Thursday, January 29, 2015

Limpy...The Aftermath

My last trip to Pennsylvania elk country was October 23rd, approximately one week before the PA elk season. As I checked out familiar haunts for the possibility of some lingering rut action there was something missing from the experience and I was glad. For nearly a month and a half a bull known as Limpy was a regular sight in these parts, his distinctive bugle was unmistakable and it was almost strange not hearing it bellow out from somewhere among the hills. Most who journey to Winslow Hill and are even fairly familiar with the herd knew of Limpy as he has been one of the most visible and 'tourist friendly' bulls in the area. It was rare that I exchanged words with someone in the elk range that didn't know who this bull was. In a way, I suppose he had become the unofficial mascot of the herd in the Benezette area since the death of old Fred.

Limpy's absence on this day gave me hope that he was well on his way to where he had managed to survive countless hunting seasons. I had last photographed him on October 10th and on that day I was surprised he was still hanging around with a harem of cows. His rack this year, while impressive, was not his best and it appeared that he was on the decline in terms of antler growth. That, along with a broken tine gave me hope that it would increase his chances of surviving the coming hunt. It may be a strange train of thought coming from a hunter such as myself but I was definitely rooting for the old boy.

As a hunter I have put my name into the elk lottery drawing, not expecting there to be much chance of my name being pulled. Though I did not draw a tag again in 2014, I couldn't help but wonder what I would do if I had and met up with Limpy while out. With every encounter I had with this bull during the rut, many of them within range of a bow, I knew there was no way I could ever shoot a bull like this and have a clear conscience. To me, there would be no sportsmanship involved in the hunt of an animal that had absolutely no fear of humans which was the case with Limpy. It would be akin to shooting my own dog. Hunting is about more than a rack or mounted head on a wall, it is more than being about ego and bragging rights, it is supposed to be a challenge.

Limpy was killed on the second day of the elk hunt by a young hunter on a guided hunt. As soon as I heard about it I knew it would stir up quite a bit of controversy as this was a beloved bull to many. Even for a hunter like me it was a punch to the gut, it was hard for me to believe that anyone could guide a hunter to a bull like this and take money in return for doing so. Make no mistake, Limpy was a wild animal and certainly not a pet, nor should he have been considered as such. Still, he was probably one of the tamest elk around. You see, there is a heavy push for tourism in the elk range and it has been wildly successful. To those who have never been to Benezette in the fall you would almost have to see it to believe it. This is what acclimates elk such as Limpy to people. There have been attempts to cast blame on certain groups for acclimating the elk but there is no one group at fault. Nearly eveyone who travels to the area in the fall carries a camera or video recorder. Wildlife photographers and yes, even elk guides film and photograph bulls throughout the year. Horseback riders often have close encounters with the elk as well and the area is very popular for riding and hiking. There is no one group that is any more guilty than the other at getting these animals used to people. Still, there are certain animals that take to people more than others and they are usually very well known.

Now, in the aftermath of Limpy's death the controversy continues to stir. There are a couple of things that I think need to be addressed. Again, there is no one group responsible for acclimating the elk, it is a by-product of tourism and that tourism is pushed even by the likes of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Secondly, I think there is a responsibility by those involved with the elk hunt to create a positive image of hunting. I don't believe guiding a hunter to a bull such as this accomplishes that, in fact, as we can see from the conflict it has created there has been the exact opposite effect. Why create bad press for hunting by doing something that you know is going to cause a stink? Yes, it was legal but it sure doesn't paint the picture of fair chase to target an animal that is known by so many to have absolutely no fear of humans.

There is no doubt that the elk need to be kept in check with the habitat and social conflicts with man. Hunting is by far the best way to do this but I don't feel that it should be done without regard to sportsmanship or the image it creates of hunting. Hunting is about far more than the kill and that seems to be lost in this age of antler obsession, tv hunting shows, and hunting celebrities. It has become all about money, ego, and who can shoot the biggest buck, bull, or whatever. Respect for the animal killed is thrown out the window to glorify those who took it down and animals are killed solely to gain that glory. I don't happen to be a fan of where hunting has been headed over the years, it seems worse to me now than ever before.

I've been heading to the elk range for many years, not always as a photographer. Elk in the state of Pennsylvania have always seemed to come with conflict in one form or another and it continues to this day. As the commercialization of Winslow Hill goes forward the conflicts about elk and how they are managed will probably only escalate. Increased tourism and social media will put the hunt for these animals further under the microscope. As a hunter and sportsman (being one doesn't necessarily make one the other) I hope that those involved with this hunt will take the time to see the image they are portraying and realize something that is legal doesn't always equate to it being right. To me, there is a real lack of hunting in it's truest sense with the PA elk hunt and that seems to be par for the course for the direction hunting is headed today.

As a hunter it is probably easier for me than some to come to grips with the loss of this animal, yet I do fully understand the sentiment of the non-hunting community on this issue. Limpy will be missed by thousands and there will be a void when September rolls around later this year. Do the gains of a few outweigh the loss that comes to so many and is it worth all of the controversy and negative publicity that this decision has brought?


  1. Cora Hall PhotographicsJanuary 29, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    Well said! Limpy will be missed. I do believe you nailed it! It is giving the image of hunting a bad name. The guides have led them to the most popular elk in the herd. There is no sport in walking up to an elk that won't run from you. The hunter that shot Limpy had no clue on his popularity, I am assuming. I am sure he doesn't like the feeling that he did something wrong because of others looking for a quick buck. Would the young hunter have liked to work harder for that elk? Who knows. If it was me, and I am a hunter, I would like the challenge. I hunt for meat for my family, basically. But I would feel better that the animal was truly wild that he would run away from me if I was in per suet. I am for keeping the herd at bay. Winter is harsh and food is slimmer. But let's keep the tamer ones around for the tourist. I have never heard of anyone getting hurt by these local elks. Not to say that it can't happen. But I would rather see the tamer ones in the area, because the tourist are not leaving anytime soon. Thanks for the article and well thought words.

  2. ah yes,,limpy my friend as most all wildlife is,,he deserved better than being marked to die. he will be missed bur forever remains in my albums to view at any given time

  3. Made my heart jump to see that you've posted again, Bill! I am in total agreement with you about the direction hunting is heading. I can hardly watch outdoor shows on the tube anymore. A hunter's spirit - as you and I know it - is slowly vanishing. The ugly trend I see around here is Money and Ego. To a lesser extent, just proving that you're bloodthirsty.

    Excellent article. Have you submitted this to a local paper or mag?

  4. Bill, This is one of the most thoughtful and best articles on the subject that I have ever read.

  5. Well said. This is not a hunt, it is a slaughter. The hunt, which I happen to agree with, should be held away from the human population. Where the elk see humans as a danger and stay away. As a hunter I would never participate in it.

  6. Hi, Bill, I applaud your article and agree with Willard that it is one of the best I have seen. The hunt may be necessary but it needs to be pushed away from the area designated for tourism. Americans who hunt, as do those who participate in many other activities, are looking for the fastest and the easiest way to do it. The pursuit, the challenge, the fairness of an actual hunt (successful or not) is disappearing. Limpy was taken because he was an easier target than many others would have been. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. I agree with your article. We have a camp in the area & a couple years ago my husband had a cow tag, He chose to hunt, unguided. He was one of the 10% that year that did NOT harvest an elk. He saw numerous bulls but no cows in his area. There are elk hunters in PA who actually HUNT - then there are those that don't.....

    1. After reading a few articles on this I find I have a different opinion than most. It seems there are a lot of complaints about how these animals are habituated and should not be harvested. While elk have value to tourist, there is no need that anyone needs to be less than 100yds than these animals. Even elk that like to hang out back on the game lands are surrounded by tourist and photographers every morning and evening. Its no wonder these animals get use to people. Then if that isn't worse enough, they get named and get treated like and referred to like pets.

      Now one of these elk got harvested through legal means by a kid and people are crying about it. Sounds to me that they are crying about a problem they created and should realize that the possibility that these elk getting harvested is likely. Sounds like some people need to get a grip on reality.

      The main contributors to elk in PA are the PA Game Commission, RMEF and KECA. All three are in support of an elk hunt. The PGC and RMEF just purchased about 80 acres of land inside of the "closed zone hunt zone". The RMEF's motto is "hunting is conservation". So I find it ridiculous that RMEF spend 10's of thoursands of dollars on a piece of property that can not be hunted for elk. The reason I bring this up is for people to realize that elk hunting is not going go away. If anything it is going to expand and the "no hunt zone" is (and should) go away.

      I don't see why people don't think habituated elk are more of problem than a benefit. CWD is at the door step of the elk range and having a herd of that many elk in a relatively small area can be a problem. Also, I have heard of elk getting hit by vehicles on Rt 555 and even one has lead to a fatality.

      Now luckily for some people I am not the elk biologist or a PGC commissioner. This is because I would see elk habituation as a problem and try to eliminate it. The way I would do it is by increasing the harvest and removing the no hunt zone. I'm sure many would ask why would I do this? I rather be proactive than reactive. When these animals begin to recognize people as danger and not as their friend they will become wild. It may not happen overnight, in a year, or even 3 years but over time it will work.

    2. You bring up some good points. The truth of the matter is that you are never going to eliminate elk habituation in the Benezette area unless the push for tourism is eliminated. Even the KECA drives wagon loads of people right into herds of elk, often within feet of them, on their own property. To be honest, it would be nice if the people who want to keep tourists away from the elk would practice what they preach and let their actions set an example. They won't because there is too much money, and sometimes ego, involved.