Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Pennsylvania Elk Success Story

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, September 24, 2011.)

Don’t miss one of the best wildlife
viewing opportunities anywhere.
Shrill, and guttural. High pitched, and deep. A scream, and a grunt. The bugle of a majestic bull elk contains those contradictions and more, and its reveille call is as wild a sound as anyone will hear in North America.

And yet, it’s as common and regular in Pennsylvania as Sunday drivers at the peak of the leaf viewing season. In fact, any day of the week from mid-September to mid-October, your ears will ring with elk bugles, if you’re in the right place.

No longer associated just with the western wilderness, a healthy herd of elk lives in the Keystone State. Numbering about 800, they’re spread across Elk, Cameron, McKean, Potter, Clinton, Centre and Clearfield counties, and they might be the most accessible wild animals in America.

If you’ve never seen them, you’re missing one of the best wildlife viewing opportunities anywhere in the world. And even if you don’t see elk, just hearing a bugling bull is worth the trip.

But you will see elk. The right place is Benezette, PA south of St. Marys in Elk County. Up Winslow Hill from Benezette is a brand new Elk Visitors Center that should be the hub of your elk excursion.

Operated by the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, it’s a first-class facility where you’re encouraged to have a hands-on experience with antlers, hides, and other elk artifacts. Spend a little time in the souvenir shop full of locally produced gift merchandise. Your dollars will provide funds to support elk habitat.

A panoramic sensory-surround theater tells the story of elk from the first steps of a newborn Pennsylvania elk calf in spring, to an antler-on-antler sparring match in the fall mating season, and the fight to survive winter’s cruelty.

As for seeing elk in their natural habitat, a horse-drawn wagon is one option. But whether or not you ride the wagon, you’ll see elk. Not only that, you may see deer, wild turkeys, even a bear. I’ve seen at least one of those three species every time I’ve been there, and sometimes all three.

Elk are native to Pennsylvania and once lived throughout the state. By the mid-1800s logging and mining camps were steadily reducing elk habitat and market hunters were using elk to feed the loggers and miners. By the 1870s native elk had vanished.

From 1913 to 1926, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) imported 177 elk from Yellowstone Park and other places in an effort to recolonize them. The 20th century saw the herd persevere through ups and downs, with the downs sometimes at fewer than 50 animals.

In the 1970s the PGC committed to keep the remnant animals from disappearing a second time. A grant from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in 1990 enabled the purchase of 1359 acres on Winslow Hill, which became State Game Lands 311.

The health of any species depends on habitat, and this land has been managed to offer premium habitat. It grassy meadows are ideal for birthing and raising elk calves, and during the rut the high population of cows attracts magnificent bulls with antlers as big as you’ll see anywhere.

Since 2001, a limited hunting season has helped minimize crop damage, collisions with cars, and other conflicts with people. Annually, several dozen tags are offered by lottery. The chance to draw a tag is low, but the opportunity to fill a tag is high.

More important than the limited hunt is the unlimited opportunity to witness up close one of the great success stories in modern wildlife management, and you owe it to yourself to go see them. But a few cautions are in order.

First, remember that elk are wild animals so maintain a safe distance, and keep a barrier between you and any elk that’s less than 40 yards away. Second, remember that not all property is public, so respect those who live in the area. And third, drive slowly – there might be a group of elk viewers standing near a parked car just around the bend.

The sights and sounds of Pennsylvania elk are thrilling, and you’ll come away with real appreciation for one of the most majestic animals on earth.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So Just Who Are Those “Pro Staff” Guys?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, September 11, 2011.)

“Pro staff” usually means “promotional
staff,” not “professional staff.”
You’ve probably seen headlines in magazines or on websites that announce something like “Big Game Hunting Tips from Our Pro Staff!”

It seems as though every hunting and fishing company has its pro staff. So, what’s a “pro staff”? Who are those guys (and gals) who brag up the merits of the various outdoor products? What do they get for plugging the benefits of game calls, tree stands, bows and camouflage?

Those are some of the questions the average guy wonders about, but the big question that underlies all the rest is this: Is he a sell-out?

First, the term “pro staff” usually means “promotional staff,” not “professional staff.” Few of them are professional spokespersons. Some of them get paid a little. Most do it without expecting compensation.

Many pro staffers are friends of the guy who owns a product or a small company. I’ve invented a turkey call you’ll hear more about in the future, and already people have asked me if they can be on my pro staff. (Maybe I’m not thinking big enough, but I don’t foresee needing a pro staff, other than just me.)

The idea that pro staffers are sell-outs suggests that they’re making big money on something they don’t believe in. Nonsense. Outside of celebrity hunters, there isn’t much money offered to pro staffers in the hunting world.

So, a person doesn’t need to “sell out” when he’s on a pro staff. He only needs to believe in the product, and be willing to endorse it. He might get a few hundred dollars per year for associating his name with the product, or a few samples at little or no cost. Or a shirt. Does that make him a sell-out? I think not.

Compare what the average pro staffer gets with the money professional endorsers bank outside the hunting industry. Have you ever heard anyone say Tiger Woods sold out to Nike for $105 million? Or Hanes underwear spokesman Michael Jordan for the $40 million he earns in endorsements per year? Probably not. Is Hanes really better than Fruit of the Loom? You decide. They’re probably made in some of the same factories.

No one thinks less of Tiger or MJ for the windfall they get from the brands they promote. We tend to associate those deals with celebrity status. We say it’s “just business.”

In the hunting world the pro staffer doesn’t reap a windfall. He might get a new suit of camo. Maybe he’ll be invited on a hunt. The shirt with a logo on it comes when he spends endless days promoting the product at shows.

One way to tell if someone is a sell-out is not by his public association with a product, but by his private speech and actions. If it’s a lower shelf product, does he disparage the people who buy it? If it’s a top shelf product, does he disparage those who don’t? When not in the public eye, does he treat the product as though it’s worthless? Does he really prefer something different? (Actually, for the sake of comparison, a pro staffer should use competing products.)

The difference between a hunting pro staffer and a professional spokesperson is that a pro staffer gets to talk about what he loves talking about. Good luck getting an underwear guy to talk outside of the commercials about the product he promotes. He won’t. But hunters won’t shut up about hunting and the products they use.

The bottom line goes something like this: Pro staffers usually aren’t sell-outs. Aside from a few high profile people and the occasional bad apple, pro staffers use the products they speak for, with little or nothing promised in return.

Disclaimer: Maybe nobody is asking this question, but the Everyday Hunter proudly serves on the pro staff for Alpen Optics and for the website of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine. He believes in both and recommends both. Neither promise any compensation – no shirt, no contract, no money. Maybe someday. Oh yeah – he’s also the pro staff for his own turkey call, coming soon.