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elk crossing sign

Kentucky Elk

Bull elk

Elk bull

Old Bull Elk

Elk Cow

group of Elk


Return of Elk to the Eastern States

Elk have been reintroduced in the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Great opportunities for viewing these majestic animals are now somewhat easy in these eastern states. During early autumn nights, the bull Elk make a variety of loud calls known as bugling. These 1000-pound giants, with massive antlers, bugle to attract cows and defend their territories. The Elk rut is certainly a worthwhile event to experience. Kentucky has the highest population of Elk in the eastern states and offers viewing locations at some of their state parks. My favorite herd is a smaller one located in Pennsylvania. There is a hunting season for Elk in most of the states mentioned above.

Where are best locations to see the Pennsylvania Elk herd?

In the early 2000's, one could see large groups of 20-30 Elk everyday at the Winslow Hill viewing areas, just outside of Benezette. Since then, the PA DNR has been relocating the elk to a larger area. The relocation is in response to locals complaining about the Elk damaging property, and in creating a fair hunt. The Winslow Hill area has also deteriorated due to increased building and a new strip mining facility. Therefore, the Winslow Hill area is no longer the best place to see the Elk herd. Currently, the best locations to see the Elk are from the paved roads of SR555 north of Medix Run, along SR120 from Driftwood to Cooks Run, and within the first 3 miles of the Quehanna highway east of Medix Run, near sunrise and sunset. Be careful about encountering Elk and deer in the roadways during the hours of darkness. The Elk herd range is now more distributed throughout Elk, Clearfield, Clinton, and Potter Counties. If you are adventurous, you can explore the dirt roads in the above counties, and maybe see some Elk in a more natural setting. If you want to hear the Elk bugling, on late September to early October nights, tour the roads mentioned above and let your ears guide you. The days of exceptional bugling seem to be over, since the competition of their close proximity has ended. If you really want to hear the beautiful chorus of Elk, you would be better off buying my Pennsylvania Elk CD, also available as a MP3 album of elk sounds.

A note about wildlife viewing etiquette.

Elk area signIf you do go to visit the Elk herd, be sure to respect private property, other drivers on the road (for everyone's safety), and the Elk themselves. I found it very obnoxious to see people spotlighting past legal hours, using Elk calls and making excessive noise, or harassing these majestic animals in their home. Enjoy the Elk in their natural habitat by keeping your distance and trying not to interfere with them. Thank you.

A short video clip from Pennsylvania.

Taken from a digital, point and shoot camera while in the Pennsylvania Elk region.

My search for Elk in Kentucky.

Kentucky has also been reintroducing Elk in their state for about 10 years. Populations of between 7,000 and 25,000 Elk are said to roam the southeast counties. I decided to visit southeast Kentucky hoping to record these large herds in 2008. The weather looked good around the 19th-22nd of September, so my brother and I loaded up the vehicle and took off.

We first tried to visit the area near Jenny Wiley State Park in Floyd County. We drove on SR 194. It was a nice wooded area, with narrow, winding roads, which were very hazardous to drive on because other drivers often crossed the centerline. The area was quiet enough for recording, but was not a likely place to see Elk due to the lack of open fields. From satellite maps, it appeared that there are reclaimed coal strip mines just northeast of Jenny Wiley State park that would make better viewing areas. We didn't have time to explore, since we needed to get to Knott County well before dark.

We arrived in Knott County, stated to be the “Elk Capital East of the Rockies”. I asked where the best places to see elk were at a gas station. They told me to try CR 1098, and Elk View Drive beside the Sutton Memorial Park. I read on the Internet that Robinson Forest was one of the best places for Elk in the state, and that was adjacent to CR 1098 and Sutton Memorial Park. Large tracts of open fields are found here, as a result of reclaimed strip mines. Horse and ATV trails are found throughout the area. We found Elk tracks and brush damaged by bull Elk, but we didn't see any Elk. I wanted to visit another Elk viewing site in Breathitt County along CR 1098. That viewing site was on a hilltop, beside a cemetery. The only thing I saw there was a couple of wild horses at dusk and a Timber Rattlesnake along the road. We drove back to Elk View Drive after dark to see if any Elk were bugling. We heard none, and left when people started streaming in with ATV’s to camp. I would not be able to record if there was any noise in the area. So, we headed north of Robinson Woods, and camped where we heard an Elk bugling. At sunrise, two bull Elk came near camp, bugling. They got quiet after someone started shooting rifles nearby. I didn't see any cows, and the bulls looked like maybe 3-4 years old. We drove around the area some, but only saw wild horses roaming around. There were plenty of Elk tracks around and many turkeys. We left Knott County searching for a better place. I got feedback from my blog post on this subject, and was told that people do see larger groups of Elk near Sutton Memorial Park.

We ventured off to the Begley WMA around the borders of Bell, Harlan, and Leslie Counties. We found a nice reclaimed strip mine with large, grassy hills. This area is another very good location to view Elk in Kentucky. This area is on the southern edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest, so there were deep forests in the un-mined areas. With fresh Elk evidence here, the area looked perfect. Unlike many states, Kentucky seems to allow ATV and vehicle traffic in the Wildlife Management Areas. There was great access to the area, with beautiful views of the rugged terrain. Near sunset, we were glassing open areas for animals. We saw a large Black Bear about a mile away. Then we started to hear a bugle or two from some nearby Elk. Other people were in the area looking around as well. We asked a gentleman about the area, who walked up to say hello. He thought the hot weather would delay the peak bugling until the first or second week of October. We stopped beside a promising area on the west side of the complex with a trail that appeared to go down to CR 2011. At dusk, three, large bugling bulls emerged from the deep, wooded valleys. I also saw groups of cow Elk with night vision, which later disappeared from view. A group of ATV’s drove through and scared the Elk away for a while. We drove closer as it appeared the bulls were closing in on each other. We were a little late, and scared the large bull with a group of cows heading for a grassy field along the road. The bulls retreated to another field further away. I started recording, but the Elk were rather subdued, so they weren't very exciting sounds. The Elk bugled intermittently most of the night as they roamed the area. Later in the night, one of the bulls came within 60 feet of camp bugling loudly. Once the sun rose, all the Elk disappeared. The Elk in Kentucky appear to be very nocturnal, in contrast to Pennsylvania, where they often move about and linger during daylight. Audio recording in the Begley WMA has future promise, being free of highway and road noise with fairly low jet traffic.

I am sure we didn't scout all the areas and find the best location during this brief trip. There are probably better areas to view Elk, and I really didn't see the herds I was expecting to see based on the populations stated.