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Why were we skunked?

April 14, 2014 - Larry Claypool
A needle in a haystack, a BIG haystack. That’s what I thought we were looking for after two friends and I spent 5 1/2 hours searching for elk sheds in central Pennsylvania one day in late March. While the search was on I had felt confident we were on some very good trails, seeing several great signs of elk in the area to pick up at least one elk bull antler. We covered miles and miles of wood lots and fields on state game lands and found no elk sheds. Skunked! Why were we skunked? A mystery we tried to solve during our 3 1/2 hours trip home from ‘elk country’, located near Benezette, PA (Elk County). We traveled to Benezette to hunt for elk sheds because our guide, Curt Grimm, knows the area well and had pin-pointed this time of year as a great time to look for fallen antlers from the majestic bull elk. Last fall I accompanied Grimm and his younger brother Gary to view and photograph the same elk during mating season, or what many call ‘bugling season’. During that 2 1/2 day visit we watched hundreds of elk (cows and bulls, young and older) roam the hills and fields in Elk County. We got some great photographs, and got really close to several elk, including one herd in a vastly covered pine tree grove. We witnessed some impressive back-and-forth bugling from a few nice 7x7 bulls and quickly determined which bull was in charge of this group. It was exciting to see and hear. This is the same area we searched first for sheds in March. Nothing! Our shed search covered several square miles as the three of us, Grimm, his friend and neighbor Brad Gavalya and I, split up to cover more ground during our extensive hunt. Only Grimm encountered any elk during the search. He boldly got between a dozen or so elk — none had antlers — to break them up and photograph them. He snapped off a few good shots of a two different elk but found no sheds in the area. I saw no elk during my trek, but did kick up one whitetail. There’s not a lot of deer in this region though. There’s also a few bears but I witnessed only one telephone pole that had seriously taken a beaten from a bear. I did follow several elk trails during my travels. I followed them up hills, down hills, into water, on some ice and snow that remained. A few sections had serious small tree damage from elk rubs. And I believe I can tell you the difference between bull and cow dung. I saw a lot of that, but it didn’t lead to any sheds. Halfway through our futile search for elk sheds we decided to head back down the hill to talk to some local residents. “Is this the right time to look for sheds?,” Grimm asked one business owner. “You’re about a month too late,” we were told. “And you’re going to get run off with the a gun if you go on someone’s property. They’re very protective of ‘their’ elk,” the proprietor added. We were not concerned about being ‘run off’ because we’d only been on public land. We did agree that it seemed like were not welcome in the area though. So, we moved on, and kept searching. The business owner did note that it would also be tough to find sheds near town (Benezette) since the “state” occasionally fired shots in the air to scare away the elk. That statement didn’t make sense to us at the time but somewhat matched a scenerio one of Grimm’s friends had relented to him, ironically, while we were returning home from the trip. I was unable to confirm any theories related to this subject before presstime. I did try to contact the PA Game Commission about this topic but have yet to hear back from them. Will I got back to look for that needle in a haystack? We’ll see. Stay tuned.


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We stopped along a creek for photos. In this area there were 1,000+ small trees that were damaged by elk rubs.