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Roaming Central PA

October 14, 2014 - Larry Claypool
Thousands of people each year travel to Benezette, PA to catch a glimpse of the majestic elk that roam this region. A great time to do that is during the rut season, late September and early October. The added bonus this time of year is being able to hear the bull elk’s mating call — known as bugling. For the second straight year I traveled to ‘elk country’ to view and photograph the elk, and be entertained by competing bulls trumpeting back and forth. Again my trip to Elk County, PA, in the northcentral part of the state, was hosted by Industry, PA residents and brothers Curt and Gary Grimm. This time we were able track down a dozen or so elk on the first evening we reached Benezette. After nearly a mile of hiking through woods and trails we honed in on a few bugling bulls along a secluded hillside, located on state game lands and part of several acres of reclaimed coal mines. There were three bulls and about 7-8 cows in the area. One pretty large bull, an odd 7 x 5, was definitely in charge of this herd. The bull ended up being the largest bull we’d see during our two-day trip. Actually we ended up seeing this bull two other times while photographing the elk herds. At one point on Saturday afternoon, normally busiest time for tourist to visit the area, only a single bull elk could be seen grazing at the edge of a large field which sits nearly a half mile from the main viewing area parking lot. That single bull was the 7 x 5 we’d been close to on Friday. This time we got within about 100 yards of the bull, not wanting to push it into the woods and out of viewing range of the large crowd that gathered at the top of the viewing area. Later on Saturday we returned to woods and eventually found more elk, bulls and cows — and yes, the odd 7 x 5 and some of his harem. There was also another nice 6 x 6 in the area. As we moved to get a closer look at this herd we found a rather large bedding area. This must have been a major gathering spot for the elk during the winter months. It was nestled in a grove of pine trees and wild Boston ferns. We had passed through this area during our early morning jaunt and found only some large dew-laced spider webs, which we all photographed. Our hiking experience during the late Saturday afternoon trip was a little different. Mostly due to the fact that so many other people were in the woods. That included a few very aggressive photographers that felt the need to actually chase down, and push, the elk to get photographs. These large animals will let you get pretty close to them (we’ve gotten as close as 30 yards), but if they feel threatened they will charge at you. Most times though they’ll just scamper away to another field or wooded area. We actually used this to our advantage as we let others push the elk toward our position. It helped that the Grimm brothers know the state game lands well and they knew where the large elk would eventually head. We did get into place, and the elk did come our way, but they were traveling too fast for any photographs to be taken. The two bulls that were worth pursuing had their escape route planned and headed into a deeply wooded area, out of sight from anyone’s camera. At that point it was nearly dusk and time to head back home. But we did manage some great photographs and videos during the trip. It did help that some of the trees had turned into fall colors and offered a beautiful backdrop. NOTE: See a few photos from this trip on Page 19 of the October issue of Ohio Valley Outdoor Times.


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PA elk by Larry Claypool