5.10.2011

Early May Brings Mixed Feelings About PA Elk Herd

Bennett's Branch Near Benezette
Early May with its' superb scenery,  mild temperatures, and abundant wildlife is a wonderful time to visit Pennsylvania Elk Country.  The photo above was taken near the Benezett river bridge early on the morning of May 5th, 2008 and I liked it so much that I included video footage of this scene in "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", the documentary film that was released that September.  There is truly something special about a beautiful spring morning spent afield whether it be in a turkey blind, hiking the backcountry, or photographing scenery and big game.

For me, the primary focus of an early May trip is to document the growth of the bull's antlers and the 2008 trip yielded several excellent encounters.  The best photo sessions with a large bull was when I found the magnificent bull that many referred to as "Kisser" in the woods near the Dent's Run Viewing Area.

"Kisser" or "Odie" Near Dents Run Viewing Area
This bull could usually be found somewhere between Devil's Elbow and Benezette, but the area around Dents Run Viewing Area seemed to be an especially favorite spot for him in May.

"Kisser" The Gentle Giant
It seems most Pennsylvania bulls are not as aggressive as some of the western bulls such as Bull 6, which was a famous character bull at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone Park.  That bull was known for chasing people and attacking vehicles, but "Kisser" was the exact opposite of this.

Bull 6 Mammoth Hot Springs-Yellowstone National Park
 Well known photographer and guide Phil Burkhouse wrote an article "Fred Is Dead" in his "Wandering Aimlessly " column in the Jan 19, 2011 issue of The Cameron County Echo, about "Bull 36" also known as "Fred" shortly after he died last winter.  In this Mr Burkhouse tells how that tourist flock to Winslow Hill to see elk and that Fred was "the brightest star in the tourism trade and perhaps the most valuable animal to local businesses in the state".  He goes on to say that, "Fred was a first class citizen".  "Fred, huge beast that he was, was always friendly and gentle.  Fred was undoubtedly the largest bull elk in the herd for ten years running and did not have a mean bone in this body."  While "Kisser" was overshadowed by Bull 36's reputation, he was well know and was every bit as acclimated and harmless.  He was the most likely "heir apparent" to Bull 36, but that was not to be as he was killed in the 2010 elk hunt. I cannot comprehend why there cannot be a sufficient no hunt zone,  that a few bulls can have a large enough home range to reach maturity and live a normal life span.   I began hunting at an early age and was as avid a hunter as any until 1997-98 so I completely understand the pro-hunt point of view, but I cannot comprehend how we can be so obsessed with the need to make  every "elk a hunted elk", that we cannot allow anything special to exist such as a few bulls like this. 

Apologists for the hunt as it is currently implemented never tire of pointing out that elk were re-introduced for hunting purposes and that the re-introduction was paid for with hunting license dollars, therefore the herd should be managed primarily for hunting purposes. At times lip service is given to the concept of managing for tourism, but when the actual management decisions are made, the elk and the non-consumptive user are usually the losers.  Attaining the proper balance between hunting and tourism  is the key, and the herd can be managed in such a way that it is a win, win situation for both the tourist and hunting industries, but at this point a win, win situation does not seem likely.  Instead what we are doing is much like hunting elk in downtown Mammoth Hot Springs.  We are killing our biggest, best and most visible elk and it is WRONG!!!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

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