Editor’s Note: Elk County Outfitters, 717-439-5795, [email protected] and https://www.facebook.com/elkcountyoutfitters/ is located in north-central Pennsylvania near Caledonia in what’s known as the Pennsylvania elk range. The company, headed by Brian Hale, provides guided hunts for the lucky people who win elk tags in Pennsylvania. In the 2022-2023 season, 178 elk tags, including bull and cow tags, were available for the entire state. Pennsylvania has three seasons for elk hunting – archery, general, and late. In the 2021-2022 season, Elk Country Outfitters guided 36 elk hunters combined between all three seasons.
What’s the History of Elk Hunting in Pennsylvania: Elk once ranged statewide in Pennsylvania. But they were hunted so intensely that by the late 1850s, they were limited to north-central Pennsylvania and had left the state by the late 1870s. Then, the state created a Game Commission in 1895 to replenish and provide protection for the wildlife deer.
That commission was used to establish elk in Pennsylvania in 1913. Originally, Pennsylvania homed the Eastern elk subspecies, but they later became extinct throughout the entire Eastern Coast. In 1913, the Pennsylvania Game Commission brought Rocky Mountain elk from Wyoming and several other western places that homed large numbers of these elk. About 150 animals were brought in to restock Pennsylvania’s original home sites. The elk did very well for 3-5 years, and outdoorsmen enjoyed a few years of elk hunting in the late 1920s and 1930s. However, after the 1930s, the elk population in Pennsylvania crashed. About 25-30 of the original stockings existed into the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
Then, in the mid-1980s, the Pennsylvania Game Commission hired a wildlife biologist mainly concerned with elk. He created an elk-management area for the state and managed the remaining elk herd. Initially, he worked on improving the elk habitat and with landowners whose crops were impacted by the elk. This new wildlife biologist focused on elk during that period, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission began partnering with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
What About Pennsylvania’s Modern-Day Elk Hunting: In 2001, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said a huntable elk population was in the state. Because the elk hadn’t been hunted for 70 years, many believed that Pennsylvania would start producing some massive bulls. However, the first 400-inch bull elk didn’t show up until 2005 – perhaps because the herd was still small then. During those first few years of elk hunting, many hunters were so excited to have elk tags that they harvested numbers of young bulls and cows. A legal bull to harvest back then, and also today, is a bull with any antlers above his hairline. You still can harvest a spike bull. However, today, multiple 400-inch bulls are being taken in all three seasons each year.
The elk herd continues to expand, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission is responsible for managing the elk herd on public and private properties – establishing a large geographic area as the elk management area. Elk are only in 30-45% of that region, so the herd has room to grow. Since 2001, significant habitat improvements have been made for Pennsylvania’s elk. More land has been purchased, and because of that, the size and the quality of bulls produced have increased.
By the state’s manipulating the habitat and creating green fields, the elk in Pennsylvania have plenty of food year-round and are growing bigger quickly. In 2001, the outlook for elk hunters changed. Drawing an elk tag is mostly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.- due to the difficulty of drawing an elk tag. Today, more than 95% of the hunters who draw elk tags hunt with a guide to try and stack the odds in their favor for taking more giant bulls.
How Brian Hale Became an Elk Outfitter: In 2002, Jack Manack, Sr. and his son – lifelong hunters – started Elk County Outfitters, where they hunted deer and bear in what’s today known as the elk range. Jack Manack, Sr., had been hunting there for several years, not only knowing the land but also the elk. Although Jack, Sr., and Jr. thought there was no way they could draw elk tags, Jack, Sr., knew where the elk were on the range, what they did, and when they did it. The Manacks decided that most people who drew elk tags probably wouldn’t hunt there near Caledonia. Since they were acquainted with several locals who hunted in that area, the Manacks decided they could help people find elk to hunt. Jack, Sr., began calling the winners of the elk tags and letting them know that he and his son were available to guide for elk hunting. In 2001, there was only one elk season – the general season in November. Jack, Sr., and Jr. started guiding, and Sr. ran Elk County Outfitters until his passing in the summer of 2021.
Brian Hale states, “I first met Jack, Sr., in 2007 when a buddy had drawn a bull elk tag. Although he wanted to hunt independently, he decided he needed to talk to some outfitters to learn more about Pennsylvania elk hunting and where he might find a bull. Fortunately, I had a family hunting camp in the elk area. Whenever my friend and I went on a weekend scouting trip, we used my family’s camp to scout and hunt out of and met Jack, Sr. My friend took his bull on his first-morning hunt. After 2007, I became addicted to hunting the elk area.”
In 2008 and 2009, Hale would travel up to the elk area by himself, set up trail cameras, and go out in the mornings to call and video the elk. He couldn’t get enough of learning all he could about elk. He regularly ran into Jack, Sr., and his guides while scouting, videoing, and checking trail cameras.
“Jack knew how hard I worked to find out how to hunt elk, where they stayed, what trails they used, and what they ate,” Hale explains. “In 2010, Jack, Sr., asked if I’d like to guide him. However, I had to get my work schedule sorted out to hunt during the three elk seasons. I was a union electrician by trade. I knew all the elk guides in Pennsylvania were retired or had full-time jobs. As far as I knew, none made their livings from guiding elk hunters.
“At that time, I lived 2- to 2-1/2 hours from the elk range. Then, in 2017, I moved my family to the elk range. Jack, Sr., recognized my enthusiasm for hunting elk, and I became one of his most dependable guides. He also taught me how to book hunts, meet and work with clients, and do my job as a guide during the various seasons.
“Then, in the summer of 2021, cancer took my friend, Jack, Sr. – only a few months before the elk-tag drawing in Pennsylvania. After Jack passed away, his widow and parents asked me if I wanted to take over Elk County Outfitters. They knew that running the company involved a lot of paperwork and logistics. They were sure that Jack, Sr., didn’t want the business to pass away after he did, so they asked me. I’d learned from Jack that the paperwork included permitting and insurance, and I knew there was a process to get everything he worked on changed to my name. Also, I had known and worked with all the guides who had worked with Jack, and we had become one big family. So, in 2021, I took over Elk County Outfitters.”
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Expert Guidebooks on Elk Hunting: Best Sellers
Secrets for Hunting Elk
The quickest, easiest (if there is an easy way), and safest way to find and take that bull elk of a lifetime will be to hunt with a guide.
Chad Schearer, a longtime Montana guide and TV personality, told me, “My hunter is my gun. If I get to the elk, and my hunter isn’t with me, then we don’t take the elk. My job is not only to find the elk but also to help the hunter get to the elk and make the experience as enjoyable as I can for him.” That’s the kind of fella with whom I want to go elk hunting.
An elk hunt can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be so tough that you don’t enjoy it. That’s why this elk hunting book starts with the confessions of an elk guide and with Chad Schearer’s philosophy of what the guide and the hunter’s relationship should be.
A good portion of your success will depend on your physical condition, and Matt Morrett of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania explains how an eastern hunter can get ready physically during June and July to hunt western elk, the animals he describes as, “Like deer or turkeys on steroids.”
Wayne Carlton, well-known elk hunter and TV and video personality from Montrose, Colorado, tells us what types of elk calls to use and what to say to the elk. Mike Miller of Colorado, another elk guide and Mossy Oak video personality, has tactics for the best equipment for bowhunting and gun hunting elk.
You’ll learn helpful strategies and hunting tips in this book, as well as some straightforward hunting methods that will help to make your elk hunt more successful.
“Thanks to the advice in your elk hunting books, I was able to call up a nice 6-point (6X6) bull elk! He was bugling like crazy. I called him in from about a ¼ mile away. Called him into bow range (about 40 yards away). It was a thrill!” ~Rob Brannon
VERSIONS: AUDIBLE & KINDLE
Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success
Often just one tip or tactic makes the difference in whether you take an elk home to dinner or have to hike back to the truck by yourself. In John E. Phillips’ latest elk book, Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success, you’ll learn from successful elk hunters the strategies they use to find and take elk.
Many know that the technique that seems to work most often is to hunt where other elk hunters don’t and understand where the elk are before you go on a hunt by studying data from each state, visiting HuntData (see chapter 1), examining maps, and reading postings on elk forums.
This book also tells you how to get ready physically for an elk hunt, including participating in Train to Hunt Competitions, what gear you need to take, how to enjoy a successful do-it-yourself elk hunt, or how to pick the best elk guide for you. You’ll also hear about the X System and the Broken Y System of hunting elk.
Although no one person has all the answers on how to help you find and take your elk, I’m convinced that this book’s outdoors men and women will teach you how to have satisfying elk hunts.
As my friend Karl Badger once told me, “Elk hunting doesn’t get any better than when I ride horses into the high backcountry, see two grizzly bears, hear a pack of wolves howl close to camp all night long, eat plenty of delicious food prepared on a fire and enjoy the company of good friends.”
VERSIONS: AUDIBLE, KINDLE & PRINT
How to Find Your Elk and Get Him in Close will teach you the tactics of 10 nationally known elk hunters, to help put that giant bull that’s been screaming at you from afar, in your lap. You’ll learn what some of the best guides, outfitters, and successful elk hunters do to find elk and get them in really close.
Also in this audiobook, you’ll notice that the majority of the experts call elk to within bow range. We selected numerous bowhunters and bowhunting guides, since the bowhunter has to get much closer to a bull than the gun hunter does – often less than 20 or 30 yards – practically in your lap.
On one elk hunt, I’d heard this bull bugle all morning. My guide had called him within 30 yards, and he was standing just inside black timber. I saw the smoke from his nose wafting out into the icy air less than 30-yards away. All the bull had to do was step out, and I could take the shot with my bow. But then, through no fault of my guide or me, the bull vanished.
The only conclusion I could come up with to understand why the bull I wanted to take with my bow hadn’t stepped out and given me a shot, was because he got raptured. He evidently had left the earth with no trace of himself.
This hunt was when I started wanting to learn more about hunting elk up close. In this book, I’ve tried to find some of the most knowledgeable, experienced, and practical elk hunters. I’ve always found that the best way to learn any outdoor skill, is to either hunt or fish with the best sportsmen in that field.
Often, in elk hunting, that means elk guides, who generally hunt every day of the season and receive a salary for every hunter they guide. So, I’ve put together a group of some of the best elk hunters I know to help us all learn how to find bull elk and get them in close.
VERSIONS: AUDIBLE, KINDLE & PRINT
Tomorrow: Pennsylvania’s Elk Hunting Guides Today