How much is a trophy elk worth? A helluva lot more than I’ve got. Where’s a great place to shoot one if you’ve got that kind of coin? Somewhere I wouldn’t have suspected. Arizona? Utah? Nope. Try Pennsylvania.

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_How much is it worth to have the opportunity to shoot a record-class elk? One Allentown hunter put a pretty high figure on it. The state’s regular elk season runs over the first six days of November. But Bob Ehle spent $35,000 to buy the state’s conservation elk tag, which gives him the right to take one bull in a season that runs over several months. That’s a lot of money. But the state has some monster elk, too. Earlier this year the Boone and Crockett Club said the state ranked in the top 10 this decade when it came to producing trophy-class animals.

__But can it sustain that ˜ and keep hunters’ interest high ˜ when the herd numbers fewer than 700 animals? That’s the $35,000 question. Pennsylvania has a lot of big bull elk now. Whereas many western states have 10 or 11 bulls ˜ counting spikes ˜ per 100 cows, Pennsylvania has 30 to 35 branch-antlered bulls, with additional spike bulls on top of that, said Pennsylvania Game Commission elk biologist Jon DeBerti. But growing those bulls isn’t done overnight. Elk calves are born in a 50/50 ratio of cows to bulls. This past year, the commission counted 125 calves born, DeBerti said.

Of those 60-plus bulls, only 20 will be alive by age 6, and probably fewer than 10 by the critical age of 9, DeBerti said. “People don’t realize, but to get to that trophy size, for an elk, that doesn’t happen until they are at least 6 1/2, 7 1/2 years old. If you look at the ones that make Boone and Crockett, most of those animals are 9 1/2,” DeBerti said. “It takes some age to get them to that point. “The ratio (of bulls to cows) has to be high to keep a lot of older, big-racked bulls out there.”

_Reaction? Are so-called “conservation tags” that go to the highest bidder a good thing for conservation but ultimately a bad thing for hunters without deep pockets? Are cash-strapped state game and fish agencies utilizing them too often?