One aspect of the outdoor life that we enjoy most is the various sound effects; hearing things you just won't hear in the city. The raucous gobble of the wild turkey, a pack of coyotes howling at dawn or dusk, the ominous warning of a timber rattlesnake, the trills of various songbirds, the grunt of a buck in rut, the cry of a hawk on the hunt, the 9 note cadence of a barred owl, the haunting notes of a mourning dove are some things you can hear in the woods if you are tuned in.
Probably most thrilling of all is the bugling of an elk. It is a sound not able to be described on paper but is guaranteed to start the goosebumps flowing if you happen to be in the woods alone and an elk erupts near you. So it is time to plan for a trek to the North Country where elk are already bugling.
My grandfather used to brag that he killed (illegally) the last elk known to be in Clinton County. I don't know if that is true but he thought it was. Back when I first heard him spout that boast, I had no idea what an elk was. I had no doubt, however, that whatever he did, it was illegal. Thanks goodness, those genes didn't pass on to most of the family.
Elk have a storied history in our state. And a lot of work is done constantly to maintain them. A great source of information about the history of the Game Commission and the establishment of various kinds of wildlife programs in the state are chronicled in a book by Joe Kosack called 100 YEARS OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION. Look on the Game Commission's website for information on how to obtain this book. It documents the history of wildlife efforts in Pennsylvania from 1895 - 1995. It would probably take another book just to chronicle the conservation struggles in the commonwealth since 1995.
In the early 1900s the reestablishment of wildlife was a prime consideration of the infant Game Commission. When Yellowstone National Park put out a cry for help in reducing the mushrooming elk population in the park, Officials in Pennsylvania decided it would be good to import some of those elk into the state.
So they did; introducing elk from Yellowstone into the central northwoods of Pa. in 1913. A protection from hunting order was put on them so the population could expand. There was just one kicker they hadn't thought of: the elk had a habit of ranging widely. They didn't stay in the big woods; they took to raiding farmer's corn and other grain fields causing a great deal of damage. Farmers revolted against the whole idea of elk in central Pennsylvania so it was decided to not import any more.
That helped for awhile but the powers-that-were in those days after only a couple years, decided to ignore that early decision and brought in just under 100 more elk from Yellowstone. Seven of those animals were released in Blair County, the rest in traditional northcentral counties.
During those same years, the whitetail deer population was also exploding and farmers were outraged at all the crop damage they were having. They were not supporters of the new Game Commission and so illegal poaching became rampant for both deer and elk. After some years, the elk population declined in most areas except for the pockets that survived in the Elk and Cameron County areas.
Recent years have seen various attempts to reintroduce elk into other areas and reintroduce to some, such as the Sproul State Forest in Clinton County. And they are running into the same problems the first reintroduction efforts ran into over 80 years ago: the elk won't stay where they are put if there is luscious food in farmer's fields which is so much easier to get. The fact is, folks, that in wildlife management, nothing changes, it just recycles.
This doesn't change, however: the thrill of seeing a huge bull elk in the woods and hearing the ear-splitting bugle he thrusts on his environment as he seeks a mate is a thrill like no other. The few times I've personally heard it, I felt somehow uniquely blessed.
As most of know, the area around Benezette, which some have dubbed as "The Elk Capital of Pennsylvania," is the prime place to see and hear elk as they go about the business of breeding. A bull in prime condition bugles to signal to any available female where he is and let the fun begin.
Frankly, I have to admire the patience and fortitude of landowners who live in the elk habitat because tourists, in their sometimes foolish desire to get closer to elk, trample all over their lawns and fields, thoughtlessly littering and brazenly trespassing on private property.
These huge animals are not domesticated models put out for show, they are wild animals in the rut and approaching too closely, crossing the line of their comfort zone, is to threaten them and they may respond aggressively. If you want a close-up photo of a mature elk, bring a camera with a long lens. Don't attempt to creep up on a big bull with a point-and-shoot camera. It's dangerous.