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3 Generations: 79-Year-Old Bags Bull with His Best Hunting Buddies 

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Hunting has been a family affair for Dillsburg’s Gary Cassel for more than 65 years.  

“My dad was quite a hunter, my brother was quite a hunter, and I started when I was 12,” he said. “My dad belonged to a camp up in Lycoming County, and my brother could hunt with him, but when I became of age, he was only allowed to take one guest. So he went out and bought a cabin up in the Slate Run area in Lycoming so I could hunt with them.” 
Gary has been hunting in Pennsylvania ever since and has even traveled to several other states — including Alaska — to chase mule deer, antelope, and black bear. But he had never hunted elk before.  

Like a lot of hunters, Gary has put in for the elk draw every year since Pennsylvania reinstated an elk season in 2001, but getting drawn seemed like a pipe dream.  

He almost sat out the lottery for the first time in 2023 because he was concerned about leaving his wife alone on the off chance he drew a license.  

“My son told me I wouldn’t draw anyway,” he said.   
So he headed to Walmart on the final night of the five-month application period and put in for Zone 8, because it holds enough public land for self-guided hunting.  

But just a couple weeks later, his phone rang with a call 22 years in the making.  

“I heard the words, ‘congratulations, Gary’ and I knew at that moment that I was drawn,” he said.  
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His wife watched the color drain from his face at the shock of the unbelievable news, and Gary’s world turned upside down for the next few months. 

Gearing up for the Hunt of a Lifetime

He broke out the .30-06 he’s owned for most of his life and practiced setting up for the shot with a shooting stick his neighbor gifted him. His wife found a life-size elk target so he could get used to settling the scope’s crosshairs on a bull’s vitals from his own backyard. He regularly hit one of the Game Commission’s public shooting ranges to get plenty of practice firing at targets 100 and 200 yards away. In fact, he burned through all his reloading supplies and had to settle for factory ammo for his hunt! 

Elk target revised.jpg “August, September, and October — it just consumed me for this hunt,” he said. “There wasn’t a week that went by that I wasn’t at a shooting range or sighting my gun in on the target from my deck getting prepared for this.” 

Although Gary considered DIYing the hunt, he ultimately booked with Hicks Run Outfitters for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, more importantly, planned for his son Gary II and grandson Benjamin to experience the adventure with him.  

“That was one of the most important things,” he said. “My goal was that if I was fortunate enough to get one, I wanted these two guys with me. That made the hunt more than anything — that they were with me at the time and I could get a picture of all three of us.” 

The trio traveled up to elk country on Sunday, October 29 and settled into their cabins before Gary fired a few test shots at the outfitter’s gun range ahead of opening morning.  

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Then Gary’s guide, Michael Slaugenhaupt, took the group out to scout an area of State Game Lands 311, where he had recently seen a bull. In near-dark conditions, Benjamin spotted the elk first. Gary peered through binoculars to see a pair of bulls sparring, and the reality of the hunt ahead began to set in.  

“Gary, I think we need to be there first thing in the morning,” Michael said.  

Opening Morning Magic

They returned to the same spot at 6 a.m. Monday, rainy and overcast, and waited in the truck until daylight was just starting to break before sneaking into position.  

When they reached the base of a hill that overlooked the field where the elk had been the night before, Michael checked the wind then carefully crawled up to take a peek.  

“He came back very calm, so I thought there’s no elk there,” Gary said. “And then he said there’s elk out in that field. That gets you excited.” 

Gary crept up the hill with Michael and saw three bulls about 65 yards away — two smaller bulls and one with its head down feeding.  

“When he lifted his head up, I could tell it was a large bull, so I was excited. I was maybe a little out of breath, and I was on a grade. There were no trees around to lean against — there was nothing. They handed me the shooting sticks, and I couldn’t get them positioned on the grade, and I got frustrated. I threw them down, and I shot offhand,” he said. “The bull dropped, which was very exciting to me.”

Gary followed Michael’s instruction to put a second round in the bull for good measure.  

“It was very emotional, and it still is,” he said. “I sort of lost it walking up to him because my son and grandson were with me. It’s one of those things that you don’t think will ever happen.” 

Gary Cassel trophy photo.jpg Michael called back to the lodge for help hauling the bull then mentioned he’s never helped a hunter put an elk on the ground that early in the morning before.
Soon after, two more men from the outfitter joined them with a barrel sled to drag out the bull.  

“It was quite a task,” Gary said. “The emotions just drained me at that time, and it was a lifetime hunt that I’ll never experience again.” 
They loaded up the bull and drove to the elk check station, where dozens of hunters and wildlife enthusiasts swarmed Gary for photos of his trophy. 

“I had about two or three hours of fame,” he said. “I was very excited to kill the bull that early, but I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have an opportunity to spend a few days hunting with my guide.” 

The outfitter green scored the 6x7 at roughly 355 inches, and Gary plans to have the bull officially scored after the 60-day drying period. But the final number won’t mean nearly as much to him as the memory.  

“Pennsylvania has some of the largest elk in the nation, and I know people that get drawn really specify that they want their outfitter to show them the largest bull they can. And I understand that. That wasn’t my objective. My objective was a respectable bull — that’s all I wanted. I said my name doesn’t have to be in any book. I’m not interested in that,” he said.
“The killing of the elk was very important, but it was fellowship — the people in my family with me — that just added to it.” 

Check station.png Great Expectations 

From the beginning, Gary’s family had full confidence he would capitalize on the opportunity.  

His grandson insisted that he cover the cost of mounting the bull, while his son bought another freezer and committed to paying for the meat processing months before Gary ever pulled the trigger.  

“My son and grandson worked with me the whole time, with my wife, the last two and a half months,” he said. “It was a time that my family supported me 100 percent and helped me every way they could.” 

And even though the initial high may have worn off a bit, Gary is still incredibly grateful and won’t soon forget the three-generation experience.  

“My wife and I chat about it a little bit every day. I was very blessed,” he said. “I do appreciate everything that the Game Commission has done. During this time, I met a lot of nice people from the Game Commission. What they have done with these elk— I’m really thankful.” 
Gary crossed this impressive feat off his bucket list at 79 years young, but he isn’t slowing down now — he has big plans for the rest of the license year.  

“I never had the opportunity to harvest an elk, which was very, very exciting to me to harvest this in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I enjoy hunting in Pennsylvania, and I’m going to work toward the big four. The hardest one is done now.”  

Emily Kantner.png Emily Kantner

Emily Kantner is the Communications Manager for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. She’s a lifelong Pennsylvania hunter, and her best days are spent with a bow in hand.