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Elk - Up Close and Personal

October 30, 2013
By Larry Claypool - OVO Editor , Ohio Valley Outdoors

What a special thing Pennsylvania has going on with the continued success and numbers of elk in the state. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the efforts to restore elk to PA. They've done a good job. There's an estimated 850-900 elk thriving in the state. Many of those live in the north central county of Elk (appropriately named). A good number of the large mammal roam the hills near the township of Benezette.

With late September being the normal peak of the rut season for elk, many visitors flock to the area to get a glimpse of the animal and possibly hear their unique mating call - called bugling.

Over the past few years I've talked with a few outdoor writers who have traveled to Benezette to see and photograph the elk. The topic had piqued my interest, especially hoping for a chance to photograph this majestic animal.

Article Photos

This bull elk was found near some homes near Benezette, PA, in Elk County. Pennsylvania has nearly 900 wild elk. Photo by Larry Claypool

In early October I was fortunate enough to experience the elk - up close and personal - with the help of a local retired teacher, Curt Grimm, of Industry, PA.

OV Times writer Ralph Scherder and I had recently interviewed Grimm for a story about deer hunting ('Marathon Hunter", Summer issue 2013 of Ohio Valley Outdoors magazine), and we discussed the elk in PA. It turns out Grimm and his brothers pay regular visits to the Benezette area to watch and photograph the elk.

"Yes, we love it up there. We go every year. We know where the elk are, and can get you up close and personal," said Grimm.

Article Map

He did. I have the photos to prove it.

Grimm and his brothers, Gary and Dave, played host to this writer for 2 1/2 days in search of elk in Elk County, PA. We used their hunting cabin, near Ridgway, PA, as a home base. It's located about 45 minutes from Benezette.

We ended up hunting for elk early in the morning for two days and one evening. The time between that was spent driving back and forth to the viewing areas, having a cookout and shooting up targets with various guns owned by the Grimms.

While the elk viewing started out very slow on the first day - despite a few miles of hiking/searching on foot and by car. "We'll see elk. We'll get you up close," promised the Grimm boys. Did I doubt them? Not really, but I hadn't see them yet.

"They walk right by the road," they assured me.

On Day 1 our morning hunt provided no elk, but a lot of signs, impressive rubs on pine trees, fresh hoof prints and scat. The evening hunt provided a couple herds of elk in a distance, and closer to the pubic viewing areas where nearly 400 vehicles had swarmed. The evening is the best time to see more elk, I was told, and the mornings were best to photograph.

On Day 2 we set out again, early, to hopefully see elk "up close and personal". "I've got a good feeling about this day," said Curt.

Without warning, about three miles before we reached the main viewing area, the traffic ahead of us had stalled near a straight stretch of Route 555, near several homes. The cause of the commotion was a small herd of elk. This time I would see the creatures up close and personal.

One very nice 7x7 bull would highlight this encounter. A few other small bulls and a dozen or so cows were part of this group, found grazing, meandering between two homes about 30 feet from the roadway. Mission accomplished. Then we continued on to Benezette.

Later that morning we encountered many other people trying to a get a glimpse of elk. We drove to the known hot spots and found nothing. We hiked a few trails, known to have elk, and found nothing. As it approached late morning our hopes of seeing elk diminished. On our last trail, nearly a quarter mile from our vehicle, a bugling elk nearby sparked our interest. Shortly afterward we were stopped by a couple photographing a small bull near the trail. The bull crossed our path and led us to a very nice 7x7 bull and his harem, about 800 yards away in a pretty densely wooded area. About 12 cows and a few younger bulls were grazing and laying down. Eventually we would encounter - and photograph - six nice bulls.

Gary Grimm didn't hesitate about leading us closer to the elk. As we got to within about 50 yards of the group, the larger bull started to scurry around and seriously bugling. A distant bull responded and appeared to be headed our way. We had hoped for a clash. That didn't happen, but they were clearly communicating. I sensed the larger bull in this harem was in charge though.

With each of us armed with cameras, Gary's conceal carry 45 was our safety net, we fired off hundreds of photos each. We eventually meandered closer to the elk, with some of the herd shuffling around, uneasy about our presence. For the most part the elk really didn't care if we were there or not.

We spent nearly two hours with this herd of elk. Along the way other curious people were led to the area by the bugling big boys. Most of the people were armed with cameras. Some got brave and moved closer for better photographs. At one point we took turns with other photographers getting our picture taken with the large bull in the background. Up close and personal.

That made our hunting trip for elk very successful. My thanks to the Grimm boys for making that happen.

Stay tuned to our website, Facebook page, OV Times and Ohio Valley Outdoors magazine for photographs of this trip.

For information about the elk in Pennsylvania, visit the websites: www.elkcountryvisitorscenter.com and www.experienceelkcountry.com.

Also see the Elk Country Visitor Center, located at 950 Winslow Road, Benezette, PA 15821. Their phone number is: 814-787-5167.

 
 

 

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