Warren's Mary Ann Zdarko doesn't look like she could hurt a fly.
"My mom bagged a 600-pound elk. I should have been more scared of her when I was young!," her daughter posted on her Facebook page after Zdarko, a 63-year-old grandmother, harvested a 6 x 6 bull elk in Cameron County on Nov. 1.
Zdarko was one of only 50 hunters in the state - and the only woman - out of 18,253 who applied whose name was drawn by the Pennsylvania Game Commission (www.pgc.state.pa.us) for the annual managed elk hunt.
Photo submitted to Times Observer
Warren’s Mary Ann Zdarko poses Nov. 1 with the 558-pound (dressed) bull elk she bagged in Cameron County after being awarded one of only 50 elk licenses, and 17 bull antlered elk licenses, in Pennsylvania through the Game Commission’s lottery. Zdarko, 63, is the only woman of the 50 hunters who were awarded licenses.
Beyond that, Zdarko received one of only 17 antlered elk licenses, making the odds seem even greater.
"The look on their faces," Zdarko said of the "guys" at the check point station when her bull with a dressed weight of 558 pounds came rolling in.
While Mary Ann's family is made up of "avid hunters," she said, her husband Dan Zdarko is the full-time hunter of the two. She's admittedly a "part-time" hunter.
"I just hunt whitetail (deer)," she said, not small game, not turkey...
They've each been spending $10 a year for 10 years on the elk lottery.
"Sure, you're jealous, because you're the one that wants to get picked," admitted her husband.
But when a family member gets selected out of close to 19,000 people, you have to be thrilled, he said.
"He's the reason I hunt," said Mary Ann, "and he taught me to hunt."
So her husband was going with her to Sinnemahoning State Park with a hunting guide - that owns Hicks Run Outfitters with her husband.
"The was the case of a grandmother guiding another grandmother on an elk hunt," said Janet Colwell, Hicks Run owner with her husband, Jeff.
Mary Ann said she went with a female guide because she felt the most comfortable with Janet Colwell and her husband, former and present Game Commission employees.
The only problem was, who was going to pull this bull out of the woods between Dan and the two grandmothers? We'll get to that later.
Zdarko bagged the bull in the Game Commission's Zone 4, which is comprised of private and public land, including the Elk and Sproul state forests and Sinnemahoning and Kettle Creek state parks.
After the $10 chance at the lottery and $25 in-state license (it's $250 for an out-of-state hunter), Zdarko said the real money comes in hiring the guide, butcher and taxidermist.
But, "it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. Literally, because the 63-year-old grandmother said she's not trying for the lottery ever again. She's not eligible for five years anyway, when she'd be close to 70, she said.
Dan will keep trying.
Mary Ann, though, was shaking for weeks prior and is still shaking a week-and-a-half later.
"I'm trying to get calmed down," she said.
She felt a heck of a lot more pressure knowing that you have to take advantage of the opportunity.
"If you're going to go to the Super Bowl, you've got to win," she said.
They were lucky, very lucky, that they were only a quarter-mile into the woods when she shot.
"I kept telling myself, 'you have to breathe and you have to relax, you have to breathe and you have to relax,'" she said.
She didn't have a shot at first. She doesn't remember who saw it first. She does remember seeing trees lined up in a row. The guide couldn't move, the bull was staring right at her. Mary Ann was out of the line of fire. then, the bull turned around and gave Mary Ann a chance to get in position.
"'If you're going to shoot, you'd better shoot now,'" Dan told her.
One shot, from 145 yards.
Janet walked to the left, Dan to the right and Mary Ann down the middle, and Dan found the elk and dressed it.
"And then I was a girl," said Mary Ann. "I cried."
There were two small women and one man. Several phone calls later to the guide's husband, another man in the area, they got the elk onto a trailer and to the checkout station.
Janet and Mary Ann actually carried the head of the elk by the horns - the elk was scored at 316 7/8ths, and Dan said, "over 300 is good."
The look on their faces.
Dan asked the men at the check station if their had ever been a woman older than 63 bag a bull elk.
"'I could probably look it up somewhere, but we don't really keep track of that,'" a man told Dan.
360 pounds of meat later, and the Zdarko's having to buy an extra freezer, she was one of 40 out of the 50 elk hunters in Pennsylvania to harvest an elk, and all 17 of the antlered licensed hunters harvested bulls.
"Do you want any meat?" she asked.