Photos And Thoughts From The 2016 Elk Rut

In an unprecedented move since this blog was founded in 2007, I have gone a month without posting. This is partly because I had difficulty getting internet access for with my laptop while I was in Pennsylvania Elk Country for the last two weeks of September and I did not want to try posting with a smart phone.  Also I find it harder and harder to write a post as time passes.  It is relatively simple to post a few photos, but I always like to do a bit more. To make a long story short, I found I had a lot of other things that needed done when I returned from elk country and it was easier to devote my time to that and put posting on the back burner until now. For today's post, I will share a few images from September's trip and refer you to a post by Bill Taylor on his "Down The Fall Road" Blog that resonates with me in many ways. It is titled, "The Elk Rut, Photography, & Thoughts".

A major point he makes is how each year seems to have a set of circumstances that make it stand out from years past, For me this was how elk activity was not centered nearly so much around the Dewey Rd area as it usually was in the past several years, but perhaps this was because I avoided this area as much as possible.  With that being said, I did have a few good experiences there and the first was  late in the afternoon on the first day of my trip. I arrived so late that there was not time for more than a drive around the Benezette/ Winslow Hill area and I found two bulls chasing a herd of cows over an area ranging from the food plot by the cabin on the hill to the Gilbert meadows and beyond. The first was one that many refer to as the U bull and he gave a dramatic pose when he paused and looked over his shoulder at a rapidly approaching 6x7 that was contending with him for control of the harem. It was good to be joined by fellow photographers, Jim (Muck) McClelland and then later by Tom  Dorsey and his wife Jeanne.

The U Bull Looks Back At Rapidly Approaching 6x7

6x7 Arrives

6x7 Pauses
Another bull that was photographed by many is a fine 7x7 that  frequented the river bottoms.  This brings us to another point that Bill Taylor made, which is that with so many photographing the same animals in the same set of circumstances that it is very hard to get a photo that is truly unique.  I usually try to capture them either in a dramatic pose in a good natural setting or capture them doing something unusual, but of course most every one else is trying to do the same thing.  In the first photo below I tried to capture him at the moment that he erupted from the woods in pursuit of a cow and then I got him as he came almost sliding to a stop.

7x7 Emerges From Woods In Pursuit Of Cow

Sliding To A Stop
Another dramatic opportunity was when he paused from tearing up the ground with his antlers and bugled.

Bugling With Grass In Antlers
I would have liked to get photos and video of the elk in the river, but I did not spend enough time in that spot this year to be there when this happened. Whether one succeeds in capturing a unique photo or not, it is good to see the increase in serious elk photographers as it will hopefully help insure the future for wildlife photography on public lands in Pennsylvania if this user group becomes large enough to achieve recognition as stake-holders in or public lands and the wildlife which inhabits it.

Like Bill, I would usually rather be somewhere else than the areas where a lot of other photographers are congregated in hopes of getting something different (although I really enjoy the bull sessions),  but many if not most times trips to remote areas result in very little or no elk sightings or filming opportunities.

Remote Food Plot In Clearfield County-No Elk Were Seen
I had a lot of different spots that I wanted to check out this year and I did get to a few of them, but in those cases I was not successful in getting video or stills of bull elk although these excursions were successful from the standpoint of seeing different country.

Quehanna Wild Area
When one is successful in places like this, it does seem like you have accomplished more and it is truly an experience to treasure.  The photo below  illustrates this and it is also a warning to always be prepared.  I took my brother Coy to see a remote meadow late one morning.  It was so late that I saw little reason to bother with a big lens.  As the 70-200 was mounted on my 5D MK III, I just carried it and the 24-105mm.  Needless to say this was the time that I would see a large coyote close enough for an exceptional shot with a larger lens, but there it was and I had to make the best of the situation. This is cropped severely and I do mean severely. An image from the MK III is 22.1 megapixels when opened in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), but in this case I cropped it to 3.6 megapixels at 300 d.p.i.  which is suitable for the internet and actually good enough to print a modestly large print. Actually I could probably have gotten away with 2 megapixels or less, but this was a good compromise.

Quehanna Coyote
 The bottom line though is  that with a limited amount of time to spend and more problems from getting older, it gets easier and easier to hang around the tourist areas and alternate between watching what is going on and then pitching in and doing some serious photography when the opportunity presents itself. This is what I was doing on the last Thursday evening of my trip when I saw a large bull bedded in the field beside the Woodring House. In time he stood up and I took this photo and also the one featured at the beginning of the post.

Before someone gets their "shorts in a wad" about how close this photo is, I will point out that this was taken at an entirely safe and respectful distance with a 600mm lens and the photo was cropped substantially also.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Video Highlights From Mid-August Trip To PA Elk Country

I realize that most elk enthusiasts are mainly interested in the elk rut that is now underway, but for today I wish to post a short film featuring highlights of  the mid-August trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country.

It opens with a Beaver and Cedar Waxwings feeding one evening in a remote wilderness area,  then shifts to a large bachelor group of whitetail bucks and a bull elk that has not  yet shed the velvet. Next, you get to see clips of a calf elk that show how the spots are fading, and bulls in various stages of shedding the velvet.

It then returns to the wilderness area. As noted before, the evening began with filming the Cedar Waxwing's and the Beaver. As it grew late a few whitetail deer appeared but at this point  it didn't seem likely that elk would be seen, but then I noticed a deer  feeding in an area of bushes and tall grass  beyond the meadow. While looking at it through the lens, I was startled when a set of shining, bare elk antlers came into the finder as a bull came walking through the brush toward the meadow.  I pressed the record button and began filming.  Soon a larger bull and a cow came into view and then in a few moments a herd of elk came pouring into the meadow.

To show how rapidly it was growing dark,  I began filming at ISO 1600 at 8:21 p.m.and I was using ISO 5000 when they came into the meadow at 8:27 p.m.and a short time later I was at ISO 6400, which is the maximum for the Panasonic GH4. I like to keep the ISO as low as possible and when I get on 1600 I will drop to 1/30 sec. shutter speed if necessary before changing to a higher setting.  1/60 is the recommended shutter speed for shooting video  at 30 frames per second, but I have found that if action is not too rapid that it is possible to get reasonably good footage at 1/30.

For those who are interested in such things all of the footage shown today except for the still of the shed velvet and the non-typical bull horning bushes were taken with the GH4 with the old model Canon 100-400mm L lens and either the Metabones Speedbooster or Smart Adapter.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Pennsylvania Bulls Shed Velvet

I spent most of last week in Pennsylvania Elk Country with my primary objective being to film and photograph the shedding of the velvet from the bulls' antlers.  Many of the bulls had already shed by the time I arrived late Monday afternoon, but I found a bachelor group on Tuesday morning in which some of the bulls still had velvet.

6x6 With Velvet
This was a dark, overcast morning with a light shower of rain or two so the Canon 5D MK III and the 300mm f2.8 lens were the perfect choice for this situation.  This bull was in the edge of the woods along a meadow and most of the other bulls were feeding and horning bushes that were scattered throughout the meadow. While I took a few still images, I spent most of the time filming them on video with the Panasonic GH4 and Canon 100-400mm lens.

This is a 4K camera and I film in UHD mode.  With this one is able to capture 8 megapixel stills from the video.  Panasonic has a method for doing this, but I have not tried it.  I simply load the video into  my video editing program, Vegas Pro 13,  and scroll through the timeline until I find a suitable frame and then capture it.  Below are two stills captured in this manner that shows how the velvet cracks and bloody spots appear before the actual shedding occurs.

On Thursday morning I photographed two bulls that were feeding on apples.  The first photo shows how the velvet shedding process progresses from the stage depicted in the the photos above.

Almost Shed

The second photo shows a bull that is completely shed and also documents how bulls dislodge apples from the trees by striking the branches with their antlers.

Trying To Dislodge Apples
With the shedding of the velvet, the bulls begin sparring with other bulls and engaging in other pre-rut activity.  On this trip I did not get to photograph this activity , but I did get to see a mature bulls herding cows  late one evening as darkness fell in a remote wilderness meadow.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Mid-Summer Elk Calves

Cow Grooming Calf

At the conclusion of the post about the bulls I saw during my mid-July trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country,  I promised to post some calf photos from the trip and today I have finally got around to doing that.  I was not as successful at photographing and filming the calves as I was with the bulls.  In most cases, areas that are good for seeing bachelor groups of mature bulls are not usually the best spots for seeing elk calves and I spent the most of the best elk sighting times in prime bull range.

Prime Summer Bull Range Is Often Not Best For Calf Sightings

But on at least one evening and one morning, I concentrated on working with the calves.  At times it was easy to see a lot of calves on Winslow Hill, but they were usually a bit far away,  or it was too early or too late for the best quality photos.

Calf At Woodring Farm In Early Morning

Cows And Calves Shortly After Sunrise On Winslow Hill

Cows And Calves Near Sunset On Winslow Hill
An encounter at the ponds on Dewey Road had the potential for exceptional photos when a cow nursed a calf on one the pond banks, but as luck would have it the grass was too tall in front of the cow and the calf was mostly obscured.  Otherwise the grass contributed to the wild look of the photo and made for a much more pleasing setting than short, lawn type grass.

Cow Nursing Calf On Pond Bank
When nursing was completed the cow stepped away and  the calf stepped into a more open spot, licked its' lips, and  looked out at the surrounding countryside.  The only problem here was that it was a bit far even for the 600mm for a close-up portrait. In this case I cropped the photo to 2MP in Adobe Camera Raw  which which works quite well for the web, but would start to fall apart on big enlargements.

Alert Calf
All in all it was one of the better, if not the best, July trips to elk country that I can recall. After filming on Friday morning it was time to return home and it was with mixed feelings that I headed for Fulton County.  For one thing it is always good to get home and see the family and resume photographing the local wildlife, but on the other hand it seemed that had I been able to stay for a few more days that I was getting a system worked out that seemed likely to yield a lot more good photos and video.

Soon the bulls will be losing the velvet and sparring will begin in earnest. In fact a few bulls may have lost it already, but most will do around the middle of August or a bit later.  Soon I hope to return to elk country to document this exciting event and when this is over it will be only a short time until the rut begins.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


July Bulls

Mature Bull Feeding In Natural Meadow
I spent last week in Pennsylvania Elk Country filming and photographing the Pennsylvania elk herd.along with any other wildlife that I happened to find.  It was one of the better July trips to Pennsylvania Elk Country, that I have experienced with a lot of encounters with bulls in velvet and calves. Today we will focus on the bulls and look at the calf photos in a future post. Except for the young spikes, bulls were mostly  found either by themselves or in bachelor groups and they were usually seen either very early or very late.

Portion Of A Bachelor Group Before Sunrise
 The bulls usually left to spend the day in the woods soon after the first rays of the morning sun hit the meadows although sometimes they lingered much longer as in the case of the largest bull of the trip which is shown in the first photo featured today.  He was still feeding after 8:00 a.m. on a bright sunny morning and was still there when I left at 8:15.

Bulls Slowly Head In As Sun Hits Meadow
 We will close for the day with two more photos of 6x6 bulls both of which were taken in the early morning.

6x6 Bull

6x6 Pauses By Roadside
I hope you enjoyed the photos.  As usual, I took a lot more video than stills, but it is getting harder to find the time and motivation to edit so I will not promise when I will post some video clips, but I do hope to make a post soon about the calf encounters.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.