2017-07-15 / Outdoors

Wolf Tracks

Outdoor Columnist
Dave Wolf

The sun is blazing, and deep in the conifers you’ll find elk seeking the cooling shade. The calves have been born, and their mothers are protecting them, often hiding them in the tall grasses.

It is a great time of year to be in elk country, but at least on the weekends you will likely have to share the road with others hoping to catch a glimpse of these awesome animals.

A stop at the Elk Country Visitors Center on Winslow Hill near Benezette is a must. The staff is usually willing to share “insider” information that increase a person’s chances of seeing some elk.

There are many choices for places to stay in the area, from cozy bed and breakfasts, to rustic cabins and campgrounds. A simple internet search will reveal a myriad of accommodations to suit anyone’s taste.

If you take the time to learn the lay of the land, you’ll also find that there are many hiking trails to enjoy, and even an “old fashioned” swimming hole where you can cool off on a hot summer afternoon.


Mother elk are very protective of their calves, always on the lookout for predators. Often their young ones are curled up amid vegetation in the “hider position: while the cows are browsing. 
Karen WolfPhoto Mother elk are very protective of their calves, always on the lookout for predators. Often their young ones are curled up amid vegetation in the “hider position: while the cows are browsing. Karen WolfPhoto Crowds will continue to swell as the calendar progresses into August, culminating with the Pennsylvania Elk Expo at the visitors center on Saturday, Aug. 19. That’s also the day and site for the Pa. Game Commission’s live drawing for its coveted elk-hunting licenses.

Anyone who understands the wonder of the Pennsylvania elk herd realizes that a controlled hunt is just a tiny part of the equation. This is a precious section of our state with its own scents, sights, and sounds. Elk are just one of the species inhabiting the region. You’re perhaps more likely to see whitetailed deer and their speckled fawns, or you might catch a glimpse of a black bear foraging for sustenance.

Before settlers arrived in Pennsylvania, elk lived throughout the state. By 1867, the species had been almost eliminated. Ultimately, it became extinct throughout its range, which included parts of New York and southern New England.

Today, elk inhabit portions of Cameron, Elk, Clinton, Clearfield and Potter counties. The animals are descendants of elk released by the Game Commission between 1913 and 1926.

A mature male elk, called a bull, weighs 600 to 1,000 pounds. Females, or cows, weigh 500 to 600 pounds.

Elk have both a summer and a winter coat, with the summer one being short, thin, and reddish-brown. Calves are dappled with spots.

Strong muscular animals, elk can run 30 mph for short distances, and can trot for miles. They jump well and swim readily. Their senses of smell and hearing are keen.

Cow elk often bark and grunt to communicate with their calves, and calves make a sharp squealing sound. The best-known elk call, however, is the bull’s bugling, which occurs primarily during the mating season in September and October.

The resurgence of the elk herd to 1,000 or more animals is a cooperative achievement of the Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection, Pa. Game Commission and the Keystone Elk Alliance. They planted dozens of fields containing native grasses for the elk to feed upon.

Each year, the agencies learn more about this species due to ongoing research, which includes a limited number of tracking devices and tags.

Now, all you have to do is make a reservation, and pack your suitcase. You might not find cellphone service, but you can expect to see all kinds of wildlife and enjoy an unforgettable experience.

(Dave Wolf may be reached by email at wolfang418@msn.com.)

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