Ralph Harrison Receives Rothrock Award

Ralph Harrison: Photo by John Eastlake-all rights reserved
 Each year, the Pennsylvania Forestry Association (PFA) recognizes an individual, organization, or group's significant contributions to the public recognition of the importance of Pennsylvania's forest resources in the same tradition and spirit of Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock, the first president of PFA.

This year's recipient was retired Bureau of Forestry Maintenance Supervisor, Ralph Harrison, Elk County native and resident of Dent’s Run.  Mr. Harrison received a plaque with the following inscription:

"Ralph Harrison has demonstrated a life-long interest in and concern for the elk of Pennsylvania.   He successfully motivated forestry professionals to develop specific elk habitat actions for the Elk State Forest management plan and provided keen observations and knowledge that were essential to the accomplishment of the plan.  A healthy elk herd now populates over six Pennsylvania counties.  Know for his educational talks, tours, and publications, Ralph is the individual most responsive for saving the Pennsylvania elk herd as a valuable component of today's Penn's Woods."

For those unfamiliar with Ralph Harrison I will reprint an edited version of a post from this blog , "Ralph Harrison Above and Beyond The Call Of Duty"  February 13, 2008, which will give the reader an understanding of the conditions under which Ralph Harrison became involved with the elk."

"Mr. Harrison was born in Dent’s run in 1928 and has lived there most of his life except for a stint in the military. Ralph went to work for what was then know as the Department of Forest and Waters in 1951 and worked for them for the next forty years, although the agency changed names over this period. It would take a book to cover his life and in fact Ralph has written three. The first was “The Pennsylvania Elk Herd: published by The Pennsylvania Forestry Association in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and DER Bureau of Forestry. The Second was a smaller update of the first called, “The Pennsylvania Elk Herd of Today” Published by The Pennsylvania Forestry Association in cooperation with the DCNR Bureau of Forestry. His most recent is, "The History of Pennsylvania Elk Country", also published by The Pennsylvania Forestry Association..

Mr. Harrison never had an official job in elk management. There was no big title, just a simple love and respect for the animals, which led him to go above and beyond the call of duty and dedicate his life to them. He has seen elk population grow from less than twenty to over 800 animals. Although he would never claim responsibility, he was an important factor in this increase.

First, a greatly condensed history of the Pennsylvania elk herd to illustrate the backdrop against which Ralph Harrison's life work took place. The last Pennsylvania Elk was killed sometime in the late 1860s or early 1870s as a result of unregulated market hunting. In 1913 The Pennsylvania Game Commission released fifty animals in the north central part of the state. These animals were obtained from Yellowstone National Park. There were additional releases and in time the herd grew to the point that The PGC established a hunting season in 1923. Anyone with a general hunting license could kill an elk (bulls of 4 or more points were legal). In 1931 only one bull was killed.  The season was closed in 1931 and remained so until 2001.

During this time the PGC lost interest in the herd and at times few even knew they existed, as what few remained stayed well away from human habitation in most cases. The population began to increase slowly in the 1950s. Ralph recalls how he realized the elk herd was rebounding in the mid-1970s after a late August evening encounter with cows and calves in a meadow in which he heard bulls bugling in the woodlands. This so inspired him that he approached his boss the next day and outlined a proposal to help the elk herd survive and expand. Things progressed from there. A management plan was developed which included more public land acquisition and development of suitable elk habitat.

 In a nutshell the PGC did re-introduce the elk in 1913, but when the population declined too much to support a hunt, they lost interest in the species. It was The Bureau of Forestry, inspired by Ralph Harrison that picked up the torch and brought the elk herd to the position it was in a few years ago. The PGC only entered the fray after Forestry had done the hard legwork to bring the herd back from the brink. It should be noted that this was the agency as a whole, not some of the dedicated Game Commission employees who were assigned to the area. These included District Game Protectors Norm Erickson who served from late 1940s-1965 or 66, and Harold Harsbarger who ably filled the slot from 1966-97. PGC Wildlife Biologist Bill Drake was also numbered among these dedicated individuals. All were very interested in the welfare of the elk, even at times that The PGC as a whole was not.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


PA Elk Season Report 2012

For the past two years I have observed the first several days of the Pennsylvania elk season, but due to a variety of reasons I did not go this year. Most important was a significant conflict with photographing the peak of the whitetail rut as elk season was a bit later this year and I wanted to be in Shenandoah Park for most of elk season week,.  For reasons described in the last post that trip did not work out and it would have been better had I gone to elk country.

Upon returning from Virginia I learned from David Anderson that two of the character bulls that were favorites with the elk watching/photography community were killed during the first few days of elk season. I partially predicted this outcome in the post of September 30, 2012,"Will The Biggest and Best Be Lost?" In that post I predicted the loss of at least one, most likely two, and perhaps all of the bulls shown. I did not include the famous bull "Attitude" in this list as in my opinion he was not as large as the three shown, plus he often spent a lot of his time in downtown Benezette once the rut was over, which gave him a better chance of surviving than most. His luck ran out this year when he was killed on Monday morning, the first day of season well away from Benezette.

"Attitude" 2012
Another favorite bull known as "Uncle Bob" was killed on Wednesday. He first gained wide attention in 2011  when he was named in honor of Bob "Uncle Bob" Woodring ,who is a close friend to many in the elk photography community.  This came about when we photographed him extensively in August of that year in Mr. Woodring's meadow. This was his first year with an impressive rack and he would likely have been killed in the hunt that year, but he broke his left main beam during the rut, which destroyed his trophy value. This ensured his survival that year, but he had a beautiful set of antlers this year and no one was likely to pass him up.

"Uncle Bob" 2012
Today well known elk enthusiast Jeff Thomas sent me what information he has on the hunt as of late this afternoon and I will share it with you below as reported by him.

"Attitude was taken Monday morning on Rock Hill road. I dont' have other details on him. Uncle Bob was taken Wednesday near Weedville. He weighed 649 lbs field dressed and green scored 365. The guide was Eric McCarthy. I heard he got away from them on Tuesday and on Wednesday they spooked him, but the hunter made a good shot and dropped him. They brought a large bull in from Mason hill on Monday and he scored 405 green, it was the 6c bull, I never saw him before. Watch the Endeavor news for Carol Mulvihill's story on him, its a real human interest story.

There were 16 bulls in by 1 o'clock on Wednesday and at least 24 cows. A lot of the big bulls were coming from the New Garden area and below Karthaus near the Kuhn farm. I heard that on Tuesday evening there were 19 bulls in one bunch. They brought 5 cows and possibly 1bull out of the gates at the bottom of Dewey.I didn't actually see the bull brought out.

I spent Sunday afternoon on Dewey and saw a cow bred by a 6x6 with a brown collar. There were elk everywhere. I saw 75 on the big hill, 45 in the first field on Dewey Road and another 35 in the second field. They took a cow in the new field in front of the limestone pile on Monday morning."  Jeff Thomas reporting from Pennsylvania Elk Country.

A special thanks to Dave Anderson and Jeff Thomas for providing us with this important information.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country-The Introduction

Today I am posting a condensed version of the introduction to my latest film on Pennsylvania Elk, "Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk Country". The introduction makes the point that when most think of elk, they think of the high mountain west, but elk were once native to Pennsylvania as well. Today Pennsylvania has a dynamic elk herd with great elk viewing and photography opportunities. The actual introduction shows more wildlife and scenery and features a short segment on the Elk Country Visitor Center.

The film goes on to take a look at the life cycle of the elk and what other key species that live in elk country are doing at different seasons of the year as well. The majority of this segment was shot with the Canon Rebel T3i,. Other cameras used were the Canon XL-H1 with nano Flash, and the Canon 5D MK III. Music is licensed by Getty Images.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Will The Biggest and Best Be Lost?

Mature 7x7 Bugling: Panasonic GH2 Canon 500mm F4
I was in Pennsylvania elk country from September 16th until late Friday morning on the 28th.  Overall it was one of the best trips ever, yet I was experiencing  grave misgivings about the bull situation by the time the trip was over. I saw more bulls than ever, and more antlers together, both  in sparring matches and brief fights, which is unlike recent years in which I seldom saw this.

Mature Bull: Canon 5D MK III Canon 500mm F4
Mature 7x7: Panasonic GH2 Canon 300mm F2.8
At first glance it would seem that the photographs I posted indicate there are a large number of mature bulls on Winslow Hill and there certainly are quite a few, but none that I photographed are likely to approach or exceed the magic 400 Boone and Crockett score that so many view as the holy grail of elk hunting.  The one that comes closest is an acclimated animal that has no fear of humans whatsoever.  With him apparently being the largest bull on the hill, there seems little likelihood that he will survive elk season.  Last year we lost two of the best on Winslow Hill and none have replaced the largest to the best of my knowledge.  I would expect the loss of at least one, most likely two, and perhaps all of the bulls shown today in the coming season.

It seems we are striving to become like Kentucky, which has a large elk herd, but which judging from most of the photographs I see, are distinctly second or third tier bulls compared to the best that Pennsylvania can offer.

Last year the largest Pennsylvania bulls came from the outlying areas, with the exception of the 7x8 which was killed near Weedville. It will be interesting to see if this is the case this year.

There seems little doubt that the PGC will address the large number of elk around the viewing areas on Winslow Hill. It is certainly true that the herd cannot be left to grow unchecked, but there is little excuse to kill the biggest and best bulls each year in an area that is home to the Elk Country Visitor Center and the hotbed of elk related tourism.  That being said it is a difficult situation to address as many of the bulls travel a long distance from Winslow Hill after the rut, with many going to Spring Run, the Weedvillle-Gardner Hill area, or further after the rut is over.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


New Film To Be Available Late Sunday

The new 2 hour wildlife documentary, "Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk Country" should be available at Benezett Store by late Sunday afternoon.

The film gives a close look at many wildlife species one may see in Pennsylvania Elk Country, with elk receiving the most attention. Whitetail deer and the eastern wild turkey are also given an in-depth look.One of the most noteworthy features is a bull fight from 2011 filmed by John T. Koshinski.  This was between the bull known as "Earhook" and a superb 7x8.  A brief sample is posted below.

They should be playing the video on the televisions in both the restaurant and store.  If they are not and you would like to see it,  please ask them to do so.

Also be sure and check out my first film, The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd, if you have not already done so.

Thanks to all for their support, and I hope to see you in elk country.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Pennsylvania Elk Rut Gets Underway

Elk Rut Peaks Last 2 Weeks Of September: Canon 7D-Canon 300mm f2.8
According to reports coming in from Pennsylvania elk country, the rut is now underway, but activity is very spotty and sporadic.  Things should improve once a strong cool front comes through, but I never  go north until the middle of September and if I had to pick one week, it would be the last week of the month.

For those not familiar with the area, there are almost always a lot of cows and calves on Winslow Hill, but bull sightings can be spotty at certain times of year.  Winslow Hill is the traditional breeding grounds and bulls travel from far and wide to visit the hill during the rut, so the chances of seeing bulls increases exponentially.

Activity is usually best as soon as you can see to photograph in the morning and usually slacks off somewhere between 8:00 and 10:00.  Fog is often a problem in the early morning, although a certain amount of it adds wonderful atmosphere to photographs.

Late Evening In Elk Country: Canon 7D-300mm F2.8
Activity usually resumes in late afternoon.  The elk stay out later in the morning and  emerge to feed earlier in the evening in cool or unsettled weather.  In addition to being the best times to see elk, early morning and late evening usually present the best photographic light.

In a change from previous year, there is now a no parking sign along the right side of Dewey Road, shortly after one comes off of Winslow Hill Road.  I assume one is required to park only in the parking lot.  In recent years a lot of people parked there at peak times.  Also you are not permitted to walk down the bank there and watch the meadow where the pond and the green water treatment tower is.  In past years the restricted zone ended at the end of the Gilbert Meadow and it was permissible to do so, but now the restricted signs go toward Winslow Hill the entire way to the Game Commission Boundary.  It had been freshly posted when I was there in August and I assume it has remained that way.

Restricted Zone Signs Along Dewey Road
There are many more signs than usual across from the ponds on Dewey Road also.  It is not quite clear how this is to be interpreted as the signs line both sides of the dirt and gravel road going back through the meadow to the tree line, and they are posted quite thickly.  As usual there is a restricted sign on the gate when it is closed. It has never been clear if one is permitted to walk the road or not, but some do so.  I have heard conflicting answers from PGC officials, so it is best to stay off of the road.  At least one full time resident lives back that road and they and any other property owners and guests may drive this, but elk watchers may not and it seems that each year several people have to try  this if the gate is open.  If you do be aware that you can catch grief either from the landowner or the PGC.

Originally Posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard C. Hill.


Elk Calves'-The Spots Fade- Using the 5D MK III & GH2 in Elk Country

Spots Fade on Calf Elk: Panasonic GH2-Canon 500mm F4
 During August, most visitors to elk country may be focused on the bulls and the shedding of the velvet and the first stirrings of the pre-rut, but other important changes are occurring in the herd as well.  Like whitetail fawns, the calves are spotted at birth, which creates a camouflage pattern that helps them escape predators, but the spots start to fade in late July and this process continues until the coat is a solid color. The process begins at the top of the back and gradually works down.  By mid-August most of the calves are only partially changed such as the one in the photo above, but a small number have only a few spots still faintly visible. By the time the rut peaks in mid to late September most of the calves will have completely lost the spots or will have only a few faint ones.

Cow and Two Calves at Gilbert Viewing Area- one with spots almost gone: Still capture from video Panasonic GH2-Canon 500mm F4
 Two Calves at Gilbert Viewing Area- one with spots almost gone: Still capture from video -Panasonic GH2-Canon 500mm F4 -extended telephoto mode -35mm equivalent focal length approximately 2,000mm
This is the second trip to elk country that I have used the Panasonic GH2 as my primary video camera.  I was very unhappy when Canon did not include  the 3x crop mode in the 5D MK II or the new Rebel T4i.  I have no personal experience with The T4i, but I am told that the it does not have a better picture quality than the T3i.  I do have a fair amount of experience with the MK III in video mode and it is significantly better than the T3i in either still or video mode.  I am very happy with it when one can get close enough to the subject, but I missed the reach of the old Canon XL-H1 and the big L lenses, so after extensive research, I decided to try the Panasonic GH2 hybrid camera.

The GH2  uses a micro-4/3 lens mount and the sensor has a 2x crop factor.  The camera also has an extended telephoto mode, which takes the 2mp of resolution required for video from a small central portion of the sensor. This is how one can "really reach out and touch them" in video mode.  A decided down factor to this equation is that to use the Canon mount glass, one must use an adapter, and one that will electronically control the aperture costs almost as much, or more than the camera body--depending on which particular adapter one buys.  The bottom line; however,  is that the 500mm F4 , which is just that on a MK III becomes a 1,000mm F4 equivalent focal length on the GH2.  This is true in either still or video mode.  It becomes a 2,000mm focal length equivalent  in video mode when the extended telephoto mode is engaged.  The image is degraded somewhat , but it is still very usable.  I understand that unlike the T3i, one can also use this mode while shooting stills, but it will no longer utilize the full resolution of the sensor and as this is primarily a video camera in my case, I have not tried this yet.

Although one may not be able to tell from images posted on the internet, the bottom line is the GH2 cannot compete with any of the later Canon DSLRs as a still camera, but it is very usable and when one is concentrating on video it is an acceptable option to switch to still mode and take photographs.  Stills captured from video after the fact will be only 2MP resolution and will not be nearly as good as stills actually shot in still mode.

Calf Near Winslow Hill Road: Canon 5D MK III: Canon 500mm F4-ISO 400 1/640 sec. F4
A decided plus for the GH2 is that this is the first DSLR with which I have been able to follow-focus on moving animals or birds, in video mode, with any degree of success .So far manual focus  must be used in filming with a DSLR to have any hope of success and the LCDs are simply too low in resolution to reliably maintain sharp focus on moving subjects, even with the Zacuto Finder attached(the Rebel T3i did work better in this aspect than anything I had used previously).   The GH2 works better, because it has a blistering sharp electronic view finder in addition to a decent LCD.  I prefer to shoot video with the camera slightly above waist level and the LCD swiveled out and at a 45 degree angle, so I am standing above the camera, looking, down, and bent slightly forward.  This often gives a better perspective on the subject than standing erect, and using the eye-level finer, and it  is a good position to follow action from as one's head is not bumping the camera to disturb smooth camera motion, but the downside is of course the focus thing.  I find I am using the eye-level finder on this camera more and more, simply because I no longer have so much problem focusing.  

The bottom line is that one needs to keep an open mind about some of the options out there with the new high end Canon video cameras costing $16,000.00 without lens. 

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Pennsylvania Bulls Shed Velvet

I have spent most of the summer filming wildlife in the mornings and evenings, and editing the new Pennsylvania elk film in the mid-part of the day and after dark.  In addition I have spent about one week each month since June, documenting the elk herd, so last  week I traveled to elk country to document the shedding of the velvet and the fading of the spots on the calves.  The bulls begin to shed the velvet in early August, but the timing of the process does seem to vary somewhat from year to year.  In general it is safe to say that the peak of shedding activity occurs about the middle of the month.  As it turned out I was a bit late to record the beginning of the process on the mature bulls.

I arrived on Monday afternoon and spent the evening in the saddle.  This yielded some great encounters with cows and calves, but no bulls.  Tuesday morning yielded more encounters with cows and calves, but again no mature bulls shedding velvet were seen.

Spots Are Fading On The Calves: Canon 5D MK III- 500mm F4 ISO 400 1/640 sec. F4
I saw one mature bull known among the elk watching circle as "Attitude" on Tuesday evening, but he was feeding near a cabin and in such a situation that I did not feel comfortable photographing him so I passed on the situation.

The following morning I found him along Winslow Hill Road and did get a few photographs of him, along with several video clips of him rubbing his antlers on trees and bushes.

"Attitude"Near Winslow Hill Road : Canon 5D MK III-70-200mm F2.8  ISO 1600 1/160 sec. F2.8
"Attitude"Rubs Antlers on Fallen Branch: Canon 5D MK III-70-200mm F2.8  ISO 1600 1/200 sec. F2.8
That evening I encountered two bulls that are frequently seen working the north end of Winslow Hill along Winslow Hill Road.  I had checked repeatedly for them, throughout the evening, but they did not arrive in the meadow until almost dark.  The largest bull remained at a distance and was partially obscured by vegetation so I concentrated on the smaller 6x6.  In this case the low light capability of the 5D MK III really paid off as I used an ISO of 10,000 and I am very pleased with the results.

6x6 With Velvet Almost Shed : Canon 5D MK III-500mm F4  ISO 10,000 1/60 sec. F4
I turn off all in camera noise reduction and then use either the Noise Ninja plug-in or the noise reduction tools included in Adobe CS6 Camera Raw Processor.  In my experience Noise Ninja does quite well until I start dealing with the higher ISOs.  I need more experience to determine the exact point, but at present I usually use noise Ninja as my tool of first resort for speeds up to 1,000,   Beyond that I try Noise Ninja first and then turn to the Photoshop tools  if I am not pleased with the results.  It seems that beyond a certain point with Noise Ninja that I either have too much noise remaining or end up with a plastic looking result.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Winslow Bulls And The 5D MK III

To be honest, Winslow Hill is not the best place to see mature bulls during the summer months--especially with the loss of three of the largest bulls that used this area as summer home range, in the past few years.  With that being said, I did encounter two rack bulls and two raghorns on the hill during last weeks trip.

The first that I successfully photographed was a  6x6 or 6x7 if one counts a small sticker point near the right ear. This was most likely a raghorn last year and is now in his first year as a rack bull.  While very nice indeed, this is still a small bull for Pennsylvania.    I encountered him in a meadow by the side of Winslow Hill Road on Thursday evening at 8:33 p.m. and stayed with him until nearly dark, taking a lot of still photos and video footage of him--all with the 5D MK III and 70-200mm f 2.8 IS L lens.

6x6 Winslow Hill: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 70-200mm f2.8 ISO 1250 1/200 sec. f4
I was back at the same area at the crack of dawn on Friday morning, and again I had the 70-200mm attached.  At first I saw two rag horns quite close to the road, but I never did get good stills of them because as I was trying to set up a good shot, I noticed a large 6x6 coming out of the tree line some distance away.  I took two frames of him, but it was obvious that I needed more power, so I quickly mounted the 500mm F4 and soon was in action with it.  This bull was a bit shy and stayed close the tree line for most of the encounter.  This was very early and the light was somewhat murky.  I used ISO 3200 so as to have a bit of a safety margin against motion blur.

Large 6x6 Winslow Hill: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm F4-  ISO 3200 1/160ec. f4

Both of these encounters are prime examples of how improved noise handling at high ISO settings and larger aperture lenses are a great aid in wildlife photography.  Again I stress that the statements I make are based on limited experience with this camera and are not based on tightly controlled tests, but rather on impressions gained under actual shooting conditions in the field.  The first photo today was of course taken at ISO 1250 and the full resolution file on a desktop monitor seems as sharp and noise free as one taken at ISO 400 or less with the 7D.  It is acceptable for the most critical usage.

ISO 3200 on the other hand is starting to push the limit for something that you would want to enlarge to great sizes, enter in a photo contest, submit for publication etc.  Digital noise is visible, although I feel there is no more than is present in the 7D at ISO 800.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Mid-Summer In Elk Country

I was in Elk Country most of last week, photographing and filming the elk and working on "Pennsylvania Elk Country", the new film slated for release in late summer. An added bonus was getting to work more with the Canon 5D MK III on Pennsylvania's largest wild animal and getting my feet wet with the Panasonic DMC-GH2 EVIL (acronym for electronic viewfinder Interchangeable lens)camera, for long range video work. I concentrated on looking for calves and bulls in velvet, and did see quite a few.

Shy Cow: Canon 5D MK III-500mm F4 ISO 100 1/500 sec. f4.5
The cows and calves are still somewhat shy in most cases, and it was difficult to get close-up portraits of them-especially the calves. This is amazing because the same cows that flee now, will continue to graze peacefully when other herd members are shot close-by  in hunting season, or at least they did last autumn and I would expect no differently this year.

As one would expect, most wildlife activity was very early and very late.  If you miss being out there at the crack of dawn, you have missed the best part of the day.  The cow above was photographed at 7:41 a.m. and most of the elk had already gone into the woodlands.  They spend very little time in direct sunlight at this time of year.  If they have not already left before, they tend to leave a meadow soon after the first rays of sun touches it.  Fortunately, I did luck out to a certain extent concerning the weather on this trip, as I am told it was extremely hot in elk country the week before, and returned to sweltering temperatures by the weekend, but most of my trip was quite pleasant summer weather, which is to say hot, but not unbearably so.  In fact a light sweater felt good on most mornings.

Early in the trip I found that cows and calves were using a secluded meadow quite frequently, and I spent two evenings watching it. On Wednesday evening a group of cows and calves came into range, but some of the adult cows picked me out and barked at me   The calf in the photo below raised its' head from grazing and looked at the cow that had just barked.

Alert Calf In Late Evening: 5D MK III-500mm F4 ISO 400- 1/250 sec.,  F4.5
This encounter occurred at 7:54 p.m.  In time they worked into a strip of woods and began working toward Winslow Hill Road and soon you could hear the traffic on the road stopping as people paused to observe the herd.

On that note, I must mention that I saw very few other elk watchers or photographers in the mornings, but there was quite a bit of traffic in the evenings.  It seems that interest is higher this month than what it was in June.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Hunt Zone Specific Elk License Allocations 2012

Bull Killed In 2011 Season: New State Record

Carol Mulvihill's column in the May 19th issue of Endeavor News, 65 elk licenses to be issued; herd at 800 strong,  lists the breakdown of the 2012 elk license allocations as to Elk Hunt Zone.  At this point it seems that hunting pressure will not be increased on the Winslow Hill  herd this autumn, although it remains to be seen if the No Hunt Zone will remain as it has been for the past several years, or if it will be further decreased as rumors have suggested.

As we pointed out in a previous post, the overall allocation is 1 bull and 8 cow tags  higher than last year.

The allocation is designed to focus attention on the herd in the Weedville area, with 4 bull tags and 4 cow tags issued for Zone 10, which includes the Spring Run/Weedville areas.  This contrasts to a 2011 allotment of  2 bull tags and 2 cow tags for this zone for an increase of four.  Hunt Zone 9 also directly impacts the Weedville area and license allocations for 2012 stand at 4 bull tags and 10 cow tags,  in contrast to 2 bull and 9 cow licenses in 2011 for an increase of 3 tags.

Largest Bull Seen On Winslow Hill  Rut 2011--killed in Jay Township
 On a positive note, the bull allocation in Zone 2 has been reduced from four to three tags, and cow allocations remain the same at 12 animals, but while one bull tag has been dropped, the two bull increase in Zone 10 will likely mean things remain much the same as it seems a lot of the mature bulls seen on Winslow Hill during the rut, spend the rest of the year in the Grey Hill, Spring Run, or Weedville areas--a case in point being that two of the largest bulls seen on the hill during the rut last year were killed during elk season in the Spring Run/Weedville area.

Breakdown by Zone: Source: C. Mulvihill-Endeavor News 05-19-2012

Hunt Zone     Antlered       Antlerless    Total Licenses

1                    Open                Open          
2                        3                      12                   15
3                        1                        2                     3
4                        1                        1                     2
5                     Closed              Closed                 0
6                     Closed              Closed                 0
7                        4                       10                   14
8                        2                         7                     9
9                        4                       10                   14
10                      4                         4                     8
Total                 19                       46                   65

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Pennsylvania Elk License Allocations Announced

Mature Bull on Winslow Hill 2005: Killed in elk season that year
In News Release 041-12 dated April 24th, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced the 2012-13 hunting license year, seasons and bag limits.  We will consider only the elk license allocations in today's post.

19 Bull tags and 46 antlerless tags will be issued for a total of 65 licenses. The allocation does not include the one Conservation Elk Tag, which was auctioned by Safari Club International. We have one unconfirmed report that the tag sold for $37,000.00 this year. This effectively means 20 bull tags and a total of 66 tags. Contrast this with last years total of 56 tags which included tags for 18 bulls and 38 cows. As usual one must consider the Conservation Elk Tag which raised the total to 19 bull tags and a total of 57 licenses. This breaks down to 8 more antlerless tags and 1 more bull tag for this year.

It seems likely that there will be a substantial allocation for Hunt Zone 2, which surrounds the most popular tourist areas on Winslow Hill and it will come as no surprise if a significant  amount of hunting pressure will be focused on the elk around Weedville that received much attention in the media during the past winter and early spring.

According to Carol Mulvihill writing in the April 7th edition of Endeavor News, PGC deer and elk section chief, Chris Rosenberry commented, at a recent PGC workshop, “We are aware of the situation in Jay Township, so we may need to make some adjustment in number of cow licenses allotted for that area in the elk hunt this year.”  Mulvihill goes on to point out that this is what happens when complaints start coming in about the elk in a particular area.

Perhaps the best example of this was in 2003 when 100 elk licenses were issued with 20 of these being issued for bulls and 80 for antlerless elk.  This followed an incident in Sinnemahoning where an elk was killed for crop damage, which resulted in a confrontation between PGC officers, the landowner, and a private property rights group. Of the 80 antlerless tags issued in 2003 10 were for Zone 4 and 10 for Zone 7.  The 2003 Hunting and Trapping Digest specifically states that the Zone 4 and Zone 7 allocations were " to decrease elk densities and address conflicts in the Sinnemahoning area".  This was in the period that Vern Ross, PGC Executive Director  at the time, was excited about expanding elk hunting opportunities and supposedly said 70 licenses this year, 100 the next, and 150 the next.  Whatever the case, the move toward ever upward license allocations came to a screeching halt as a result of repercussions from the 100 license allocation, which was on a herd of 552 animals before the calves were born in 2003 and was estimated to be 650 to 700 by hunting season that year. (DeBerti: Results of Elk Survey)

It will be interesting to see where this all goes, but I think it is safe to predict that we are on a upward spiral again with the steadily increasing elk population and ongoing complaints from areas such as Weedville and Spring Run.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Jacob DeBerti's Tribute To His Father

John Deberti-Wild About Elk Workshop 2010
 Carol Mulvihill, well known elk enthusiast and outdoor writer attended elk biologist, Jon Deberti's memorial service and was especially touched by a tribute delivered by Jon's son.

Carol graciously agreed to share this with us, so here is the text of her e-mail:

Jon DeBerti, our beloved elk biologist, leaves behind his loving wife Misty and a nine-year-old son, Jacob. The most tender and moving tribute to Jon was delivered at the memorial service, when young Jacob courageously took the microphone and spoke through heartfelt sobs:

 “I just want to say that my dad was very special to me. He loved to take me hunting – especially deer hunting. “He’d want me to wait patiently for a deer to show up, and I’d pester him like heck to shoot the squirrels that were running around the tree stand. I got three squirrels. When we got home, I said, ‘That was great dad, when can we do it again?’ “As you saw in the pictures, I did get my first buck last year on the first day. It was a 6-point. My dad was so happy. It took every ounce of his strength to get into the tree stand, but he did it for me. We waited an hour and 15 minutes for the deer. “He gave all his energy and time to take me hunting.” As he faced the monumental health challenges of his shortened life, Jon kept his family and the time spent with them as his top priority, evidenced by a son who is growing in his image.

Thanks to Carol for giving permission to share this with us. Be sure to read an excellent article by Carol, about Jon DeBerti's career in elk management, which will be published in the May 5th edition of Endeavor News.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Passing Of PGC Elk Biologist John DeBerti

John Deberti Addresses Wild About Elk Workshop 2010
Wildlife Management Director of The Pennsylvania Game Commission, Calvin DuBrock, reports the death of elk biologist Jon DeBerti. Jon lost a ten year battle with cancer on the morning of April 25th. Jon was an important member of the elk research and management team for nearly 18 years. He started as a part-time bio aide in May of 1994, became a full time biologist aide in 2000, and then became the agency elk biologist in November 2002. Jon was 40 years old.

Jon was well known for his professionalism and dedication to  the welfare of our wildlife resources.


Bull Elk Fight On Winslow Hill: filmed by David Anderson

I have been filming and photographing the Pennsylvania elk herd since 1995. From 1995 until 2006 my filming was done with a variety of SD (standard-definition) camcorders. This included large shoulder mount VHS and S/VHS camcorders, compact Hi-8, Digital 8, and min-DV units. The most impressive of these were the Canon L2 Hi-8 camcorder, and the Canon XL-1s mini-dv camcorder.  Both of these units accepted the full line of Canon EOS lenses and were capable of delivering professional results at long range.

Times change however, and HD (high definition) widescreen video began making serious inroads in 2005.  I bought a Sony HVR-A1u HDV camcorder in 2006, and realized that one had to go completely HD to have any hope of competing in the near future so I procured a Canon XL-h1 HD camcorder in Januray 2007.  One of the major problems was that much of the wildlife behavior I had captured on SD was hard to obtain and it was going to be very difficult to capture equivalent HD footage in a reasonable time frame.

I had captured several bull fights with the Canon L2, which were included in the film "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd",which was released in 2008. One of these fights, which was between the famous character bull Fred ( a.k.a. Bull 36) and a large 6x6, was selected as the fight sequence for the Elk Country Visitor Center theater presentation.

I have been working since 2008 on a sequel to this film, but in all of that time I have been able to only capture short snippets of fights except in one case I did capture a fairly lengthy fight between two collared bulls, but I did not want to use this as the featured fight in a new film, as it was shot under less than ideal conditions.

Fast forward to 2011 and again I captured only a few brief encounters that really didn't qualify as fights, but this time I was in luck as fellow elk photographers and videographers, David Anderson and John Koshinski came to the rescue with dramatic fight footage.

Today we feature a short clip of about one minute in length that is taken from the new film, which will likely be known as "Pennsylvania Elk Country".

David Anderson, a talented wildlife artist and photographer from West Newton, Pennsylvania filmed this with a Canon 7D and a 300mm F4 L lens and did an excellent job of following the motion.  The fight is shortened considerably for inclusion in the film, but the most important moments are shown.  This fight is between an aggressive 5x5 and a medium-sized collared bull.

Aside from dramatic action and the fine camera work, this clip is notable because it was taken with a DSLR--something that could not have been done just a few short years ago.  It was the inclusion of the ability to record widescreen HD video on the Canon 7D that caused me to be among the first purchasers of this camera.

Look for "Pennsylvania Elk Country" to be released sometime in the third quarter of 2012, although the date of release name of the film, and content of sample clips is subject to change.

Originally published at <a href="http://pawildlifephotographer.blogspot.com/">Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer</a> by Willard Hill.


Elk Crossing Bennetts Branch

There is something about the successful incorporation of water in the composition that makes a wildlife photo or video clip have special appeal, whether it be of animals drinking from a stream or pond, or crossing a stream that passes through a picturesque setting. As I noted in the last post, I spend little time near the river when in Pennsylvania elk country, but I frequently think about the outstanding photographs and video I have seen taken there, such as video segments taken by Billie Cromwell in the late 1990's and stills by Ron Saffer from that time and earlier. Another outstanding example that I think of frequently is "Water Fight", which features two bulls in fierce combat in the river near Driftwood.  It was taken by the late Terry Younkin and is featured on a sign at the Hicks Run Viewing Area.

At any rate, as promised here is the video of the herd of elk crossing Bennetts Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek, which most persons I know simply refer to as "the river".

This video was taken with the Canon T3i DSLR, a Manfrotto 516 fluid head, and a Canon 100-400mm L lens at varying focal lengths. All clips were taken at ISO 100.  It is always a tough choice  between using this and the Canon XL-H1.  The H1 is sharper and as long as one uses the normal lens the auto focus works well, but once one shifts to the longer lenses it is easier to obtain accurate focus with the DSLR as both must be focus manually when taking video with these lenses.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard HIll.


Late February In Elk Country

For the past several years I have spent a substantial portion of either the last week in February  or the first week in March in Pennsylvania elk country.  I decided to do so again this year, so late Monday morning found me traveling up I-99 under sunny skies with the goal in mind of arriving in Benezette in time to photograph the evening's elk activity.  The ground is usually covered with snow at this time of year, but today conditions were more like mid to late March, with  most of the fields being bare.

View From Gilbert Viewing Area-Usually Snow Covered In February
There was some snow cover in wooded areas--especially in areas protected from the direct rays of the sun, and some portions of  back roads were treacherous as well.  There was light snowfall on a few occasions  during the week, but there was only minimal accumulation and that melted quickly. All in all it was more like early spring than winter.

I did see quite a few elk, but not as many as usual, and bull sightings were few and far between.  I checked out Gray Hill several times, which is where many have seen bulls lately, but I did not see one elk let alone a bull.  Two young bulls were sighted at Devil's Elbow on Monday evening, but I filmed them with the Canon XL-H1 and  have no still photos to post of this encounter.

After checking Gray Hill and Winslow Hill at dawn on Tuesday, I traveled to Hick's Run where I found a herd between RT 555 and Bennetts Branch.  Eventually most of the elk crossed the river and again I concentrated on filming them, rather than taking stills, but I did pause at times to fire a few still frames.  It is always a special treat to film and photograph elk in the water.

Cows Crossing Bennetts Branch
A beautiful 6x6 was with the herd. He is not really a large bull, but is impressive enough to make an excellent photographic subject.  This was evidently one of the most commonly seen bulls this week as I have seen his photo posted several times on Facebook and on blogs.  Again I concentrated on video rather than stills as I have not filmed a bull crossing the river in my many years of going to elk country (I spend most of my time in the meadows and mountains, instead of the low-lands).  Of course I would love to have still photos of a river crossing also, but since video is my primary focus, I wanted video clips much worse. Eventually he walked to the edge of the river and paused to drink, and I took a still at this point.

Bull Drinking From River
One only needs to push a separate button the remote to take a full 18 meg-pixel still while in video mode, but the main problem is that one needs to use a shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/100 when filming, with 1/60 being recommended in most cases.  It is of course possible to shift to higher speeds to take stills, but one cannot resume filming until they drop back to a more acceptable speed, or they end up with unnatural looking motion.  I took the still  without boosting the shutter speed as it seemed likely he could take off across the river at any moment and catch me changing settings in which case a wonderful opportunity would be wasted while I fumbled with camera settings. This resulted in a bit of softness in the image, due to either camera vibration, subject movement or both. As it turned out, I successfully film him crossing the river, which made an otherwise lackluster trip into one that I will not forget.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Supplemental & Recreational Wildlife Feeding-A Deeper Look

Bull 36 Spring 2005: He lived over 17 years.

In the last post we briefly mentioned the controversial subjects of supplemental and recreational feeding, and linked to a previous post on the matter.  What has always bothered me most is the lack of honesty in discussing this subject.  Critics of feeding often seize on the worst possible case scenario, in which a large amount of corn is suddenly made available to an animal that has been subsisting on a diet of grasses and woody browse, which may result in the death of the animal from rumen acidosis.

While researching this subject some time ago I came upon an interesting exchange between two ex members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Board of Directors.  In the case at hand,  Roxane Palone, past president, and former board member addressed the subject in a March 31, 2011 post on the Skunk In The Woodpile Blog, " PA Game Commission response to CWD threat".  While this post is mostly focused on CWD (chronic wasting disease) it does address several other factors as well, including rumen acidosis. It is recommended that you read this post in its' entirety.

Ms. Palone states, "There are several risk factors that will cause a state to become CWD positive. These include an area’s proximity to deer farms or wild populations that have been infected, areas with a history of receiving imports from CWD infected regions, and areas allowing imports of hunter-killed carcasses from CWD infected regions. Risks of CWD becoming established in an area are magnified where there are high deer densities, a history of CWD animals or contaminated soil, and where artificial feeding occurs.'

She then goes on to advance the case for a ban on feeding whitetail deer.

"Pennsylvania has banned the feeding of bears and elk, but the law is hard to enforce because feeding of deer is allowed. Residents who are caught feeding can use the fall back excuse that they are feeding deer. In some cases where the feeding of elk has been proven, district justices have been unwilling to pass a guilty verdict."

Another former commissioner, Russ Schleiden weighed in on the matter in a comment also dated March 31, 2011, in which he states  "Everytime I hear people from the PGC, AG field and Vets included, talk about CWD they invariably hint at vicinity of captive deer or feeding of wild deer. Think about it, PA has been the most agressive of all states about getting a CWD monitouring program started. We’ve been testing both wild and captive deer for over 7 years now and haven’t found any yet. PA has more registared deer farmers than most of the other states combined, that have the disease. I would guess that 10s of thousands of PA whitetails ( wild & captive) have tested for CWD and none have been positive yet. In fact I’m certain there have been far more captive deer tested in PA than wild. I just sent 10 deer to the lab, ages 1yr thru 10 yrs. Captive deer are fed by humans in a concentrated area…yet no CWD thus far. I suspect that those who don’t want wild feeding are using the CWD as an additional excuse. That is the very thing that give our people in the science field a reason to be doubted." 

Schleiden goes on to say, "In the interest of disclosure. I have been raising captive deer and elk since about 1993. I was one of the first to volunteer for CWD testing before it was made mandatory and have been complying ever since. I also have a hunting camp with a feeder about 2 miles from my home. I love to go there and watch the wild deer come into the feeder during the Jan, Feb. and March months".

 At this point I posted a comment, which I will re-post today in its' entirety as it does a decent job of covering many of my thoughts about the feeding issue.

This is a subject that has troubled me greatly for the last few years. At the level at which much feeding is done, I do not think that it attracts vast numbers of deer, but in my experience it is anywhere from one to three extended family groups and these are deer that are ordinarily in the general area anyway, it simply makes them more visible for observation. In my experience the bucks that are usually seen at a feeding area are the yearlings and sometimes 2 yr olds that do not disperse as most do by that time, but in most cases these bucks are traveling with their extended family group and would likely be doing so regardless of feeding.

When the rut arrives a mature buck is likely going to cover a lot of ground searching for does in heat which gives the potential for him to carry disease into an area, but the does are going to be there whether they are browsing in the forest, eating supplemental feed, or eating in food plots and deer are going to be interacting socially by nuzzling, grooming, etc. wherever they might be.

As far as disease goes, I have not seen one deer die from rumen acidosis or any other disease, as a result of modest feeding. It may be different where large truck loads of corn are dumped, but I don't think that most feeding is done at this level. Artificial feeding does have the potential to concentrate animals, but so does food plots--although possibly not to as great of an extent. Are we going to outlaw food plots and stop land management practices on SGLs as well?

In my mind such legislation simply creates another area for contention, and another class of game law violator. Many would likely ignore the law as a substantial amount seems to do with the elk feeding. In the case of the elk, it seems that the disease issue is simply the "smoking gun" so as to speak that was used to reinforce the "need" for a feeding ban. There seems to be no doubt that some elk have died from rumen acidosis, but when I first went to Elk County a gentleman fed elk near what is now the Gilbert Viewing Area. He did not feed by the truck load, but he fed daily and I never heard about dead elk being found there. Also the famous town bull that was put down after he fell on the ice this winter, ate a lot of corn during his life and lived more than 17 years. The biggest problem really seemed to be that the feeding attracted the elk to town and made them less fearful of humans.

Like Mr. Schleiden I will state for the record that I do feed deer and I enjoy observing, and photographing them more than any thing I have ever done in the outdoors, yet by the stroke of a pen this enjoyment can be substantially curtailed. I could support this if it would make a major difference in protecting the herd from CWD, but I have serious reservations about such a law for the reasons I stated above.


For the record, I am not advocating that anyone rush out and start feeding wildlife, but the activity should be considered in the proper perspective and the circumstances under which it takes place. I recall reading comments on an article where the author touted the likelihood that deer would die or become seriously ill from eating corn placed for them.  This garnered several comments covering a wide spectrum of opinion.  Some were genuinely sickened that they had probably killed the animals they were trying to help and enjoyed watching, which of course is the point I am trying to make. The author had these people upset and worrying about something that was not likely going to happen--at least for the reason that he said. On the other hand many of the same persons who oppose feeding in any form or degree, are in favor of more and longer hunting seasons, liberalized bag limits, and more special seasons  for various types of weapons. While it is never spelled out that plainly, it is not too hard to come away with the idea that the only acceptable use of wildlife is to shoot as much as the law legally permits.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


News From The PA Wilds

Dr. Walter Cottrell To Discuss Hazards Of Illegal Elk Feeding

According to PGC News Release #001-12: Dr. Walter Cottrell, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife veterinarian, will discuss the harmful effects of winter feeding of elk at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Elk Country Visitor’s Center at 134 Homestead Dr., in Benezette Township, Elk County.

Elk At Feeder
This is actually part of a prolonged and intense campaign against the artificial feeding of most wildlife, especially deer and elk.  As usual there are several sides to this story and the subject was explored in some depth on this blog in the post: "Elk and People Issues With Elk, on July 29, 2010. I plan to explore more aspects of this important issue in the near future.

Paul Staniszewski Featured Artist

According to a Press Release by the Elk County Council on the Arts sent to us by Paul Staniszewski, "a solo art exhibition is being planned at the gallery on Saturday, February 18th from 10:00AM until 5:00PM to coincide with the 13th Annual Ridgway Chainsaw Carvers Rendezvous. The featured artist for the month of February is Paul Staniszewski and he will be available to meet and greet visitors to the gallery on that day. Paul currently resides in Troutville, PA and spends a lot of time roaming the hills around Benezette looking for elk to photograph. His work will be on display and he will discuss the equipment, techniques employed, and share tips on how to successfully approach and photograph the elk."

Ron "Buckwheat"  Saffer and Paul Staniszewski Photographing Elk

The ECCOTA Gallery is located at 237 Main St. Ridgway, PA.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


PA Governor's Conservation Elk Tag: A Brief History

Pennsylvania has one special elk license, which is issued each year in addition to the normal allocation of tags. Some refer to this as a "Governor's Conservation Tag", while others refer to it as a "Special Conservation Tag" or some combination of these phrasings.

Special Conservation Tags Are For Bulls Only
 A brief synopsis of how this special license came to be may be found in Pennsylvania Game Commission News Release #017-09, which states as follows:

"In 2001, a recommendation to provide one special elk license for wildlife conservation organizations to auction was originally included in the Game Commission Elk Hunt Advisory Committee Report as one of the concepts for promoting elk hunting. However, the recommendation was set aside at that time because it was determined that legislative authority was necessary to do so.

Rep. Marc J. Gergely (D-Allegheny) introduced House Bill 747 to grant the Game Commission authority to provide one antlered elk license to a wildlife conservation organization to auction. Of the auction proceeds, up to 20 percent may be retained by the wildlife conservation organization and the rest turned over to the Game Commission for elk management. Signed into law on Oct. 9, Act 101 of 2008 (previously House Bill 747) was unanimously approved by the House and Senate."
(Source PGC News Release #017-09)

Act 101 of 2008 states, "the auction will be open to residents and non-residents of the Commonwealth".

The first conservation tag was awarded to the National Wild Turkey Federation and sold for $28,000 at its' national convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in February of 2009. The successful bidder was Jim Nyce, of Green Lane, Montgomery County, who took a 6x6 bull on Oct. 14, in Benezette Township, Elk County. The decision to award the tag to the NWTF caused a great deal of controversy at the time as many thought that The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation would be a more appropriate organization to auction an elk tag and many were disappointed as they expected the tag to sell for much more.

The tag was awarded to the RMEF in 2010, which auctioned the tag off for $35,000 to another Pennsylvania resident Bob Ehle of Orefield. Ehle harvested a 5x6 on Oct. 7, in Shippen Township, in Cameron County.(source PGC News Release 120-10) This prompted prominent outdoor writer Bob Frye of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review to write an article, "Pennsylvania elk herd among nations finest, but for how long?", which is well worth reading. Mr Frye reports that the Boone and Crockett Club ranked Pennsylvania in the top 10 trophy bull producing states of the decade, but goes on to ask,can it sustain that ” and keep hunters' interest high” when the herd numbers fewer than 700 animals?" This article in turn was featured in an October 05, 2010 post on Field and Stream Blogs, "Pennsylvania Hunters Pay Big Money for Chance at Trophy Elk" By Chad Love, which links to Mr. Frye's article and is followed by reader comments, which encompass a range of reactions, which we will explore in the near future.

In 2011, Michael McGinnis of Lyndhurst, Virginia became the first non-resident to obtain the conservation tag. According to PGC Release #126-11 November 08, 2011, "Roe(PGC Executive Director Carl Roe) also noted that Michael McGinnis, of Lyndhurst, Virginia, who was the successful bidder for the Elk Conservation Tag, harvested an antlered elk. McGinnis harvested a 7x9 on Oct. 19, in Jay Township, in Elk County. McGinnis purchased the Conservation Elk Tag during the Safari Club International’s national conference in early 2011, and was able to hunt from Sept. 1-Nov. 5. Under the state law that created the Elk Conservation Tag, of the $29,000 that McGinnis bid for the tag, $23,200 will go to the Game Commission’s Game Fund and $5,800 will be retained by Safari Club International.

In 2012 the tag will be auctioned by the Wild Sheep Foundation at their upcoming Expo in Hunt Valley, Maryland in February. ACT 2008-101 has a sunset provision and the Governor's Conservation Tag will expire on July 1, 2013 unless renewed. Watch for a future post explaining some of the pros and cons of this concept.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Paul Staniszewski Featured Friday On VisitPA Facebook Page

Paul Staniszewski, who is a frequent contributor to this blog e-mailed me to let us know that VisitPA has a facebook presence and that they featured one of his elk photographs on  "Fab Friday Fan Foto"  The photo is also posted below with Paul's permission.

Bull Elk In Winter: Courtesy of Paul Staniszewski-all rights reserved.
Those who have a facebook account are encouraged to see the post on the VisitPA  facebook page.  Be sure to follow the links for information on The Elk Country Visitor Center.

Winter is an excellent time to visit Elk Country, especially when there is snow cover,as it can make for  exciting photo opportunities.  I especially like to film elk in the falling snow as it is easy to capture the falling snow flakes on video, and the snow creates a wild, dramatic backdrop against which to photograph wildlife.
Snow does not show up as well in still as in video in many cases, such as in the photo below of a young bull on the weekend before the 2011 elk season.

Bull Elk During Snowstorm
There was a moderate snow coming down, and while the flakes do show up in the still photograph, they are much more noticeable in video taken at the same time.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Looking Back

Note: While the following post deals with the Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer Blog, it is posted here as it is pertinent to the Pennsylvania elk herd.

This blog was originally developed as a venue to present my wildlife photography and videos to the public, with a special emphasis on Pennsylvania's elk herd.  The first post was made on October 1, 2007.  It was titled "The Shedding Of The Velvet" and featured four photos of whitetail bucks.  Since that time, a variety of wildlife species have been covered, but I would assume that elk and deer have been the most discussed species by far.

Elk Have Been A Major Focus Of Blog Since The Beginning

The launching of the blog also coincided with the beginning of serious post-production work on "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", which was released in September of 2008. "The Truth" is a 2 hour 42 minute film that deals briefly with the overall history of Pennsylvania Elk, goes into an in depth history of the herd from 1995 until 2008, covers the life cycle of the elk with a special emphasis on the rut, and concludes with a look at elk management issues.

The film differs from most mainstream press coverage of Pennsylvania elk and from other films on the subject in that it takes at critical look at Pennsylvania's elk management policy.  The concept for the film actually began years ago when I was an employee of the PGC Food And Cover Corps, and Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer.  At that time Billie Cromwell was a Food And Cover Corps foreman and as such was my supervisor.  On his own time, Billie shot video footage of the elk herd, which he then turned over to PGC videographer, Hal Korber, who incorporated a great deal of it in The Pennsylvania Game Commission video, "Pennsylvania Elk: Reclaiming The Alleghenies".  Billie had been going to elk country since the 1980s and had been around the elk a lot.  He was an avid hunter and shooter, but soon recognized that the elk herd was something special and as such he was the first one who exposed me to the view that the elk were "best utilized as a viewable resource"  I must add that this was and is a commonly held view among many who are part of the "elk culture" on Winslow Hill.   Most of these people are, or were, avid hunters who recognize the need to control the elk population at some point, but based on the PGC's past track record, and some of the statements we were hearing and reading, it was easy to be alarmed at what direction an elk hunt might take.

Billie Cromwell With Canon L2 Filming Near Saddle, Sept. 1998: video still capture  Canon L2 by W.Hill
 Fulton County Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer, Andy Carbaugh was gracious enough to take me to Elk County on President's Day in 1995, and I returned for a day trip that August and then spent 4-5 days during the last week of September that year recording the rut.  This marked the beginning of years of collecting video footage of the elk herd and my experiences with the elk served to convince me that Billie was right in his thoughts about the elk herd. Along with this came the desire to make a film, which would not only enable me to share many of the unique experiences I captured, but to present a different point of view to the public than that which was officially promoted.

This became possible when I retired from the agency in 2007 and was free to express my personal viewpoints in both writing and film.  Billie and well known elk photographer, Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer, both gave me tremendous aid in preparing the script for the film, contributing video footage and still photographs, and providing support and inspiration along the way.

At a meeting shortly before "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd" was released, Billie and others were reminiscing about the making of the PGC video and Billie remarked that had he known how that "Reclaiming the Alleghenies" would be used to advance the agenda for an elk hunt, and even tourism to the extent that it was, that he would not have participated in the project.  He was  especially bitter that his name was mentioned only once in the closing credits of the film and he believed that some did not even want it listed there.  It was not listed anywhere on the jacket of the video, although the name of every other person involved to a major extent was listed, along with credit for what they did, and Billie was involved to a major extent as a significant portion of the rut footage was filmed by him.

A major concern that began when talk of a hunt first surfaced and continues to this day is that restraint would go out the window once the hunt started, with larger and larger license allocations and an undue focus on shooting the large acclimated bulls.

The point of all of this is that the blog has always been issue driven to a certain extent. During the past year I have moved it more in that direction and hope to continue to pursue this course.  I do plan to continue writing about  the natural history of wildlife, and photography/video equipment and techniques also.

In addition I wish to thank everyone who purchased the film, or supported the blog.  I have met many of you in elk country as a result and truly appreciate your support.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.