The bugling has begun in Pennsylvania's elk country, and the lucky 56 people who won the lottery drawing for a tag this year are preparing for the hunt.
The season begins Monday in 10 designated elk hunting zones along with an "open zone." The last day to bag an elk is Nov. 5.
Zones 5 and 6 are closed to hunting this year.
From Nov. 7 to 12, a season will be held outside the zones.
The population in the state averages about 750 animals. Dr. Chris S. Rosenberry, supervisor of the deer and elk section of the state Game Commission, describes the herd as healthy.
He said hunters who have been selected for antlered licenses can expect a 95 percent to 100 percent success rate for taking an animal.
Antlerless tag holders, however, experience a success rate from 10 percent to 75 percent, he said.
Last year, one hunter bagged a new state record for a typical bull in Pennsylvania.
Domenic V. Aversa Sr., of Woolwich, N.J., now holds the title with an 867-pound, 7x7 bull that he took on Nov. 1 in Jay Township, Elk County.
According to the Game Commission, the elk's antlers "green-scored" at 389 7/8 on the Boone & Crockett Club's official scoring system.
"In 2009, a non-typical bull was harvested that ranked in the top 20 in the world," Rosenberry said. "For those fortunate to get drawn for a antlered elk license, the chance exists to take a record-book bull (this year)."
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation believes that is true, too.
In a news release, the foundation predicted Pennsylvania could produce not only another state record but a world one.
The organization lists Pennsylvania as one of the states that boasts the highest success rates when it comes to harvesting an elk as well as taking a bull elk in North America. It is calling this time period the "Golden Era" of elk hunting.
Last year, elk hunters harvested animals in an almost-even split between public and privately owned lands.
Tag holders can choose whether to hunt on public and private lands, but all are within elk hunting zones, and each tag is specific to a zone. These are set up by the Game Commission.
"Elk hunt zones vary according to elk population abundance, road abundance and amount of public land," Rosenberry said.
Ratings for each of the zones can be found on Pages 87-88 of the hunting digest that accompanies licenses.
Elk also usually can be found in small groups outside the elk management area, Rosenberry said. Large herds typically are not found there, which Rosenberry said is consistent with the commission's policy to try to limit the elk population growth in those areas.
This year, the live elk tag drawing was held on Sept. 14, which was rescheduled from earlier in the month due to flooding issues. The drawing could be viewed via Internet at real time and, according to the Game Commission, there were almost 600 Internet viewers.
"By webcasting the public drawing, we reached far more than the two dozen people who attended the event at the agency's Harrisburg headquarters," said Carl G. Roe, commission executive director. "In fact, according to the webcasting service we used for today's broadcast, we saw there were 599 people tuned in at one time."
The drawing yielded tags for 18 bulls and 38 cows, 56 in total.
The Game Commission bases the number of licenses per year on elk abundance, survival rates and management goals.
"For example, if we want to reduce elk abundance in a hunt zone, we will increase the number of antlerless licenses," Rosenberry said. "If we want to increase elk abundance in a zone, we will reduce the number of antlerless licenses."
According to the Game Commission, 18,253 individuals applied for tags, with 92 percent of the applications submitted from Pennsylvania.
This year, only one tag went to an out-of-state hunter.
A computer randomly allocates tag applicants from a database. Each tag is assigned to a specific elk zone.
All 56 hunters selected to receive a license were mailed a confirmation letter within about a week of the drawing. They also received two copies of the Game Commission's elk hunter orientation DVD, which they must view prior to the elk hunt and update materials.
According to the commission, the second copy of the DVD is to be previewed by their guide, if they choose to use one.
Those with tags are not required to take a guide with them.
The board of game commissioners created the elk guide permit. According to the Game Commission, it allows experienced individuals, especially those who are familiar with or live in the elk range, to serve as guides for those who receive an elk license.
Guides may provide assistance in locating or tracking elk and calling for elk, but they may not harvest an elk.
Rosenberry said guides may provide assistance in transporting the animal once it is harvested, butchering services and accommodations.
"Lists of elk guides are provided upon request to hunters who are selected for an elk license. Elk guides are regulated by the PGC because they must acquire a guiding permit from the PGC," he said.
To become a guide, one must send the Game Commission an elk guide permit by Sept. 30.
All elk license recipients must obtain a general hunting license prior to purchasing their elk license. Elk licenses cost $25 for residents and $250 for nonresidents.
A special conservation tag was auctioned off this year to the highest bidder, which is done every year by a conservation organization.
"The hunter with the winning bid receives an opportunity to hunt elk from Sept. 1-Nov. 5. The conservation organization receives 20 percent of the winning bid and the PGC receives 80 percent," Rosenberry said. "The PGC uses these funds in elk management to improve habitat work with in the elk management area.
Anyone can accompany an elk tag holder on a hunt. That person is required to wear the correct amount of fluorescent orange but cannot participate in the hunt itself, Rosenberry said.
They also may not carry a firearm, or drive an elk herd, which is illegal when hunting them.
Guide permits are not required for those who only plan to accompany an elk license recipient, or those who plan to aid a successful elk hunter remove a harvested elk from the field.