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Now is the time for Pennsylvania elk viewing

The cooler days we experienced last week finally ended the extended summer heat wave in time for the official arrival of fall this Tuesday.

So many experiences make being outdoors in the fall a special time indeed. One of those is the opportunity to view the peak of the mating season for our Pennsylvania elk herd commonly called the “rut,” which occurs from mid-September to early October. Currently, about 1,000 elk inhabit Pennsylvania’s elk range, which comprises parts of Elk, McKean, Cameron, Clinton, Potter, Clearfield and Centre counties north of Interstate 80. During the next several weeks, thousands of visitors armed with binoculars, spotting scopes or cameras will travel to the north-central Pennsylvania to view the wild elk living there.

Elk can be a spectacular sight any time of year, but these impressive animals are especially compelling to view in the fall. Mature bulls can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds, and some will be displaying a grand set of antlers, headgear they will use to impress potential mates or as weapons to fend off rival males. Bulls also bugle to advertise their presence to potential mates and to further assert their dominance for mating rights. The bugle is a high-pitched, nasal squeal that at first seems out of place as the call of such a large and magnificent animal. But haunting sound of a bull elk bugling on a crisp, fall morning soon becomes truly special for those who appreciate the natural world.

For those folks who are not familiar with the Pennsylvania elk range, taking time to do a little homework before heading north might help avoid possible frustration and disappointment with the experience. The websites for several of the tourist and visitor organizations in northcentral Pennsylvania are great sources of information for those planning a trip to elk country, especially first-time visitors. The Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau (www.visitpago.com) is the official tourist promotion agency for Cameron, Clarion, Elk, Forest and Jefferson counties. The Pennsylvania Wilds website (pawilds.com) is another good source of elk info. The Elk Country Visitor Center located at 950 Winslow Hill Road in Benezette is the centerpiece for visitors to the region. During September and October, the facility is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Check out their website (elkcountryvisitorcenter.com) for a wealth of information on elk watching in the region.

For those who can’t make the trip north to view elk in person, the Game Commission has again this year installed a camera to provide live video of a field on State Game Lands 311 in Elk County. Elk, as well as deer, turkeys and other wildlife, tend to frequent this area during the bugling season. According the Game Commission sources, the top time to see elk on camera is in late afternoon. Access the elk cam on the Game Commission website, www.pgc.pa.gov, by going about halfway down the left side of the homepage to the “Quick Clicks” box. In that box, click on the “LIVE Elk Cam” link. Along with the live video stream, there is plenty of useful information for elk country visitors. The link “Elk Viewing Destinations” below the video screen provides a map and specific directions to some of the best potential elk viewing areas.

Most folks will want to make a visit to the area around Winslow Hill a part of their initial foray to elk country. Located just off Rt. 555 a few miles from the town of Benezette, this area harbors a good concentration of elk and ample viewing opportunities, so on any given day chances of seeing some elk there are good. The downside to the Benezette/Winslow Hill area is it sometimes gets crowded this time of year. Traffic jams are common on the narrow back roads there, as drivers by the dozen pull over and park as best they can to view and elk in a field or nearby woodlot. In any case, remember to be respectful of private property and the animals themselves. While the elk in some locations are somewhat accustomed to humans stopping to watch them, they are still fundamentally wild animals, and the elk range isn’t a just big theme park. Feeding wild elk is also unlawful in Pennsylvania.

Visitors in the Benezette area may now tune into the Game Commission’s Northcentral Elk Viewing Area Information Radio Station, WRBR385, broadcasting on 1620 AM. The radio station provides a guided tour of the heart of the elk management area. In addition to regular seasonal messages and safe elk viewing tips, the station broadcasts important notices about upcoming events and emergencies. The broadcasts are brought to you in partnership with the Keystone Elk Country Alliance and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

To manage the numbers of elk and prevent them from expanding into areas that would create undue conflicts with farmers and other landowners, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has conducted a tightly regulated elk hunt each year since 2001. A limited number of elk licenses are issued via a random drawing, giving those hunters drawn the opportunity to harvest a Pennsylvania elk. This year, 10 licenses for antlered elk and 16 licenses for antlerless elk were issued for the archery elk season that began on Sept. 12 and runs through Sept. 26; 26 antlered licenses and 78 antlerless were issued for the general elk season that runs from Nov. 5-10; and 34 antlerless licenses were issued for the late season that runs from Jan. 2-9, 2021.

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