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Limited licenses for Pa. elk hunt provides exotic opportunity for hunters

Pennsylvania will grant licenses to hunt elk to 178 hunters this year. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
‘Hunt of a lifetime’

Pennsylvania wildlife conservation officer Mike Steingraber can always see the enthusiasm when people find out they have obtained an elk license. Getting one isn’t easy, even for people dedicated enough to apply early to the lottery for the licenses.

Pennsylvania had over 56,000 applications for the 178 Pennsylvania elk licenses available, 101 of which had to be used during the general elk season, which runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 5.

“This is the hunt of a lifetime,” said Steingraber, who works out of the North Central Region office in Jersey Shore, Pa. “Our elk population is centralized among the elk range. We have healthy elk that have larger antlers on average than Rocky Mountain elk. Hunters who get these licenses are excited when they find out they get them.”

Pennsylvania has three different elk hunting seasons. There’s a two-week archery season in September, a general season that more than half the licenses are allocated for and a general season that begins around the first of the year.

Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans was pleased with the interest in the 2022-23 elk hunting season.

“Pennsylvania’s world-class elk provide an incredible, one-of-a-kind — and often once-in-a-lifetime — opportunity like none other in Penn’s Woods,” Burhans said in a news release. “It’s no wonder why hunters mark their calendars to be sure they submit their applications before the July 31 deadline each year.”

Pennsylvania started issuing tags for elk hunting in 2001. Of the 101 licenses that are issued for the general season, 31 hunters will be stalking antlered elk, known as bulls, and 70 will be hunting antlerless elk, known as cows.

Steingraber estimated that there are nearly 1,400 elk located in seven counties — Elk, McKean, Cameron, Clinton, Potter, Clearfield and Centre — located just north of Interstate 80.

When it comes to determining the elk population, Steingraber said the state has used a number of different techniques.

Currently, the state uses aerial surveillance to determine how big its elk population is. Using infrared techniques, people are able to count how many elk they can see based on the surveillance photos.

Successful hunters have to be stringent with the process following the harvest. They have to immediately attach a tag to the ear of the elk before even moving the carcass. Within 24 hours, the hunter who harvests the elk must take it, with his or her hunting or elk license, to a game commission check station, where the elk are weighed and samples are collected to test for chronic wasting disease, brucellosis and tuberculosis.

Steingraber said the state has seen a growing interest in elk hunting over the past few years.

“We have way more applicants than tags, that’s for certain,” Steingraber said. “We have a lottery that we draw out of to determine who gets a license, and that’s based on the population of the elk.”

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