On Nov. 5, when the sun set on Pennsylvania’s 2016 elk season, 97 of the 124 special permit holders had been successful.
The large number of permits, the highest since the modern-day hunt began in 2001, is reflective of the growing elk herd and the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s efforts to control it. One hundred sixteen licenses were offered last year, as compared to 108 in 2014, 86 in 2013, and 65 in 2012. Only 30 tags were drawn for the first elk hunt.
A total of 24 of the 25 bull elk hunters shot antlered elk — 96 percent — close to the 15-year average of 97 percent. Two additional bull elk had been harvested in September. These large bulls were taken as a result of an auction and a raffle — one auctioned by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a second tag raffled by the Keystone Elk Country Alliance.
Almost all of the bull elk permit holders hired the services of a guide, while that is not usually true for antlerless elk hunters. Seventy-three of the 99 antlerless elk hunters scored on cow elk. This is slightly below the 15-year average of 76 percent, but higher than last year’s 68 percent.
Both Centre County bull elk permit holders used a guiding service. Philipsburg hunter Larry Horner hired Trophy Rack Lodge, the only outfitter also located in Centre County. Lee Schisler, of State College, used the guiding services of Elk County Outfitters. Horner’s tag was for Elk Hunt Zone 11, which is mostly in Clearfield County. Schisler’s tag was for EHZ 8, which includes parts of Cameron and Elk counties southeast of Benezette.
“Monday just was not a real good day,” said Horner, a retired machinist from Penn State’s Applied Research Lab. Horner saw elk in the morning, including a big bull, but he also watched them leave the area before legal shooting time. He spent much of the remainder of the day with his guide Dean Carper checking out other locations for elk, all to no avail.
Tuesday started out as a repeat of the opening day for Horner, but his fortunes changed when he and his guide stopped at an area of State Game Land 34 known as the “Duck Ponds,” west of the Quehanna Wild Area.
“We saw several cows and calves feeding in a food plot at about 7:45, and then we heard a beautiful elk bugle echoing through the valley,” Horner said. “A few minutes later, a large bull appeared and my guide advised that it was a good bull.”
The 70-year-old Horner set up his shooting stick and peered at the large bull through his 3x9 power scope. The Remington model 700 chambered for 7 mm did the job, and his 177-yard shot downed the 8x8 bull. PGC land manager Eric Erdman and commissioner Tim Layton stopped by to congratulate Horner and assist in getting his elk loaded for transport to the check station, which has been relocated to old Benezette Schoolhouse, in Elk County.
At the check station, Horner’s bull had an estimated live weight of 733 pounds. Game Commission biologist Tony Ross green-scored the elk at 374- 7/8 inches using the Boone and Crockett method.
Horner is having a European mount made of his trophy. He and his family have been enjoying elk burger and tenderloin since his elk was processed.
Schisler’s hunt started along the same vein as Horner’s. They hunted near the Driftwood Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek with no success on the opening day. They relocated near Winslow Hill in Elk County for the second morning. Guide Keith Manack shares how the second morning’s hunt went down.
“We had visited the area behind the Woodring farm the evening before — seeing cows and hearing bugling — so we were there before daybreak on Tuesday,” Manack said. “This is the first year that this area has been opened to elk hunting.”
When daylight arrived, they spotted about a dozen cows and calves — and one nice bull — but they were about 700 yards in the distance. The elk were feeding on clover as the guide, hunter and his two sons, David and Lee Jr. watched. Finally, several calves moved in the direction of the hunters and passed them.
“When I saw the calves move past us, I knew that the cows and bull would eventually follow,” Manack explained. “I told Lee to be ready.”
The cows and the bull did follow, but it took a while. When the bull approached within 200 yards, Manack advised Schisler to shoot.
“Lee made a nice 196-yard shot with his .300 Winchester short mag, and the elk went behind a tree,” Manack said. “A few minutes later, the elk reappeared and he made a second shot that put the 6x6 bull down.”
At age 88, Schisler became the oldest hunter to ever harvest an elk in Pennsylvania. He received a round of applause from the bystanders at the check station when this was announced by Doty McDowell, PGC Information and Education supervisor. Schisler plans to get a shoulder mount from Cessna’s Taxidermy in Penfield — the same taxidermist who donates a mount to the winner of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance elk raffle.
“I was very fortunate to have drawn a bull permit and even more fortunate to have both of my sons join me for the hunt. David flew in from Illinois,” Schisler said. “I was also very pleased with my guide Keith, and in the days that we were together a friendship developed that went beyond a client-guide relationship.”
Centre County hunters with antlerless elk tags included John Gummo, of Port Matilda, Eugene Preslovich, of Snow Shoe, Rober Herrold, of Spring Mills, and Donald Kerber, of State College. Both Gummo and Preslovich were successful, but at this time, it is unknown how Herrold and Kerber faired.
“I enjoyed my dozen or so trips scouting and my hunt was an excellent experience, a good, quality hunt with my guide,” Horner said.
“I think that the habitat work done by the Pennsylvania Game Commission has just been tremendous. I just think that they are missing the boat by not charging more for the elk license, because all of the money goes into improving elk habitat.”
Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com.