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.