10.28.2011

2011 Pennsylvania Elk Season Nears

Foggy Morning Bull
As I write this, in only three more mornings the 2011 Pennsylvania elk season will be upon us.  With the Winslow Hill sub-herd being larger than ever, we are entering season with ten bulls and twenty cows slated to be taken from Elk Hunt Zones 2,8, 10.  I concentrate on the figures from these zones as it seems likely that a high percentage of the elk seen on Winslow Hill come from these areas--especially the bulls (cows are more likely to remain in their home range, while bulls will range further-especially during the rut..  The allocation was not increased in Zone 10 this year, but it was doubled for bulls in Zones 2, and 8. The cow allocation for Zone 2 was doubled for 2011, while it remains the same for Zones 8, and 10.

Bull Pauses From Chasing Cows
 Most will agree that there were a lot of elk on Winslow Hill during the rut, and many of them were impressive bulls, although upon close inspection it turns out that most of these ranged from 6x6s to 7x8s.  I personally did not see one of the massive, branch antlered bulls such as the bull from the late 1990s and early 2000s known as "Old One Eye", or "One Eyed Frank", or "Fred" the famous town bull at his peak.  That being said, a classically beautiful 7x8 that was seen each day during my two weeks in elk country, is very good indeed.  An experienced guide estimated that he is in the 400 class and predicted that he will be killed this year.

"One Eye" 1999: Video still capture- Canon L2 Hi-8 Camcorder
 Many of the bulls should have left the hill by now and returned to the areas where they normally live, which for a great many of them this is the Gray Hill and Spring Run areas.  Two of the largest bulls taken last year were shot in Spring Run--a 7x7 that is currently the state record typical bull, and the Crazy Legs, Jr. bull, which is why I focus on these Hunt Zones in expressing concerns about the allocations.  Perhaps the best chance for a bull's survival is if he spends the season inside someone's safety zone, or on posted property where the owner will not allow access for elk hunting.

At first glance, the ten bull allocation for these areas may not seem excessive when one considers the number of bulls seen overall, but the problem is that attention will be focused on the largest and the removal of ten large bulls from this area could severely impact the quality of bull sighted in the years to come.  In actual practice it is likely that not all hunters will hold out for a big bull.  To some a 5x5 in their sights is simply too much to pass up--especially after hunting for a day or so, but it does seem likely that most of the bull tags will be filled, as the success rate on Pennsylvania bulls usually runs in the 90%-100% range.

But so much for speculation, the allocations for this year are written in stone, the hunters have their permits and are ready to go, and the elk that will be hunted are there.  In a few short days the drama will unfold and whatever will be,will be.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

10.23.2011

Pennsylvania Elk Rut : Paul Staniszewski's Elk Viewing Guide

Mature Bull Guards Harem From Challengers
I photographed this fine bull on the first evening of my  trip to Pennsylvania elk country to photograph and film the 2011 rut.  I carried three telephoto lenses that evening--the 28-135mm, 70-200mm f2.8,  and the 300mm f2.8.  The 70-200mm would have worked fine to photograph the entire bull, but the area where he was standing did not make  the best setting for an elk portrait.  I used the 300mm f2.8 to isolate him against the nearby woods, and further improved the composition by cropping the image in photo shop.

It seems that interest in serious elk photography is increasing each year and Paul Staniszewski has written a "Guide to Photographing Elk in Pennsylvania", which you may access my visiting his website, or by clicking the link in the sidebar of this blog..  The guide features an overview of elk photograph, along with tips on photographic equipment and techniques, the best times to look for elk, and location of the public elk viewing areas.  Be sure to browse Paul's website and stop by the Elk Country Visitors Center to check out his selection of floral note-cards and wildlife photographs, which are for sale in the gift shop.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

10.08.2011

"Limpy" The Bull That Roars: A Close Look At A Mature Pennsylvania Bull

7x7 known as "Limpy" Roars
It was one of those perfect evenings on Winslow Hill during the rut of 2009 as several small and medium sized bulls ranged a meadow in pursuit of cows. As the sun dropped low on the western horizon the air was tinged with a pleasant coolness, which hinted of cold frosty nights to come.  For a time  many other photographers and elk watchers enjoyed the evening, but they left as the sun dropped below the horizon and I found myself alone with the elk.  I had almost decided to leave too, but there was a lot of bugling coming from the edge of the woods nearby and I decided to get into a better position to record audio of this spine tingling serenade.  As I drifted through the meadow I reflected on what a perfect evening it had been with the exception that I had seen no mature bulls.  I had just placed the Canon XL-H1 video camera in position to record the audio when suddenly several bulls came out of the tree line nearby following cows, which passed to my right side and circled to the hillside behind me with the bulls close behind.  All the while, the air was rent with screaming bugles.  Some of the bulls were raghorns, but others were large, mature bulls and at one point two bulls locked antlers in a violent but brief scuffle.  I had been not been aware of the  mature bulls as individual animals before this, but all were to loom large in my elk experiences during the next few years.

Mature Bull Bugles While Others Lock Antlers
 One of these animals was the bull featured in the first photo above  I was to encounter him again at The Gilbert on December 23, 2009, which was a bright, but bitter cold winter day. He and several smaller bulls spent the entire day there with a large herd of cows, basking in the bright sunlight in areas that were protected from the winds.

7x7 At Gilbert: December 23, 2009
 I was to see him again during the rut of 2010 when he spent a lot of time lying near the rental house at the Donnie Dudley rental house on Winslow Hill.  He walked with a pronounced limp and soon acquired the soubriquet of "Limpy".  Eventually he moved to The Saddle area and figured prominently in the encounter, which I and my brother Coy of Country Captures and retired PGC Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer, had with the holder of The Governor's Conservation Elk Tag and his guide on the morning of September 29th.  See , An Unpleasant Encounter In Pennsylvania Elk Country, which was originally posted on October 10, 2010.


7x7 Bull "Limpy"  September 29th 2010 Before Encounter: Video Still Canon XL-H1 W.Hill
This is one of those bulls that is very impressive indeed, but seems to have grown little if any larger since 2009.  He is also noted for his deep, throaty, rumbling bugle, which could be described as a roar. It is one of the most impressive bugles I have heard!

While one should always respect these animals and not infringe on their personal space, this bull is completely acclimated to humans and is very trusting of them. He is living proof that many Pennsylvania elk are not "as wild as any" as is often claimed.  Hopefully he will not be killed during the coming season, but if he is, it will be interesting to see how those involved try to spin this into an exciting, challenging, hunting adventure.

7x7 Lying In Woods Near Harem
 A seasoned outdoorsman who has photographed elk all over the United States, and hunted them in one of the western states discussed this situation in detail with my brother last week in Elk County.  His two major points were that these are some of the largest, most easily seen bulls anywhere in the United States including the national parks and they are also the most accepting of humans and most docile he has seen .  When discussing that 10 of the 18 bull tags issued (19 if one considers the Governor's Conservation tag)  were for the Hunt Zones that most directly influence the viewing areas on Winslow Hill (Zones 2,8, and 10)-his reaction was WHY?

To be continued along with discussion of more facets of the elk management controversy.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

10.04.2011

Pennsylvania Elk Rut 2011-Part 1

I arrived  in Pennsylvania's elk country on the afternoon of September 18th, and returned home after the morning's activity on Friday September 30th. Weather conditions were less than ideal, but rutting activity and photo/filming opportunities were outstanding.  At one time I preferred bright, sunny weather for photography, but now I like to do a substantial amount of photography  and filming in weather which has "character".  Video is especially effective when it is raining or snowing as the falling precipitation contributes to the "wild" look of the scene. As usual, there was a lot of fog at times, but this too can result in dramatic photographs as long as it is not so thick as to obscure the subject.

Early Morning Fog Adds Atmosphere To Photos And Video
Distant Herd Bull And Harem
The warm weather was actually the biggest problem as rutting activity decreases during warm periods and there were some evenings that were very disappointing.  I recall one in particular where several bulls arrived at the Gilbert viewing area, only to lie down and do little except bugle intermittently until it was too dark for good photographs.  I actually do not have many good photographs from this trip as I concentrated on video and neglected to take stills in many cases.  I am currently in the process of rough editing and archiving the video from this trip and have almost completed that which was taken with the Canon XL-H1 and  I am now about  to begin working with footage taken with the T3i.  Considering the amount and quality of video taken, this was one of the most outstanding trips to elk country I have ever had. 

Another important aspect of the trip is getting to touch base with a lot of people that one only gets to see once or twice a year and it is always good to meet blog readers and those that have seen the elk film.  In what is hopefully to be one of many meetings, Richard Coy organized a gathering and picnic at the old Benezette School pavilion on Saturday September 24th for those that discuss the Pennsylvania elk herd on Facebook. He called it "Elk Rut Shoot 2011".  After the afternoon picnic, several members of the group went to the popular viewing areas on Dewey Road for an evening of elk photography.  I already knew several of the attendees, but it was good to actually meet the others I only knew as online personalities from Facebook or the blog,. .  In the past few years I  have met many people face to face that I have corresponded with in comments on the blog, e-mails, and Facebook postings and in most if not all cases, I find them to be exactly as one expects them to be.  Most that are interested in serious wildlife photography are truly good people and this shows through in their writing and when one meets them.

Pennsylvania Elk Rut Shoot 2011; Old  Benezette School
Photographers Meet In Elk Country: Paul Staniszewski, Odie Swartz, Ron Saffer, David Anderson, Randy Quinn
I thank all of those that have purchased "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd" and that read the blog.  The video, which was released in the fall of 2008 continues to sell well and is still pertinent to most of the issues about elk management and the hunt today.  The PGC did eliminate the combined hunt zones, which did address one of the major concerns discussed in the film, but this year they  negated that by doubling the number of bull tags issued for Hunt Zones 2 and 8, which are immediately adjacent to the elk viewing areas, but that has been discussed in the past and will hopefully be a subject for future posts.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.