Pennsylvania Elk Season Results-2013

Character Bull "Limpy" Most Likely Survived

I did not go to Pennsylvania Elk Country to cover elk season this year, and while there has been quite a bit of statistical information available about the hunt results, there has been little to no information available as to the impact on the bulls that most who photograph at the Winslow Hill viewing areas are used to seeing. 

We wish to thank Jeff Thomas for sending us the following report late Friday evening. 

"As of 2:30 this afternoon all the bull tags and 52 of the cow tags were filled.I saw the first 22 bulls and heard the last 3 were not very large, so it looks like Limpy and the U bull have made it through again. I will be posting 2 pictures on face book of bulls that will  not be back for next years rut.They only got 25 bulls because one of the bull tag holders did not show up. They don't know if he had moved or did not want to hunt.Will keep you posted if I hear anything else."

The first bull Jeff is referring to is one that was known by some as "The Field Bull" because for a time he was one of the most commonly seen bulls in the upper field at the Gilbert Viewing Area. He was also seen in "The Saddle Area" and that is where he is shown in the photo below.  Gray Hill is in the background.

Field Bull-Killed Ardell Road Area 2013
Another decent size bull was taken on SGL 311 which is the game lands that surrounds the viewing areas.  I have no information as to exactly what portion of the game lands that he was killed.

7x7 Killed SGL 311 2013
An unusual bull that many have photographed for the past two years appears to have survived elk season this year.  Some refer to it as the "U" bull.  It appears to have the genetics of the "Crazy Legs" strain.  I only filmed him at extreme distance this year and got no still photographs.  Jeff photographed him in 2012, but got no photos this year, so I am posting two of his photos from last year so you can see the antler configuration of this bull.

"U" Bull in 2012

U Bull Likely A Descendant of the "Crazy Legs" Bulls
I will post more information if and when it becomes available.  I also plan to discuss elk management and other controversial subjects such as anthropomorphism in the near future in a View From The Saddle post.

Again, I wish to extend a special thanks to Jeff Thomas for providing the information and several of the photos for todays post.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Reactions to Bull Fight Ends In Death Post

Goring Victim: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission
The recent post, "Bull Fight Ends in Death" gained national exposure when it was shared on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Facebook Page. The person who shared the post introduced it with the tag, "Nature is not a Disney movie. Here's another real life --and deadly-- example of what can happen in the wild when bulls spar."
The reader comments on the blog post seemed to draw the most attention. The one that drew  the most ire was  "It is a shame to see beautiful wildlife of any kind dead. However, I would much rather see a dead elk caused by an elk-to-elk fight than a dead elk killed by a hunter". This was followed by a comment in agreement with that sentiment and then two comments that expressed sadness that the bull died.

The reaction to these comments was all out of proportion to what was actually said.  First of all I will say that I have only personally met one of those that originally commented, but I follow the others  blogs and Facebook pagse and and have read their thoughts on many things. Some if not most have either  hunted in the past and may still hunt at present, or have family members that do-- I do not know and I do not care.  The lady who drew the most negative attention did not say that hunting was wrong and did not personally attack any hunter, she simply would rather  that the animal died doing what bull elk ordinarily do and not be killed by a hunter.  That statement is not pro-hunting, but neither is it an attack on hunting or hunters. I repeat she did not personally attack any hunter, but some of those  that commented later did not return the courtesy and did personally attack her while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity in some cases.

I will post the comments here and follow with a brief bit of commentary about each.
Paul Griffin said...
"Sure hate to see that meat go to waste. Would have loved to have tagged that beautiful creature and filled my freezer! Roasts, steaks, jerky, salami and back straps galore! MmmmMmm mmm Good!"
November 5, 2013 at 11:23 AM 
My Take: Griffin has been on Blogger since January 2012 and has had four profile views in that time.  He shares no personal information.  His comment seems designed to draw a reaction from someone who does not approve of hunting, but is not an attack.
"Okay, you people make me laugh.The elk are competing with one another for the right to breed. Their fighting isn't meant as a spectacle for those of us watching, it is a life and death struggle and truly defined as "survival of the fittest." It's not "sad", it's the way the world works. There are no second place trophies in nature.

And for you anti-hunting types, shall I remind you that the only reason these elk are in PA is BECAUSE of modern hunters and the value they place on the conservation of natural resources? The Eastern Elk was "hunted" to extinction in the 1800's, not for sport but out of necessity by the farmers whose crops they decimated. As the conservation movement grew at the turn of the century, the herd was reintroduced to the state using stock from western states. All the money used to originally transport them here, to acquire land to support them, to educate the public on their welfare, and to maintain the herd comes directly from the PA Game Commission and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. For you to say that elk shouldn't be hunted is as naive as it is unfair to those who have footed the bill for their very existence.

Oh, and to those of you who have "pet" deer, remember... a fed deer is a dead deer.
November 5, 2013 at 11:28 AM

My thoughts: This comment is somewhat of a turn off because the author again hides their identity behind  what appears to be an AOL account number.  It is mostly accurate once one gets past the condescending "Okay, you people make me laugh"  and his attack on feeling sadness at the loss of a bull.  The writer states, " It's not "sad", it's the way the world works. There are no second place trophies in nature".  By the same logic you could say that it was not sad that someone died from cancer or was killed in an auto accident as that is the way the world works.

Now lets look at this part; "The Eastern Elk was "hunted" to extinction in the 1800's, not for sport but out of necessity by the farmers whose crops they decimated."

My Take:  It is hard to tell if this is accurate.  I have always read that it was because of unregulated hunting and market hunting in particular, but I never heard it blamed on "farmers"  Of course some farmers would have participated, but so would persons from other vocations such as loggers, etc.

This commentator says in reference to the re-introduction "All the money used to originally transport them here, to acquire land to support them, to educate the public on their welfare, and to maintain the herd comes directly from the PA Game Commission and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation"

My Take:First a bit of historical background.  The PGC established a elk hunting season in in 1923 with only bulls of 4 or more points being legal.  Twenty -three bulls were killed the first year, but by 1925 the kill was only 6.  In 1931, only one animal was killed and the season was closed the following year. (Harrison: The Elk of Pennsylvania)  After that the PGC lost interest in the elk herd and it was not until the 1970s that another state agency now known as DCNR began elk habitat management work on their lands.  It was only after the herd began to rebound and interest to grow in it that the PGC devoted their attention to the elk herd again.  This is no bad reflection on many of the PGC field personnel at that time  or the agency at present, but the PGC was not always supportive of the elk at upper management levels and not all funding for elk work has come from the PGC or RMEF.  Even to this day  the majority of the public lands in elk country are administered by DCNR , which is not funded by hunting license dollars

"Oh, and to those of you who have "pet" deer, remember... a fed deer is a dead deer."

 My Take: This is a bit of propaganda that has gained widespread acceptance and has a nice ring  to it.  Like most propaganda it does contain a kernel of truth , but one only needs look around a field of corn left standing to see that to a large extent it is not so or else the field would be ringed by the carcasses of dead deer, etc.  It can contribute to the spread of disease, but so can a food plot.  

As to his closing statement, "You should educate yourself on a subject matter before speaking to it"--I couldn't agree with him more on that one.
Adam Prusinowski said...
"Linda is a very ignorant or naive person to leave that comment
 November 5, 2013 at 11:44 AM

My Take: A personal attack with  no constructive value.

Mr. Ego, to you. said...
"Honestly people, stop anthropomorphizing these animals. Yes, you can grieve for the dead, you are human. But don't put your feelings into an animal that does this for shear necessity. For those who do not know what the word is I posted, here is the definition:

[ ànthrəpə máwr fz ]

treat nonhuman thing as human: to give a nonhuman thing a human form, human characteristics, or human behavior

My Take:
This name is linked to a blogger profile that has had four views since  May 2011. Anthropomorphism is a  subject is for another day, but all in all I don't see that it has much to do with the issue at hand--in fact there was no issue at hand other than reporting the death of a bull as the result of a fight.
November 5, 2013 at 11:52 AM
Pianoman said...

"To Linda:Just so you know, there wouldn't be any elk in PA unless hunter conservationists had given their money and their volunteerism to transplant them there. You may not want to hunt and that's your choice. But you need to know that hunters spend more money and give more time to wildlife conservation than all other animal groups combined. Without hunters, the elk in this story would likely never have been born."
November 5, 2013 at 5:53 PM

My Take: No abuse or unprofessional behavior here, but the person did not put their real name to it.  It is possible to find that they are a moderator on the Hunting Washington forum.  The part that many that take this stance  never tell you is that they do not want other sources of funding for wildlife conservation. They want to be able to hold it over the head of the non-consumptive user of wildlife that the hunter pays the bill and wildlife should be managed for them alone.
 weiserbud12 said...
"Yeah because feeding my family is appalling. Your stupid, your an animal remember?
November 6, 2013 at 10:48 AM"

My Take: This comment speaks for itself.

In closing I must say that it never ceases to amaze me how that many who comment on issues of the day do their cause more harm than good by the tenor of their writing.  I cannot help but wonder if they have ever converted anyone to their point of view by calling them "stupid" and "clueless"

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Bull Fight Ends In Death

Photographers enjoy the beauty of the natural world and strive to capture their subjects in beautiful, exciting poses, but unfortunately  some things in nature are not beautiful.  While I prefer to concentrate on the awesome beauty that can be found in the outdoors, it is good to document  some of the less pleasant  aspects of the outdoor experience so that the public is aware of the reality of life for animals in the wild.

The Beauty of Nature: Canon 70D-Canon 300mm f2.8-ISO 400-1/320 sec. f 3.2
As we pointed out in the last post, most who visit the elk hope to see an exciting bull fight, but they often do not consider the serious injury that can result to the participants.  A prime example of this was when the famous character bull "Fred, Jr." was gored in 2000.  I do not know if anyone got to see the fight in which he was injured, but I found him in the Winslow Hill back country one September morning in 2000 and was surprised to find that he had a large hole in one side.

Fred Gored-2000-Canon L2 Hi-8 Camcorder Video Still Capture

 I spent over an hour with the great animal as he stood on a hillside licking his wound.  After close observation it seemed likely that the wound had not penetrated vital organs and he had an excellent chance to recover.

Fred's Wound: Canon Elan II-Lens Unknown-35mm scan
 I was further reassured when he suddenly scented the air and then ran into a nearby hollow where I found him  pursuing a hot cow.  By the next autumn there was no sign of the injury and I had the privilege of recording him and the Test Hill bull in the fight that is featured in The Elk Country Visitor Center theater presentation and my film, "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd.  A small portion of this fight is also included in my latest film, "Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk Country".  Both films may be purchased at Benezett Store.

At least one fatality resulted from a bull fight on Winslow Hill this year.  To the best of my knowledge someone reported to the PGC that a bull was dead, but the officer who responded  could not find the animal and asked noted elk photographer Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer if he had seen it.  At this point Saffer had not, but he later found the animal and notified the PGC.

Goring Victim: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission
The bull was in The Saddle Area.  If you look directly over the back end of the bull in the photo below you can see Dewey Road in the background and the large meadow to the side of the road where the fight took place that was featured in the short video I posted recently.

Goring Victim: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission
Soon Wildlife Conservation Officer Doty McDowell arrived and removed the animal.

WCO Doty McDowell Arrives: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission

WCO Doty McDowell Removing Elk: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission
According to Buckwheat this was not a particularly distinctive bull. Although it had a beautiful 6x6 rack, it was still a young animal albeit one with excellent  potential to grow into an exception bull had this not happened. It is not one that stood out above the rest of the herd for any particular reason and so would not be a "character" bull that was known to a lot of photographers and elk watchers.

The first question someone usually asks is what did they do with the elk?  I have not corresponded with WCO McDowell about this, but based on my past experience as a PGC Deputy and Maintenance worker I would expect that the elk would be not fit for human consumption. It is possible that the hide was saved and extremely likely that the antlers were salvaged and will end up being exhibited in an information/education display at some point.

Deaths from fighting are not an every day occurrence during the rut, but they are not rare either and it seems that one usually hears of one or more bulls dying each year from injuries received in a fight.

I wish to extend special thanks to Ron "Buckwheat "Saffer  for sharing his photos of the incident with us.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Pennsylvania Bull Elk Fight-2013 Rut

Where The Fight Took Place: Canon 70D-Canon 70-200mm@ 200mm  f2.8 IS II-ISO 200 1/250 sec. f 5.0
Today's post features a 4min. 18 sec.video, "Pennsylvania Elk Rut 2013", which is some of the better shots from my recent two week trip to elk country.  The clips were taken entirely with the Canon 70D and the Panasonic GH3.  The video is based around a dominance fight that I filmed during my first week there.  Here is the story of the fight.

It was warm in the afternoon of Wednesday September 18th when I arrived at the Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill viewing area with the thought in mind that even though it was too early and too warm to have much chance of seeing elk that one couldn't see elk if they were indoors.  Another factor to consider was that it was good to get an early start and take it easy walking into the back country to a good vantage point and wait for activity to start.

Just before 3:30 pm. I found fellow photographer Charlie Cropp at the upper Gilbert Farm food plot and stopped to talk to him.  In short order wildlife artist and photographer David Anderson also stopped by.  I told both of them that there was little chance of seeing anything right now as elk are best seen in early morning and late afternoon and filled them in on my strategy for the evening.  Shortly thereafter one of them pointed out a few cow elk at the edge of the food plot.I still didn't expect anything noteworthy to happen, but then more and more cows spilled into the field and a bull bugled down over the hill out of sight of the field.  At this point we frantically set up cameras and tripods and I began filming as beautiful 6x6 followed the cows into the meadow.   At 3:33 a 6x7 wearing a brown radio collar came out of the woods, charged down the hill and locked antlers with the 6x6.  In all I filmed 7 minutes and 25 seconds of footage counting from when I started the camera running on the 6x7 running down the hill to fight the 6x6.  I paused the camera a few times during the encounter to change some settings, but these pauses were very brief so it is doubtful that the entire encounter lasted 8 minutes. I filmed 5 minutes 18 sec. of actual antler contact, which of course would be a bit longer also, but it is likely there was no more than 6 minutes of  contact.  At the end the 6x6 broke contact with the collared 6x7  and fled from him.

After The Fight: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm f4 IS-ISO 100 1/500 sec. f 5.0

What is amazing is that the  bull that "lost" the fight went back to chasing the cows as though nothing happened. One concentrates on filming what is before them so I am not sure, but it is my impression that the "victor" continued to chase cows in the area, but not in a position that I could photograph and film him.  It could be that although he made the 6x6 give way, it was such a traumatic experience for him that he wanted no more of fighting for the day.  Also it is likely I would not have recorded the victor because of the brown collar, when a more photogenic bull was right in front of me.

At this point I will not comment on what camera took specific scenes in the video. Hopefully that will be a post for another day.  It is generally accepted that the GH3 is better for video than the Canon DSLRs excepting for the 5D MK III.  The truth is their is a lot more to this than just which camera can record the better image. To have a meaningful comparison the shots must be under tightly controlled conditions and often the clips that are posted to prove one cameras' superiority do not meet that standard.  These clips were of course not taken under controlled conditions, but rather in situations where you were trying to make the best of a less than ideal situation.  For example, there was plenty of light to film the fight, but it was very harsh and glaring.  At one point I was zoomed in very close on the bulls and mirage (heat waves) are very visible on a large screen HDTV, but does one avoid this type of dramatic shot, just to avoid the heat waves.  Fortunately  most of the shots did not have a problem with this, but it would have been much better in early morning or late evening light. 

In another case you will note two bulls that never quite come to combat, but rather touch antlers a few times.  This was taken at 7:44 in the evening at ISO 3200 and 1/30 sec. f2.8, which is nearly dark at that time of year..  Ideally one would use both cameras with the same or similar lens in this situation and compare the quality. These two clips do look a bit heavy and dark, but that is on purpose because that is what it looked like to be there.  It looks perfectly acceptable to me on an HDTV, but it may not to you.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Pennsylvania Elk Rut 2013 -As The Rut Continues, Some Calves Still Nurse

I filmed and photographed a lot of elk during my recent two week trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country.  There is certainly no shortage of bulls, but with few exceptions the bulls seen on Winslow Hill this fall are young animals that have not yet reached their full potential or older bulls that  do not have the genetic make-up to grow a large rack.

Winslow Hill Bulls: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 70-20mm f2.8 IS L@105mm--ISO 1000-1/200 sec. F 4.0
The bull on the right is the famous 2D and yes I did remove the collar with Photoshop to preserve the wild look of the scene.  He is one of the few elk, and perhaps the only bull, on Winslow Hill that still has the bright yellow collar and number.  The PGC has shifted to a more esthetically pleasing brown collar as the yellow collars made the animals stand out like a sore thumb in elk season.  I hope that in time the collars will be eliminated entirely and replaced by an implanted chip or something like it.  At any rate the new ones are much less objectionable than the old and are worlds ahead of the ridiculous collars used on the whitetail deer in Shenandoah National Park.

2D is the largest he has ever been, but it seems that he is one of those elk that will never be a real contender. Although it is possible that he will be a late bloomer so as to speak and suddenly skyrocket in size,  I do not expect this to happen.  I first photographed him about 2008 and he is not a great deal larger now.  One need only see a mature bull up close to fully realize the difference between them and the second tier bulls.

Mature Herd Bull: 5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L --ISO 200-1/800 sec. F 2.8
 The bull above is the only mature herd bull that I saw on Winslow Hill this fall.  He is a bit smaller than last year.  It was truly a privileged to document him during the rut this year.  There were other bulls with wide,  high antlers, but they were young bulls with years of development ahead of them if they live, while this bull has the thick heavy antlers typical of a bull at or past his prime.The photo below was taken when he lunged at a cow which he was following.

Herd Bull Lunges at Cow:  5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L+ 1.4x extender II --ISO 200-1/250 sec. F 5.0
While the bulls are the center of attention, it is worthwhile to pay attention to what the other elk are doing as well.

Elk Herd on Winslow Hill: 5D MK III-Canon 24-105mm f24 IS @85mm-ISO 200-1/200 sec. F 8.0
 Some have expressed amazement that they are seeing calves still nursing from the cows.  This is not extremely common at this time of year, but neither is it rare and I get to film this on occasion.  I even saw a calf nursing on President's Day weekend one year, and I have seen a cow nursing its' calf from the previous year, during the rut in Septermber..

Calf Nursing-Sept. 25, 2013: 5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L+1/4 extemder--ISO 400-1/1000 sec. F 4.5
Whitetail fawns are  still nursing at times also, but the does ordinarily do not stand long for them and in some cases will not stand at all but shy away from the fawn as it approaches.

Whatever the species, the outdoors is a place that never ceases to amaze and there is no better way to appreciate the beauty of nature than to be afield with a camera.

Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


More Photos 2013 Rut

6x6 Bugles on Winslow Hill: Canon 70D-300mm f2.8 L IS-ISO 640 1/200 sec. f4.0
As the Pennsylvania elk rut continues no one has reported seeing a 400 class bull on Winslow Hill.  There are some very nice bulls, but two separate outfitters have confirmed my belief that the best bulls seen so far are running in the 350-360 class.  One speculated that the large bulls will show up later and some do report seeing bigger bulls in other areas of the elk range, but at this point I do not think the outlook is good for seeing outstanding bulls at the viewing areas..

Lest we forget what a mature bull looks like, below is a photograph of a mature bull that is slightly smaller than he was last year, but if you look closely you will note that he has much more antler  mass and a larger body than most of the bulls seen on the hill this year.

Mature Bull Bugles on Winslow Hill: Canon 70D-300mm f2.8 L IS-ISO 100- 1/1000 sec. f5.0
A  unique bull has been frequently seen this rut.  Some speculate that it is a a young bull, while others are convinced it is an old bull past his prime.  Whatever the case his palmated antlers  make him him stand out from the rest of the bulls and he is instantly identifiable at a glance.  The mass of the antlers does seem to reinforce the position that this is an old bull as does a comparison to photographs from last year.

Palmated Bull Bugles: Canon 70D-300mm f2.8 L IS+2x estender-ISO200 1/320 sec. f8.0
The last bull posted today is another one of those bulls that falls comfortable into that range between "raghorn' and mature bull.  He is about average for the better bulls that we are seeing on the hill this year.

6x7 At Dusk: Canon 70D-300mm f2.8 L IS-ISO 1600- 1/80 sec. f 2.8
Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


News From Elk Country

The 2013 elk rut continues on Winslow Hill with some periods being very dead and a good level of activity at other times.  So far no 400 class bulls have been spotted at the Winslow Hill viewing areas, but it  has been reported that the holder of the Governors Conservation Tag took a 430 class bull in the Karthus area yesterday. This is a special license that is auctioned off  to the highest bidder. This year the successful bidder could hunt from September 2-November 9th.

I hope that some larger bulls will show up on Winslow Hill if the rut intensifies next week as it usually does.  As it is most of the bulls are either small or young bulls that have not reached their prime.  Although some of these are very nice, they are not top tier bulls.

Young 6x6 Winslow Hill: Canon 5D MK III-70-200mm f2.8 L IS- ISO 1600-1/320 sec. f4.0
At the other end of the spectrum is a bull that is quite popular with the community of elk photographers.  This is "Limpy" so called because he frequently limps as a result of injuries he received in 2010.  He is now an old bull and his rack is smaller than last year. I hadn't had a particularly good encounter with him until last evening.

There was a lot of rain on Saturday afternoon, but it tapered off into light sprinkles in the evening and elk activity was good.  Odie Swartz and I found Limpy and a small group of cows at the Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill viewing area and photographed him until he left the food plot just before dark.  He spent most of the evening on the grain that was planted, which is not the best setting for photographs. As it was growing late he got in the more natural looking grass at the edge of the plot, which gave a better composition. It was twilight by this time, which  made a perfect opportunity to see how the 70D performed in low light conditions, but I only took a few frames of him bugling before he wheeled an ran down over the hill toward the Gilbert Meadows where several bulls were chasing cows. .  My lens of choice was the 300mm f2.8 and I used ISO 1600. After working with this photograph I would say  the 70D, as one would expect, does not equal the 5D MK III at 1600  ,but this is offset by the better long range ability of its' 1.6 crop sensor and its' much lower cost. This  is an excellent DSLR for wildlife.

Limpy: Canon 70D-300mm f2.8 L IS-ISO 1600-1/50 sec. f 2.8
Another bull that was seen in the saddle earlier last week was also being seen in the meadows at the Gilbert  at the end of the week. Many have commented that this is one of the wildest bulls they have seen in the area.  He barks at people who at times are 100-200 yards away.  He doesn't do this when among the herd at the Gilbert, but he still has that "wild" alert look in his eye.

"Wild Bull": Canon 70D-300mm f2.8 L IS-1.4x extender-ISO 400-1/1000 sec. f  4.0
Another bull has an impressive spread, but I was surprised that he is only a 5x6.  This bull is also a bit on the shy side, but not as much so as the one  above.
5x6 Chasing Cows: Canon 5D MK III-300mm f2.8 L IS- ISO 400-1/400 sec. f4.5
He is shown in hot pursuit of a cow in the photograph above and bugling in the one below. It was hard to get a good portrait pose as he was with a large herd of cows and there was usually one or more out of focus cows in the frame.

5x6 Bugles: Canon 70D-300mm f2.8 L IS+1.4 extender-ISO 160-1/0 sec. f  5.6
I used ISO 160 and 1/60 for the above photo as I was taking video (1/60 sec. is the ideal shutter speed for video in many cases) and fired a still while it was paused in video mode, without changing to settings better suited for stills.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Pennsylvania Elk Rut Now Underway-Canon 70D Update

Each year thousands of people descend on the village of Benezette and Winslow Hill to experience the sights and sounds of the elk rut and I joined the throng this week.

 The first stirrings of the pre-rut begin once the bulls shed the velvet in August.  The actual rut begins in late August to early September and by the middle of the month it becomes the full-blown rut.  Below are some photos taken at the Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill viewing area yesterday afternoon and evening.  I still usually refer to this as the Gilbert Viewing Area or the Gilbert Farm, but I can understand the other name as the Gilbert is only a portion of the total overall viewing area.  Just before the photos below were taken there was a dominance fight  between two bulls.  I have no still photos as I devoted my attention to filming the fight.  I stopped the camera briefly a few times to change settings and ended up with 7 minutes and 34 seconds of recording.  The fight lasted a minute or so longer than that and it would be longer still if one counts the bulls behavior immediately after the encounter. We were surprised that the action began as early as it did, as it was very warm with bright sunshine. I have not downloaded the video files yet and cannot tell exactly what time the fight ocurred, but my best guess would be shortly after 3:00 p.m. We spent some time watching the herd from that vantage point after the fight was overbefore moving to a different location that gave a closer perspective on the herd. It was 4:31 and later when I took the photos below.

Herd at Gilbert Farm: Canon 70D-Canon 24-105mm@55mm-ISO 100-1/200 Sec. f 8

Bull Herding Cows: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS+ 2x Extender II-ISO 100-1/500 Sec. f 7.1

Bull Herding Cows: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS+ 2x Extender II-ISO 100-1/500 Sec. f 7.1

Calf Panting: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS+ 1.4x Extender II-ISO 100-1/800 Sec. f  5.0
I took a photo of the entire herd from the original vantage point just before leaving to check out another area.

Herd at Gilbert: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS II.4x Extender II-ISO 100-1/250 Sec. f  8.0
In closing I must say that the Canon 70D is working out even better than expected.  Although most of the above photos were taken with the 5D MK III, I find that I am using the 70D for most of my still photography. Since I mostly shoot video I prefer it to the 5D MK III for that purpose because of its' long range video ability and auto-focus in video model.  The clincher is that I am able to shift between long range video and stills without having to change the camera body.

There is no doubt the 5D MK III is better in very low light, but the 70D is very good and seems to be a big step above the 7D in this respect.  I still think the Panasonic GH3 takes sharper video as does the 5D MK III, but at present it seems that the ability of the 70D to handle my Canon L lenses, without loss of automatic lens functions, overrides the quality consideration. Perhaps I will regret it when I look at my footage on a HDTV, but I don't thinks so at this point.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Elk Expo 2013-Bulls Shed Velvet and Spar

Benezett Store Booth
There was great weather for last week's Elk Expo which was held at Elk Country Visitor Center near Benezette.  A steady stream of visitors passed through the grounds throughout the day on Saturday. It  is my understanding that there was not the overflow crowd that was expected, but it was still a successful day.  According to reports, most were able to park at the visitor center and the shuttle from Benezette received little use.

Founding members of Benezette Elk Camera Club, Richard Coy and wife discuss new elk photo book, "Pennsylvania Elk" with author/editor/photographer, Marci Geise

Benny The Elk Ambassador greets vendors

John Geissler, Chairman Of The Board Keystone Elk Country Alliance in his role as "The Sheriff"
After spending the majority of Saturday and  Sunday morning and most of Sunday afternoon at the Expo, it was time for some serious elk photography, but unfortunately the skies were murky that evening as a front started to move through the area. Most of the bulls I found this evening had already shed their velvet or it was mostly gone with strips of velvet dangling from the antlers.  I did see a few  that had not yet shed; however.

6x6 In Velvet: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm F4- ISO 400, 1/500 sec. f4.5
As dusk settled over the countryside, I found a bachelor groups grazing and at one point two briefly locked antlers. 

Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer was also photographing in the area and I found him photographing three young bulls nearby.  These bulls were really into the sparring and Buckwheat got several still photos.  At this point I was taking video with the GH3 and 70-200mm f2.8 lens.  As sparring and fighting are ideal subjects for video I didn't take any stills of this encounter so the following images  are video still captures.

Young Bulls Sparring

Sparring is not to be confused with serious fighting
Soon the bulls stopped sparring and moved away.  The other bachelor group was still in the meadow behind me. Most of the bulls were grazing, but I  picked out two that were in an alert pose and took a few frames with the5D MK III  and the 500mm at ISO 6400. 

Bulls At Dusk: 5D MK III-Canon 500mm F4-ISO 6400, 1/100 sec. f4
We saw another small bachelor group somewhat later.  It was nearly dark by then, but I still took a few photos at ISO 12800 and 25600, but that is for another post, if I decide to process them.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


As Elk Expo Nears, Bulls Shed The Velvet

While humans prepare for the Elk Expo to be held at Elk Country Visitor Center on Saturday and Sunday...

Elk Country Visitor Center
Benezett Store Workers Prepare Booth
...the elk continue with their daily lives--unaware of all the attention that is being directed their way by the outdoor community.

Bulls Are Now Shedding The Velvet

Be sure to stop by the Benezett Store Booth at the Expo  and check out their selection of merchandise including books and videos about the elk herd and Pennsylvania Elk Country.


New Elk Photo Book To Be Available At Elk Expo

Please stop by Benezett Store's booth at the Elk Expo  to see "Pennsylvania Elk", a 56 page photo book edited by Marci Geise and featuring work by nine photographers.  Marci Geise and other artisans will be on hand to discuss their work although  it is not certain at what times individual artisans will be there .  The expo will be held on August 17th and 18th at Elk Country Visitor Center located on Winslow Hill near Benezett.

You may read detailed profiles of the photographers at paelkartists.blogspot.com.

Also be sure to check out other merchandise offered by the store.  The store is not able to process credit cards at the Expo, but they are accepted at the store.  The book will be available for sale at the store after the  Expo is over.


Elk Films DVDs and Books to be available at Elk Expo-Artisans to appear

Elk DVDs to be available at Expo
PA Wildlife Photographer Films "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country" and "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd" will be available at the Benezett Store Booth at the Elk Expo.
By now most elk enthusiast are aware that he Elk Expo will be returning on August 17th & 18th. after a five year hiatus. For the first time, it will be held at the Elk Country Visitor Center on Winslow Hill.  The theme of this year's Expo will be "Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the restoration of elk in Pennsylvania's Great Outdoors".

Be sure to visit The Elk Expo website for full details.  An important point to remember is that as best as I can understand it there will not be public parking at the Visitor Center as the parking areas will be occupied by exhibitors, etc.  Instead parking will be at the Benezette Municipal Building and visitors will be shuttled to and from the Expo Site.

The store will feature a variety of souvenirs and other elk related merchandise, both at the store in Benezette and at their booth at the Expo.  They will also feature appearances by some of the Artisans who produce products for sale at the store.   Artists scheduled to appear are Elk County natives Jim Burke and Ralph Harrison.

 Mr. Burke is known for writing, “Pioneers of Second Fork,” which traces the history of 16 families of early pioneers who came to settle in western Pennsylvania at  Second Fork, which is  known today as Bennett’s Valley.

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. While "elk management" was not a part of his official job description, he dedicated his life to their re-establishment and was instrumental in sparking the resurgence of the elk herd which began in the 1970s.  Mr.  Harrison has written at least four books during his career,  two of which, "The History of Pennsylvania Elk" and his most recent book, "Quehanna: The Blemished Jewel Restored" are currently available at Benezett Store.

Also scheduled to appear is elk enthusiast and photographer Marci Geise.  Ms. Geise is well known for  her first photo book "Elk Scenic Drive" and for hosting several wildlife oriented Facebook Pages throughout her career.  Marci plans to release her newest photo book, "Pennsylvania Elk", at The Expo.  The book is a co-operative effort among several elk photographers, which has been edited and assembled by Geise. Photographers whose work appears include; David Anderson, Jim Borden, Richard Coy, Tom Dorsey, Marci Geise, Coy Hill, Willard Hill, Ronald "Buckwheat" Saffer and Paul Staniszewski.

Both of my DVD-films, "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd" and "Running Wild In Pennsylvania Elk Country", are to be available for purchase at the Benezett Store Booth and I  plan on being at there for a significant period of time on both days.  At this point I am not sure if they will be able to play sample clips of the videos at the booth, but I will be glad to discuss the videos, elk, and photography and filming with you if you stop by.

Artisans will autograph your copy of their work upon request.

 Also be sure to check out the new blog page I recently added (Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer Blog) to display sample clips for the "Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk  Country" film.  Look for the page in the tabs directly below the blog header.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Evening Encounters and Fast Lenses

Young Bull Elk With Bachelor Group of Whitetail Bucks in Background: GH3-Lumix 14-140-ISO 800-1/30 Sec.@  f6.3
In many cases wildlife that is seen away from the tourist areas on Winslow Hill is much more shy than that seen at the viewing areas. In some instances, even the same elk that are quite trusting at the viewing areas are more wary when you encounter them in other areas and the whitetail deer are usually hard to get up close wherever they may be found.  This is one of the reasons that I love the ability of certain video cameras to really reach out.  It has been especially fortunate that some DSLRs have gained the ability to film at long range in recent years, and in some cases this translates into better performance on long range still photos as well.  I have really fallen in love with the Panasonic GH3 for this very reason. Overall, it  is not in the same league as the 5D MK III as a stills camera, but it is capable of doing some fine long range work.  The camera features a Micro 4/3 sensor, which is the equivalent of using a 2X extender on a full frame sensor camera such as the 5D MK III, but while a 2x extender makes a 300mm f2.8 the focal length equivalent of a 600mm f5.6, the 2x crop factor sensor of the GH3 gives one the same reach while still retaining the f2.8 maximum aperture.

Long Range Bull: GH3-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L-ISO 200 1/50 Sec.-severely cropped
The downside is that the Panasonic lenses are not as good optically as the  Canon L series lenses and the telephoto zooms that are available for these cameras are not fixed aperture lenses, so they usually start at a maximum of f4 when at their widest setting and go to smaller apertures such as f5.6 or f5.8 when zoomed in to the maximum.  This is somewhat offset by the Panasonic lenses performing much better than expected in comparison to the Canons because it seems there is some sort of electronic optimization between the Panasonic lenses and body that maximize performance and good high ISO performance means they do allow one to film reasonably late in the evening, but once can film or photograph even later with the fast lenses.  The bottom line is that I really like the Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm.  It takes blistering sharp stills and video and the auto-focus even works reasonably well for video.  The 100-300mm does reasonably well on video and stills, but the Canon primes beat it hands down for sharpness in both still and video modes.  It is very bad at hunting for focus in certain situations so I use in in manual focus mode a great deal of the time, which means that the lack of auto-focus with the Canon lenses on the GH3 is not a big minus when comparing them to the 100-300mm.

As a result, I usually carry at least one Canon L prime lens along and on my first back-country trip last week, I carried the 300mm f2.8.  When it was not mounted on the camera, I carried it hanging from one shoulder by the lens strap, while on the other shoulder I carried a camera bag for spare batteries and  lenses ( Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm and 100-300mm) and plastic garbage bags to protect the gear in case of thundershowers.   I also carried the 5D MK III with 17-40mm around my neck.  As it turned out I used the 14-140mm Lumix and the 300mmf 2.8 Canon L quite a bit, but didn't use the 100-300mm once

On the following evening I carried the 70-200mm f2.8 IS L II lens instead of the Lumix 100-300mm. I had an encounter with a bachelor group of whitetail bucks in which the fast lenses and the ability to shoot long range video paid off.  The bucks never got close enough for good still photography, so I took only video and in many cases used the extended telephoto mode of the GH3 as in the video still capture below.

Bachelor Group of Whitetail Bucks: GH3-Canon 300mm f2.8 L-ETC mode-(video frame capture) 1440mm 35mm focal length equivalent
It was quite late when I left the meadow and the low light ability of the f2.8 lenses really paid off when I ran into bulls on two occasions as I returned to the parking lot.  One was 2D,  a bull that is familiar to many elk photographers.

Bull 2D: GH3-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L-IS0 800-1/50 sec.f?
Photoshop does not show the lens meta-data because the M4/3 adapter between the camera body and Canon lens does not transmit that information. The shutter speed and ISO are shown since those are camera body settings,  but I would expect that the lens was stopped down to no more than f4 and it was possibly wide open.

It was definitely wide open on the last encounter of the evening  when I found a bull grazing along the edge of a tree line at dusk.

Bull 2D: GH3-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L-IS0 3200-1/20 sec.f?
In this case I cranked the ISO up to 3200 and used 1/20 sec., which I am not comfortable with even when using a very stable video tripod.  This would have been a good situation for the 5D MK III with its' good high ISO performance, but there was no chance to use it as any changing of equipment may have frightened this bull that was already on full alert.  As it turned out the GH3 did a very creditable job.

On the next evening there was a strong threat of thunderstorms so I did not venture far from the vehicle, but that is a story for another post.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.