Latrobe teen, father team up for DIY Pennsylvania elk hunt
If ever there was an elk hunt meant to be, surely this was it.
That doesn't mean there weren't a lot of sleepless nights leading up to it, though.
Back in summer, Jim Prengaman and his 15-year-old son, Blaze, of Latrobe applied for Pennsylvania elk licenses. It wasn't totally on a whim. They applied the year before, and Jim did so periodically in the years before that.
But they didn't put a lot of thought into it, either.
“We'd never drawn a tag. We didn't know anyone who'd drawn a tag. We'd never heard of anyone drawing a tag. I thought we were just donating our $10 to a good cause,” Jim said.
So when asked what hunt zone they wanted, they didn't have an answer.
They said they'd take any available.
A few weeks later, Blaze got the word. As a representative of the Game Commission explained into the family answering machine, he'd drawn a cow elk license. He called his dad — four times, until he finally got him at work — as well as all his friends to share the news.
“He was so excited, I think the message is still on our answering machine. He won't let me erase it,” said his mother, Renie.
Things got even better.
Blaze's tag was for elk hunt zone 2, the one closest to Benezette. That's also where the family has a camp, on Winslow Hill Road. They've owned it for nine years but have been going there for 20.
It's where Blaze grew to love the outdoors.
“And I always said I was going to kill an elk up there,” he added.
When it came to doing it, they decided to go it alone rather than hire a guide.
“I thought, I've been going to elk country for 20 years. And only one time in 20 years did I not physically put my eyes on an elk,” Jim said. “And I thought, we're smart. We can do this.”
Blaze didn't want a guide, either.
“I like doing things myself. I like hunting myself,” he said.
He was optimistic, too. In the coming weeks, he kept telling everyone — friends, family, classmates at Latrobe — that he wasn't coming back without an elk.
That's when Jim began to worry.
“I wanted him to get one, of course. And then all my buddies started saying, ‘Jimmy, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Don't screw this up,' ” he said.
“I thought, I've got to figure this out. I've got to figure this out. I was sweating it pretty bad there for a while.”
Said Renie: “He wasn't sleeping very well.”
They spent quite a few weekends before the hunt — held Oct. 30 to Nov. 4 — visiting the area and scouting. Then they arrived at camp in time to do a little turkey and archery deer hunting the Saturday before the opener. They saw elk.
“After that, I was really stoked,” Blaze said.
Everything seemed on track.
That seemed especially true Monday morning, when they saw 15 elk — amazingly, all small bulls — early on and even got within 40 yards of a couple. Later in the day, they came across some cows, and Jim felt relief as he was sure Blaze would kill one.
But, to everyone's amazement, he passed on the opportunity.
“I was like, ‘No, I'm not shooting a small one,' ” Blaze said.
All the while, Renie was at the elk check station — the only place with cellphone reception — waiting to hear if Blaze had connected. When no call came, she went back to camp, where they all met for dinner.
There was no disappointment, though. Far from it.
“That was probably the best day of my life until I shot the thing,” Blaze said.
That happened the next day.
They went to almost the same spot they'd hunted Monday morning, setting up about 100 yards away from their initial location. They were on a high bluff, almost like a cliff, overlooking a food plot.
At 7:40 a.m. two large cows approached, stopping 78 yards away. Blaze took aim at one with his .308 and fired.
Both elk immediately disappeared over the brow of a small hill.
“I walked down to where I shot, and I didn't see any blood right away. I was like, ‘oh geez,' ” Blaze said.
In a few seconds, though, he saw a cow elk — only one — running away. The other, it turned out, had dropped dead just 30 yards from where he shot it.
Blaze tried to contact his mother but couldn't. The call wouldn't go through.
Instead, she found out about his elk another way.
While Blaze and his crew were field-dressing the elk, two Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officers checking on another kill came by. They talked for a while.
Later, Renie, driving around the Benezette area looking for the gang, saw those officers. She stopped to talk.
“I asked them how the hunt was going. And then I blurted out, ‘My 15-year-old son is out there.' I was so excited I think it was the second thing I said,” she recalled.
One officer looked at her.
“He asked me if (Blaze) had hazel eyes. I thought, well, sometimes they're hazel, sometimes they're blue, sometimes they're green. Then he asked me if he was with a bunch of old guys.
“I just started laughing and said yes.”
Said Jim: “We're just well seasoned.”
The officer told Renie that he thought her son had done OK.
And indeed he had. His cow weighed 403 pounds field-dressed, with an estimated live weight of 525 pounds.
That made it one of the largest killed this season. Just nine of the 79 cows taken by hunters topped 500 pounds.
That was just the start of things in one way, though.
A week later, he killed a white-tailed doe with a bow. That was his first archery harvest.
But it's the elk hunt that still has him fired up.
“When I got it, one of the guys with us said everything else was going to seem small in comparison. And I was like, ‘What's this old guy saying?' ” Blaze said.
“But then I shot that doe, my first one with a bow, and I thought, this isn't nearly as exciting. It wasn't like getting that elk.”
Said Jim: “It was one of the neatest things I've ever been a part of. It really was.”