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December 11, 2017
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A busman’s holiday with some very large critters

These elk were in a field halfway between an elk viewing area and the town of Benezette, PA, and there was a safe area to pull off the road, with a vantage point from which I was able to photograph them. As with most wildlife, it is best to stay in your vehicle while viewing elk if they are close.
TRR photos by Scott Rando

March 30, 2016

A while back, when the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey (PARS) announced it would hold its 2nd annual meeting in Benezette, PA, I looked it up on a map and saw that it was halfway across the state, between four and five hours to drive. With a start time of 9 a.m. for the meeting, I faced the choice of leaving in the wee morning hours of the morning, or leaving the previous day and spending the night in the Benezette area. I saw that Benezette was in Elk County, and asked myself, “What can I do in Elk County for that previous day? Elk County… elk!”

With the meeting being held on the 19th of March, I departed for Benezette early on the 18th and reached there before 12 noon. One of the first places I checked out was Winslow Hill Elk Viewing Area, a mountaintop land tract maintained by the PA Game Commission. After finding elk tracks (cloven hoof and bigger than deer) and elk scat (also much bigger) in the parking lot, it wasn’t long before I spotted an elk. The first impression I got was that these animals are big; from my vantage point, they looked as big as horses. Female elk (cows) weigh around 500 to 600 pounds, and the males (bulls) up to 1,000 pounds.

Elk were re-introduced between 1913 and 1926 by the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) to replace a population that was decimated by over-hunting during the 1800s. The elk that are seen today at Benezette are descendants of Rocky Mountain elk. According to the PGC, there are about 900 elk in the state. Hunting season in November is short and only in designated areas. Licenses are assigned by drawing.

Elk can be seen year round in Elk and the surrounding counties, but the most popular time to see elk seems to be in the fall, when rutting season begins. The bulls will frequently bugle and face off against other bulls for domination of the herd. If you do go, be aware that elk can be aggressive, especially with their young around. Don’t get closer than 30 yards to an elk on foot, and if viewing, try to maintain a barrier (a tree, boulder, etc.) between you and the animal in case you are charged.

My extra elk day was well worth the extra day spent. If you decide to go, there is a wealth of information available; one good summary of elk facts and hints can be found at