A Pennsylvania Elk Season Story--Eyewitness Recounts Killing Of Well Known Bull

After a successful morning of elk photography on Wednesday of last week, I found Bob and James Shank, Ron Saffer, and Paul Staniszewski gathered in the parking lot by the ponds on Dewey Road.  For a time we had an enjoyable discussion about elk photography and cameras and soon another elk watcher and photographer arrived. I  found that he too had experienced a successful morning.  Eventually the conversation turned to last year's elk season and he told me that he had personally seen the killing of a well known "character" bull on the first day of the 2010 season.

As he related the story, he arrived in a certain area to find several bulls in a meadow that had houses and camps on every side of it.  The bulls  were surrounded by a large number of persons who appeared to be  assisting in the hunt, but no bull was shot at this point.  It seems they were keeping the animals there so that if the bull they wanted did not arrive, the person they were guiding (who had a bull tag) could kill one of these animals. One of these bulls was an extremely impressive animal and another guide who was not part of this hunting party was allegedly complaining about this party keeping the bulls from leaving the meadow so that others could not shoot any of them.

In time the famous character bull came walking from the woods by a camp on the opposite side of a township road from where the bulls were in the meadow, crossed the road, and headed  toward the general area where the other bulls were.  As he left the township road, he entered an area, which was a mixture of small to mid-sized  trees and open grasses. A portion of the  hunting party arrived and the shooter was positioned some distance from the road in this meadow..  At this point the witness estimates the bull was  about 50 yards from the shooter.  It seems he missed the animal completely with the first shot and the bull gave little to no reaction to being shot at. The shooter was then placed a few feet from that position  and he fired again--this time hitting the animal in a leg, and again there was little if any reaction to the gunfire and the bullet wound other than to move enough that the shooter had to be repositioned.  The third shot was fatal and a famous Pennsylvania bull elk was no more.

On Thursday morning the witness and I traveled to the area and he related the account again to me again as we stood near to where this all occurred.  Later in the morning another source confirmed that the bull was killed in that spot and the story as told was consistent with the accepted details of the story that they "the source" was aware of.  There were a few small details that they had not heard from others participating in the event so they could not comment on those aspects. 

This is known as a good area to see elk, so I left Benezette before dawn on Friday morning so as to be there by photographic light, but I encountered a bachelor group in a roadside meadow as day was breaking so I paused for awhile to film and photograph these animals. This turned out to be one of the best photo opportunities of the trip.

Foggy Morning 6x7-Velvet Hanging In Strips: 500mmF4
Another respectable bull was with this one along with at least two raghorns.  This one is a bit smaller, and the points are somewhat difficult to count.  Some would call him a 6x7, while others might say 6x5.  I am not sure if one of the points on the left antler is long enough to be considered a point, but I suspect it is not.  There were also two raghorns with them, but they were not photographed, although they were successfully filmed.

Bulls In Early Morning Fog: 300mm F2.8
I resumed my journey once this encounter ended and although it was growing late in the morning to see elk the fog still lingered, which increased the probability that the elk would stay in the open later than usual.  I arrived  to find a bull alternating between grazing and feeding on apples--this in the same field where the bull was killed in elk season.

Bull Feeding On Apples: 300mm F2.8
 I was filming him when several persons arrived on the scene in a pickup truck and stopped some distance away.  Soon I realized that one of them was standing beside me and he remarked that I needed to "put a set of crosshairs on that thing, and put a barrel on it and then squeeze the trigger".  With that remark he turned and walked away.  The bull went into the edge of the woods but came back out so I mounted the 300mm F2.8 on the tripod and photographed the animal.  After awhile he left the tree and headed for a nearby lawn and as he did so a vehicle came down the driveway from the house.  It was the person that lived there and he was on his way to work.  He pulled up to me and said, "take him along with you", and then told me that it had been a very dry summer and the elk had severely damaged his corn and garden and in fact a small bull was in the garden as we spoke and the one shown here today was on his way to join in.

With that it was time to head back for Benezette and then for home. I did have some more bull encounters on the way, but that is a story for another time as is an analysis of this situation.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


The Velvet Is Shed As Pennsylvania Elk Rut Approaches

August is a month of change for the Pennsylvania elk herd.  The antlers complete their development in July and the velvet dries out and cracks in early to mid-August with many bulls starting the shedding process during the second week of August.  I was in Pennsylvania Elk Country from August 15th through the 19th, looking to document this process and  found what would prove to be the largest bull of the trip lying in a meadow beside Winslow Hill Road on Monday evening.

9x8 Bull Elk Starting To Shed Velvet
It is difficult to see with the size of the photo on the blog, but count forward three points from the back of the left beam and then look just below the two points that are clustered together and you can see the first bloody, partially bare patch on his antlers.  Eventually he got up, dislodged some apples from a nearby tree with his antlers, and rubbed the velvet against the limbs.  At this point one could also see some blood and partially bare areas on the other antler as well.

I found him in the same spot at dawn on Tuesday morning and the shedding was much more advanced, but he still had a long way to go.

Bare Spots Are Larger Next Morning With Strips Of Velvet Hanging Loose
I was at this meadow at dawn on Thursday morning , but he was not there so I went on the Hick's Run viewing area where I saw a lot of whitetail deer, but sometime after I left  well known elk watcher and photographer Lamie Wheler saw him crossing the meadow and took a series of photos of  him as he violently rubbed an autumn olive bush less than twenty yards from the road.  This was exactly what I wanted to film with the video camera, but alas I was in the wrong place.  Later in the morning I encountered him at the edge of some woodlands and only a few strips of velvet remained.

Shedding Almost Complete On Thursday Morning
I checked the meadow again that evening as dusk was falling and he was moving across it in such a manner that  it was obvious that he was not going to linger long enough to take still photographs so I mounted the Canon XL-H1 camcorder and got a a few video clips before he vanished from sight.  As best as I could tell the antlers were completely bare by this point.  All of the above photos were taken with the Canon 500mmF4 IS.  The first two are with the Canon 7D and the third with the T3i.

I hope to post more photographs from the trip over the next few days, but the trip was not only about photography, but  elk management issues as well. With the annual  drawing for elk licenses being held in September and elk season being held from October 31--November 5th and the extended season from November 7th through the 12th--there is is quite a bit of talk about the events of the past season and the decision to issue 10 of the 18 bull tags for Zone 2, 8, and 10 this year.  These are the zones that most directly impact the areas where most visitors look for elk.  If one includes the special conservation tag, this means a total of 11 of the bulls that frequent the center of elk related tourism could be killed.  With hunter success rate running between approximately 90-100% on bulls this effectively means that there is a high possibility that at least 10 of the bulls that you see on Winslow Hill this September will be dead by mid-November.

As disturbing as this is, it was eclipsed by an eyewitness account of the killing of a bull during the past season.  I hope to share at least portions of this story in the next post.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.