If you're from the East (or even from anywhere) and haven't heard about the giant bull elk living in the Appalachian region of Pennsylvania, you might be living under a rock. In all seriousness, Pennsylvania has had one of the most successful reintroduction efforts of elk throughout the country, with approximately 1,300-1,400 elk living in the Keystone State as of 2022. That said, drawing one of the few tags given out is extremely difficult, and the drawing system can be tough to understand for someone new. If you are used to applying for tags in the western states, then this will be simple to understand. In the last few years, there have been a lot of changes to the PA elk season, and I wanted to give you the facts from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as well as my input and strategies for applying.
On a recent episode of the East Meets West Hunt podcast with Bryan Hale, of Elk County Outfitters, he gives a complete breakdown on how to apply for elk in Pennsylvania in 2023, the top zones you should consider applying for to find the biggest elk in PA, previous years success stories, and much more. If you are reading this prior, this episode will release on June 29, 2023.
Updates to the 2023 Pennsylvania Elk Hunting Season:
Let's start out by talking about the changes for the 2023 season.
You must apply between February 1st - July 16th, 2023. The application season starts earlier and ends earlier than in previous years. You can make changes to your application up until July 16th.
The drawing date has been pushed up until July 29, 2023, at Keystone Elk Country Alliance's Elk Expo, in Benezette, PA. The drawing date was moved up to give archery hunters more time to prepare.
Updates from Previous Years:
You can now put in 5 different choices for preferred elk zones per season, in which you can choose antlered, antlerless, or any available tag. - Update from 2021
You can choose a Fallback option - You must have chosen at least one elk zone before putting any zone as a fallback option. A fallback option means simply that you will accept any antlered, antlerless, or any available tag that is still left in the drawing. - Update from 2021
The way that you apply is now different, and the PA Game Commission put out this video to simply it for you
Pennsylvania has three different seasons that you can draw an elk tag.
Archery Season: September 16-30, 2023 (18 antlered, 8 antlerless tags)
General Season (Firearms): Oct. 30-Nov. 4, 2023 (30 antlered, 42 antlerless tags)
Late Season: Dec. 30-Jan. 6, 2024 (17 antlered, 29 antlerless tags)
You can apply for four different options.
Antlered Only: This is for only antlered or bull elk.
Antlerless Only: This is for only antlerless or cow elk.
Either-sex: This is for either antlered or antlerless elk, meaning that they will give you whatever tag is available at the time.
Point-Only: If you aren't able to hunt any of the seasons this year, but wish to obtain a point - then this is the option for you.
You can apply for 1, 2, or all 3 seasons for a nonrefundable application cost of only $11.97 per season for both residents and non-residents. So, if you were to apply for all 3 seasons, your total cost would be $35.91. You can only be drawn for one tag (or season) per year, in which they start off with an archery season and move along in the order of the seasons. If you were to draw an archery tag, your name would be pulled for the other seasons, but you would still gain a bonus point in each. What I found to be different (in a good way) is that each season has their own bonus points. This means that if you already had 5 bonus points in the general season from years past, then you will still have those points, but would start with 0 for the archery and late season tags if it’s your first time applying.
Bonus points give you one extra name in the hat in the overall lottery system. For example, if you have 5 bonus points that you've accumulated over 5 years of applying, then you will have 5 extra chances to get drawn.
You can apply online through the HuntFishPA system, which will also tell you your status of the application and how many points you have acquired.
Choosing a preferred zone can make a difference if you want to do it yourself. Pennsylvania currently has 14 different elk zones, but some of those zones don't have options for each season. Two major contributors are knowing the amount of public land available and road access. Elk have been successfully harvested in all of the zones available, so if you're not sure where you want to apply - don't worry that much. If you choose a zone and your name gets drawn, but the tags in that zone are already allotted, than they will give you the next available tag in another zone. You might want to look at the harvest data and maps located here. Another resource for looking at the zones is the PA Game Commission Elk Hunt Zones Map Book.
In 2022, the new state record archery bull was shot in Zone 10 by Dave Kammerdiener, with its massive 7x11 frame measuring 446 inches!
Lastly, I use the Spartan Forge app to really dive into these zones. You can find where the game commission plants food plots from the aerial view, which the elk like to feed in. In addition, you can find the public/private land boundaries and road access that may sway your decision one way or another. Use code eastmeetswest to save 20% off the Spartan Forge app.
Each of these zones has the potential to produce Boone & Crockett caliber elk.
I'm looking at previous harvest statistics through the harvest map links, as well as using my knowledge of the area to pick a preferred zone, but like I said above - all of the zones with available tags will produce huge elk and an unbelievable experience! I will be applying for all three seasons and for bull only in all of the seasons. Your odds are much higher by applying for any available tags. With that being said, I am set on trying to get a bull tag, so that is my reason for applying this way. If you want the best chance at drawing any tag, then any available option is the way to go.
If you are lucky enough to draw one of these coveted tags, check out the PGC's management plan to get a history of the elk in Pennsylvania as well as where they typically live and thrive. Pennsylvania residents may purchase an elk license for $25 and $250 for nonresidents if drawn. Licenses are on sale now, and you can apply for elk through midnight (Eastern Standard Time) on July 16, 2023. Licenses will be drawn on July 29, 2023 at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette Township.
Didn't draw, but want to visit PA Elk Country? Check out the Elk Crossing Getaway in the PA Wilds and stay in the heart of elk country.
To learn more about the Pennsylvania elk herd and Pennsylvania elk hunting, check out the podcast I did with the Pennsylvania Game Commission elk biologist, Jeremy Banfield here.