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Pennsylvania Elk

Elk Hunting

Information for elk hunters

  • Regulations: Please consult the current Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest for details about this year's elk hunt.
  • Check Station: Harvested elk need to be taken to the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest (pages 64-69) provides details about the 2015 elk hunt. Elk Check Station (map) within 24 hours.
  • Elk Guides: Elk Guides are regulated by the Game Commission and the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources and offer various services to the hunter. Those individuals drawn for elk licenses will be provided a list of permitted guides before the hunt, although guides are not required. Employing the services of an elk guide/outfitter is completely up to the hunter.
  • Elk are large animals: An adult bull may weigh 600-1,000 pounds and an adult cow may weigh 400-600 pounds. Part of your hunt plan should include how to field-dress and move the animal from the kill site to your vehicle and on to the check station. Regulations prohibit the use of motorized vehicles, including ATVs on state-owned property, with few exceptions. The animal may be skinned and quartered and packed out by horses or mules or on pack boards. Hunters should bring plenty of help. Any number of unlicensed persons may accompany hunters as long as they wear the required fluorescent orange and do not participate in the hunt itself or carry a firearm. Persons just accompanying an elk hunter are not required to have an elk guide permit.

    Table - License Issued and Harvest Success

  • Where can I get detailed information about individual elk hunt zone boundaries?
    There are several options for this, but the best place to view the elk hunt zones in detail is through the Pennsylvania Game Commission's online Mapping Center, with instructions on how to use it. Through the online mapping program hunters can add a variety of backgrounds including aerial photos, topographic maps and roads. A second option is to download a detailed .pdf directly from the Game Commission's website. And a third option is to examine State Forest maps available online or at each State Forests headquarters.

Applying for an elk license

  • Application period: The application period of the elk hunt opens when licenses go on sale in early June and closes July 31.
  • Check the status of an application: Applicants can check on the status of an elk application through the Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS) at www.pa.wildlifelicense.com. Click the first radio button, scroll to the bottom of the page, click 'Start Here' and follow the prompts.
  • Preference points: Preference points are accumulated for each unsuccessful application; you won't see an accumulated point for the current year's application. You can check your preference points through the Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS) at www.pa.wildlifelicense.com. Click the first radio button, scroll to the bottom of the page, click 'Start Here' and follow the prompts. If you believe there is an error, please contact the License Division at 717-787-2084. If you did not apply for an elk tag this year, your preference points will not expire; preference points are only lost if you are successfully drawn for an elk tag. You must apply in the current year to be entered into the drawing.
  • Selecting a "preferred" hunt zone: This is a matter of individual preference. Hunters have successfully harvested elk in every hunt zone. Carefully examine each zone considering road access and the amount of available public and private land. Note that your preferred hunt zone has no influence on your chances of being drawn. For example, if you select Zone 2 and are drawn after Zone 2 has been filled, you'll simply be assigned to the next available zone. For more details, consult the Elk Hunt Zone Map Book (.pdf), Annual Elk Harvest Maps, the Game Commission Mapping Center and maps of the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources' state forests. Apply Online. The Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS) is the site to apply for the elk license drawing and check the status of your application. Preference points can also be checked through PALS.
  • License drawing: The annual drawing for elk licenses typically takes place in mid-August during the Elk Expo at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette. Successful applicants who provide a phone number or email will be notified promptly by those methods, others will receive notification by postal mail.

History of Elk in Pennsylvania
Celebrating 100 Years of Elk in Pennsylvania - (30-minute documentary, see Educator's Guide and accompanying information on the Education webpage)
History of Pennsylvania Elk
Elk in Pennsylvania: Past, Present & Future (brochure, .pdf)

Elk Biology and Natural History
Wildlife Note
How many elk do we have in Pennsylvania?
What's the best time to view or hunt elk?
How long do elk live?
Do elk have any natural predators in Pennsylvania?
Do elk compete with deer for food?
When is the peak of the elk rut?
When are elk calves born?
What is the average weight of a calf?
How long do calves keep their spots?
Do elk have twins?
Are elk canines real ivory?
When do bull elk shed their antlers?
If I find an elk shed can I keep it?
Where should I go to look for sheds?

Elk Management and Research
Elk Management Plan (.pdf)
Collaring a cow elk with a video camera (video)
Why does the Game Commission radio-collar elk?
Annual Elk Population Survey & Harvest information: 2010 - 2011 2011 - 2012 2012 - 2013 2013 - 2014

Elk Viewing - Visiting Pennsylvania's Elk Range

Maximize your chances of seeing elk by knowing where to go, when to go, what to do and what to not do. Check out these Elk Viewing Destinations before your visit. During your visit be safe, considerate and respectful. Wildlife watchers often congregate in areas with the best viewing opportunities. Problems can arise when folks gather on the shoulders of rural roads and are focused on watching elk rather than oncoming traffic. Your actions help all elk-watchers, landowners, law enforcement and conservation officials have a good experience.

Find hotels, restaurants and activities near the Pennsylvania elk range on the PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau website.

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and HDOnTap streamed live footage from elk country. Since the peak of the rut has passed, the live stream has been turned off. If you have enjoyed the wildlife viewing opportunities presented this experience please show your appreciation by contacting your elected officials and asking them to support the Game Commission. As the wildlife agency for the Commonwealth, the Game Commission does not receive any general tax monies and relies mainly upon the sale of hunting and trapping licenses. License fees are set by the legislature and have not increased in more than sixteen years. The Commission is asking the legislature to raise the license fees so the agency may continue its stewardship of the Commonwealth's wildlife. Use this link to find your elected officials.

Elk Health and Public Safety
Please Don't Feed the Elk (brochure, .pdf)
Chronic Wasting Disease
Rumen Acidosis

Our Partners
Keystone Elk Country Alliance
PA Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

Why does the Game Commission radio-collar elk?
Research and data collection are a fundamental part of elk management in Pennsylvania. Radio collars are specifically used to estimate three things: age specific survival, habitat use and population.

How many elk do we have in Pennsylvania?
As of January 2015, there are about 900 elk in Pennsylvania.

How long do elk live?
This varies with geography. In Pennsylvania wild cow elk live and average of 10 years, while bulls live an average of 8 years. The oldest known cow in Pennsylvania was 32, and the oldest bull was 15. Captive elk live longer than wild elk.

Do elk have any natural predators in Pennsylvania?
Yes, bears and coyotes will prey on elk calves, but cow elk have a strong maternal instinct to protect their calves and predation accounts for less than 2 percent of elk calf mortality. People are the only predator of adult elk in Pennsylvania.

Do elk compete with deer for food?
To some degree, nearly all Pennsylvania wildlife compete for resources. Elk are primarily grazers while deer are primarily browsers, however, elk will seasonally shift to a browse-based diet, particular in winter. Nevertheless, the Game Commission puts a tremendous amount of time and effort into improving elk habitat, which inevitably benefits deer and other wildlife.

When is the peak of the elk rut?
The elk rut is triggered by photoperiod (day length) and generally begins around the middle of September and carries through the early- to mid-October. If a cow is not bred in her first estrus cycle, she'll re-cycle approximately every 21 days providing up to three additional opportunities for conception.

What's the best time to view or hunt elk?
Elk are crepuscular, moving more during dawn and dusk. So whether you're trying to view or hunt elk, you'll have more success if you go early in the morning or late afternoon/evening. The most popular time of year to observe elk is during the rut because they are very active.

When are elk calves born?
Cow elk usually begin calving the last week of May through the first two weeks of June, with the peak around June 5th. Every year one or two newborn calves are seen later in the summer (July or August) and these animals are from cows that were bred after the peak of the rut (September).

What is the average weight of a calf?
At birth calves generally weigh between 33 and 45 pounds, with males being heavier than females. A calf's birth weight is correlated to the health of its mother, which is dependent upon the quantity and quality of the available habitat and seasonal variation in weather patterns.

How long do calves keep their spots?
Calves grow very quickly, and by late September they will lose their spots as their summer coats are replaced with winter coats.

Do elk have twins?
Very rarely, twinning is possible but occurs in less than 1 percent of elk births. There is only one record of twins occurring in Pennsylvania and they were still-born.

Are elk canines real ivory?
Yes, many scientists believe that the teeth are remnants of tusks from prehistoric ancestors. They are also called buglers, whistlers and ivories.

When do bull elk shed their antlers?
Most bulls tend to lose their antlers right between March 10 and 25; there are always exceptions. Changes in photoperiod (day length) cause a reduction in testosterone that ultimately causes a bull's antlers to drop off.

If I find an elk shed can I keep it?
Yes, collecting sheds from public lands (except National Parks) or land you own or have permission to be on is legal. However, it is not legal to pick up any parts or bones of an elk you found dead, including skulls and antlers.

Where should I go to look for sheds?
Finding an elk shed is about 90 percent luck. There are a few tips that might improve your chances. First; think about where elk spend time when sheds are dropping. Elk home ranges shift seasonally, so searching for sheds where you've seen elk in the summer is generally a poor strategy. Second; go slow and try to develop an "eye" for sheds. Walk slowly through an area scanning back and forth and look for the white tips of the antler sticking up. Third; put your time in. The people that seem to find sheds every year are usually the ones that spend hours walking around the woods.

No portlets in this column.
Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg Pennsylvania 17110-9797