By Jim Lickfeld, Williamsville
This is the 18th year Pennsylvania has had an elk season, but the first with a specific archery season (Sept. 14-28). Previously, the general season lasted six days and any weapon could be used.
I have been hunting in Pennsylvania since 1983, and this year I bought a big game license online in July and filled out an application for the new archery elk season lottery drawing for $11.90. Then I kind of forgot about it.
On Aug. 17, I was traveling to Florida for a family reunion. After flying into Atlanta, I turned my phone on to find a bunch of messages from an 814 area code. After listening to the messages, though, I realized it was the elk lottery drawing day in Benezette during the annual Elk Extravaganza, and I had been selected for one of the coveted bull elk tags, one of only five available for the new archery season in Zone 10. Let’s just say I was slightly distracted at the family reunion and I couldn’t wait to get back home and start making plans.
I only had four weeks to plan the hunting opportunity of a lifetime. My first task was selecting an outfitter. My good friend Kevin Tone and I drove to Pennsylvania to interview two potential outfitters. It turned out to be an easy decision. Trophy Rack Lodge with owner/guide Larry Guenot was our choice.
Larry and his wife, Vicky, welcomed us into their five-star lodge. Through Larry’s many years of guiding, he has made many contacts in the industry, including Foxpro game calls. Foxpro, headquartered in Pennsylvania, knew the significance of this hunt and offered 5-time world champion caller “Big” Al Morris from Utah to assist.
I started shooting my Hoyt Carbon Defiant bow on a nightly basis. My self-imposed Western New York shooting limit is normally 25 yards, but after our scouting trip, it became apparent I was going to need to become confident at a longer distance. The area we would be hunting was a mix of open hardwoods and fields. I quickly became lethal out to 40 yards. Kevin and I traveled to the Keystone State on Sept. 12 and we met Big Al after his long day of traveling. Al’s confidence was contagious.
We were out before sunrise the next morning. Hearing our first elk bugles, Kevin and I were in awe of the volume the bulls could produce. That afternoon, we traveled to a location with Matt Lutz, a young guide whom Larry utilizes to cover part of the 250-square mile Zone 10. While we were enjoying the setting sun, an adult bald eagle flew over us. Not a word was spoken, but as we would later agree, the majestic bird was a “good sign.”
After a sleepless night, opening day was here. We had a 2.5-mile walk to get to where Matt had selected for our morning to begin. Well before daylight, we had numerous bulls bugling nearby. Despite Al’s best effort to pull a giant herd bull away from his cows, they had other plans.
The hunt was shaping up to be a combination of spring turkey tactics of calling them to you, and spot and stalk. The remainder of the morning was uneventful. Kevin had a family commitment and left before the afternoon hunt.
The afternoon started slow with warmer than normal conditions. A combination of Al’s sweet talking cow calls and aggressive bugling had a big bull fired up. We closed the distance and played the wind. The bull would only come so far. With no cows in sight, he would fade back into the timber.
With daylight fading, Al pulled a trick out of his bag: a decoy. With ultra-seductive cow calls, we closed in, using timber to conceal our approach. The bull caught our movement.
Al calmed him momentarily, but it was now or never. As I came to full draw, Al whispered “57” as in yards. I did some fast geometry knowing my 40-yard pin was 10 inches low at 50 yards. I figured the accelerating rate of descent would require 20 inches of elevation composition. A deep breath and I released. I picked up the fight of my arrow while it was halfway home. The double lung hit monarch was down. The rack on the animal was huge.
After a little research, we found that the Pennsylvania archery typical record is 349 4/8 inches and has held the top spot since 2001. My bull green scored 370 5/8 inches, a 6 by 7 symmetrical giant with an estimated live weight of 800 pounds.
As we were getting ready to haul the trophy out of the woods, Big Al asked if this could be any better. After thinking for a moment, I shocked everyone by saying that it could have been better if my dad had been here to share this moment.
My father, Jim “Red” Lickfeld, lit the fire that burns bright in me today. He was a Buffalo fireman killed in the propane explosion of Dec. 27, 1983. Al instantly said: “Remember the eagle that flew over us last night? He was here.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission documented the hunt to show that archery is an effective way to manage the herd and generate more interest in the lottery. It will be released in the spring.