A great experience hunting cow elk in Pennsylvania
"Hello, is this Lisa Price?" the caller asked, before congratulating me on getting a Pennsylvania cow elk tag.
"Knock it off, Tom," I answered, sure one of my hunting buddies was trying to get me to take the bait. The annual draw of only about 100 tags from a pool of thousands of applicants had taken place on Saturday; many of us had been applying for years.
The caller sighed. He identified himself as from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and repeated that I'd drawn a tag. With growing elation I began to realize it was true - he told me I was the next-to-last name drawn.
Truth be told, I had little understanding of the actual location of the elk hunting zones. I'd applied for "any zone, any sex" and was drawn for a cow tag in Zone 12. If you're drawn, the elk license is only an additional $25. I studied the Pennsylvania Game Commission maps, tracing the zone outlines using the Pennsylvania DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer.
I talked to a couple people who had gotten elk tags in prior years. Each had tried to do the hunt on their own and neither had been successful. I realized that I'd have little time to go to the elk hunting area and scout, and opted to hire a guide. I did some research, called several, and settled on one called Elk Country Outfitters.
There was not one aspect of the experience that the outfitter could have done better. From the arrival-day picnic and campfire, which drew more than 100 past and present elk hunters and their families, to the guides, accommodations, food and access to private land, it was first-class all the way, every day.
Opening morning we drove to our hunting area through fog so thick you could see only about fifty yards. Bulls and cows appeared and reappeared, and at times we could hear the mewling sounds of the cows and the shrieks of bulls. The bull bugles made the hair stand up on the back of my neck - it was awesome. I kept reminding myself that I was in Pennsylvania, and had only traveled three hours to the hunt.
The highlight of opening day was hearing the shot which the guide and I knew came from Buzz Hill, an 80-year-old from Lehighton, who had bagged his cow. I saw plenty of elk the first few days, and tried numerous stalks, determined to bag one with my bow. That first morning, in the dense fog, I'd be stalking a group, only to find that the group was bigger - elk I hadn't seen in the fog, saw me, and alerted the others with a bark-like snort.
The next highlight came Wednesday, when Drew Larson of Erie, a hunter staying at the same camp, bagged his cow. He and his friend Pat Quinn of McKean, have been friends since grade school. Pat is a meat cutter, and made short work of quartering Drew's elk for transport. Drew and Pat planned to hunt grouse and turkeys on Thursday, their last day in camp.
Thursday morning, guide Don Lucas and I spotted a large herd of cows making their way into the head of a long ravine. We opted to try to get in front of them, but while we were in the midst of that move we spotted a small group, two large cows and two smaller ones and switched to Plan B.
We started crawling through the autumn olive and brush, with Don stopping to check yardage. We started at more than 200. When we reached 114 yards, I opted to get one of the big cows in the scope of my 30.06 rifle. But the moment I centered the crosshairs, she got nervous and moved, facing me for a few seconds before deciding to duck away downslope. When she moved, she exposed the cow directly behind her which was standing broadside. I shot, and remember seeing all of them running for just a few jumps before one of them became legs and hooves in the air.
After that, the highlights just kept coming - Don made a call back to camp, and our hosts Tom and Bob Kolivoski dropped what they were doing to help us. Drew and Pat abandoned their grouse and turkey hunting plans and came to help; they also gave up their afternoon hunting to skin and quarter my elk.
I'll long remember the nightly utter din of laughter around the table, the instant friendships with the other guests, the glimpse into the family history of the men who own the camp and land, the beauty of the area and the majesty of the elk in their movements. People told me that getting an elk tag was like winning the Lotto, but as we gathered in the field around my elk, I knew that I was already rich.