Pennsylvania Bulls Shed Velvet

I spent most of last week in Pennsylvania Elk Country with my primary objective being to film and photograph the shedding of the velvet from the bulls' antlers.  Many of the bulls had already shed by the time I arrived late Monday afternoon, but I found a bachelor group on Tuesday morning in which some of the bulls still had velvet.

6x6 With Velvet
This was a dark, overcast morning with a light shower of rain or two so the Canon 5D MK III and the 300mm f2.8 lens were the perfect choice for this situation.  This bull was in the edge of the woods along a meadow and most of the other bulls were feeding and horning bushes that were scattered throughout the meadow. While I took a few still images, I spent most of the time filming them on video with the Panasonic GH4 and Canon 100-400mm lens.

This is a 4K camera and I film in UHD mode.  With this one is able to capture 8 megapixel stills from the video.  Panasonic has a method for doing this, but I have not tried it.  I simply load the video into  my video editing program, Vegas Pro 13,  and scroll through the timeline until I find a suitable frame and then capture it.  Below are two stills captured in this manner that shows how the velvet cracks and bloody spots appear before the actual shedding occurs.

On Thursday morning I photographed two bulls that were feeding on apples.  The first photo shows how the velvet shedding process progresses from the stage depicted in the the photos above.

Almost Shed

The second photo shows a bull that is completely shed and also documents how bulls dislodge apples from the trees by striking the branches with their antlers.

Trying To Dislodge Apples
With the shedding of the velvet, the bulls begin sparring with other bulls and engaging in other pre-rut activity.  On this trip I did not get to photograph this activity , but I did get to see a mature bulls herding cows  late one evening as darkness fell in a remote wilderness meadow.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Mid-Summer Elk Calves

Cow Grooming Calf

At the conclusion of the post about the bulls I saw during my mid-July trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country,  I promised to post some calf photos from the trip and today I have finally got around to doing that.  I was not as successful at photographing and filming the calves as I was with the bulls.  In most cases, areas that are good for seeing bachelor groups of mature bulls are not usually the best spots for seeing elk calves and I spent the most of the best elk sighting times in prime bull range.

Prime Summer Bull Range Is Often Not Best For Calf Sightings

But on at least one evening and one morning, I concentrated on working with the calves.  At times it was easy to see a lot of calves on Winslow Hill, but they were usually a bit far away,  or it was too early or too late for the best quality photos.

Calf At Woodring Farm In Early Morning

Cows And Calves Shortly After Sunrise On Winslow Hill

Cows And Calves Near Sunset On Winslow Hill
An encounter at the ponds on Dewey Road had the potential for exceptional photos when a cow nursed a calf on one the pond banks, but as luck would have it the grass was too tall in front of the cow and the calf was mostly obscured.  Otherwise the grass contributed to the wild look of the photo and made for a much more pleasing setting than short, lawn type grass.

Cow Nursing Calf On Pond Bank
When nursing was completed the cow stepped away and  the calf stepped into a more open spot, licked its' lips, and  looked out at the surrounding countryside.  The only problem here was that it was a bit far even for the 600mm for a close-up portrait. In this case I cropped the photo to 2MP in Adobe Camera Raw  which which works quite well for the web, but would start to fall apart on big enlargements.

Alert Calf
All in all it was one of the better, if not the best, July trips to elk country that I can recall. After filming on Friday morning it was time to return home and it was with mixed feelings that I headed for Fulton County.  For one thing it is always good to get home and see the family and resume photographing the local wildlife, but on the other hand it seemed that had I been able to stay for a few more days that I was getting a system worked out that seemed likely to yield a lot more good photos and video.

Soon the bulls will be losing the velvet and sparring will begin in earnest. In fact a few bulls may have lost it already, but most will do around the middle of August or a bit later.  Soon I hope to return to elk country to document this exciting event and when this is over it will be only a short time until the rut begins.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.