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