8.20.2011

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.



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