Updated: Jun 28
If you're from the east (or even from anywhere for that matter) and haven't heard about the giant bull elk that are 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 1,000 elk living in the Keystone state as of April, 2018. With that being said, drawing one of the few tags that are given out is extremely difficult and the draw system can be tough to understand. In 2019, there were a lot of changes to the PA elk season (including 14% more elk licenses being issued compared to last year) and I wanted to give you the facts from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as well as my input and strategies with applying.
Let's start out by talking about the changes for the 2019 season. Pennsylvania now has three different seasons that you can draw an elk tag. This is the first time that you will be able to hunt screaming bulls in the peak of the rut!
Archery Season: September 14-28, 2019 (5 antlered, 10 antlerless tags)
General Season: November 4-9, 2019 (27 antlered, 71 antlerless tags)
Late Season: January 4-11, 2020 (29 antlerless tags)
You can apply for four different options (besides the antlerless only season).
Antlered Only: This is for only antlered or bull elk.
Antlerless Only: This is for only antlerless or cow elk.
Either-sex: This 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 $11.90 per season for both residents and non-residents. So, if you were to apply for all 3 seasons, your total cost would be $35.70. You can only be drawn for one tag (or season) per year, in which they start off with 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.
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, than you will have 5 extra chances to get drawn.
So what exactly are your odds of drawing? OnX Maps has an interactive draw odds tool for the Pennsylvania elk general season to see how good (or bad) your chances are at drawing. There is no data for the other seasons, due to this being the first year for archery and late season.
You can apply online through the Pennsylvania Automated License 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 are looking to do it yourself. Pennsylvania currently has 14 different elk zones, but some of those zones don't have options for each season. Knowing the amount of public land available and road access are two major contributors. 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.
Lastly, I use OnX Maps 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 EMW to save 20% off the onX Hunt 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 the first two seasons. Your odds are much higher by applying for either-sex tags, as you can see in the chart above. 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, than either-sex is the way to go. Since this is the first year that they are offering an archery season and a late season antlerless hunt - your odds of drawing those seasons are better than ever with everyone being on an equal playing field and no bonus points.
If you are lucky enough to draw one of these coveted tags, check out the PGC's management plan to get a history on the elk in Pennsylvania as well as where they typically live and thrive. If drawn, Pennsylvania residents may purchase an elk license for $25 and $250 for nonresidents. Licenses are on sale now and you can apply for elk through midnight (Eastern Standard Time) on July 31, 2019. Licenses will be drawn on August 17th at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette Township.
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.