Pennsylvania elk

A bull elk stands watch over his harem of cows in a field at the Elk Country Visitors Center near Benezette, Pa. A bull elk stands watch over his harem of cows in a field at the Elk Country Visitors Center near Benezette.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Hunters killed 99 elk during Pennsylvania’s elk hunting seasons this fall, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

That total is about 3 times the number of elk living in the Pennsylvania elk range in the mid-1970s, when elk reintroduced into the state were in decline because of a parasitic brain worm.

Native elk were extirpated from Pennsylvania by the 1870s.

To re-establish the large herbivores in the state, the commission brought more than 170 elk from Yellowstone National Park to Pennsylvania. For decades they didn’t fare too well and generally declined.

But, improved and expanded habitat management and increased understanding of elk habits and movements in Pennsylvania, and the involvement of additional partners like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, have turned things around for the elk.

The current population is estimated as high as 1,200 animals living in Elk, Cameron, Clinton, Clearfield and Potter counties, enough to warrant a tightly controlled elk hunt targeted to different parts of the elk range.

The 99 elk harvested by hunters this year are descendants of those animals reintroduced to Pennsylvania from the American West a century ago.

In this year’s general elk hunt, which closed Nov. 9, 98 hunters had tags won in a lottery that drew 60,000 applications earlier this year. All 27 of those with tags for bull elk were successful, while 62 of the 71 hunters with cow elk tags bagged their trophies.

“Although we’re satisfied with the overall general season elk harvest — it’s tough to top a bull harvest that goes 27 for 27 — for the second consecutive year there was a slightly lower success rate for antlerless elk hunters in a few hunt zones,” said Jeremy Banfield, commission elk biologist. “But there are no guarantees hunting Pennsylvania elk.”

Elk were taken in 12 of 14 hunt zones in the general hunting season.

In an earlier archery hunt — Sept. 14-28 — 15 licensed hunters harvested 5 bulls and 5 cows in the 5 hunt zones that were open for that season.

The 2019 harvest included some large elk. Fourteen bulls were estimated to weigh 700 pounds or more. The heaviest bull, tipping the scales at 800 pounds, had a 10-by-9 rack and was taken in Gibson Township, Cameron County by Caleb Hostetter, of Boiling Springs. The second-largest bull in the harvest was a 788-pounder with an 8-by-7 rack taken in Covington Township, Clearfield County by Willis Humes, of Cheswick.

A third season for the 2019-20 hunting license year — an antlerless-only season, with 29 tags issued — will be held Jan. 4-11.