A Brief Look Into The History Of Elk In Pennsylvania

By: Brandon Rapp

The story of elk in Pennsylvania may be one of the best comeback stories of all of our wildlife. Their place in the state and society has been debated and fought for decades. Being near elk can produce almost a sensory overload with everything about the creature larger than most of us who enjoy time here in woods can comprehend. 

A native population of the animals once thrived throughout the state. As settlement of Pennsylvania expanded in the 18th and 19th centuries conflicts with humans would see elk numbers trickle to a few drops scattered across the remote parts of its borders. Farmers had a hard time living with a single creature the size of five whitetail deer inhaling their crops. Stories vary, as most do, as to who actually killed the last native elk. Who’s hand it fell to doesn’t really seem to matter because once they were gone, they were gone.

The early 20th century would see the idea of repopulating Pennsylvania with elk come to fruition with the game commission purchasing animals from blossoming herds in Yellowstone National Park. The fairly newly formed PGC at the time was working at replenishing a multitude of native species of fauna previously slashed by years of unregulated overhunting which had been a practice nationwide.

Conservation was controversial though, and the pushback was almost immediate from those in the agricultural industry. Common ground had to be found by those who enjoyed having elk around to see and hunt while mitigating damage to crops of hard-working Pennsylvania farmers.

Populations of elk would wax and wane through the coming decades with the availability of funds and worldwide events such as the second world war. A post-war Pennsylvania would see the idea of repopulation surface to a discussion in the state.

Thanks to the efforts of the PGC, biologists, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation we now have herds of elk in the state abundant enough for a lottery tag draw and a great attraction for those simply wanting to enjoy viewing the animal. No area, or time, is more popular than the Elk Expo held every summer in Benezette, PA.

Pennsylvania’s current lottery system will issue 142 tags for 4 seasons this year including a brand-new early archery season. This is a time and experience most bowhunters with even a small knowledge of elk salivate to acquire as early fall is when elk rut.

As coveted of a time to be in the woods as November for whitetail hunters, bull elk will be less cautious and more active in the hopes of finding a mate. Hunters utilizing bull elk calls (or bugles) or imitating the call of a female (cow) elk can compare it to deer and turkey hunting at the same time if these animals were almost 1,000 pounds.

If you know anything or nothing about elk the weekend trip to Benezette is worth the drive. If you have any desire to hunt elk, but may not have the time and money to venture out west, you may want to start putting in for an elk tag here at home. All it takes is the luck of the draw and you could be in the woods enjoying a conservation comeback success all without leaving your state.