becky Polaski,St Marys Daily Press reporter's interview with Tony Ross, Regional Wildlife Biologist for the PGC in the Northcentral Region, "Range of area elk herd expanding", which was published on November 5, 2010.

In the post of Thursday November 18th, we proved that tame elk are in fact hunted and shot quite near one of the most popular public viewing areas on Winslow Hill  in spite  of Mr. Ross's claim in the article that the elk in the area immediately around Benezette and Winslow Hill are protected from hunting.

Elk In Hunt Zone 2 Winslow Hill-Saturday Before Elk Season 2010: photo by w.hill
 Mr. Ross tries to make the point that the behavior of the elk that one sees in Benezette and on Winslow Hill is not representative of Pennsylvania elk in general, but then he goes on to make some extremely interesting observations. At one point in the interview, Mr. Ross remarks "while elk and deer may be similar in appearance, their behaviors toward people, while cautious, are completely different.""An elk by itself is a big animal. It's not going to act just like a deer because as soon as a deer sees you, it can move because it's so quick and so small. An elk, they've got to stand there and they will still turn, but they don't have that ability to run away as fast as a deer,"

This is in direct contradiction to the experiences of prominent firearms manufacturer and seasoned hunter, James F. Borden. In a letter to Ms. Polaski following the publication of her article, Mr. Borden states:

"I am a seasoned outdoorsman that goes beyond parking lots and the edge of the road--I have spent much time in the "bush" of Alaska as well as the Western States hunting as well as doing wildlife photography.  I have hunted many species in the USA and Canada from prairie dogs to grizzly bear.  I have hunted elk in Montana and Idaho.  You will not find the behavior of those elk to be anything like the Pa Elk herd behavior.   I know animals and know their habits very well.  What was described to you about an elk being large and can not turn and run like a deer was passed along to you by an individual that does not know and understand elk behavior or does not want the truth known.  I advise you to go into the woods of Montana, Colorado or Idaho and try to walk up on elk --you will find that they spook easier than deer and flee hard and fast.  If you do your research you will find that the western states that have truly wild elk do not have 100% bull hunt success-it runs closer to 15 to 17%."

Earlier in his letter, Mr. Borden makes some interesting observations about the behavior of the Pennsylvania elk herd;

"I have visited Benezett as recent as the weekend prior to the opening of the elk season and there were in excess of 150 animals on Winslow hill in the hunt zone 2 and I could walk among them and walk within 15 yards of the big bulls.  These animals are highly accustomed to humans--the same day there were in excess of 125 elk in the town of Benezett across the bridge near the old train station-so that totals over 275 Elk out of a herd of 700 to 800--so I saw 25% of the entire Pa elk herd that day and none of the animals were the least bit skittish or afraid.  I have observed elk up the Sinnemahoning and found them to behave in the same manner."

Herd In Hunt Zone 2-Winslow Hill Sunday Morning Before Season: photo by w.hill

I can personally attest that what Mr. Borden said about the Winslow Hill herd is true as I had extensive experience with these animals during the same time period.  Some would seek to remedy the situation by making the herd on Winslow Hill "truly wild", but this may or may not be possible to do, and attempting to do so would destroy the elk viewing experience. 

Visit Jim Borden's blog, JJ Widlife Photography for an excellent article ,PA Elk In Fall, describing his experience with the elk during the weekend before elk season.

Excerpts from letter to Ms. Polaski reprinted by permission of James F. Borden.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer  by Willard Hill.


More Thoughts On "Kissser" aka "Odie":

Regular readers of this blog know that one of Pennsylvania's few surviving character bulls known as "Kisser" or "Odie" was killed during the past elk season.  I first filmed and photographed this bull in Benezette during the summer of 2007 when he was already a beautiful 7x7.

"Kisser" aka "Odie" in Benezette: July 2007

While most referred to him as "Kisser", our close circle of photographers and elk watchers named him "Odie" There is of course a story behind this.  Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer and Odie Swartz were photographing this bull and several other elk during the rut of 2007 when he had a fight with another bull and broke one of his tines.  Odie Swartz found the tine and from then on Buckwheat referred to the bull as "Odie's Bull".  In time we simply referred to him as "Odie"

"Odie"In Woodlands On Winslow Hill Rut of 2007: Note Missing Tine On Left Antler
By 2010 most of the character bulls were gone.  The famous town bull "Fred" was in declining health, and most of the others had been poached (Club Horn 2005), killed in elk season, or died of natural causes. "Kisser" was positioned to replace Fred (bull #36) as the most observed and photographed Pennsylvania bull elk, but this was not to be.

In the Saturday November 27, 2010 edition of  Endeavor News, Carol Mulvihill features this bull in her  "Elk Watcher's Journal "column  - "Remembering bull elk "Kisser".  The story covers the life history of the animal, especially the early years and reveals that he was named by a local resident and elk guide when the young bull walked up to his house in 2005 and touched noses with a puppy dog standing on the porch.  A photograph of this encounter is featured on the front page of the print edition of the paper.

 The story in its' entirety is available initially only to subscribers, but is available to the general public after three weeks.  I  recommend that those who are seriously interested in the elk herd and issues impacting the elk range such as Marcellus shale drilling subscribe to this paper.

For more on this animal read "A Gentle Giant" by Coy Hill ( March 11, 2010). The story of this animal is yet one more reason why we need an expanded No Kill Zone!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


News From Pennsylvania Elk Country: A Report From Paul Staniszewski

Today, I received a very informative e-mail from Paul Staniszewski that covers some important developments in Pennsylvania elk country and will be the basis for most of today's post.

There was much speculation that the bull known as "Attitude" among our circle of photographers was among the bulls that were shot this past hunting season, but Paul reports that he and Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer did see this bull and seven cows across from Benezett store. They also saw four other large bulls, which included the famous Benezette town bull "Fred", aka "Dog Rope", aka "Bull No. 36". This is welcome news when two of the most famous character bulls "Odie" aka "Kisser" and "Crazy Legs Jr." were killed during the past elk season, along with the large 7x7 that thrilled thousands of visitors to the Elk Country Visitor Center.

Two Of The Major Attractions At Elk Country Visitor Center, Killed In Elk Season: Photo by W.Hill
 In addition, Paul reports:
"In traveling down Dewey Road we were surprised to see that the barn and garage at the Gilbert Farm were gone.... I was glad to see that theywere not simply burned down, but dismantled with the barn siding and foundation stones salvaged.

Kenny Gilbert Barn: Photo by W.Hill
Shed At Gilbert: Photo by W.Hill
Further down across the road from the "Stink Ponds" we observed at least 75 cows feeding in the field.

Elk At Ponds Near Gilbert Buildings: Photo by W.Hill
  In our discussions with local residents, all of the talk was about the all the Marcellus Gas Well leases being signed and a lot of money changing hands.I am very concerned about how all the drilling being planned in the area will impact the elk herd and how the hundreds of thousands of visitors and gas well activity (including traffic) will coexist.

Marcellus Sale Related Work-Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill Viewing Area: Photo by W.Hill
 Editor's Note:
According to other information that I have received, it seems that the gas and oil rights on at least a portion of the public lands on Winslow Hill are still owned by previous owners or their families. This includes the land where the Elk Country Visitor Center is located. A local resident told me on the day that the above photo was taken that a gas well is to be located there.

Now more from Paul Staniszewski:
"We stopped in the Elk Country Visitors Center and the staff reported that the previous day (Sunday) was just as busy as it was during the rut in October. The traffic to the center has far exceeded everyone's expectations. I look at this as being very positive because more and more people are being educated as to the value of the elk herd as a asset to be viewed and appreciated by many tourists rather than a handful of hunters.

On the way home, we stopped in Hollywood and spoke to Larry Alexander,an environmental engineer from DEP, and he gave us a tour of the abandoned mine drainage reclamation project that is currently underway. This project is very important because these are the headwaters of the Bennetts Branch that runs through Benezette. Larry previously worked out of the trailer that was parked on the Gilbert Farm for 8 years while he supervised the building of the 2 silos, the construction of the "Stink Ponds", and all the other activity related to cleaning up Dents Run. He told us that presently the lower reaches of Dents Run are now able to sustain aquatic insect life and will be stocked with trout. I never thought that I would see that happened in my

A special thanks to Paul for another informative report.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


They Don't Shoot Tame Elk In Pennsylvania-Or Do They?

I had really wanted to avoid this subject but then I happened to read an article,"Range of area elk herd expanding".  This was published in the Nov.5, 2010 edition of the Daily Press a newspaper from St. Marys, Pennsylvania and was written by Becky Polaski.   The article is constructed around an interview with Tony Ross, the Regional Wildlife Biologist for the PGC in the Northcentral Region.

I have reason to believe that I met Ms. Polaski that day as I was at the elk check station late in the morning of November 3, 2010 when I overheard a young lady introduce herself to a hunter as a reporter from a St Marys newspaper.  Soon we were engaged in conversation and she told me she had heard reports about tame elk being shot in the hunt and she wanted to interview a PGC official so that the record could be set straight about this subject.  As she was leaving the check station, she told me she had interviewed Tony Ross about this subject and felt that he gave a fair presentation of both sides of the controversy.

In the interview, Ross explains about the No Hunt Zone and claims that this gives sufficient protection to the elk that are completely acclimated to humans as these animals remain in the No Hunt Zone and do not go into areas where hunting is permitted. He goes on to point out that people see how these elk behave and then wrongly assume that all elk in Pennsylvania are as tame as The Winslow Hill herd.

Today we will focus on one particular incident, which occurred at the Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill Viewing Area (The Gilbert) on Dewey road, which proves beyond any doubt that the acclimated animals that frequent the viewing areas on Winslow Hill are subject to hunting at times.

Most visitors to Pennsylvania elk country do not realize that the Hunt Zone begins just beyond the double gates at the PGC parking lot at the end of Dewey Road. If one walks through the gate to the left and follows the road to Benezette, the area to the left of the road is No Hunt Zone, while the area to the right is Hunt Zone (check the PGC Hunting and Trapping Digest for a more detailed description of Zone boundaries) . This is the hillside that is plainly visible from Winslow Hill Road.  This year a tremendous herd of elk (well over 100 animals at times) utilized this area and passed freely between the Hunt and No Hunt Zones.

Dawn of November 1, 2010, the first day of elk season, came in cold and frosty. At first nothing could be seen but the piercing bugles of bulls rent the air signifying that elk were present. Soon a hunting party became visible on the crest of the hillside. This is the area that long time elk watchers refer to as "The Saddle".

Hunting Party In Saddle At Dawn
Simultaneously, one was able to make out the forms of a large herd of elk spread out along the hillside below and in front of the hunting party.  Legal shooting hours were at 7:10 a.m., but it was still very dark at that time. At about 7:25 a person dropped into shooting position and fired one shot at about 7:30.

Hunter Prepares To Shoot
The elk did not show any significant reaction to the shot.  A still capture from video taken of the herd within a minute of the shot being fired shows that some of the animals have their heads lifted, but they do not look alarmed, while others continue to graze.

Elk Herd Moments After An Elk Was Killed In Their Midst

Still Grazing Peacefully at 7:47
About 7:50, a full twenty minutes after the shot was fired, elk began moving toward the No Hunt Zone.  At this time the hunting party stood up and two of them walked down the hill to the kill.  As they did this the herd grouped and ran into the No Hunt Zone.

Elk Move Into No Hunt Zone
An observer told me later that someone was hunting with a bow and while they could see several elk, none came within range until the hunters came down the hill.  At that point elk did come within range and the archer killed an antlerless elk.

Soon all of the elk were in the No Hunt Zone and I saw no more elk on the hillside that was open to hunting from then until the time I left elk country on Thursday morning of that week.

The photo below shows the area that was filled with elk at dawn.The pile of entrails are near to where the animal fell.  

Area Of Kill From Hunters Point Of View
I must emphasize that this was a a legal hunt, conducted in an area open to public hunting, and it is not my intention to criticize the actions of the hunters, but rather to bring attention to a flawed policy that permits hunting in this area.  I and several others have repeatedly made the case for a larger no hunt zone and this is a prime example as to why this should be done.  In fact this area was NOT in the Hunt Zone during the first few modern day elk hunts, but was included in the Hunt Zone in 2005.

There were 2 bull tags, and six antlerless tags issued for Hunt Zone 2 and it is possible that more of these hunters could have tried to kill elk in this herd.  There were several people along Winslow Hill and Dewey Road observing the hunt and the potential existed for a public relations nightmare had several tag holders co-operated and fired a volley into the herd of acclimated elk. A well known elk guide later commented on the situation and said that he was hoping that the herd moved out of this area before opening day as "we didn't need a massacre". Now seems like a good time to remove the legal basis for such a potential disaster by removing this area from Hunt Zone 2 and making it part of the No Kill Zone.

I hope to explore this article in more depth and the situation concerning Hunt Zone 2 and the No Hunt Zone in a series of posts in the very near future.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.  All photos by W.Hill.


E-Mail From Paul Staniszweski: Change In Visitor Center Operation Schedule

The following is a letter to the editor so as to speak, which was sent in the form of an e-mail.  This is from Paul Staniszweski, a retired educator who is currently a Pennsylvania Wild Juried Artist and a volunteer at the Elk Country Visitor Center.

Willard, I would like to comment on your blog: First of all, I would like to go back to October and the dedication of the Elk Country Visitors Center.... At that time, I mentioned that there was a noticeable absence of any representation from the PA Game Commission... Everyone that I talked to said that the reason was that there is an ongoing conflict between the Game Commission and the management of the Keystone Country Elk Alliance.... In my opinion, I think that more is involved. I feel that the vast majority of attendees to the "grand opening" were against the elk hunt and the Game Commission didn't want to have to answer questions about the hunt being unethical and giving new meaning to the word "sportsmanship". In truth, I believe the the PGC is embarrassed about the hunt and they know that it is a joke.... And the PGC knows that this hunt amounts to "shooting fish in a barrel".

Acclimated Bulls Sparring On Winslow Hill: Photo by Paul Staniszewski

The following are concerns I have about the hunt:

  • The elk hunt should NOT be promoted as a trophy event.
  • The "no hunt zone" needs to be extended to include Winslow Hill (I Understand that bugling was going on there throughout the hunt).
  • The elk hunt does not need to be an annual event, but conducted on a "need to have" basis.

Willard, again, these are only my thoughts and now I will get off my soapbox... Sorry for the long post...


Paul also informs us that the days and hours of operation of the Visitor Center have changed.

"The management of the visitors center has announced a change in their hours and days of operation for the upcoming months as follows: For November and December, it will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and for the open days, the hours will be 9:00 AM til 5:00 PM.... And for January, February, March,
and April it will be open on Saturdays and Sundays only from 9:00 AM til 5:00 PM."

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


PGC Releases Elk Hunt Results: 100% Success Rate On Bull Elk

While many claim that Pennsyilvania Elk are as wild as any and that the hunt is fair chase, we once again find that bull hunters were extremely successful.  In fact this year's success rate was 100% and last year only one bull tag was not filled. The success ratio on antlerless elk is always somewhat less.  It seems likely this is because a cow hunter is not as likely to hire a guide and is more likely to give up if they are not sucessful within the first few days of the season.

Acclimated Elk Near Boundary Of Hunt Zone 2: Photographed in 2008
We stand by our position that there needs to be a larger No Kill zone to afford  protection to more of the acclimated bulls that frequent the viewing areas.  While many bulls travel long distances to Winslow Hill during the rut, several do remain in the area and these have been hit hard since elk season resumed in 2001. 

On a postitive note the Pennsylvania Game Commission must be commended for eliminating the combined hunt zones on Winslow Hill in 2009 and allowing only hunters with zone 2 tags to hunt in zone 2.  (For a period zones 1,2,3,10 were combined which allowed a hunter with a valid tag for any of these areas to hunt wherever they chose within those 4 zones. This gave the potential for an extreme amount of hunting pressure to be directed at the elk in Zone 2, near the viewing areas on Winslow Hill. This year 2 bull  and 6 cow tags were issued for Zone 2.

Reprinted below is the official PGC news realease for the elk season which ran from Monday Nov.1 through Saturday Nov. 6th.  Please visit their website for more information on Pennsylvania wildlife.

November 09, 2010
Release #120-10
Source: The Pennsylvania Game Commission

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today announced that 41 of the 51 licensed elk hunters were successful during the 2010 elk season, which includes a possible new state record for the typical elk category.  Of that total, 18 were antlered elk and 23 were antlerless elk.
  “Elk are one of North America’s premier big game animals,” Roe said.  “Pennsylvania is privileged to offer this unique hunting opportunity, a product of successful wildlife management that supports Pennsylvania’s rich hunting heritage.  It’s an unparalleled experience for hunters, particularly those who can’t afford to go on an expensive one- or two-week guided elk hunt out West.”
           The heaviest antlered elk was taken by John A. Murray Jr., of Grindstone, Fayette County.  He took a 880-pound (estimated live weight), 7x7 on Nov. 1, in Benezette Township, Elk County. 
           Those hunters rounding out the top five heaviest (all estimated live weights) antlered elk harvested, were: Charles H. Stowman, of Westover, Clearfield County, took a 868-pound, 8x7 on Nov. 3, in Grove Township, Cameron County; Domenic V. Aversa Sr., of Woolwich, New Jersey, took an 867-pound, 7x7 on Nov. 1, in Jay Township, Elk County; Richard R. Lundgren, of Kittanning, Armstrong County, took a 852-pound, 8x9 on Nov. 1, in Jay Township, Elk County; and James F. Wolfe, of Mercersburg, Franklin County, took an 823-pound, 7x7 on Nov. 1, in Covington Township, Clearfield County.
           Roe noted that the antlers from Aversa’s elk green-scored at 389 and seven-eighths on the Boone & Crockett Club’s official scoring system.  If that score holds after the required 60-day drying time, it will set a new record for Pennsylvania state typical elk taken with a firearm. The current record is held by John A. Polenski, of Meyersdale, Somerset County, who, in 2009,  harvested a 6x7 antlered elk that scored 370.
The heaviest antlerless elk was taken by Mark E. Gowarty, of Johnstown, Cambria County, who harvested a 582-pound (estimated live weight) antlerless elk on Nov. 2, in Benezette Township, Elk County.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Pa Elk Season 2010

In the morning the Pennsylvania Elk season or hunt as many call it will begin. Seventeen persons were successful in obtaining bull tags along with thirty three others with antlerless tags.

I sit here wondering what the outcome of this years season will be. How many of the bulls that so many have come to know, animals who are very trusting of humans, will fall to the bullets and arrows that will come their way in to coming days.

I cannot condemn the PGC for the need to manage these majestic animals but neither can I agree with any program that portrays these trusting animals as fitting trophies for hunters to proudly hang on their wall.

There are other ways of managing the elk herd rather than selectively removing the best males from the herd with a trophy hunt. I cannot disagree that hunting is the best way to keep the herd within the management goals of the area but bull tags should at least for the most part be for animals who have passed their prime or who's genetics keep them from becoming dominate bulls at all. This could be done as simply as restricting the bull kill to branch antlered animals with 5 or less points per side. A slot restriction would get some younger bulls killed but we would be protecting the best breeding bulls at the time of their life where they can do the most good for this small isolated herd.


Elk Country Visitor Center Grand Opening Held Today

Paul Staniszewski reports from Elk County that he arrived at the Elk Country Visitor Center this morning at 8:00 a.m., was given a Keystone Elk Country Alliance vest, and went to work assisting DCNR officers with traffic control and Parking.

Elk Country Visitor Center  September 22, 2010:  photo by W.Hill
According to Mr. Staniszewski, "The governor arrived at 10:30AM and the festivities began. After about an hour of speeches from the politicians and refreshments it was over. A few of the notable politicians were, of course, Governor Rendell, U.S. Congressman Glen Thompson, District Representative Matt Gabler, and a lot of candidates that are running for office. Other guests included PA Wilds Director Dan Surra, DCNR Director John Quigley, representatives from the U.S Forest Service, officials representing the village of Benezette, and the general public. Also there were at least 50 people from DCNR all uniformed and the Pennsylvania State Police were present. Noticeably absent was any representation from the Pennsylvania Game Commission either in uniform or not. My best guess estimate is that there were between 350 and 400 people there and at least 25 people from various media outlets recording the event."

"All in all, I think that things went well and everyone was impressed. One of the speakers mentioned that every effort is being made to keep the center open all year round. My hope is that more people become involved in protecting and preserving this national treasure." Paul Staniszewski reporting from Benezette, October 6, 2010.

Originally Posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


An Unpleasant Encounter In Pennsylvania Elk Country

Dawn on September 29th, 2010 found me slowly moving toward my favorite elk photography spot as the thunderous bugles of bull elk rent the autumn air.  On this morning I was accompanied by three other persons,  my brother Coy of Country Captures, and our good friend Richard and one of his relatives.

Approaching The Favorite Spot: Photo by W.Hill
Over the years this spot has rewarded me with some of the most exciting experiences I have had in the great outdoors.   These experiences included numerous encounters with large numbers of exceptional bull elk.  In 2003 I saw and recorded the mating of a bull and cow, and the best experience of all was when I recorded a fight between what is now known as Bull 36 (Fred) and an impressive monster known as the Test Hill Bull.  This fight is part of the theater presentation at the new Elk Country Visitor Center today.

Little did I realize that  my  memories of the area would soon be tainted forever by a very unpleasant encounter.  Suddenly I spotted a young bull elk horning a sapling above me on the hill side and began to position the camera to film him, when suddenly I spotted something out of place in the tall grass that grew alongside the pathway in front of me.  I swung the camera toward the spot and was amazed to see that two persons were crouched in the grass.  What had drawn my attention was the reflection from the hunting license attached to the back of one of the persons.

A Surprise: Photo by W.Hill
It seemed likely that this was the hunter who had the Governor's Conservation elk tag for this year.  This is a special bull permit that is awarded to the highest bidder in an auction conducted by some prominent conservation organization chosen by the PGC.  The first drawing was in 2009 when the tag was auctioned by the National Wild Turkey Federation and brought in $28,000.  According to state law up to 20% of the proceeds may be retained by the organization that conducts the auction while the rest is returned to the PGC to fund elk management programs. In this the second year, the tag was given to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and was auctioned off for $35,000.  The successful bidder is permitted to harvest one bull elk anywhere in the Pennsylvania elk range except for the No Hunt Zone and according to the 2010-11 Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, may hunt from September 1st through November 6th.

At this point I decided to maintain my position and photograph the young bull, which in fact the other members of the party were already doing. Note: most photos in this post are frame captures from a Canon XL-H1 Video Camera.

Young Bull Rubbing Sapling: Photo by W.Hill
As I was filming the bull I noticed movement to the left and the hunter and guide emerged from cover and walked away from the area, vanishing into a ravine some distance away.

Hunter and Guide Leave Area: Photo by W.Hill
After they vanished from sight, I moved on to my favorite spot on a retention pond bank while the rest of the party continued to photograph the small bull.  From this vantage point I could see the top of the rack of a mature bull and signaled the rest of the party that a large bull was on top of the hill.  At the time the animal was lying down, but soon stood up.  This animal had been injured earlier in the rut and walked with a distinct limp.  He spent much of the week of September 20th lying in a camp lawn along Winslow Hill Road, but now he had moved some distance away to this meadow where a newly reclaimed area was planted in fall grain.

Coy Hill Photographs Bull Lying Down: Photo by W.Hill

In time the bull stood up and I was able to photograph the entire animal.  This particular animal has no fear whatsoever of humans and will not run from them.

Crippled Bull: Photo by W.Hill
While the rest of the party were photographing the bull, I noticed the hunter and guide walking up a ravine to my left.  They stopped at the cluster of trees to the right of the large mound of earth and stayed there for an extended period of time.

View From Pond Bank To Ravine: Photo by W.Hill

When the other members of my party finished photographing the bull, they came down the hill to the pond bank where I was standing.  We discussed the morning's encounter with the bulls and waited in the hopes that more elk would appear.

Facing Area Where Bull Had Been, Shows Hillside That Hunter And Guide Approached Us By: Photo by C.Hill

After a time the hunter and guide came along the hillside in front of where I am standing in the above photo and then came striding down the hillside to us.  The hunter asked us if we were aware that they were conducting a hunt in the area.  He explained that these were game lands purchased by hunting license dollars to be used for hunting purposes. They were working a bull in the area and we had interfered with them.  (It is a violation of the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code to interfere with a lawful hunt), At this time I invited the hunter to file charges against me so we could settle this in a court of law.  (In actuality he would need to report the incident to a PGC officer who would investigate and decide if a violation had in fact occurred, and  file charges if warranted).  I also asked the hunter if he was accusing me of harassing him and he said," no", at which point I informed him that he was coming dangerously close to harassing me.  I then turned to the guide and recapped the events of the morning, noting that I was coming to an area that I utilize quite frequently and in fact was my favorite spot for elk viewing an photography. I had done exactly the same thing on several morning's and evenings in the last two weeks and the only thing that was different today was that they (the hunting party) were in the area this morning.  I stopped immediately upon sighting them, did not create a disturbance and did not move until until after they left the area.   I asked the guide if he had a problem with this and he said that he did not.  They then wished us "a good day" and "good luck" and left the area while we remained for some time in the hopes of further elk sightings.

The crux of the matter is that we were engaged in a  legal activity in an area where we had every legal right to be.  As far as I know, the guide and hunter were also engaged in a legal activity in an area where they had the legal right to be.  It would have been inappropriate for us to approach them while they were hunting and discuss the ethics of the situation in which they were involved, to purposefully frighten the animal they were hunting, or otherwise prevent them from hunting it, but simply being in the same area is not interfering with the hunt.

Some will think he had a point about the land being bought with hunting license dollars for hunting purposes, but this is not nearly as valid as it appears at first glance.  For one thing one would need to research the matter to see just how that portion of State Game Lands 311 was purchased, as  funds from a variety of sources other than hunting license dollars are often utilized in such land transactions.  Also it is likely that most if not all in our party either buy a hunting license each year or have done so in the past.  I bought my first license at somewhere between fourteen and sixteen years of age and continued to do so until 1998 when I quit hunting.  My brother Coy bought his first license at a young age and continues to do so today, so it is not a simple case of hunters vs anti-hunters or hunters vs non-consumptive users.

Since I am about eight years older than the hunter, but stopped buying a license twelve years ago, it is possible that he has only had been a license holder for four more years than I have been-although he could have started buying his license at twelve years of age, which would bias the scale a bit more in his favor, but that being said, I have contributed almost as much to the game fund by buying a license as he has, yet it seems persons such as I should not be on the game lands or at least not while hunters are present.

But he spent $35,000 for a special tag so that puts him far ahead of me in contributing to wildlife conservation, or does it?  I was as a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer (DWCO) from 1982 until 2006 and served in a district which had a  large number of deputies.Coy began a few years later and retired in the same time period that I did.  During my early years with the PGC it was common to be allocated twelve paid days per year, which were paid during the fall hunting seasons.  At the sum of $30.00 per day this resulted in a total income of $360.00 per year before taxes, yet we were young and motivated and it was common to work 40 to 100 hours per month during the months of September, October, November, and December.  In addition I have donated numerous photographs and video footage to the PGC for their use, and Coy has donated numerous photos as well.  In addition I retired from the full-time position of Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor for Fulton County and portions of Bedford and Franklin Counties. Considering this I think our contribution to wildlife conservation has been significant.

With that being said though, these factors shouldn't enter the equation.  The area where they were hunting should still be part of the No Hunt Zone as it was from the first Hunt in 2001 until 2005 as most elk in this area are completely acclimated to humans and are easily approachable. . With over 865,000 square miles of elk range, why must there be elk hunting in this particular area, and how could a hunter expect privacy during the peak elk viewing season-or did they expect that everyone should stay away from the area in the off chance that they might be hunting there? The area in question is quite near the Gilbert Viewing Area and is open to the public. The hunters should have expected to encounter other persons and in fact the area was inundated with people during the previous weekend.

One should be required to have either a valid hunting license, or a  Game Lands use permit to be present on State Game Lands.  This would ensure that everyone contributed financially to wildlife conservation and  would remove the argument that non-hunters do not contribute to wildlife conservation and should not be there during hunting seasons.

For more reading about this subject please visit Country Captures and read Elk Hunt Zone 2 & The Viewing Areas.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Elk Country Visitor Center Now Open, Cogan Named President & CEO Of Keystone Elk Country Alliance

According to a report from Paul Staniszewski , yesterday September 9th was the first day that the Visitor Center was open for the public.

Paul says, "I was shocked because there was no signage indicating that it was open at the entrance and no promotion and yet there were 200 visitors cars in the parking lot and the place was packed.The center will be open 7 days a week and the hours of operation will be 8:00AM and closing will vary with darkness which is currently around8:00PM. The "official" opening is scheduled for mid October."

Paul also reports that according to Pennsylvania's leading elk photographer, Ron Saffer and PGC Elk Biologist Aide Mark Gritzer, the rut and bugling has at least two more weeks to reach the peak.

Bull During Peak Of Rut 2009
In another development the Pennsylvania DCNR announced more information about the Elk Country Visitor Center in the September 1st Issue of their newsletter "Resource" , the most important being that Rawland Cogan was named CEO of The Keystone Elk Country Alliance, also know as KECA, and KECA will operate the visitor center.

Rawland "Rawley" Cogan President And CEO of KECA:photo by W.Hill
The Following is an excerpt from the newsletter, containing the most important part of the release. For the release in its' entirety, click Here!, which will take you to the online version of the news release.

"In September 2009, DCNR entered an agreement with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation to help the department complete the Elk Center after an initial partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was concluded.
“We appreciate PPFF’s willingness to step in and ensure that the center could be completed in the original time frame,” Quigley said. “It’s a true reflection of the foundation’s commitment to support a shared goal of conservation and connecting people to nature through terrific outdoor experiences.”
“With construction nearing completion, it was clear that DCNR was in need of a new partner to operate the center,” KECA Chairman of the Board John Geissler said. “In December 2009, our organization was created for that purpose. The best part of this effort may be that all the funds we raise in Pennsylvania will remain right here in Pennsylvania’s elk range and at the Elk Center.
“Another great boost to our cause happened the day Rawley Cogan agreed to serve as President and CEO of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance,” Geissler said. “Rawley is a wildlife biologist noted for his work with Pennsylvania elk and their reintroduction into the wild landscape. Rawley played an integral part in the land acquisition and planning of the Elk Mountain Homestead and Elk Country Visitor Center from its inception.”
“I am honored to have been chosen to be the first President and CEO of the new Keystone Elk Country Alliance,” Cogan said. “As we move forward, the alliance will focus its resources in three areas — conservation education,habitat enhancement and permanent land protection. Source: September 1, 2010 PA DCNR Newsletter

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Pennsylvania Elk Country Visitor Center: A More Critical Look

It seems that most written commentary portrays the Elk Country Visitor Center soon to open on Winslow Hill as a positive thing, yet when one scratches below the surface they find quite a bit of apprehension among landowners and many visitors to elk country as to how the opening of the Center will impact Benezette, Winslow Hill, and surrounding areas.

Rawland "Rawley" Cogan alluded to these concerns while setting forth his view of the Visitor Center during the "Wild About Elk" Workshop last June.

Rawley Cogan Explains Position On Economic Development: photo by W.Hill

While many view elk and other wildlife solely from the perspective of wildlife conservation, hunting, and eco-tourism, Mr.Cogan explained the economic importance of the center to an economically depressed region which has seen the loss of a lot of jobs, many of which will not return. Cogan also stressed the need to preserve Benezette from unfettered development. The following is a direct quote by Mr. Cogan:

“Part of our role in Keystone Elk Country Alliance is to drive economic activity throughout the region so when people come here, they need a place to stay. Benezette needs to stay Benezette. It needs to protect its' sense of place. Benezette is a quaint little old coal mining, timbering town that gives you kind of that step back in time feel and you don't want to change that, because if you change it, it's like every other place. So Benezette doesn't have the infrastructure for eco-tourism and the hotels and the restaurants, they've done pretty well with what they have. Our hope is to drive economic activity into places that they already have the infrastructure like St. Marys, and Clearfield, and Ridgway,Johnsonburg, Emporium,and DuBois, that they've got it in place so people will make the day trip into elk country and go to these other towns and cities to spend the night.” Rawland Cogan 06-16-2010

While Mr. Cogan hopes to preserve Benezette and one would presume Winslow Hill as well, it is by no means clear how he proposes to do so. If the influx of tourists comes, what is to prevent much of the private property in the area from being developed to a much greater extent than it is today? Perhaps there is a plan to deal with this but it seems that most are unaware of any such plan. One Winslow Hill resident expressed deep concern that properties on the hill may be seized by eminent domain, but there have been no official statements concerning this that I am aware of. There are only so many options available to control growth, which includes seizing the land for a park type situation, zoning, or the purchase of development rights from landowners. It is certain that hope alone is not going to prevent rampant development.

What Will Protect Remaining Private Land From Development? Photo by W.Hill

Prominent photographer, Bob Shank who has owned a camp on Winslow Hill for twenty years or more, reports that lot prices have skyrocketed lately with lots going for six times what they did in the early 1990s.  Shank feels that a recent steep price increase  is because the company which owns the undeveloped land anticipates a greatly increased demand for campsites with the opening of the visitor center.  Shank also points out several key properties on Winslow Hill that are unprotected from development, and wishes he had the resources to purchase them and eventually turn them over to his son or an organization such as The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, or The Pennsylvania Game Commission so that they would be preserved.

Vulnerable Habitat: Photo by W.Hill
A couple who are long time members of the RMEF also thinks much the same way and ponder if perhaps money spent on building a visitor center would not have been better utilized in buying and protecting more land.

It is possible that the Center will provide a focal point for elk based tourism to such an extent that the casual tourist will not be inclined to explore other areas that are not developed for tourism, and thereby alleviate tourist pressure. This is not a given; however, as it is possible that the network of trails and viewing blinds at the Center will not be able to handle the influx of tourists at peak periods, which could result in increased pressure on  surrounding private property and public lands.

A successful Visitor Center should help counteract those who would like to see a substantial part of the herd on Winslow Hill shot off. There are those who view the elk as a problem and would like to see a drastic reduction in the herd of acclimated elk. This ranges from some in the Pennsylvania Game Commission who either view the elk primarily as a problem, or solely as another hunting opportunity, to the private landowner that may object to elk damage and would rather not have them around, or may actually like the elk, but is so upset by rampant trespassing and traffic congestion that they would prefer to see the elk herd drastically reduced, which in time would cause a marked decrease in tourism. Some who view the elk situation from a hunting opportunity standpoint alone, give the impression that they would like to have the herd on Winslow Hill reduced to the point that it is no longer easily visible, which would result in more of a fair chase hunt, and reduce problems with tourists, but at the expense of viable elk tourism. The Center should also lend increased weight to the demand for more mature bulls and improve the chances for implementation of more strategies to prevent the over-harvest of this class of elk, which has occurred since the elk hunt began in 2001.

More Mature Bulls Needed: Photo by W.Hill

Whatever one's point of view, the Visitor Center is about to become a reality, but there certainly is room for continued debate about where we should go from here and what steps should be taken to preserve the character of the Benezette area.

While the Center apparently did not open for the Labor Day weekend, it appears that they will open to the public later this month, but the official Grand Opening will not be until October.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Keystone Elk Country Alliance To Decide On Wednesday About Labor Day Weekend Opening

Elk Country Visitor Center: June 16, 2010-photo by W.Hill

There has been a lot of speculation as to when the Elk Country Visitors Center near Benezette, Pa. will open and today Paul Staniszewski, a Juried PA Wilds Artisan, sent the latest news concerning the center and the opening date.

Mr. Staniszewski reports, "I went up to Benezette this morning (Monday) and saw that a black iron gate like the one going to the Homestead has now been installed at the entrance to the visitors center.... Also, a cinder block base has been constructed to hold the Elk Country Visitors Center sign.... The people at the visitors center tell me that they will decide on Wednesday if they will open for Labor Day week".

The opening date will be posted on The Keystone Elk Country Alliance Website. Be sure to click on the Visitor Center tab.

Paul also reports seeing several bulls and hearing a lot of bugling on Winslow Hill as the rut gets underway.

Pennsylvania Bull Elk: photo courtesy of Paul Stanszewski-all rights reserved
Paul has also heard  that the buildings at the Gilbert Viewing Area are scheduled to be razed very soon as the reclamation project in that area comes to a close.

 Gilbert Buildings Likely Scheduled For Demolition: Photo by W.Hill-Winter 2006
I have referred to this as "The Gilbert Viewing Area" for years, but this is not the official name at present.  It was called The Gilbert Farm when I first went to Elk County in 1995 as it was owned by Kenny Gilbert who spent summers there and winters in Florida.  In 2000 the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation partnered with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to purchase the land.  Later stewardship of the property was transferred to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. At the time of purchase , it was simply referred to as "The Gilbert" and it seemed likely that it would be called "the Gilbert Viewing Area", yet when a sign was erected last year, it was named "The Porcupine Hollow-Winslow Hill Viewing Area".

Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill Elk Viewing Area Sign: photo by W.Hill

We have no other confirmation that the demolition is scheduled, but it is consistent with Game Commission policy as in most cases he PGC does not maintain buildings on lands which it acquires unless they are suited for a specific need.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Elk Country Visitor Center To Open September 9th?

Elk Country Visitor Center Under Construction June 16, 2010-photo by W.Hill
Rumors abounded in Pennsylvania elk country during the late 1990's and early 2000's about the future construction of a visitors center for elk tourism on Winslow Hill. At that time the favored spot was in the area known as “The Saddle". This is the area on Winslow Hill, near the Gilbert Farm, which has been the site of a reclamation project for most of this decade. Most assumed that a visitors center would be built and operated by The Pennsylvania Game Commission, but subsequent events proved this to not be the case.

Perhaps the initial happening in a string of events that was to change the situation entirely began in 2002 when Pennsylvania Game Commission Elk Biologist Rawland, “Rawley” Cogan resigned his position as elk biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and went to work for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as Northeast Lands Program Manager. The next important step was when the RMEF purchased the 245 ace Betta Tree Farm on the lower reaches of Winslow Hill, which became known as Elk Mountain Homestead. It is unclear as to whether the property was purchased with the goal of building a visitor center, but within a short time of the acquisition the possibility was openly discussed and the RMEF Newsletter “Wapiti” featured an article by Julie Cowan in the winter 2007 edition, “Elk foundation, Pennsylvania DCNR Announce Partnership for Visitor Center” , which verified that this was to be the official course of action.

The official groundbreaking for the construction of the center was on September 25, 2008, but actual construction did not begin until late May of 2009 (Source-May 20, 2009 issue DCNR Newsletter “Resource”)

According to the 2007 article by Ms. Cowan, the center was to be open by the fall of 2009, but this was not to be and the project met a major set-back instead when the RMEF abruptly withdrew from the project in September 2009, and transferred ownership of the property to DCNR. It was soon back on track; however, with the founding of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, which stepped in to fill the void left by the departure of the RMEF and named Cogan as project Manager for the Visitor Center.

"Rawley Cogan" Project Manager For Visitor Center Addresses "Wild About Elk Workshop" June 16, 2010-photo by W.Hill
 The actual opening date has been difficult to pin down, as The Keystone Elk Country Alliance Website has not given a firm opening date until very recently. It now appears that the center should open no later than September 9, 2009 according to Paul Staniszewski, a Juried PA Wilds Artist, who specializes in macro-photography and the production of Floral Note Cards. Mr Staniszewski has been engaged to provide products for the Visitor Center gift shop, and recently received official notification that the “for sure” opening date is September 9th, while Visitor Center Officials are still hoping for sooner if possible. This is further confirmed by the recent updating of the The Keystone Elk Country Alliance Website's Visitor Center Page which now says, “anticipated to open September 9, 2010.

"Wild About Elk" Workshop Participants Observe Elk Near Visitor Center Parking Area-June 16, 2010- photo by W.Hill
I hope to take a closer look at the impact the Visitor Center may have on the Benezette area in the next installment, which should be posted within the next few days.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Genetics and the Hunt

Broad based hunting seasons with the general population hunting is assumed to normally distribute the harvesting of young through mature male animals.  However, without controls and restrictions the maturity and broad based gene pool is still often effected as evidenced by the Pa Whitetail deer hunting program.  For a number of years the antlered season was run without any restrictions other than the antlered deer had to have one antler at least three inches long.  With advances in rifle and scope technology and the easier access to all hunting grounds, the Pa whitetail deer population had few males reaching 4 to 5 years old and most antlered deer harvested were small in antler structure.  That style season did not selectively harvest trophy animals as most of the hunters afield only wanted to say "I got my buck".  A few years ago an antler restriction of at least three points per side was added and a significant change has occurred in the antlered deer population in PA with many more very mature antlered deer resulting.

The Pa Elk Hunt is administered with antlerless and antlered tags.  There is no program currently to cull particular gene pools from the elk population or control the age and genetic make up of the animals that are harvested.  The data collection and interviewing I have done of hunters that desire to hunt bull elk in PA has brought to focus a concern for the long term health of the Pa Elk Herd.  Most of the hunters are only interested in harvesting a "Trophy" bull.  they are paying a significant guide fee and it is like winning the lottery to draw a permit, let a lone an antlered permit.  With a small herd (less than 800) this can create a situation where the breeding bulls with what is considered "trophy racks" can be culled from the herd to the point that the bulls with non-trophy or deformed racks become the primary breeding stock for the Pa Elk Herd.  It is recognized among game biologists that selective culling must be done in small herds to maintain a herd with broad based genetics.  I began researching this topic after seeing five bulls in the same area near Benezett last winter that all had similar deformities of the right antler.  It was obvious from observation that all of these bulls were genetically deformed and had not had some antler damage done during velvet to cause the deformity as some tried to convince me.

Here are images of three of the bulls:
(these images do not follow rules of photography of animals--they are cropped to illustrate antler structure)
This one may be Dad or Grandpa

The other two bulls that were with the above three stayed deeper in the brush and did not provide me with an opportunity to photograph them clearly.  

All of these bulls are within the hunt zone.  If the hunt is continued on the same basis as it is now-bulls like these could become the primary breeding stock of the herd which could result in the majority of the bulls in the herd having antler structure such as this is some other antler form.  Since the Pa Bull Elk are so easily accessible (guides would lead you to believe this is not true-but look at the 100% kill stats in Pa compared to 15% in western states) the Pa Game Commission could implement a program similar to what is done on ranches in Wyoming, Montana and Texas for deer.  That program would have tags that are for specific animals that would be culled from the herd for long term health of the herd.  An outfall of that would be that antlered tags would not be as cherished and the number of applicants might go down. The bottom line is that the Elk Hunt in Pa has not been very well thought out in terms of management of the herd for its long term health.

Jim Borden


Wild About Elk: Elk And People-Issues With Elk: Part II: Artificial Feeding

Hand Feeding Of Elk Is Risky, And Is Illegal In Pennsylvania: Photo by W.Hill
According to WCO McDowell, the PGC suspects feeding as the cause of death for 12 elk, but only four cases have been confirmed in laboratory tests. One workshop attendee questioned why elk could die from eating corn, but it was not a threat to deer. At this point Mr. McDowell explained that deer are also vulnerable and dealt with the situation in depth,

His presentation covered much of the information given in PGC News Release #088-09 "ARTIFICIAL FEEDING CONFIRMED IN DEATHS OF FOUR ELK: GAME COMMISSION SAYS LITTER CAUSING RISK TO WILDLIFE ”  Source: The Pennsylvania Game Commission:-Resources-News Releases-1999-2009 Archives

The following is a pertinent excerpt from the Release:

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials recently reported that there have been four cases involving elk that have died of rumen acidosis, which is directly related to artificial feeding that causes an abrupt change in an elk’s diet that wreaks havoc with its digestive system. Feeding elk is illegal, as it causes problems by habituating elk to find food around homes and can be dangerous to those who attempt to feed elk by hand. So far, we have been able to document four cases of such deaths,” said Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission wildlife veterinarian. “There have been other deaths that believed may have been caused by such feeding, but, in those cases the animal was either decomposed or other circumstances prevented it from obtaining the carcass in time for laboratory analysis to take place.”

Dr. Cottrell explained that elk, as well as white-tailed deer, adapt to a winter diet of primarily woody vegetation and they will die of acidosis caused by a build up of lactic acid in the rumen, chambers of its four-part stomach that is responsible for fermentation of food. If they consume too much high-fermentable grain, such as corn, which is the most common artificial feed put out by local residents, the pH level falls quickly and a shock-like syndrome can occur.

Local residents have been issued citations for the illegal feeding. In one case, an elk was found lying dead on a pile of corn. In another case, a resident dragged the carcass of a dead elk into the woods in an attempt to conceal the situation.

We need to have local residents and district justices understand that the well intentioned individuals are actually killing elk,” Dr. Cottrell said. “For those who truly enjoy seeing elk it is best for them to stop artificially feeding elk and other wildlife. It would be far more beneficial if they were to implement some form of habitat improvement producing cover to reduce weather-related stress or food in the form of digestible native plants on their property.”

PGC Recommends Landowners Plant Food And Cover To Attract Wildlife: Photo by W.Hill

Elk Feeding In PGC Food Plot (herbaceous opening) Planted In Grain: Photo by W.Hill
Some view the news release with a certain degree of skepticism and point out that they have not seen or heard of large numbers of deer lying dead in corn fields left standing into the winter and in their opinion this should be no different than animals eating corn at a feeder.  I recently spoke with a retired PGC Maintenance Supervisor who began working for the agency in the 1960s at a time when they still planted food plots in corn, which was left stand for winter wildlife food. This was at a time that the deer population was not large enough to decimate the corn before it ripened, and it was common to go into winter with a field loaded with corn ears, yet he only recalls finding one dead deer in these fields. In light of this, it seems likely that the problem is caused by sudden exposure to a large amount of corn such as when a truck-load is abruptly dumped in an area, and not simply feeding on corn per se. Dr. Cottrell refers to this when he mentions, "if they consume too much highly fermentable grain such as corn". Those deer utilizing a corn field may have gradually become accustomed to the change in diet as the corn ripened and thus avoided problems.

Much supplemental feeding is done on a small scale, or occurs when animals raid bird feeders,etc. and is not as likely to be lethal as large scale operations, but all are well advised to remember that intentional artificial feeding of elk or bears is illegal under the Pennsylvania Game And Wildlife Code.

To be continued:

Originally Posted At:Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill