Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pennsylvania Elk-As Wild As Any?

Today we explore another segment of Ms. Becky Polaski,St Marys Daily Press reporter's interview with Tony Ross, Regional Wildlife Biologist for the PGC in the Northcentral Region, "Range of area elk herd expanding", which was published on November 5, 2010.

In the post of Thursday November 18th, we proved that tame elk are in fact hunted and shot quite near one of the most popular public viewing areas on Winslow Hill  in spite  of Mr. Ross's claim in the article that the elk in the area immediately around Benezette and Winslow Hill are protected from hunting.

Elk In Hunt Zone 2 Winslow Hill-Saturday Before Elk Season 2010: photo by w.hill
 Mr. Ross tries to make the point that the behavior of the elk that one sees in Benezette and on Winslow Hill is not representative of Pennsylvania elk in general, but then he goes on to make some extremely interesting observations. At one point in the interview, Mr. Ross remarks "while elk and deer may be similar in appearance, their behaviors toward people, while cautious, are completely different.""An elk by itself is a big animal. It's not going to act just like a deer because as soon as a deer sees you, it can move because it's so quick and so small. An elk, they've got to stand there and they will still turn, but they don't have that ability to run away as fast as a deer,"

This is in direct contradiction to the experiences of prominent firearms manufacturer and seasoned hunter, James F. Borden. In a letter to Ms. Polaski following the publication of her article, Mr. Borden states:

"I am a seasoned outdoorsman that goes beyond parking lots and the edge of the road--I have spent much time in the "bush" of Alaska as well as the Western States hunting as well as doing wildlife photography.  I have hunted many species in the USA and Canada from prairie dogs to grizzly bear.  I have hunted elk in Montana and Idaho.  You will not find the behavior of those elk to be anything like the Pa Elk herd behavior.   I know animals and know their habits very well.  What was described to you about an elk being large and can not turn and run like a deer was passed along to you by an individual that does not know and understand elk behavior or does not want the truth known.  I advise you to go into the woods of Montana, Colorado or Idaho and try to walk up on elk --you will find that they spook easier than deer and flee hard and fast.  If you do your research you will find that the western states that have truly wild elk do not have 100% bull hunt success-it runs closer to 15 to 17%."

Earlier in his letter, Mr. Borden makes some interesting observations about the behavior of the Pennsylvania elk herd;

"I have visited Benezett as recent as the weekend prior to the opening of the elk season and there were in excess of 150 animals on Winslow hill in the hunt zone 2 and I could walk among them and walk within 15 yards of the big bulls.  These animals are highly accustomed to humans--the same day there were in excess of 125 elk in the town of Benezett across the bridge near the old train station-so that totals over 275 Elk out of a herd of 700 to 800--so I saw 25% of the entire Pa elk herd that day and none of the animals were the least bit skittish or afraid.  I have observed elk up the Sinnemahoning and found them to behave in the same manner."

Herd In Hunt Zone 2-Winslow Hill Sunday Morning Before Season: photo by w.hill

I can personally attest that what Mr. Borden said about the Winslow Hill herd is true as I had extensive experience with these animals during the same time period.  Some would seek to remedy the situation by making the herd on Winslow Hill "truly wild", but this may or may not be possible to do, and attempting to do so would negatively impact the elk viewing experience. 

Visit Jim Borden's blog, JJ Widlife Photography for an excellent article ,PA Elk In Fall, describing his experience with the elk during the weekend before elk season.

Excerpts from letter to Ms. Polaski reprinted by permission of James F. Borden.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer  by Willard Hill.


Unknown said...

Good post. I just returned from 4 days in southeastern Potter County at the family camp that has been there since 1927. We ran across elk tracks in that area and I am going to be returning there through the winter and in spring to test the "theory" that others have relayed that elk away from benezett are wild like Western Elk.


V.L. Locey said...

Good post and great pictures Willard!

Unknown said...

Good Post Willard. I also own a family camp on Houston Hill, and we are priviledged enough to have Elk come right into our backyard. Elk on our mountain seem to be a little bit more skittish than the ones around Winslow Hill, but not by much. I know that's a subjective comment, but it's the only way I know to describe it. I agree that hunting these Tame Elk is like shooting fish in a barrel, but how would you propose we control the Elk Population if we do not hunt them? I would love to hear your ideas/proposals.

Willard said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments.

As for Curt's question: In my opinion we should use hunting as one tool to manage the herd, but not manage the herd for hunting purposes and there is quite a difference. I hope to post a detailed response soon--hopefully before the week is out.