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.


Summer In Pennsylvania Elk Country

Mid-summer with its' heat and humidity.  Wildlife spends most of the daylight areas in the woodlands to avoid the brutal rays of the sun, but  the dedicated wildlife photographer, who is out at the crack of dawn, and stays out in the evening until the last glimmer of light is gone, is often rewarded with photographs and memories to treasure for a life time.  It can be physically challenging to walk long distances in the heat, but in spite of this being afield in search of the bachelor groups of whitetail bucks and bull elk is one of my favorite things to do.  It all seems worthwhile when one finally gets the photographic encounter that they are hoping for, but even those that are less than ideal can still bring a lot of enjoyment.

Foggy Morning Bull: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm F4 L IS -ISO 640 1/640 sec. f5.0
Many mornings are too foggy for the best photographs in elk country, although a certain amount of fog can lend a mysterious, wild, atmosphere.  In this case most of Winslow Hill was too foggy for photography, but a  portion near the Dent's Run Viewing Area was clear enough to get decent photos.  Elk do seem to stay out longer on foggy mornings and this bull was still feeding by the roadside at 6:47 a.m.  At one point he paused to browse in a fog free area.

Browsing: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm F4 L IS -ISO 400 1/200 sec. f 4.5
 Many times bulls can be found by the roadside on Winslow Hill, but to me it is more rewarding to be deep in the back country on a late summers evening, moving from meadow to meadow or sometimes remaining on watch at a particularly promising spot.  It all seems worthwhile when the bulls or bucks put in an appearance.  Such was the case when a bachelor group came into the meadow I was watching at well after 8:30 and it was nearly 9:00 until they were in a spot that I could photograph them.

Bachelor Group: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 300mm F2.8 L IS -ISO 3200 1/80 sec. f3.2
Ten minutes later and the largest bull was much closer, but by that time light levels had plummeted and I used ISO 12,800 to deal with the situation. Just a few years ago, this shot would have been impossible, but thanks to improved high ISO performance and the noise reduction tools in Photoshop wildlife can be photographed much earlier in the morning and later in the evening.

6x6 At Dusk: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 300mm F2.8 L IS -ISO 12,800 1/50 sec. f 2.8
Now the fun was over and it was a long walk back to the vehicle through the darkness, yet time passed quickly as I relived the events of the evening and thought of other enjoyable encounters in years gone by.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


View From The Saddle: EHZ 7 and What The Future Holds*

The 2013-14 Hunting and Trapping Digest is now available with the purchase of a hunting license or it may be viewed as a pdf. file by visiting the PGC Website. Click on the icon of the Digest and it will take you to a page giving you various options as to what portions you want to download.

The Digest features a stunning cover photo of the character bull, "Uncle Bob" a superb 7x8 that was killed near Weedville in the 2012 elk season.  The photo was taken by PGC Wildlife Conservation Specialist Hal Korber during the rut last year.  It appears to be taken in "The Saddle" and the bull is silhouetted against the setting sun.   I do not have a photograph of the bull that is anywhere near the quality of the one taken by Mr. Korber, but I am posting one of mine to show the bull being discussed.

A Photo of  "Uncle Bob" taken by me during the 2012 Rut
Upon checking the new digest, it is now certain that Elk Hunt Zone(EHZ) 7 is the old No Hunt Zone.(NHZ) and as best as I can tell it has the same boundary as the NHZ has had in recent years. Even though this is now classified as an EHZ there is no license allocation for it.  At this point it makes no difference and is simply a play with words, but the implications loom large.  It seems likely that changing the classification will not cause a vast public outcry as it did in the past because the PGC can point out that nothing has changed and no elk will be shot in the heart of the tourist area. It is likely that in time they will assign a license allocation to EHZ 7.  In the event this happens I anticipate that the response  to any complaint will be to the effect that "after it has been a EHZ for some time and no one expressed concern--and after all we are only issuing xx number of tags, which in the scheme of things is insignificant".  I must emphasize that no official has said anything like this at this point, but this is what I expect to happen.

Another item of interest is the appointment of the new PGC biologist, Jeremy Banfield,  as we discussed in the May 22nd post on this blog, which is based around PGC News Release #035-13.

Pennsylvania Outdoor News featured an article by Southwest Correspondent, Deborah Weisberg titled "New biologist brings elk wisdom from Montana in the June 21, 2013 issue.  The article gives some interesting insights into his views and how we can expect them to impact on elk management.

The following quotes by Banfield as reported by Weisberg are of special note:

Like most hunters and those in the hunting industry, Banfield eschews any close human to wildlife contact.  "People should not approach or touch the elk," he said.

He makes it clear that he works for the hunter.

"It's nice for urban people to come up and see the elk, and there are no-harvest zones in the viewing areas", he said, "but that doesn't get in my way. Game (Commission) doesn't have much to do with the tourism aspect."

Because of his position, Banfield won't be hunting either. "It would be a conflict of interest," he siad.

But I'm an outdoorsman and I"ll be targeting everything else.  My first passion is trapping, I trap beaver, muskrat, fox, and coyote.  This year, I'll be after fisher and bobcat.

He Also looks forward to bow-hunting white-tailed deer, and predator calling. "I hunt turkeys, geese and ducks and small game."

I emphasize the above material is brief excerpts from the article as written by Ms.Weisberg, while what follows is my thoughts on the interview.  I recommend that you get a copy of Pennsylvania Outdoor News and read the article in its' entirety.

In reference to his first statement, it is hard to disagree with the gist of Banfield's statement about close human/wildlife contact as someone is always willing to carry things too far with potentially disastrous results, but when examined in detail it does raise legitimate concerns is about just what is an acceptable range to be from elk.  Is approaching from 200 yards to 100 yards acceptable? What about 100 yards to 50 yards?  Why is it acceptable to approach wildlife to bow range to kill it, but not acceptable to approach it to a reasonably safe range to photograph it?  Will more and more elk viewing/photography be at unacceptably long range such as it is now at the Dent's Run Viewing Area?

Dents Run Viewing Area-Viewing Is At Extreme Range
 As quoted above,  Banfield states that he works for the hunter, which indicates he may have little understanding of the needs of the non-consumptive user. It is certainly true that the hunter does pay a substantial part of the bill for wildlife management in Pennsylvania and to that extent they are the customer base for the PGC, but  at this point in time it is unacceptable for a biologist to manage wildlife just for hunting purposes. As PGC officials like to point out, especially in reference to deer management, they are tasked with managing wildlife for society as a whole.  The crux of the problem is that society as a whole does not currently pay to support  PGC  programs and this has to change.  A substantial portion of the sporting community does not want it to change either, because at that point they lose their primary weapon against the non-consumptive user, which is of course pointing out that they are getting free use of State Game Lands.   This side of the debate never remembers that there is far more State Forest Land in Pennsylvania than State Game Lands and that their license dollars do not  support the upkeep of that land, yet they have the use of most of this for hunting and trapping purposes.

At this point it is not fair to be too critical of Mr. Banfield, as after all this is essentially a get acquainted article in a newspaper that is geared toward hunters and fishermen, so he is preaching to the choir so as to speak.  It is to be expected  that he assure the readers that he is  much like them and has many of the same beliefs and goals.

At the same time it is perfectly reasonable for the elk watcher/photographer to be somewhat apprehensive about the future of quality elk viewing. As I have pointed out repeatedly there is too much pressure directed at the bulls that visit the viewing areas on Winslow Hill and while there are more elk now at any time since the reintroduction, it seems there are less of the top tier ones on Winslow Hill.  Is the time coming that a young bull  like the one shown below will be considered to be a "big bull'.

4x4 Bull On Winslow Hill: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm f4-ISO 400-1/640 sec. f4.5
One thing seems certain--at this point the days of following the life of a bull on Winslow Hill from a young rack bull through maturity and old age are over in most if not all cases.

About the title of the post.
* "The Saddle" is a well known spot in Pennsylvania Elk Country for which one may view a vast expanse of the elk range.  I like to sit at the apex of "The Saddle" and enjoy the view, think about wildlife management issues, recall glorious times afield in days gone by, and anticipate hopefully more days to come.  As a result, I have decided to use "View From The Saddle" as a general title for posts which give my thoughts on elk management and other issues impacting wildlife photography and viewing in the elk range. 

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.