ROSSITER — Back in late October, Vernon Winebark, of Rossiter, received a call he's been waiting for the past nine years: One confirming that he was one-of-56 lucky hunters chosen to receive an elk license in the Pennsylvania Game Commission's annual license drawing.
Even better news came in that phone call when he was informed that he was one of just 18 hunters to receive a tag to bring down a bull this year.
"I couldn't believe it when I was called, and they told me that I had drawn an elk tag for Pennsylvania," Winebark said. "And better yet, it was a bull tag. There were only 18 bull tags given for the state, so to get one out of about 18,250 who applied is very lucky and is about a once-in-a-lifetime chance."
Winebark's bull was a six-by-eight — meaning it had six official points on one side and eight on the other.
It was taken Oct. 31, the first day of the week-long season, in the Spring Run area, just north of Caledonia, and he was hunting out of the Buttermilk Lodge.
It weighed in at an estimated 850 pounds and was given a score of 377.
Typical scoring is determined by a variety of factors including the total number of points, tip-to-tip spread, inside spread of main beams, total length of the main beam, total length of all normal points and circumferences of each antler.
In Winebark's case, he said he had a chance to take down a bull that would have scored higher, but that particular bull had a broken antler, and he said he liked the symmetry of this bull better.
Also, Winebark's bull had a drop tine, which actually was subtracted from the overall score because it was considered an abnormality. But he said he liked the drop tine, so he was OK with the deduction.
Despite the once-in-a-lifetime nature of this particular hunt in his home state, Winebark noted that he is no rookie to the trade of hunting elk.
"I've actually hunted elk for over 30 years, and got my first bull in Wyoming," he said. "I have hunted since then in Colorado and have gotten 21 cows and bulls there."
The fact that his latest trophy was nabbed in his home state isn't the only reason this particular elk was special, though.
"My bull elk that I got here was by far the best one that I have ever taken," he said. "I'm very thankful to have had that opportunity here at home."
Although Winebark was one of 18,250 individuals entered in the drawing, he did have a slight edge over some of the other participants, as his name was entered eight times given his eight preference points he earned from applying for past drawings.
After drawing over 50,000 applicants in 2001, the first since a decreasing elk population forced a ban on elk hunting in 1930, and nearly 32,000 applicants in 2002, numbers have leveled off near 20,000 each year since.
In 2003, the Game Commission started giving out preference points to all applicants who applied but failed to receive an opportunity to land an elk.
Winebark had eight preference points, meaning his name was entered eight times in the drawing, in comparison to an individual who just applied this year having only one chance.
This year, 32 of the 56 individuals who landed tags had at least seven preference points.
Winebark said he was unsure of the exact number, but someone told him there were over 100,000 individual names entered in the drawing this year — eight of which were his.
Winebark has entered the drawing each year except one, with the only exception being the year he didn't realize they had switched the application process to online and missed the deadline.
Even after earning the right to purchase a tag, at a $25 rate for Pa. residents and a $250 fee for nonresidents, hunters aren't guaranteed to bag an elk during the week-long season.
According to a graphic on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Web site, though, chances are fairly good, as approximately 75 percent of tags were filled for antlerless and over 90 percent were filled for antlered tags between 2001 and 2009 (the most-recently available statistics).
Winebark said he was thrilled to have been given the opportunity to take a bull in his home state, noting that, for him, this truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Not only are the odds stacked against hunters, but after receiving a tag, they must wait at least five years before being considered for the drawing again, and Winebark said "at his age", he was just "thrilled" to have had the chance.
"I think our Game Commission has done a great job in giving us a chance — even a small one — to bag such a fine animal as the elk right here in our home state," he said.