By JESSICA WELSHANS
Being drawn for a coveted Pennsylvania elk tag is a rare privilege because the state Game Commission only issues a limited number each year.
Charles G. Ulrich, of Elimsport, received one of those tags during a drawing the commission held Sept. 14.
The commission said 18,613 people applied for tags this year.
Ulrich won one of 65 tags drawn for the 2012 season. He was selected as one of 19 hunters who would be gunning for a bull elk.
Each tag indicates a specific zone, and hunters must be sure to harvest an elk in that zone. Ulrich's tag was for Zone 7, which includes portions of Clinton, Centre, Clearfield and Cameron counties.
"It is quite a process," not only getting drawn for a tag, but getting ready for the hunt itself, he said.
As soon as he heard the good news, Ulrich hired Elk County Outfitters, owned by guide Jack Manack Jr.
"They have been monitoring the elk and know where the big ones are," he said.
Most outfitters also have permission to hunt on or cross through private property, which sometimes exists in the elk zones.
The weekend before the season started, Ulrich, his wife, Suzette, and their son, Brandon, of Williamsport, set up camp at his cousin's cabin along Hicks Run Road, near Emporium.
Throughout the weekend, Brandon, Suzette and Ulrich, and his guide, Carey Bollman, drove through the area, looking for elk.
"We ran into some huge elk," he said.
In his zone, Ulrich picked out one elk he wanted to pursue, but the outfitter later informed him it had moved off into another zone.
He started his hunt the morning of Nov. 5, the first day of the season. Although he had until Nov. 10 to bag an elk, Ulrich filled his tag that day.
Brandon tagged along on the hunt to film it for his dad, but Suzette stayed at the cabin.
At the break of dawn, Ulrich, his guide and son spotted nine bulls standing in a strip-mined area near a field. They were across a property line where Ulrich could not shoot.
So, the small hunting party moved across another field where Ulrich said they could see down into a hollow. After coming up over a shale bank, they saw three elk, all bulls.
As Ulrich looked at the bulls, he asked himself if he should wait because maybe he could do better. He turned and whispered to his son, asking what he thought.
"Go for it," Brandon said.
"I felt kind of like I was being overly cocky. But this is what I came for and this is what I was hunting," Ulrich said.
It was 7:20 a.m. He laid his Savage Model .300 Winchester rifle across the shale bank, using it as a rest.
Seventy-five yards away, one of the elk stood broadside to him. Ulrich fired.
The bull ran, then collapsed 25 yards away. Its rack of antlers bore seven tines on each side - a 7x7 elk.
"It worked well - one shot and done," he said of his gun.
Brandon filmed the whole experience and was as excited as Ulrich.
The dirty work then began. The animal was field
dressed, and the hunting
party began to drag it back to a waiting truck.
It took 30 minutes just to drag the bull 200 yards.
The bull's live weight was estimated at 729 pounds and, after being field dressed, it weighed 561 pounds.
"I was shocked ... it (had) over 100 pounds of guts in it," Ulrich said. "The stomach was huge and took two (men) to roll it out of the chest cavity."
Born and raised on dairy farm, he said he is used to being around large animals and knows how to butcher them and field-dress deer.
"This was a whole different ball game," he said.
Word traveled quickly and, when they got back to the truck to load the bull, Ulrich had an audience.
"About 25 people showed up and we were out in the middle of nowhere," he said.
His wife and cousin were in the crowd.
Ulrich and his hunting party took the animal to a local check station, manned by the Game Commission.
"It was like a circus in there," he said, adding that elk season is a big event for the region.
He, his wife and son didn't get home until 8 that night.
Ulrich tried to hang the elk in his garage to skin it but realized it was more than he could handle.
"I wasn't prepared for something so large," he said.
Feeling a little overwhelmed, he took it to a butcher shop.
Of the 19 antlered licenses, 18 were awarded to Pennsylvania residents and one to a Virginia resident this year, the Game Commission reported.
Since 2001, when modern elk hunting began in Pennsylvania, 523 elk have been harvested from the newly restored herd.
"The number of tags available each year is set by the board through an allocation process. This year, there were 65 allocated. The allocation is based on the harvest objective for each of the elk hunt zones," said Jerry Feaser, state Game Commission spokesman.
"So, basically, I was honored to even get a tag," he said. "It is a big deal for hunters to even get drawn for this. I have been hunting since I was 12 years old."
Ulrich has been applying for an elk tag in the Keystone State ever since the Game Commission re-opened the season.
He was drawn for an elk tag in Colorado this year and traveled out west in October. He applied there because he thought he wouldn't receive an elk tag for Pennsylvania.
"I have always dreamed about going out west hunting elk. They are a majestic animal and something I have wanted to kill," he said.
When Ulrich was drawn for tag in this state, he left his western hunt two days early so he could make it for his Pennsylvania elk hunt.
Place of honor
Once people found out he'd received an elk tag, it seemed like everyone wanted to go, but he didn't want too many people tagging along.
Ulrich said he wanted to make it a family event, so he took his son Brandon, who has hunted since he was a kid and they have hunted deer and turkey together.
The couple's daughter, Sara, of Elimsport, also hunts deer, as does Suzette. He said his older son, Brian, of Williamsport, does, too, but not as much.
Being a self-proclaimed antlers guy, he said he has plans for the bull.
"I built my house in '96 and it has a cathedral ceiling, so it's going above the fireplace," he said. "I have always saved this spot for my elk."
A taxidermist is doing an extended shoulder mount.
"This one was pretty impressive, and it is as good as it gets," Ulrich said.
The full measurement was a 7x7 bull elk. Its green gross score was 356 6/8.