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Pennsylvania's Elk Herd

Once hunted to extinction, these mighty, majestic animals have made a comeback and are once again "the Lords of the Forest"

Today's elk population in Pennsylvania probably numbers slightly more than 500. Though hunting, logging, and the encroachments of civilization exterminated the state's native elk population in the late 1800s, continuing efforts by concerned people and the elks' own ability to adapt to changing environments have once again made this majestic animal part of the Pennsylvania landscape.

How were elk reintroduced in Pennsylvania?
In 1913 fifty elk were brought from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and released in Clearfield and Clinton Counties. Subsequent plantings in other northern counties raised the number of stocked elk to 177. Unfortunately, the scarcity of suitable range and illegal slaughter kept the population low through the 1950s, when the state's elk population numbered less than 50.

In recent years, however, the elk population has adapted to living in relative proximity to humans and their numbers have risen. As the elk population grew, Pennsylvania's elk herd gained both fame and visibility throughout the state.

Where are the elk?
The general elk range could be roughly defined as the rectangular area in Elk and Cameron Counties bounded on the south by Route 555 between Driftwood and Medix Run, on the west by Route 255 between Weedville and St. Marys, on the north by Route 120 between St. Marys and Emporium, and on the east by Route 120 between Emporium and Driftwood.

Where can we see them?
Elk can be seen in many places in the St. Marys area:

  • One of the best places to see elk is the Village of Benezette on Route 555 in Elk County. A good place to stop for information is the Benezette Store and Restaurant. The folks who own and operate this business keep track of the elk herd and they can usually point you in the right direction.

  • A favorite elk viewing spot is the Winslow Hill area near Benezette where farmers' fields, reclaimed strip mines, and new Game Lands (purchased with help from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation) attract a large number of elk.

  • Folks who don't mind walking a distance find that food plots on the West Branch of Hicks Run in Cameron and Elk Counties are good spots. The best way to get there is to take Route 120 from Emporium and travel approximately six miles toward Howard Siding. Turn left onto a township road and follow it to the top of the hill, then bear right and follow the dirt road. Pass the East branch of Hicks Run and eventually you will come to the West Branch and a Game Commission gate on a road that leads to the food plots. It's a four or five mile round-trip walk into the food plots, but if the elk are there its worth the time and effort.

  • Another good area is the complex of dirt roads between Sterling Run, Mason Hill, and Whittimore Hill in Cameron County. A good place to start is the Village of Sterling Run on Route 120 east about eight miles from Emporium. If you are there on Wednesday or Sunday afternoon, you might visit Cameron County's Little Museum at Sterling Run.

What's the best time to look for elk?
Many folks who make a habit of looking for and photographing elk concentrate on some or all of these areas between Labor Day and the end of the summer. This is the peak of the rut, and the bulls are bugeling, the leaves are beginning to turn, and the elk herd is gathering as the season changes.

During the early summer months, the elk herd (especially cows and calves) spread themselves over a wider area. Calves are born from mid-May to mid-June, and during this time and immediately following it, cows seek out more secluded areas.

Bulls, while sometimes remaining in the area where they spent the winter, also move around. You might see one just about anywhere in the elk range.

Some Elk facts

  • Cows usually give birth during May, generally bearing just one calf at a time. The calves stay with their mothers through the summer and into the winter.
  • Large cows may be six hundred pounds, but the largest bulls may approach 1,000 pounds.
  • Antler growth in the bulls begins in March. During this time, the antlers are protected by a covering of "velvet" which peels off after the antlers are fully developed in early August.
  • The breeding season, or "rut", begins in late August and lasts into October.
  • Primarily grazers, elk eat various grasses but in the winter will also browse tree buds and even the bark from small trees.