Monday, September 29, 2014

Pennsylvania Elk Rut-Activity Is Now Spotty

Elk rutting activity was very slow on Thursday--at least where I was--but it picked a bit on Friday. That morning was extremely foggy, as is usual for Pennsylvania elk country.  As the fog started to lift a bit, I pulled into a Game Commission parking lot and heard bugling coming from a nearby meadow. Upon checking the situation out, I found several cows and calves feeding along the tree line at the edge of the meadow while a bull watched them from just inside the woods and bugled periodically. At first it was so foggy that the bull was almost impossible to photograph, but then the fog lifted and suddenly a  larger 6x7 bull came running in from behind me and to my right and  locked antlers with the smaller bull.

6x7 Charges Smaller Bull
Bulls Fighting
They locked antlers several times and fought violently for  brief periods before the smaller bull ran off and left the 6x7 in control of the harem.

The Victor
That evening I decided to check out a favorite scenic overlook and found a Wildlife Conservation Officer there.  While we were talking he suddenly whispered, "look behind you" and I turned to see a beautiful bull walking directly toward us along the rim of the overlook.  I had the 70D around my neck with the 17-40mm attached so I brought it to eye level and took several photos. This was the Conservation Officers' first trip to elk country and he was very impressed with the experience.

Overlook Bull
I saw more elk including a few bulls before darkness fell, but the photo above was the highlight of the evening.  These events raised my hopes for the remainder of the weekend, but the trend did not continue, and activity was flat on Saturday and Sunday.

The highlight of Saturday was the Benezette Elk Camera Club Picnic.  I wish to thank the club for the opportunity to address them and play a few banjo tunes.  I also thank them for the courtesy and kindness the members extended to me.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pennsylvania Elk Rut Explodes

Mature Bull Herds Cows During Peak Of The Rut

I arrived in Pennsylvania Elk Country just as a northwest cold front was moving through on Sunday afternoon.  Elk enthusiasts who were there all last week said that activity was good earlier in the week, but crashed as the weather got warm later in the week.  With the passing of the cold front; however, activity exploded again and it was very intense for a few days.

I took mostly video for the first few days of the trip, but on Wednesday evening several bulls were working a herd of cows in ideal lighting conditions for still photography so  I broke out the Canon 5D MK III with the 600mm f4 lens and the 70D with the 300mm f 2.8 and took the photos used in today's post. At first only one bull was present, but soon more arrived on the scene.

Bull Runs Toward Action
One of the bulls has large, sweeping antlers and is called "The Western Bull" by many as  his antlers look more like those seen on bulls in the western states.  It seems that the antlers on most Pennsylvania bulls are more likely to be relatively narrow in relation to their width, while many of  western bull's racks tend to be long, thin, and sweeping in appearance.  This bull is very aggressive and one point on the right antler is broken off from fighting.

"The Western Bull" A Damaged Warrior
Bulls locked antlers at times during the evening and I got a few frames of the action, but there was always some high grass between me and them when this happened and the blurry, out of focus grass detracted from the quality of the photos.

Bulls Fighting
Most expected the activity to continue this morning (Thursday),but most of the elk left the meadows shortly after daylight and there was little bugling.  Later in the morning, a solitary bull was seen feeding and resting along Winslow Hill Road near Elk View Diner and he soon became the major attraction on  the hill.

Old Bull Along Winslow Hill Road
This is the bull that many elk enthusiasts call "Limpy" He is a mature bull that is showing the signs of advancing age.  He has been in the center of the fighting for much of the rut, but now it seems he has moved away from the herd for a time, to rest and avoid confrontation with the other bulls.  He was still there in mid-afternoon when I drove past as I headed out for the evening's photography session.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whitetail Bucks Shed Velvet

Whitetail Buck Lip-Curls As Pre-rut Begins
Most whitetail bucks shed there velvet in a period ranging from late August through mid-September. This buck still had velvet on September 2nd, but a close look revealed that the velvet was dried and cracked looking.  By September 7th, small bloody areas and bare spots were visible.

Shedding Is About To Occur
He still had velvet at dawn on September 9th, but I have no still photos at that point as I was filming the deer with the Panasonic GH4 as he alternated between feeding and grooming.  Suddenly the time was at hand and he walked to a group of nearby hay bales and attacked them violently.  Again all of this was filmed, but no stills were taken.  The video is not the best quality as it was still too early for good light, but I hope to post a short clip  in the near future.  I took a still photo of the bales after the action was over.

Hay Bales After Buck Attacked Them
I did get some still photos after the action was over.  Unfortunately as a result of using the bale instead of a a tree or brush to loosen the velvet, the buck ended up with a tangle of vines and baler twine caught in his antlers.

Vines And Baler Twine Tangled In Antlers
At this point there was still a lot of velvet on the antlers and for some time he ran about the meadows trailing a stream of vines behind him as he went.  I have not seen anything like this in over forty years of whitetail deer photography.

I saw the buck again that evening and the velvet and vines were gone, but a tangle of baler twine remained.

A Tangle Of Twine
I was a bit concerned at this point as the tangle seemed so severe that I was afraid he could not dislodge the twine.Luckily he was able to free it from his antlers eventually.

With the shedding completed pre-rut activity such as sparring and lip-curling becomes more common and will continue throughout the fall with activity growing more intense until things explode as the full-blown rut begins and bucks are more visible than at any other time of year as they frantically chase does and compete with other bucks for dominance.

Bucks Spar As Pre-rut Begins

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

PGC & RMEF To Dedicate Woodring Farm September 13th

9x8 At Woodring Property Rut 2009
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to dedicate 81 acres at Saturday ceremony.

Source: PA Game Commission News Advisory

The Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation announce the dedication of 81 acres of prime elk habitat known as the Woodring Farm on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 10 a.m.

Parcel Location
The land is located at 2702 Winslow Hill Road, Benezette Pa., 15821.

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Since 1991, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and its partners completed 301 conservation and hunting outreach projects in Pennsylvania with a combined value of more than $22.6 million. The RMEF has made 10 land-acquisition purchases that opened or secured public access to 8,465 acres. About 11,000 Pennsylvanians are RMEF members.

From state Route 555 in Benezette, turn onto Front Street, then turn right onto Winslow Hill Road. Follow Winslow Hill Road approximately 2.6 miles. The dedication will take place at the red house on the left. 
Former Maynard Woodring Residence

Calf Elk On Woodring Property
Sunset Over The Woodring Farm
Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.