Hal Korber / Pennsylvania Game Commission
Might access to private land be creating haves and have-nots among Pennsylvania elk hunters?
Something’s changed, but what?
There was a time when it didn’t matter much whether a Pennsylvania elk hunter hired a guide or not. In 2013, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission figures, 88 percent of hunters with a guide killed an elk. Those hunting on their own did just about as well; the success rate was 84 percent.
In 2014, 92 percent of guided hunters killed an elk, compared to 69 percent of unguided. Last year the disparity was even worse. Seventy percent of guided hunters took an elk, compared to only 41 percent of those without one.
One explanation might be that access to private property is getting harder to come by.
According to the commission, 23 percent of elk hunters said they were denied access to private property in 2013. That increased to 26 percent a year later and to 34 percent last year.
Interest in the hunt is surging anyway.
In 2001, when the commission held its first hunt in 70 years, a record 50,046 people applied for a tag. That dropped to 31,789 the following year. Applications continued to fall for the next six years, bottoming out at 17,245 in 2007.
They’ve topped 23,000 each of the last three years, though, hitting 27,592 last year. That was the most since 2002.
One of the commission’s next goals with the elk program is to draw more fans to the elk check station.
All hunters who kill an elk are required to bring it to the commission’s check station to be recorded and tested for chronic wasting disease. The check station has typically been in a relatively remote forest district office.
This coming fall, the plan is to move that check station to the town of Benezette, said Wayne Laroche, head of the bureau of wildlife management. The idea is to make it easier for the public to see and learn what’s happening, he said.
No decisions have been made on where within Benezette it might be located, though.