Friday, December 14, 2007

Dr. Perk-The Story Continues

I knew about Perk before I first went to Elk County, and had seen one of his videos, but I was not certain where he lived. On the first evening of my late September trip that year, I drove down Dewey Road intending to park and walk through nearby meadows in the hopes of finding elk.

There was a house in a hollow to my left. To my amazement I saw a woman sitting at a picnic table leaning slightly backward with an apple in her hand. A spike bull was standing between her legs and eating the apple. I noticed a large bull and some cows lying in the lawn, but it wasn’t until I talked to an elk watcher of many years, that I realized that this was Perk’s house. The spike was to become famous among elk watching circles as “Nicholas”.

I walked into the backcountry each evening with my camcorder while my wife sat in the car along Dewey Road, which was where, many parked and looked for elk. This was also Dr. Perk’s favorite spot to approach tourists. They struck up a conversation, which resulted in him inviting her to his house to videotape elk. She was using a Sharp VHS camcorder, which I had retired when I bought a Panasonic AG-455MUP S/VHS camcorder. (The Panasonic was my first semi-professional video camera.)

When I returned from my excursion at dark she was waiting for me in a high state of excitement. The highlights of the evening included her videotaping “Nicholas” when he took an apple from a window sill (the window was open and Perk fed him by placing apples there), and the great monster bull “Jake”. “Jake” is legendary among old time elk watchers. He was a tremendous bull. It turned out that Perk had invited us to visit him that night.

" Jake"

" Eating Apples"

"At Rest"

This was truly a night to remember. Other elk were there, but “Jake” was the main attraction. He was tired from the rutting activity and spent a lot of time sleeping near the front door to the house. Perk and Tom Murphy threw apples to him at times and he fed on them. One of the major topics of conversation was about a proposed ban on the feeding of elk.

Perk named every elk that he could identify and this was a tremendous irritant to some. Rawland Cogan, the elk biologist allegedly expressed the sentiment that naming a magnificent big game animal was demeaning to it. I personally heard this sentiment voiced by a prominent PGC official although not in those exact words. His comments on the situation at Perk’s were laced with ridicule and disgust.

To each his own, but I cannot see how naming is as demeaning as fitting the animals with bright yellow collars with large black numbers. When conversing with other tourists and photographers one can go through a convoluted description of an animal they have seen, but if it has a name one knows instantly which animal is being discussed. If they have a numbered collar it is really simple, but then the animal is not photogenic, nor is it pleasing to look at.

It was of course impossible to outlaw the naming of elk, but feeding could be addressed and it was in October of 1995 when the PGC Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a ban on the activity. (58 Pa. Code S137.32.)

Be sure to come back for the next installment when the question of “why was feeding outlawed ?” is addressed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dr. Perk-A Controversial Figure

I first went to Winslow Hill to videotape the elk in 1995

At that time The Gilbert Viewing Area did not exist. The land was still owned by Kenny Gilbert, the farmer for which the viewing area was named. The fields were much as they are today except that no crops were planted to attract the wildlife. At times portions of the meadows were mowed. This area was the hotspot for observing large numbers of elk, several of which were monster bulls.
There was no elk hunt, and there was little talk of one.

A white frame house was located on a small parcel of land in a hollow. This was to the left of what is now known as Dewey Road-the public road, which passes through The Gilbert Viewing Area.

Dr. Perk's House: The cabin to the right was not there in 1995

This was home to Claude M. Nye. Mr. Nye was deeply interested in the elk herd and loved to videotape the animal. He initially used a VHS camcorder. Each year he made a tape of what he saw and offered it to the public for a modest price.

He portrayed himself as an elk expert and called himself "Dr. Perk". This aroused the ire of Rawland ‘Rawley’ Cogan who was the PGC elk biologist at the time and the two became enemies. Perk’s expertise was not biological in nature, nor did he portray it to be. He attracted elk to his property by feeding them and soon had a herd of “habituated” elk that visited each day. By his daily observations he was eventually able to differentiate between individual animals and named most of them. He would tell someone what day, hour, and minute an animal was born.

At the time I thought that this could not be. It was possible to distinguish bulls because of the different antler configurations, but there was no way he could distinguish individual cows.

In time I found that I was wrong. A day came that I could distinguish individual antlerless deer under certain circumstances and I had to eat my words! Now you are saying that I am nuts, but stop and think! Can a farmer differentiate between individual animals in his herd? Can you tell your pet cat or dog from every other dog of the same type out there? One only has to spend a large amount of time around the same group of animals and observe them closely. Soon one notices the differences rather than just the similarities. I do think that he was guessing about the hour and minute of birth in many cases.

1995; Dr. Perk explaining how antlers are shed

Dr. Perk: Second from left in blue jacket

During mating season or “The Rut” as it is normally called, the herd of “habituated” cows that frequented his lawn, brought monster bulls to the area in large numbers.

Dr. Perk was on a collision course with The Pennsylvania Game Commission!

Note: Above photos except Mr. Nye’s residence are frame captures from an S/VHS camcorder as this is from a period when I did not take still photos.