Pennsylvania Bulls Shed Velvet

Early Stages Of Shedding: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm F4.0 IS
Pennsylvania bull elk usually shed their velvet in a time frame centered around mid-August.  This is likely why the annual Elk Expo is scheduled for mid-month as it is an especially good time to visit the elk range..  As I did not plan on attending the Expo this year I decided to avoid the large crowds that are there that weekend so it was a question of whether to go the week before or the week after.  I finally decided on the week before and as we shall see it was good that I did.

I got there late  in the afternoon on August 14th. There was only a slight chance of thunderstorms that evening, so I took a long walk and checked out several remote food plots. As I did on the last two trips, I carried the Panasonic FZ2500 on the tripod for video and the Canon 1DXMKII with 100-400mm IS II lens in a shoulder bag to take stills.  It was hot as usual and the sweat ran freely, but I was rewarded handsomely when I came to the edge of a back country food plot and saw a fine 6x6 grazing. I filmed him for some time and when he lifted his head I switched to the 1DXMKII for  a few still photos. . You cannot see it in the photo below, but when I looked at the video of the encounter it was easy to see blood spots and several cracks in the velvet.

6x6 Before Shedding: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II

Eventually a small bachelor group of young bulls came out and none of them had shed the velvet yet either.

Bachelor Group: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
Next evening I repeated the walk. The 6x6 was with a group of smaller bulls and now his velvet was hanging in strips. 

Bachelor Group: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
Velvet Hanging In Strips: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
I didn't make that walk again during the August trip, so I didn't get to record this bull once his antlers were completely bare.

A few large bulls showed no signs of shedding yet which was the case with a fine 6x7 that I photographed  shortly after dawn on Wednesday morning. As is usually the case in Pennsylvania Country, it was a foggy morning and I saw several other bulls but got no more good still photos.

6x7 On Foggy Morning: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 70-200mm IS II
Thursday morning was also foggy and I saw several bulls in a meadow shortly after dawn.  A large 7x7 had not yet shed.

7x7 In Fog: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
7x7-Another View: Canon 1DMKII- Canon 300mm F2.8 IS
The 7x7 was with a large group of  bulls which were in various stages of shedding.  At one point two squared off in a sparring match, which gave a good photo opportunity.

Bulls Sparring As Dawn: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 300mm F2.8 IS
Bulls Sparring As Pre-rut Begins: Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 100-400mm IS II
After sunrise I found more bulls sparring in a meadow quite a distance from where I photographed the other bachelor group.

Sparring After Sunrise:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm IS-1.4x extender
Sparring After Sunrise:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm IS-1.4x extender
On Friday morning there was time for a short trip around the Benezette area before leaving for home. I found the bull that is shown at the beginning of the post and he was just beginning to lose the velvet. A bit later I  photographed one that was completely shed and had  a branch caught in his antlers from polishing his antlers in trees and branches.

Completely Shed:Canon 1DXMKII- Canon 500mm F4.0 IS
As it turned out choosing this week was the right decision as few of the bulls had shed when I arrived on Monday, but by Thursday and Friday mornings most were well along in the process. Had I waited until the week after the expo, opportunities for getting velvet shedding photos and film clips would have been mostly over.

With the velvet  shed, the bulls are sparring as the pre-rut gets underway. In a short time the full-blown rut will begin and it will peak sometime after mid-month and then wind down in October.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Mid-July Trip To Pennsylvania Elk Country

The River
Temperatures were hot and humid when I arrived in Benezette in mid-afternoon on Monday July 17th for several days of elk filming and photography.  Reports indicated that few elk were being seen in town or on Winslow Hill, but in spite of this I felt optimistic of success.

Even though it was stifling hot, there was little haze in the air with only a slight threat of a thunderstorm and it was a good evening to take a walk with the cameras if you didn't mind being soaked with sweat. Since I usually concentrate on taking video, I carried a Panasonic FZ2500 fitted with a 5" Small HD monitor on the tripod for that purpose and a Canon 1DKMKII with the Canon 100mm-400mm IS II lens in my camera bag for still photography. I saw several small bulls that evening and one was close enough for good still photos.

Alert 5x5
5x5 Looks At Distant Bulls
The best bull of the evening was a decent 6x6, but unfortunately he was in short grass, which provided a less than deal setting and he was always looking directly at me when I was taking stills.

6x6 Pauses From Grazing
Three of the most important parts of elk photography in the summer is being out early in the morning and staying late in the evening.  When I walked I never got back to the vehicle until after dark.  The down side to this of course is that lighting conditions are often less than ideal when you encounter the elk. I prefer the mornings if it is not too foggy, but that is a big problem in elk country as it seems most mornings are foggy--some of them so bad that photography is almost impossible. Fortunately the morning I encountered a fine 6x7 with a bachelor group of smaller bulls, the fog was spotty and there were relatively clear periods at times.

6x7 On A Foggy Morning
4K Video Frame Grab of Bachelor Group
On Wednesday morning another fine 6x7 was grazing in a meadow of tall grasses and I photographed him with the 1DXMKII and 500mm F 4 lens.

6x7  Looks To Distant Hill Side
Another View
Eventually he returned to feeding and worked past my position and I used the 5DMKIII with the Canon 100-400mm IS II to photograph him with a bit more of the surroundings included in the photo.

6x7: Taken with 5DMKIII and 100-400mm IS II at 371 mm
I spent very little time driving around Winslow Hill. I did check for the bulls that I saw last month along the road at the upper end of the hill, but I only saw a small one and didn't film him. Late on Tuesday morning I played tourist and photographed a herd of elk in a camp lawn with the Panasonic FZ1000, which I usually use for close-up video filming when I am not able to set the tripod up. I also used it to take the river photo at the beginning of the post and it does a creditable job with stills as long as one keeps at the lower ISO settings.

A Typical Sighting On Winslow Hill
All in all I have had better July trips to elk country, but this one still gave a lot of photo and video opportunities.  The summer has moved so quickly and it seems impossible to think that very shortly most of the bulls will shed the velvet and soon another rut will begin.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.