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.