Chance of a lifetime, then  a hunt of a lifetime

Josiah Stringham of Ridgebury with his 8-by-7 bull elk taken during Pennsylvania’s elk season Nov. 2.

Josiah Stringham’s chance of a lifetime became a hunt of a lifetime, the kind most sportsmen and women – especially those seeking to draw a coveted Pennsylvania elk tag – only dream about.

Stringham, a 17-year-old Athens Area High School senior, was one of 187 lucky hunters to score an elk tag in the state’s lottery drawing in August, and one of just 32 to draw a permit to take a bull elk during the Nov. 1-6 season.

And he did just that on the second day of his hunt, downing a massive 8-by-7 bull with a 180-yard shot from his 6.5 Creedmoor rifle.

“It was amazing,” he said of the entire experience. “It was my third year putting in for a tag, and it worked out great because I won’t be around next season; I leave for the Army in July.”

Stringham’s odds of having his name come up during the lottery draw, which takes place at the annual Elk Expo in Benezette (Elk County) in August, were long to say the least – Game Commission statistics list it as less than one percent.

But it happened.

“I wasn’t at the Expo when my name was drawn, but some friends from our church were,” he said. With spotty cell service in the area, they eventually notified him of the good news.

Then his phone really started buzzing.

“As soon as I got drawn I got a call from about 20 outfitters (who wanted to guide him on his hunt),” said the son of Don and Debbie Stringham of Ridgebury. “I chose Quehanna Outfitters. They were excellent in everything they do. And I had a great guide (Mike Cooney).”

There was still a little finagling to make the hunt happen. He would have to miss some school, as well as football practice. Stringham is a fullback and middle linebacker for the Wildcats.

“I got approved for an educational experience, which was great,” he said. “I would have hunted through Thursday morning, then gone back to practice so I could play (in the playoff game with Montoursville) on Friday.”

His dad and his football teammate Dylan Harford tagged along on the hunt, which began with a scouting mission in Cameron County a day ahead of the opener. They were hunting in Zone 10 of Pennsylvania’s elk hunting zones.

“On Sunday we actually saw the bull I eventually got; he was with about 12 or 13 cows and two other bulls. But on Monday he slipped us up. We got to within 100 yards but they all just disappeared,” he recalled.

The group started out in a different location on Tuesday, walking about seven miles but not turning up any elk. “We went back to the other spot and saw the group again,” Stringham said. “A car drove by the food plot they were in and spooked them, and it seemed like they covered two miles in just a few minutes.”

That prompted another move and stalk, and Stringham picked out his big bull amid a pair of others – a 5-by-5 and a spike. His shot was true and the celebration began.

“My dad was pretty hyped up,” he said. “And when I went to fill out my tag my hand was shaking like a leaf.”

He’ll preserve the memory of his hunt with a shoulder mount from Rick’s Wildlife Taxidermy in Troy, and there will be plenty of meals provided by the 775-pound bull, thanks to the work of Bruce’s Meat Processing in Athens.

While the odds of drawing a tag are long, the lucky permit holders have a pretty good chance of bagging an elk. Success rates have topped 80 percent over the past decade.

This season, 29 tags were allotted for the Sept. 11-25 archery season, and another 109 for the regular season. A late season is set for Jan. 1-8, with 10 antlered and 39 antlerless tags allotted.

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