Pa. hunter takes likely new state record elk

By Mark Nale Northcentral Correspondent

Port Matilda, Pa. — What more could happen to a hunter in one
day? The elation of seeing a trophy elk, missing the shot, getting
a second chance, then mechanical failure followed by a freak auto
accident and a trip to the hospital. Talk about a full day.

John Shirk set out with high expectations when he entered the
woods at daybreak on the opening Monday of Pennsyl-vania’s sixth
modern-day elk hunt, Nov 6. Shirk, of Goodville, Lancaster County,
was just thrilled to have a chance to hunt elk in Pennsylvania. He
would have settled for almost any bull from management area 7-8,
but his guide Jeff Colwell, of Hicks Run Outfitters, had other

Colwell came in the evening before all excited because he had
just videotaped a monster bull and he hoped to put Shirk in
position for a shot. That is what brought them to a wildlife food
plot in the Sproul State Forest, just east of the Quehanna Wild
Area in the gathering light.

Although they waited patiently, only one cow elk came out to
feed. They circled the forest near the field, saw elk sign, but no
additional elk. Colwell decided that they would head for another
area off Hoover Road, where two nice bulls had been previously

“The leaves were so crisp and crunchy that we probably spooked
the elk when we walked in,” said Shirk. Again, they had no

They returned to the original field at about 2 p.m. Their wait
paid off this time as they watched the large bull enter the field
at the far end, about 350 yards away. After a brief discussion,
they began a careful stalk of the elk. According to Colwell, it
took about 45 minutes to close the distance to a little less than
100 yards. Although they lost sight of the bull at one point during
the stalk, they spotted it again lying down near the edge of the

The elk only presented a rump or neck shot, so Colwell used his
cow call to get the bull to stand. However, instead of presenting a
good shot, the elk turned and immediately headed for the forest by
walking up over the mounds of earth created when the field was

Shirk was slightly out of position and took the best shot that
he had. They waited about 40 minutes and then started to follow the
elk. Shirk’s brother-in-law saw the elk cross Dutchmans Road, so
they knew where to pick up the trail.

“It was pretty easy to track as it walked downhill through the
woods and into a swamp, but we saw no blood, so we think that I had
a clean miss,” said Shirk. “Just then Jeff spotted the standing elk
and my only thought was – I can’t believe that I’m getting a second

Shirk took two shots with his Remington .30-06 and at least one
of the two connected. The bull ran about 50 yards and then laid
down where Shirk finished it off. According to Colwell, the elk had
traveled about a quarter mile from where they had first spotted

The end of a successful hunt – well, almost. According to
Colwell, it took until nearly 9:30 p.m. to get the big elk dressed
and loaded on a trailer, only to have the axle of the trailer break
under the load of the heavy animal. They covered the elk, left the
trailer and were on their way again. However, the evening was not
over yet.

A short time later, a deer darted out in front of Colwell’s van.
Swerving to avoid it, he skidded and rolled the van, pinning
Shirk’s arm under the wreckage. Shirk was taken to the emergency
room, where his crushed wrist was examined.

After retrieving the elk and the damaged trailer, the elk was
taken to the check station. Shirk’s elk was weighed in at 656
pounds and was estimated to have a live weight of 849 pounds.
According to the Game Commission, it was the largest antlered elk,
in terms of weight, and the largest rack taken this year.

Depending on how you choose to count points, the commission is
calling it a 10×8, while guide and hunter are calling it a

Colwell said that he rough-scored the rack at 456, which would
put it well above the state record. I guess that we will have to
wait until an official Boone and Crockett scorer gets a tape
measure on the huge rack.

The bull elk is now at a taxidermist. Shirk’s wrist was operated
on in Lancaster on Nov. 13. Shirk, an avid archery hunter, awaits
the word about his prognosis for recovery.

Elk hunt details

Forty licensed elk hunters harvested 33 elk: 14 antlered and 19
antlerless. The hunters were awarded licenses after being selected
at a public drawing from a field of nearly 19,000 entrants on Sept.

“Harvest was well distributed across the range,” said Game
Commission elk biologist Jon DeBerti said. “It is important that we
continue to harvest elk in areas where elk/human conflicts can
arise, and keep elk densities at levels that will not degrade

“In speaking with several hunters and guides, finding elk seems
to be getting more difficult than years past,” DeBerti added.

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