More Mature Bulls Now Than Ever Before?

"Crazy Legs 1997": A Monster Bull*

Today's photos are video still captures from Hi-8 video tapes, which cannot compare to output from a dedicated still camera or even a modern camcorder.

In a recent internet debate with SupportPAElk, Jack Manack Jr. of Elk County Outfitters made the following comment in reference to our contention that too many of the large bulls have been killed in the elk seasons.

"You guys question my comments about there being more mature bulls now then ever before and the fact that there are less to see around the no hunt zone. The answer to both of these questions is the same. This is how much good the elk hunt is doing for the health of the herd. What it took people 70 years to do to the elk, the hunt is reversing in just a few".

Jack Manack Jr. 2009

In light of this statement a brief look at the historical record is in order.

Elk vanished from the state sometime in the late 1870s. The Pennsylvania Game Commission was established in 1895 and a serious effort to re-establish decimated or extirpated wildlife populations began. According to Ralph Harrison, writing in "The History of Elk Country", elk from Yellowstone Park were released in The Commonwealth from 1913 to 1915, along with 22 animals from a preserve in Monroe County. Six more animals were released in 1924 and four in 1926 for a total of 177 animals released.

A season for bull elk was established in 1923 and 23 bulls were taken. The harvest climaxed in 1927 at 26 animals and declined to five in 1930. Only one animal was taken in 1931 and the hunt was discontinued.

The decline in numbers continued until it is estimated that there were between 24 and seventy animals in 1970.

At this time Ralph Harrison organized an effort to improve elk habitat and the herd began a steady increase.

This positive trend continued until "the first modern day Pennsylvania elk hunt in 70 years was held in 2001. The herd now numbers 700-800 animals. An important consideration to bear in mind is that the PGC is reasonably certain that 80% of these animals do actually exist. They are counted and monitored on a regular basis. The other 20% of the herd is estimated to exist. The key word here is ESTIMATED. Some who are extremely knowledgeable about the elk herd question the accuracy of this estimate and feel that the number is actually less, and most likely a great deal less. These are not tourists, or elk guides, but rather persons who live in the elk range and observe the animals on a daily basis. These same persons also do NOT believe that there are more mature bulls now then ever before, but rather contend that too much hunting pressure has been directed at them and that there are now less mature bulls on Winslow Hill and less in the back country than before the hunt.

Before the hunt it was fairly common to see bulls such as the following one on Winslow Hill. There is some room for error here, but this animal was most likely taken on the fourth day of the first elk hunt season. If this is the same bull, it was the largest rack taken and the 3rd heaviest animal during the 2001 hunt.(PGC News Release 102-01)

8x9 Near Gilbert Viewing Area:1997

8x9 :Another View

I admit to being somewhat confused! How is it a good thing that there are less bulls of this caliber on Winslow Hill now, than there were before the hunt?

In the past 70 years the elk herd rebounded from only a few animals to an estimated 700 animals before the 2001 hunt, (PGC News Release 102-01), yet Mr. Manack defends the hunt by saying, "what it took people 70 years to do to the elk, the hunt is reversing in just a few".

It seems things were going to hell in a hand basket before the hunt came along and saved the day, yet during this time elk numbers were increasing and the herd was expanding. What problems has the hunt reversed? We will explore this subject in more depth in the near future.

1 comment:

  1. Herd estimates have remained virtually static since the beginning of the hunt. Between the legal kill and other mortality herd growth has been virtually eliminated when according to the latest elk management plan (2006-2016) neither the biological or sociological carrying capacity have been reached.