Bugling of an elk remains a thrilling sound

One aspect of the outdoor life that we enjoy most is the various sound effects; hearing things you just won’t hear in the city.

The raucous gobble of the wild turkey, a pack of coyotes howling at dawn or dusk, the ominous rattle of a timber rattlesnake, the trills of various songbirds, the grunt of a buck in rut, the cry of a hawk on the hunt, the 9 note cadence of a barred owl, the haunting notes of a mourning dove are some things you can hear in the woods if you are tuned in.

Probably most thrilling of all is the bugling of an elk. It is a sound not able to be described on paper but is guaranteed to start the goosebumps flowing if you happen to be in the woods alone and an elk erupts near you. So it is time to plan for a trek to the North Country where elk are about to unleash the most thrilling audio treat Pennsylvanians can absorb.

My grandfather often bragged that he killed (illegally) the last elk known to be in Clinton County. I don’t know if that is true, but he thought it was. Back when I first heard him spout that boast, I had no idea what an elk was. I had no doubt, however, that whatever he did, it was illegal. Thanks goodness, those genes didn’t pass on to most of the family.

In the early 1900’s the re-establishment of wildlife was a prime consideration of the infant Game Commission. When Yellowstone National Park put out a cry for help in reducing the mushrooming elk population in the park, officials in Pennsylvania decided it would be good to import some of those elk into the state.

So they did; introducing elk from Yellowstone into the central northwoods of Pennsylvania in 1913. A protection from hunting order was put on them so the population could expand. There was just one kicker they hadn’t thought of: the elk had a habit of ranging widely. They didn’t stay in the big woods; they took to raiding farmer’s corn and other grain fields causing a great deal of damage. Farmers revolted against the whole idea of elk in central Pennsylvania so it was decided to not import any more.

That helped for awhile but the powers-that-were in those days after only a couple years, decided to ignore that early decision and brought in just under 100 more elk from Yellowstone. Seven of those animals were released in Blair County, the rest in traditional northcentral counties.

During those same years, the whitetail deer population was also exploding and farmers were outraged at all the crop damage they were having. They were not supporters of the new Game Commission and so illegal poaching became rampant for both deer and elk. After some years, the elk population declined in most areas except for the pockets that survived in the Elk and Cameron County areas.

Recent years have seen various attempts to reintroduce elk into other areas and reintroduce to some, such as the Sproul State Forest in Clinton County. And they are running into the same problems the first reintroduction efforts ran into over 80 years ago: the elk won’t stay where they are put if there is luscious food in farmer’s fields which is so much easier to get. The fact is, folks, that in wildlife management, nothing changes, it just recycles.

This doesn’t change, however: the thrill of seeing a huge bull elk in the woods and hearing the ear-splitting bugle he thrusts on his environment as he seeks a mate is a thrill like no other. The few times I’ve personally heard it, I felt somehow uniquely blessed.

As most know, the area around Benezette which some have dubbed as “The Elk Capital of Pennsylvania” is the prime place to see and hear elk as they go about the business of breeding. A bull in prime condition bugles to signal to any available female where he is and let the fun begin.

Frankly, I have to admire the patience and fortitude of landowners who live in the elk habitat because tourists, in their sometimes foolish desire to get closer to elk, trample all over their lawns and fields, thoughtlessly littering and brazenly trespassing on private property.

These huge animals are not domesticated models put out for show, they are wild animals in the rut and approaching too closely, crossing the line of their comfort zone, is to threaten them and they may respond aggressively. If you want a close-up photo of a mature elk, bring a camera with a long lens. Don’t attempt to creep up on a big bull with a point-and-shoot camera. It’s dangerous.

You have until Aug. 25 to apply for an elk license. Applicants must pay a $10.70 non-refundable application fee to be included in the drawing.

This year’s drawing provides a greater opportunity for hunters to obtain an elk license. The number of licenses to be allocated has been increased to 86, up from the 65 licenses issued in the 2012-13 season.

The drawing will be held on Friday, Sept. 13 in the auditorium at the Game Commission headquarters in Harrisburg. Names will be drawn first for the 26 antlered licenses available, followed by the drawings for the 60 available antlerless licenses. Hunters are not required to purchase a resident or nonresident general hunting license to apply for the drawing.

However, if they are drawn for one of the elk licenses, hunters then will be required to purchase the appropriate resident or nonresident general hunting license and view the elk hunt orientation video produced by the Game Commission before being permitted to purchase the elk license.

The elk license fees are $25 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. There is no cap, or limit, for the number of licenses that may be awarded to nonresidents.

Individuals who applied in each year from 2003 through 2012, but were not awarded an elk license, have 10 preference points heading into this year’s drawing. If they submit an application this year, and will have their name entered into the drawing 11 times, 10 preference points plus the point for this year’s application.