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Frye: Record number of elk licenses could be issued

| Sunday, March 23, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

This year's harvest has the potential to be the largest ever.

The intent is to drive the herd down, a bit if not too dramatically, at least in specific locations, to ease human conflict-type concerns. To do that, the Pennsylvania Game Commission may issue more licenses than at any point in the last 80 years.

Thinking deer?

Nope. We're talking elk this time.

Chris Rosenberry, head of the commission's deer and elk section, has recommended the agency issue a modern-day record 108 elk licenses for this fall's hunting season. That would include 27 bull tags, up from 26 last year, and 81 cow tags, up from 60 last year.

One-third of the additional cow tags would be directed to what's known as elk management zone 5, around the community of Weedville. The increase is meant to “address human safety concerns,” Rosenberry said.

The boost in cow tags particularly is a reflection of how much more difficult they are to harvest than bulls.

Historically, hunters with bull elk licenses have been successful more than 90 percent of the time. Hunters with a license to shoot a cow succeed at closer to 80 percent, Rosenberry said.

That might not be for the reason you think.

Some have long suspected that was because cow hunters went afield less often or avidly than those with a chance to bring home some giant antlers. Research revealed that's not true.

“It wasn't a lack of effort on their part. It was just circumstance,” Rosenberry said.

No one should worry that issuing 108 elk tags — if that's what commissioners approve when they next meet April 7-8 in Harrisburg — will harm the herd, said Cal DuBrock, director of the bureau of wildlife management. It still numbers more than 800 animals, he said.

As for white-tailed deer, commissioners will set the doe license allocation at their April meeting, too. It's unlikely they'll follow the recommendations of their deer team exactly. They never do.

In fact, at their working group meeting in Harrisburg this past week, commissioners indicated they'll go through the state, wildlife management unit by wildlife management unit, with each getting a chance to tweak the allocations — as in the past.

What they'll start with is a recommendation that the commission decrease the population in units 3C, 4A and 4B, allow it to increase in unit 3A and keep it stable everywhere else.

The recommended doe tag numbers for units with 12-day concurrent seasons (with last year's allocation in parentheses for comparison) are: 1A, 52,000 (49,000); 1B, 32,000 (31,000); 2B, 61,000 (62,000); 3A, 19,000 (23,000); 3D, 37,000 (32,000); 4A, 36,000 (28,000); 4C, 32,000 (27,000); 5A, 26,000 (19,000); 5B, 50,000 (50,000); 5C, 105,000 (103,000); and 5D, 18,000 (18,000).

The biologists' recommendations for units with split buck and doe seasons are: 2A, 54,000 (49,000); 2C, 50,000 (43,000); 2D, 69,000 (61,000); 2E, 23,000 (22,000); 2F, 30,000 (29,000); 2G, 24,000 (28,000); 2H, 6,000 (6,000); 3B, 50,000 (39,000); 3C, 40,000 (35,000); 4B, 31,000 (24,000); 4D, 37,000 (35,000); and 4E, 28,000 (26,000).

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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