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