Novel elk tags yield two huge bulls

Benezette, Pa. — Two special licenses, two special elk.

That was the tally before the state’s “regular” elk season even got rolling.

Two hunters had the chance to hunt elk, across Pennsylvania’s entire elk range, for 60 days starting on Sept. 1. That gave them the chance to hunt during the rut, when bulls are bugling and presumably more likely to be on the move and visible.

Both took massive bulls. Details on the animals have not been equally forthcoming, however.

One hunter spent $52,500 to buy an elk license auctioned off by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. He immediately turned it over to his wife – as is legal, so long as the transfer is made right away – who reportedly just began hunting last fall.

She scored on a massive elk.

According to reports from multiple sources, her bull scored around 414 inches. That’s a preliminary, green score. The rack must undergo a 60-day drying period, then be scored again for a final, official tally.

But some believe her elk will score 392.

By comparison, the existing state record typical bull, killed in 2010, scored 383 7/8, so a new record could be hers.

More is known about the other monster bull taken early this fall.

Mark Martino, of Jefferson County, won the right to hunt it after spending $100 to buy six tickets for the license raffle run by the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, the group that runs the Elk Country Visitor Center. His number was drawn.

He ultimately shot a non-typical 8-by-8 bull that has been preliminarily scored at roughly 440 inches. It, too, must undergo the 60-day drying time.

But it will likely be close to a new state record. Pennsylvania’s No. 1 non-typical right now scores 442 6/8. It was taken in 2011.

The story of how Martino got the bull is one of perseverance.

A self-employed mechanic, Martino shut his business down completely just prior to Sept. 1, serving notice that he would be out at least a month. That was so he could hunt elk every single day.

“I paid my monthly bills out of my savings,” he said.

He was prepared to do the same for the entire month of October if that was necessary to get the bull he wanted, he added. That’s because he didn’t just want to kill an elk, or even just a big, trophy elk.

He was shooting specifically for something that had a chance at being a new state record.

That took some doing.

In winning the license, he also won a week’s worth of guiding services by Elk County Outfitters. They found him a big bull wearing a Pennsylvania Game Commission collar to target.

He chased it daily, but never actually laid eyes on it, he said.

In the meanwhile, his week’s worth of guiding came and went. He kept on, though, sometimes hunting with his guides – they stuck with him long after they were required to – and sometimes on his own.

The guides eventually got photos of another giant bull, one running with a collared cow.

“I couldn’t get a glimpse of him, but I saw her several times,” Martino said. “And I knew that if she was there, he was nearby.”

 So he kept at it, walking as much as eight miles a day, day after day, trying to get to food plots the animals were using, trying to follow the elk themselves, trying to outflank them.

By late September, his 52-year-old body was wearing down faster than his resolve, he admitted.

“I was ready to do a lot less walking,” Martino said.

But, on Sept, 25, he was finally able to get a shot at the giant bull he’d been pursuing. One shot put it down.

Jeremy Banfield, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s elk biologist, said Martino’s bull is an exceptional animal, one older even than the “typical” 6-by-6 bulls that get so much attention from most people.

“The really massive bulls, those in the 400-class, those are animals that are 8 and 9 years old,” Banfield said.

Jack Manack Jr., owner of Elk County Outfitters, said one of his guides in particular, Brian Hale, played a big part in finding Martino his trophy. It’s a beautiful animal, he said.

He green-scored it at 448 inches, but there are two “judgment calls” that could impact the final numbers, he said.

“It could go anywhere from 448 to 460 gross. I think it should net in the mid- to high 430s. It should end up being the third biggest non-typical in the state  when it’s all said and done,” Manack said.

The hunt was all he’d hoped it could be, Martino said.

For starters, he said, Pennsylvania’s elk are wilder than most people who have never been anywhere but Winslow Hill might imagine, especially during the rut.

“You get away from the camps and the houses and Winslow Hill, they’re wild animals again. They scent you, or they see you coming, and they’re gone,” Martino said.

And of course, getting a bull as big as the one he took was the real clincher.

“I’m still pretty thrilled,” Martino said.

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