Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pennsylvania Bull Elk: An Early Summer Morning Encounter

Along with filming and photographing calves, another primary objective of last weeks trip to Pennsylvania's Elk Range, was to record bulls in velvet.

Tuesday morning was foggy and partially overcast. I encountered a bachelor group of two bulls soon after dawn. Both mature whitetail bucks and bull elk spend most of the year traveling with other males. A notable exception is that yearling bulls and bucks will still be with their original family group in most cases. One may see large bulls and bucks in the same meadow, etc. with the family groups, but in most cases if one observes closely, they will find that they are in fact traveling separately and there is little interaction between the groups. But as we will find out in a future post, there are no hard and fast rules in nature and there are exceptions to every case.

This is an up and coming young Pennsylvania bull, which shows the potential to become one of the state's great bulls if he survives to maturity.

7x8 Bull

These bulls are "acclimated" to humans. Many use the word "habituated", but that seems to have a negative connotation, so I prefer the previous term. A primary problem in taking portraits of these animals is capturing them in an alert position as they are mostly feeding or walking from one food source to another. These bulls are usually found in downtown Benezette, but in this case I was lucky enough to find them in natural habitat.

The Other Half Of The Bachelor Group:
7x7 Traveling Between Food Sources

7x7 Still A Young Bull

The photograph below gives one an opportunity to study the point configuration on the larger animal in detail. This is a major tool in identifying an individual animal. Note the long and sweeping end of the left main beam and the configuration of the points on the rear portion of the right beam. While the number of points has varied, this bull has had the same basic shape to his antlers since 2007 when I first became aware of him. (He was a 6x6 then)

Detail of 7x8's Antlers

It is possible if not likely that an animal's antler shape will change to a certain extent if not a great deal over the course of his life, but usually close observation enables one to pick out certain characteristics that do endure from year to year. Combining that along with the animals behavior and other physical characteristics, often enables one to make a positive identification and follow its' progress throughout their lifetime.


Kerri said...

Wow Willard! I believe these are some of your best shots! Absolutely fabulous!!

imac said...

Truly amazing shots Willard.

Leedra said...

All of the photographs are great, but the first one is the best.

Leedra’s Photos For Fun

Tom said...

Once again Willard you have capture a subject to perfection and not just once may I had.
I hope this beauty lives many years and gets to pass on his genes... it's animals such as this that I'm sure great herds are made of..

Bradley Myers said...

Thanks again for the lesson and fantastic photographs. After your last post with the young I made it a point to show my wife and tell her what I missed.

I did mark the dates when you will be going back and would like to try and make it up for a couple of days. I would love to photograph some Elk with you.

Enjoy your day without rain, Brad.

Sara G said...

WOW, these are excellent photo's Willard!
I can't pick a favorite because they are all so beautiful!!!

Anonymous said...

Superb images. The kind any photographer would be proud to have.

Willard, I moved my blog to my website at

I not sure how to post under that address on Blogger so I am still posting this from my inactive WordPress blog.

Tim Rucci said...

Stunning images, Willard! Simply amazing! And thanks for the interesting antler explanation.

HANNIBAL said...

I learn so much coming here! Thank you! They are quite magestic in photos, I can't imagine them in the field. Some day I hope to find out.
Fantastic photos of an amazing creature! Thanks for what you do for them and putting everything into words and photos/film for us!

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Willard: What a beauty.