|Approaching The Favorite Spot: Photo by W.Hill|
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|
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|
|Hunter and Guide Leave Area: Photo by W.Hill|
|Coy Hill Photographs Bull Lying Down: Photo by W.Hill|
|Crippled Bull: Photo by W.Hill|
|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