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Pennsylvania’s Elk Lottery: How It Works

bull and doe
Flickr/John McCullough

Elk hunting is a dream for many Pennsylvanians, but with Pennsylvania’s elk lottery, how it works can be confusing.

You’re interested in elk hunting, but have no idea how Pennsylvania’s elk lottery works. Year after year, you apply, but nothing ever comes of it.

You’re not alone. And there’s not a secret formula that can guarantee you a license in the lottery. But it’s important to know how Pennsylvania’s elk lottery works and to understand what happens if you are lucky enough to get your hands on a tag.

Limited Number of Tags

Since 2001 when elk hunting reopened in Pennsylvania, a very limited number of tags have been issued. For the 2014 season, a total of 26,480 hunters applied for only 108 elk tags. Of those 108, 27 were for antlered elk, while the other 81 were for antlerless. The number of tags available has risen considerably over the last 13 years, with the 2001 season only issuing 30 tags.

Pennsylvania’s Elk Lottery Application Process

To apply for Pennsylvania’s elk lottery, you must fill out an application either online through PALS or at a registered event. In 2014, the application fee was $10.70. You do not need a Pennsylvania hunting license to apply, but if your name is drawn, you have to purchase one.

The application is easy to complete and you’re given the opportunity to signify if you’re applying for a bull or a doe and can designate which of the 12 zones you’d like to hunt in. On either option, you can mark, “No Preference.”

Flickr/Andy Arthur
Flickr/Andy Arthur

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Preference Points

During the 2003-2004 hunting season, the Pennsylvania Game Commission added the preference points program. Every year you apply and do not get a license, you earn one preference point. These points are cumulative and continue to add up until your name is drawn. Every year you apply for Pennsylvania’s elk lottery, your name is added an extra time for each point you have.

For example, if 2014 was the fifth year you’ve applied for the lottery, you’ve earned four preference points. Your name was therefore entered into the lottery five times. Once for this year’s application and one time for each point. Your points are not added if you don’t apply for the lottery, but you don’t lose them either. The next time you apply, the points will be added.

If Your Name is Drawn

If you are one of the lucky few hunters whose name is drawn, you’re then able to purchase an elk tag. For residents, the tag costs $25; for non-residents, it’s $250.

To be eligible to purchase one, you must have a valid Pennsylvania hunting license. If you designated a specific zone on your application, but that zone is full when your name is drawn, you will be assigned to a different zone.

If your name is drawn for a bull, you’re not eligible to apply to Pennsylvania’s elk lottery again for five years.

The Hunt

It seems getting the license is much harder than harvesting your elk. Since elk hunting resumed in Pennsylvania in 2001, there have only been two years where the success rate was less than 80 percent. On top of that, for six years in a row, every bull tag issued was filled.

If you’re interested, there are plenty of guides in the area that would be glad to assist you in your hunt. There are 3,500 square miles where elk hunting is permitted, with 70 percent of it public lands.

After the Harvest

It’s rather obvious, but elk are large beasts. Most weigh between 400 and 1,000 pounds and some are much bigger. If you’re elk hunting, have a plan to get your harvest out of the woods. It’s not quite the same as hunting whitetail, where you can throw a rope over your shoulder and drag it out if necessary.

In the majority of the hunting zones, ATVs and motorized vehicles are not allowed. You can use mules or horses if necessary and you are allowed to skin and quarter the elk if needed. Once your harvest is out of the woods, it needs to be reported to a Game Commission check-site within 24 hours.

That’s how Pennsylvania’s elk lottery works. It’s a rather simple process, but it does get frustrating when you apply year after year to no avail. It’s no wonder when only .4 percent of those that apply get a tag.

Other than applying year after year to accumulate as many points as possible, there is no way to increase your odds. All we can hope for is that with proper game management the herd continues to grow, as do the number of tags issued.

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Pennsylvania’s Elk Lottery: How It Works