Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Canon L2 In Action: Pennsylvania Elk Fighting

I had no idea of trying to post a video clip today, but the desire to experiment surfaced, and I thought what better way to demonstrate what the Canon L2 was capable of than to show a fight between two monster bulls, which occurred during the rut in 1997.

The video lasts slightly over 37 seconds. I have found that Firefox requires one to download a flash player plug-in, which is a relatively painless procedure. It worked well in Firefox, but wouldn't display in IE7 so I did the entire post over. Then I found I had to download an update to the flash player plug-in that Firefox installed.

It's working for me now, but I don't guarantee anything! It starts with a fade from black and ends in that too.

I have recorded two fights in twelve years of videotaping elk. They “spar” quite frequently, which can be likened to arm wrestling among humans, but actual combat can be intense and sometimes results in death to one or both of the animals. This is most of the first fight I witnessed, with a bit edited from the center. The other lasted about ten minutes.

One Bull has a unique deformed rack. He was named, “Crazy Legs” by Dr. Perk. I asked him, why? He replied, “Because he likes to travel”. Unfortunately he traveled too much and was killed much later by poachers some distance away from Winslow Hill.

As best as I can tell the other bull was killed in the first elk season in 2001.
If I remember correctly this was taken with the normal lens and 2x extender.

Friday, December 28, 2007

An Important Milestone in Videomaking: The Canon L2

The Canon L Series Camcorders

In this segment of our series we take a close look at the Canon L2 camcorder. It may be dry reading for many, but it does explain why this model became so important to me, not to mention that it and Billie Cromwell were largely responsible for making the PGC Elk Video something more than just another wildlife agency video release.

Canon is known to most of us as a manufacturer of great still cameras, but it has also been a leader in the Prosumer camcorder field. With the introduction of the L series camcorders in the 1990s they put a powerful tool into the hands of the wildlife cameraman.
I have not been able to find the exact dates of production for these models, but the following is true.

The introduction of the L1 marked the first time an interchangeable lens camcorder was available at a price that was affordable for the serious videographer. After a time the L1 was replaced with the L2, which was cosmetically identical, but had an expanded array of digital effects and featured embedded time code.

Billie Cromwell purchased his in March 1995 and shot the elk rut that year with it, using the combination of the normal lens and a 2x extender that was especially made for this camera lens combination. The street price for this camera was in the $2,500.oo range so I didn’t consider it when I bought the Panasonic, which was about $1,000.00 cheaper.The Panasonic compared favorably to the L2 with its’ normal lens although it wasn’t quite as powerful, but I was soon to learn that the Canon was well worth the price difference.

The Canon featured a normal lens with a range of 8mm-120mm. That doesn’t sound like much, but in comparison to a 35mm camera that was 43mm-648mm, which is quite impressive. With the 2x multiplier it was 86mm-1296mm equivalent and that is not to be sneezed at. The only drawback was that it was slightly soft with the extender but it worked well under good light conditions.

Canon L2 Showing lens mount and rear portion of normal lens

Things really got interesting when one attached a 35mm telephoto lens to it. This was done by means of an EOS adapter, which went between the camera body and the lens. The camera had a ½ “ sensor and one multiplied the stated focal length of a lens by a factor of 5.4 which made a 35-350 lens a 189mm-1,890mm equivalent.

Billie and I discussed this option quite a bit but the cost was intimidating. The EOS adapter was about $300.00 and a Canon L 35-250 was near $2,000. (This was still cheap compared to a professional rig, which could easily run $60,000 for a camera and lens. The Canon L1 and L2 did not match the performance of these cameras, but it did give one the same ability to shoot at long distance and the picture was good enough for broadcast and documentary purposes if one shot it right and transferred it to a professional format tape for distribution.)

We belonged to a video club at Sunrise Electronics in Chambersburg, Pa. One evening in the spring of 1996, a fellow club member, Kim Morris, showed up with a used L1, an EOS adapter and a 200-400mm Tamron Lens. He gave a demonstration of the equipment and showed footage that he had taken. I was stunned! This setup gave one the ability to record wildlife footage at extreme range!Billie did not attend the meeting so I called him and said something to the effect of,” Billie you just have to buy that adapter and a telephoto lens”. In time he did just that! I well recall the first footage he showed me. It was of deer feeding in the woods between 150-200 yards away and one could see the flies on them!

L2 with 300mmF4 IS and EOS adapter

Billie used this outfit to tape wildlife for the rest of the year and the footage I saw was enlightening. It was unbelievable what one could do with this camera.

After this, I was very dissatisfied with the Panasonic and tried to purchase an L2 early the following spring, but to my dismay found they were discontinued. I wrote to Canon to see if they planned to introduce an upgraded version, but they refused to comment other than thanking me for my interest in Canon Products.

This led me to purchase a used L2, and the experience turned into a nightmare as it quickly developed a problem with the viewfinder and then with the tape transport. In time these difficulties were ironed out and it turned in respectable service until I replaced it with a mini-dv Canon XL-1s in 2002.

In the meantime Billie and I were about to have a lot of exciting encounters with wildlife which we would not have otherwise had!
To be continued:

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Making of Pennsylvania Elk: Reclaiming The Alleghenies

Part 1

For a time we shall digress from the issues surrounding Dr. Perk and the hunt and lay a more thorough ground work by discussing another important project of the mid to late 1990s.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission was in the process of developing a video on the elk herd when I made my first trip to the elk range in late February of 1995. It is unclear at what stage the project was in at this point.

My goal was to produce wildlife documentaries at some level, even if only for my enjoyment, but I did hope to achieve some level of public distribution. With that in mind I purchased a Panasonic AG-455Mup S/VHS camcorder, two Panasonic AG-970P editing VCRs and an edit controller. This was the industry standard for entry-level professional equipment.
Panasonic AG-455MUP
Computers were just starting to break into the video editing field,but they were not yet a truly viable option, at least at the prosumer level. (Prosumer is a term used in the video industry which denotes an item that is more advanced and costly than that which the casual user possesses, but it is not so expensive that only large businesses can afford it). Wedding and event recordings are usually produced with this type of equipment, and it also used in independent documentary production.

If I remember correctly the PGC did acquire computerized editing equipment while the elk video was being completed, but it was not pressed into service in time for this project. Although based on the same technology their editing system was somewhat more advanced than what I was using.

One assembled the tape, using what natural sound that was desired as the scenes were assembled. They had the option of recording additional sound on a single track at a later date. When one started this process they had to read the narration and have any additional effects one wanted to add ready to play at the appropriate moment. It is an understatement to say that this was a difficult undertaking. The computer would shortly make this task much easier or at least much easier to plan and control.

Generation loss was the big enemy of quality with analog video. At a minimum one had to transfer the scenes they wished to utilize to a master tape, and then transfer the master to a VHS cassette for distribution, which meant that the final product was third generation and each generation resulted in quality loss . If one wanted to add the narration and music in stereo, another generation was used which resulted in additional loss. The end result was usually as good or somewhat better than the original recording from a consumer VHS camcorder.

When I returned from my September trip in 1995, I edited my first elk tape. It was quite primitive, but most were not used to seeing anything like it produced in a home studio.

My immediate law enforcement supervisor at the time was District Wildlife Conservation Officer, Mark Crowder. He was amazed at the video and took it along to a meeting at The Southcentral Regional Office in Huntingdon where the Regional Law Enforcement Supervisor, Ron Clouser, and the Superintendent of The Ross Leffler School of Conservation, Bill Hutson saw it and were impressed also. Mr. Clouser contacted me by telephone and indicated that while the PGC was in the process of making a lengthy video that it could be several years until it was completed. He and Mr. Hutson felt that a short video such as mine would be an excellent item to show to sportsmen’s clubs, civic organizations, in the meantime.

I submitted a copy with a signed release authorizing them to use the video for those purposes, but heard nothing more. Within the next year, the video production department of The PGC released a short video of twenty minutes or less to fulfill this need. I had to admit that it was superior to mine in every aspect.

No matter the quality of the work: however, there seems to be an ingrained attitude among some in the agency that, information and education people were hired to do this type of work and it was not appropriate for untrained maintenance workers and deputy conservation officers to develop and produce such programs for agency use.

There were a few notable exceptions, one being that all agency employees who were also photographers were invited to submit photographs for consideration for inclusion in the Game Commission calendar.

Another exception was that of my immediate Maintenance Supervisor, Billie Cromwell. Billie is nine years older than I, but we both began photographing wildlife about the same time frame, (early to mid-1970s) and continue to photograph together at times to this day.

Billie Cromwell with film SLR and 35-350 lens: 1999
He purchased what was a superb prosumer camcorder for the time, the Canon L2.This was an interchangeable lens Hi-8 camcorder,which we will discuss in detail in the near future.

Canon L2 Camcorder
Billie worked out an agreement with the agency videographer, Harold (Hal) Korber and shot a large amount of the footage which was used, especially of the part about the rut, but this was to end in a great deal of controversy not the least of which was that someone high in the ranks of upper management did not want his name ( Billie's) mentioned anywhere on the video. When it was released it was included in the credits at the very end, and he did get to attend a banquet or so where he received a degree of public recognition for his contribution.

To be continued:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Rush To An Elk Season

7x7 at Hicks Run Winter 1998: Minolta XE-7 400mm Vivitar

Rawland Cogan directed the development of a Management Plan for Elk in Pennsylvania that was approved in 1996. The plan also advocated the implementation of hunting as a means of population control. It was decided to explore the possibility of holding an elk hunt in the near future. At first the target was 1998, but it was decided that this was too short of a time frame to put the necessary mechanism in place.

Instead The Commission concentrated on a trap and transfer program designed to alleviate overpopulation in the central elk range, while at the same time expanding the elk herd into other areas.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation funded a study gauging “The Economic Impact of Pennsylvania’s Elk Herd”. Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, and Penn State, research interns conducted the interviews. This study also included a survey of public sentiment about a limited elk hunt away from the major viewing areas. (Strauss, Tzilkowski, Lord, - The School of Forest Resources The Pennsylvania State University -University Park, Pennsylvania 9/30/99)

In either 1997 or 1998 I encountered the interns when I returned to a PGC parking lot after a morning of photography. A large crowd of tourists was there and I was not one of those selected to participate in the survey. For some reason I did not videotape this and thus missed recording an important moment in the history of Pennsylvania’s elk herd.

The report is extremely detailed, but the results on hunt approval can be condensed to the following:

1. 53% of those surveyed approved of a possible hunt.
2. 62% of hunters approved
3. 39% of non- hunters approved
4. Of those surveyed who expressed approval, the most common membership affiliations were with The National Rifle Association and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

During this time frame PGC Commissioner George Miller toured the elk range. I learned of this from Dr. Perk. He was impressed with Mr. Miller, but this was before Miller allegedly made a remark to the effect that a hunt must be held soon or public sentiment would be so against it that it would be impossible in the future.

The PGC adopted the position that a hunt would soon be needed to control the expanding population, so an Elk Hunt Advisory Committee was formed in 1999 with Cogan as chairman. The committee included representatives from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, hunters, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; tourism and agricultural interests; the legislature and other stakeholders in the elk program.

Perk could see the world as he knew it coming to an end as these events unfolded and he was extremely unhappy as the rush toward the first modern day Pennsylvania elk hunt began. As it turned out he was not alone!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dr. Perk-The Story Continues: Part 3

According to the “Management Plan For Elk In Pennsylvania 2006-2016-Jon Marc DeBerti Wildlife Biologist” (page 14)

“In October 1995, the PGC (Commissioners) voted unanimously to prohibit the artificial feeding of elk under 58 Pa. Code S137.32. However, prosecution of this violation will remain difficult until the interpretation of this violation is accepted as intended by the judiciary. A new regulation closing loopholes will be in effect beginning in 2006. With the passage of this revised regulation, the PGC will begin to address artificial feeding situations on a case by case basis.”

“The PGC does not support artificial feeding of elk for the following reasons:
1) Feeding creates a public safety hazard for vehicles along
roadways, especially Route 555,
2) The feeding creates a public safety hazard because elk display
aggressive behavior in artificial feeding situations,
3) Diseases such as brainworm and chronic wasting disease (CWD),
along with parasites such as winter ticks are of paramount concern
when large concentrations of elk are fed for a prolonged period of
time in the same vicinity,
4) Elk may become dependent upon the artificial feeding sites to
survive the winter,
5) Elk also become acclimated to humans making them more
susceptible to poaching,
6) tourists travel to the elk range to view elk in their "natural"
7) Studies indicate that the habitats near feeding locations can be
degraded because of the high use by concentrations of elk and
deer (Michigan DNR 1999).”

Tourists feed and photograph spike bull at Grant 1998

Perk continued to feed the animals, staking his hopes on a sign, which he erected in his lawn that stated the feed was for deer only not elk.

I am unclear as to the chronology of some of these events, but the situation heated up with both parties making derogatory comments about the other.

On one occasion I traveled with my supervisor (maintenance), Billie Cromwell, to visit Mr. Cogan. This was strictly unofficial as we both were on vacation. Billie was involved in an unofficial capacity in filming the PGC Elk Video: Pennsylvania Elk Reclaiming The Alleghenies. (We will delve into this more in the near future).I recall little from the meeting except that Cogan definitely had a negative opinion of Perk. At the time I was inclined to agree on most points.

Perk was both attracted to the PGC and at the same time exhibited an attitude toward it. Notice the black hat in the first post about him. This is a story in itself, but the condensed version is that cap was an “unofficial” PGC hat, which many officers wore with the lawn enforcement uniform. This was against policy, but at the time the approved headgear was a Stetson and most did not like wearing it in the field. Someone designed this hat and it ended up being used a great deal. It had the state insignia and Pennsylvania Game Commission emblazoned on the front. If an officer made the mistake of wearing it around supervisory personnel, they were given a verbal or written reprimand. In time it was approved to wear this type of cap for most functions, albeit in a modified version which was not as attractive as the original. In short, Perk was not illegally wearing a uniform item. He was not above wearing this cap and a revolver when he interacted with the public and it is likely that he hoped they perceived him as an officer.

I usually went into the backcountry to videotape. When I ran into Perk (back in civilization),he would always ask if I had seen any bears, mountain lions, black panthers, etc. He also told me it was too dangerous for him back there. I don’t know if he thought I was a greenhorn and was trying to scare me or if he meant it, but depending on my mood the comments either amused me or irritated me.

Another classic case was when a bull was gored in a fight with another, and the PGC had to put it down, as intestines were dangling from the animal. Perk arrived on the scene. He agreed with what had to be done, but then came off with a fantastic statement to the effect that, “I wonder what his wife and children will do now that he’s gone”, this in reference to the dead bull!

As a result I was somewhat ambivalent about him. He never invited me back to the house to shoot, but again neither was he hostile to me, I definitely sympathized with his desire to see and record elk.

I was told that eventually the PGC placed his residence under surveillance and caught him feeding the elk. The problem was that they actually saw him hand feeding one, so the deer feeding excuse did not work. It is my understanding that he was not charged with the offense, but rather given a warning.

Elk Feeding: Game Lands Near Perk's House Winter 1998

A major part of the controversy arose when ill fortune befell “Jake”. I have no personal knowledge of the incident, but I do know something about the type of procedure that followed.

According to the story that circulated, “Jake” was creating problems, either by taking up residence in a town or near someone’s house. In any case, a complaint was registered. When this happens someone is assigned to deal with the incident and it must be resolved. This usually involves tranquilizing the animal and moving him far away. “Jake” had been moved before, but always found his way back. This time as the story goes, Cogan tranquilized him, transported him to the remote Quehanna Wild Area, and released him. The upshot was that he died! Cogan reportedly said that he was found a mile from where he released him, but Perk and his friends said that you could track the trailer tracks to “Jake’s” body. They lost no opportunity to tell anyone that would listen that “Rawley” killed Jake”. It was implied that it was on purpose!

"Jake in 1995"

To be fair, tranquilizing and relocating a large animal such as an elk or bear is not an exact science and much can go wrong even when one has the best of intentions.

By this time feelings were running high in both camps and neither side seemed likely to back down.

To be continued:

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dr. Perk-The Story Continues

I knew about Perk before I first went to Elk County, and had seen one of his videos, but I was not certain where he lived. On the first evening of my late September trip that year, I drove down Dewey Road intending to park and walk through nearby meadows in the hopes of finding elk.

There was a house in a hollow to my left. To my amazement I saw a woman sitting at a picnic table leaning slightly backward with an apple in her hand. A spike bull was standing between her legs and eating the apple. I noticed a large bull and some cows lying in the lawn, but it wasn’t until I talked to an elk watcher of many years, that I realized that this was Perk’s house. The spike was to become famous among elk watching circles as “Nicholas”.

I walked into the backcountry each evening with my camcorder while my wife sat in the car along Dewey Road, which was where, many parked and looked for elk. This was also Dr. Perk’s favorite spot to approach tourists. They struck up a conversation, which resulted in him inviting her to his house to videotape elk. She was using a Sharp VHS camcorder, which I had retired when I bought a Panasonic AG-455MUP S/VHS camcorder. (The Panasonic was my first semi-professional video camera.)

When I returned from my excursion at dark she was waiting for me in a high state of excitement. The highlights of the evening included her videotaping “Nicholas” when he took an apple from a window sill (the window was open and Perk fed him by placing apples there), and the great monster bull “Jake”. “Jake” is legendary among old time elk watchers. He was a tremendous bull. It turned out that Perk had invited us to visit him that night.

" Jake"

" Eating Apples"

"At Rest"

This was truly a night to remember. Other elk were there, but “Jake” was the main attraction. He was tired from the rutting activity and spent a lot of time sleeping near the front door to the house. Perk and Tom Murphy threw apples to him at times and he fed on them. One of the major topics of conversation was about a proposed ban on the feeding of elk.

Perk named every elk that he could identify and this was a tremendous irritant to some. Rawland Cogan, the elk biologist allegedly expressed the sentiment that naming a magnificent big game animal was demeaning to it. I personally heard this sentiment voiced by a prominent PGC official although not in those exact words. His comments on the situation at Perk’s were laced with ridicule and disgust.

To each his own, but I cannot see how naming is as demeaning as fitting the animals with bright yellow collars with large black numbers. When conversing with other tourists and photographers one can go through a convoluted description of an animal they have seen, but if it has a name one knows instantly which animal is being discussed. If they have a numbered collar it is really simple, but then the animal is not photogenic, nor is it pleasing to look at.

It was of course impossible to outlaw the naming of elk, but feeding could be addressed and it was in October of 1995 when the PGC Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a ban on the activity. (58 Pa. Code S137.32.)

Be sure to come back for the next installment when the question of “why was feeding outlawed ?” is addressed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dr. Perk-A Controversial Figure

I first went to Winslow Hill to videotape the elk in 1995

At that time The Gilbert Viewing Area did not exist. The land was still owned by Kenny Gilbert, the farmer for which the viewing area was named. The fields were much as they are today except that no crops were planted to attract the wildlife. At times portions of the meadows were mowed. This area was the hotspot for observing large numbers of elk, several of which were monster bulls.
There was no elk hunt, and there was little talk of one.

A white frame house was located on a small parcel of land in a hollow. This was to the left of what is now known as Dewey Road-the public road, which passes through The Gilbert Viewing Area.

Dr. Perk's House: The cabin to the right was not there in 1995

This was home to Claude M. Nye. Mr. Nye was deeply interested in the elk herd and loved to videotape the animal. He initially used a VHS camcorder. Each year he made a tape of what he saw and offered it to the public for a modest price.

He portrayed himself as an elk expert and called himself "Dr. Perk". This aroused the ire of Rawland ‘Rawley’ Cogan who was the PGC elk biologist at the time and the two became enemies. Perk’s expertise was not biological in nature, nor did he portray it to be. He attracted elk to his property by feeding them and soon had a herd of “habituated” elk that visited each day. By his daily observations he was eventually able to differentiate between individual animals and named most of them. He would tell someone what day, hour, and minute an animal was born.

At the time I thought that this could not be. It was possible to distinguish bulls because of the different antler configurations, but there was no way he could distinguish individual cows.

In time I found that I was wrong. A day came that I could distinguish individual antlerless deer under certain circumstances and I had to eat my words! Now you are saying that I am nuts, but stop and think! Can a farmer differentiate between individual animals in his herd? Can you tell your pet cat or dog from every other dog of the same type out there? One only has to spend a large amount of time around the same group of animals and observe them closely. Soon one notices the differences rather than just the similarities. I do think that he was guessing about the hour and minute of birth in many cases.

1995; Dr. Perk explaining how antlers are shed

Dr. Perk: Second from left in blue jacket

During mating season or “The Rut” as it is normally called, the herd of “habituated” cows that frequented his lawn, brought monster bulls to the area in large numbers.

Dr. Perk was on a collision course with The Pennsylvania Game Commission!

Note: Above photos except Mr. Nye’s residence are frame captures from an S/VHS camcorder as this is from a period when I did not take still photos.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Elk Management in PA. Where We Should Go From Here!

What Do We Want?
Elk Along Winslow Hill Road

Elk Watchers

"The Gilbert" on a saturday morning during the rut

"The Gilbert" without elk or visitors

Edward G. Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania has targeted the north central portion of the state for increased nature tourism with elk viewing being the primary attraction to get people there and then get them interested in other outdoor related activities as well.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission hereinafter referred to as the PGC has announced support for this plan. They have publicly stated that they want to divert hunting attention away from the public lands and from large branch antlered bulls, and focus hunting pressure in areas where conflicts occur with humans.

In fact they have targeted the large bulls and they have heavily targeted the public lands near the viewing areas where there is no conflict with agricultural interests or a significant number of homeowners.

If they address what they perceive as “the habituated elk” problem then they must eliminate the herds that visit the viewing areas on Winslow Hill, and then elk tourism, as we know it is gone. All this while The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is planning an elk-viewing portal at their property on Winslow Hill.

That is the problem as I see it. Some facts and possible solutions are as follows. This is grossly oversimplified, but it is a starting point.

As matters stand:

The PGC does not profit from elk tourism.

A hunt is currently held, and it is likely that one must be held to prevent the animals from spreading into more heavily settled areas of the state.

The PGC needs to receive income from the tourist industry. It would take little to surpass what they currently derive from hunting ($ 178.615.00 in 2007). One idea is that one would need a basic hunting license to be present on PGC lands or in lieu thereof a use stamp or permit. This should not cost more than a basic hunting license and persons under a certain age should be exempt. It would be beneficial to study the National Park Service Fee structures and entrance policies for further ideas. (Shenandoah National Park charges $30.00 for a one-year pass, which is good for anyone in the vehicle with the pass holder.) This would not work well in the Pennsylvania, but it is a point to start from.

The PGC currently receives funds or land from sources other than license sales and it is likely to receive funding from other sources in the near future or else be absorbed into another agency such as DCNR. Other sources at present are:
1.Growing Greener
2.Lands donated whole or partially by other organizations.

Where we need to go from here!

A herd managed primarily for tourism with emphasis on maintaining a satisfactory number of mature bulls.

Present viewing areas maintained much as they are with the public not permitted to walk into the meadows and spook the elk.

The back country maintained much like it is now, with access not being denied at any period, but vehicles not permitted so that those that want to hike to a remote area could observe and photograph elk in a wild situation. This should keep disturbance suitably low.

Forget the nonsense that the habituated elk must be killed. It all depends on what “habituated” means. The elk need not be so wild that someone who hikes into the backcountry gets only a glimpse of an elk running away. The situation as it exists is about right for viewing at present, but it is too tolerant for ethical hunting. Hazing or harassing the elk to make them wilder is not the remedy. There is no reason that elk in a tourist zone should be frightened of humans.

A greatly increased NO HUNT ZONE-the boundaries to be determined by careful study but it should include at least 80% of Elk Hunt Zone 2, and a portion of ELK HUNT ZONE 8. This should be the minimum and more would be preferred!

There will always be a certain amount of conflict at the borders of a no hunt zone and a hunt zone, with animals being too acclimated, but it would be lessened if the borders were well away from the population centers and the primary tourist areas.
A limited population control hunt held well away from Winslow Hill would likely control elk numbers to the extent that little if any population management would be needed in The No Hunt Zone.

If a trophy hunt must be held, then areas such as The Quehanna Wild Area are where it should be held, not in the backyard of the viewing areas.

If population control is needed in the No Hunt Zone:
PGC employees could perform it in a carefully prescribed manner. This would be the most effective method, as animals could be selectively culled to remove certain problem animals, but this approach would likely not be acceptable to many and it would be the most expensive to implement.

If this was the case, “hunters” could be used, but this should not be called a fair chase hunt. In neither case should large bulls should be taken. It should not be portrayed as challenging and it should not be held annually,but ONLY AS NEEDED! and Needed should not be construed as an opportunity to slip in a back door regular hunting season. Use of hunters would make it much more difficult to cull animals with problems and would be more likely to result in any elk being killed regardless of physical condition.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It 's A Disease

I noticed recently that I am getting several hits from people searching google images. I must admit that I was not aware of the Google Image search feature before . I typed in Pennsylvania Elk" and came across a link to King's Outdoor World, the particular page features two still pictures and a video clip titled "What Does This Elk Score?" The following is a quote from that page:

"This bull is a herd bull that is a result of transplanted elk to the east to help build up the herd years ago and therefore has a radio collar on its neck as wildlife authorities keep a close eye on the herd. Don’t let that make you think that it is a high fenced bull. This is a fair chase bull that a lucky hunter could very well get this year through their lottery draw."

Of course it is not a high fenced bull, but it is completely tame and trusting to humans. This is bull number 36 or "Fred" as most call him. He has survived to date by remaining in the No Hunting Zone. This animal's tolerance range of humans can be measured in mere feet. "Fair Chase", I think not!

It totally gripes me, why people cannot enjoy seeing an impressive animal such as this without thinking about killing him. The video clip starts with a shot of another bull and then there is Fred chasing a cow. You can hear someone say," I think I could even hit him from here" Some one else says ,"Oh I could probably get one in him"

Bull Number 36-"Fred"
Above is a photograph of "Fred" in 2005 when he had a more perfect and perhaps larger rack. It would simply be murder to shoot this bull. I featured him in a previous post where he was shown with the rack that he had this fall and with his collar showing. In the picture above it was removed in photoshop.

It would seem to me that even dedicated hunters would want to preserve at least a few of these monsters so that they could drive to the viewing areas and see what a true large bull looks like, but evidently some are not that far sighted. All they can think about is pulling the trigger or releasing the arrow.

I have been assured by a person who is on good terms with many of the elk guides that many of them have no interest in guiding a hunter to "Fred". In her words, "The person who kills Fred will be totally ostracized." I hope that is the case.

Since 1997 I have had him in numerous circumstances where I could have "put one in him", but I never had the slightest desire or thought of it. Instead I enjoyed observing this magnificent animal and obtaining photographs of him.

My experience is not unique. Most serious visitors to Winslow Hill have gotten close enough to him to"put one in him" on numerous occasions! Many specifically look for him when they travel to the elk range and are concerned about his welfare.

I think many would enjoy the outdoors and wildlife more if they could drop this total absorption with killing. They carry the obsession to the stage that it becomes a disease!

I must repeat that I have no quarrel with the person who hunts legally and ethically!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cow 1D

This is cow 1D. According to the check station records she was taken in Benezette Township, on November 5th, the first day of elk season at 7:10 a.m.

Here she is pictured early on the morning of August 13, 2007. She was among the buildings at the Game Commission’s Dent’s Run Viewing Area on Winslow Hill. The viewing area is in the no hunt zone. Elk move about quite a bit so it would not be unusual for her to be in an area open to hunting when season opened.

No other persons were there and she was not alarmed at my presence.

Above Shots: Sony HVR-A1u Camcorder, card camera mode
Canon 10-D 70-200mm L f 2.8

I also photographed her once during the rut, but only took one shot. This time she was watching two bulls that were out of my sight. I mostly had my attention on them also and soon had the opportunity to record and photograph a magnificent 6x6 bull that came out of the hollow.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Salty Speaks Out!

Mature Cow Elk: Canon 10D, 70-200mmL, F2.8

In case you haven’t been reading the comments, here is Salty’s statement on the situation. This is his response to “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

These elk are “wild” only if one defines wild as being unfenced and free to go where they please. To define them as “tame” would be a misnomer also as no one can control them as one does domestic livestock. If herd control is the objective, then I could support the scientific controlled hunt but as the hunt targets a disproportionate number of the large bulls it simply appears to be nothing more than a “Canned” Trophy hunt. I’m somewhat concerned that the Pennsylvania Game Commissions true objective is to destroy the tourist value of this herd by targeting the large bulls. Not only do they kill them in the hunting season but they also collar seemingly all that they get their hands on. These large yellow collars certainly detract from the viewing value of the animal and from its photographic appeal. The message (propaganda) repeated time and time again in the press proclaiming the “challenge” of hunting these “wild” beasts is simply a case of being “on message” and hitting the “talking points” to sell this “hunt” to the unknowing general public. Just as calling people Japs, Krauts, Viet Cong, Gooks, etc in our recent history was used to make killing people palatable; “Wild” and “Challenging” is used in reference to the elk to sell this “hunt”.

" The Salty Dawg" Dec.1, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Well actually nothing is wrong with the pictures except that they are stills made by playing back the tape from a Canon XL-H1 high definition video camera and pressing the photo button at the appropriate places, which captures the stills to a memory card. I am amazed that it works this well. I did not take this series with a still camera, as the purpose is to include the video segment, which this is taken from, in the elk video, which I am making.

I am not speaking about picture quality although it is lacking compared to a DSLR. The problem with the series is the “Inconvenient Truth” which it reveals.

Next day he was a legal target!

Totally at ease with humans!
I leave him undisturbed

It is stated time and time again that Pennsylvania Elk are “as wild as any”, and that elk in the backcountry are “not your stereotypical Benezette tame elk”, yet here is a “wild” elk, deep in the heart of Elk Hunt Zone 2. This is the elk which I posted still pictures of at the beginning of the series on the hunt. In less than 24 hours it would be legal for a properly licensed hunter to kill him.

I would estimate the animal to be 90 to 150 feet from me. This shot was taken with the camera on a tripod with the lens set at moderate wide angle and then I walked into the picture and walked back out. I could have walked closer had I chosen to do so. The only precaution taken was that I gave the animal time to adjust to my presence from a distance and then made no sudden or threatening moves while in his presence.

Are all elk in the backcountry this tame? No, but then neither are most as wild as portrayed! Had he been taken in the following season, and perhaps he was, I am certain that the hunt would be portrayed as difficult and challenging.

Stay tuned for future installments as we pursue this further.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Check Station Update: Further Information

Please note that the information on the bull taken by Dennis Henry has been updated to include information on the guides who participated. This is in the first post on the check station.

Dennis Henry, Tim Harvey, Jon Deberti, Carol Mulvihill, Rick Mackhelm

Inside the check station, elk biologist, Jon Deberti interviewed the successful hunters and collected important data, while outdoor writer and photographer Carol Mulvihill gathered information and maintained a tally sheet, which she posted for public viewing. Mr. Mackhelm is Information and Education Supervisor for the Northcentral Region of The Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Composite Photo of Harvest Tally Sheet
After taking these photographs I left for home and so have no more first hand knowledge of the 2007 hunt.
Hopefully we will get to some analysis of these events in the very near future.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A MIssed Opportunity

Deemom recently had a bobcat picture on her blog. This jogged my memory and I decided to post this picture, which was taken, near the Hick’s Run Elk Viewing Area in Elk County, in late September of I believe 1999. At the time I was shooting film, the camera was a Canon Rebel X and the lens a Sigma 170-500mm.

At the time I shot Kodak print film and carried one camera with ISO 200 film for good lighting conditions and one with ISO 800 for low light shots. I turned the film in to a local drug store for processing, but they sent it to the Kodak Lab in Rockville, Md. so it should have been processed correctly.

In most cases the ISO 200 film was great, but the 800 was a different story. I would no sooner than decide that I would never shoot another roll of it, than the roll that I had just shot would come back and the results would be very good, so I would shoot another which would range anywhere from barely usable to being a total disaster. It usually was not a matter of the negative not being printed correctly, but the film itself was not developed right and was grain and muddy in appearance.

I was walking through the woods toward an area that a large bull elk frequented when I saw two young bobcats running toward me but angled so that they would go past less than 20 yards away. In this case everything was loaded against me. I only had two or three frames remaining on the roll, the light was poor, and the range was very close. To top things off this was one of the times that the film was ruined in processing. I emptied the camera at one of the cats and then slammed my camcorder on the tripod and tried for a video sequence, but only got a fleeting shot of one of the animals as he ran out of sight.

I like little about the picture except that it remains the only still photograph that I have taken of a bobcat that plainly shows what the cat looks like.

How I would love to have the same opportunity again with a DSLR and 70-200mm lens!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Male Cardinal On A Frosty Morning

Since most of the hunting community is away in deer camp, I decided to post a few miscellaneous wildlife and bird shots for the next few days, before pursuing the series on the elk further.

Cardinals are one of my favorite birds and they are visiting my feeding station on a regular basis and in increasing numbers. "Salty" has been shooting some at the same spot and is getting more material than I am. If you haven't done so already, be sure to check his site out. I know he has a superb shot of a nuthatch which he will likely post in the near future if he hasn't already.

Canon 40D 500mmF4/cropped severely-ISO 500

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pennsylvania Elk Hunt: The Check Station Part II

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Display
John "Lamie" Wehler in foreground

I was talking to noted elk enthusiast John “Lammy” Wheeler when another successful party arrived.

The guide was Scott Rhodes from Alexandria, Pennsylvania. He appears to be affiliated with Lone Pine Outfitters. He was the driver of the truck, which was parked in the Game Commission parking lot on Tuesday. He was guiding Mike Stone from New York State.

According to Rhodes, they hunted hard all day and about 4:00 p.m. came on two bulls and some cows in the edge of the woods from a food plot. It seemed likely if they waited that the elk would go in the plot, but they didn’t take that chance. As I understand it they had to shift position to get a shot at the larger bull. The stalk was successful and they killed a 6x6. I first I thought this was likely the bull that I recorded at The Gilbert" on Tuesday morning, as he left the meadow headed in the direction of the reclaimed area, but when I analyzed the video it turned out that the bull in the viewing area was a 7x6 . (see previous posting)

The hunt was filmed by Jereme Thaxton and will be aired on Elk Country Journal, a program produced by The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation .

Guide and Cameraman

6x6 Bull

I am reasonably certain as to where they killed the bull as the guide said it was in the woods near the newly reclaimed strip mine and that there was a pond just inside the woods. This was the same area that I watched on Sunday and Monday evenings, but it was out of sight of the place I was positioned. This is a vast opening with a large clump of trees in the center. I would have had to been in a different spot to have observed Tuesday evenings happenings. Had I been in the area, it is still doubtful that I would have seen the kill take place.

Area where bull was taken

This is a photograph of the area where the elk was taken. This shot was taken in August and is a panoramic view made by joining two pictures, with no attempt at blending them together. It did not seem possible to do it well as there is a bit of terrain in the center that is not included in either shot. It does give a reasonable idea of the area we are discussing. The pond is a short distance inside the woods and near or slightly to the left of the sharp point in the center of the picture.

Pond Inside Woods-Nov. 4, 2007

If one visits the Lone Pine Outfitters website they can see the food plot in the background in the shot where Rhodes, and Stone pose with the dead bull.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Elk Hunt: Wednesday-The Check Station

Wednesday came in cold and windy with intermittent snow showers. This was my last morning to be in the elk range during the hunting season. The Gilbert Viewing area was devoid of elk.

"The Gilbert"
Winter Had Arrived!

I had mixed feelings about visiting the elk check station located at DCNR headquarters for the Moshannnon State Forest, which is located along the Quehanna Highway, but if one wishes to understand the hunt it seemed essential to stop by!

DCNR Headquarters

I took photos of the situation and was ready to leave when an officer informed me that it would be in my best interest to linger awhile as a possible world record bull was coming in soon. A word to the wise is sufficient and in time a large group of people arrived with what proved to be the largest bull taken during the season.

Guides: Brady Schrecongost, Jack Manack,and Tim Harvey

Tim Harvey, Dennis Henry, Brady Schrecongost

The hunter was Dennis Henry of Greensburg, Pa. The guides were Brady Schrecongost and Tim Harvey who were associated with Elk County Outfitters. The situation as I understand it is that guides are required to be insured. The insurance is quite expensive so several guiding services have associated with Elk County Outfitters for insurance purposes, although they actually conduct their own independent guiding service in the field. Jack Manack of Mt. Pleasant Pennsylvania is the owner of Elk County Outfitters.

At first I did not plan on posting any photographs of the elk that were killed, but I later decided to do so. Unpleasant as it will be to many, it is the reality of the situation! One thing was certain there was no regret among the members of the hunting party and most at the check station.

We will show more scenes from the check station in a future post, and eventually analyze the situation as I see it!

I would much prefer to post beautiful photographs of wildlife going about their daily activity, but this is an issue, which I have studied and reflected on since the first hunt in 2001. I do have deeply held convictions on the issue, which I would like to share when the proper foundation has been laid.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Break From Elk Season! Female Cardinal and A Wedding

It's time to take a break from the elk season reporting and enjoy a picture of a female cardinal. I have been spending large amounts of time afield trying to photograph the whitetail deer rut, but have not been seeing as many deer as usual. I erected a bird feeding station in a rockbreak near my favorite photography stand. I only see a few species such as nuthatches, different sub-species of sparrows, and cardinals.

Canon 40D-500mmF4 1.4X extender
I have to travel Elk County to videotape a wedding. The happy couple are both lovers of the outdoors and they are going to have the ceremony outdoors if the weather permits, but light snow is in the forecast. This should be a unique experience. After I return I will bring the Elk Hunt Chronicles to a close.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday: The Second Day -Elk Hunt 2007

I failed to mention that it turned colder Monday with increasing clouds. Rain showers were in the forecast. As it grew late the clouds thickened. Sometime after the hunters went into the area where the 6x6 stayed, there were a few drops of rain. Shortly before darkness fell, I was astonished to hear the boom of thunder. It was about one mile to the vehicle so I left, walking as quickly as possible, but it was soon plain that I was not going to win the race. It began raining heavy enough to damage the cameras so I covered the camcorder and tripod head with a large trash bag and placed the DSLR safely in my shoulder case. Next there were occasional blinding flashes of lighting. This was weird weather for November. I did make it back to the vehicle without incident, but then it began to rain heavily and continued most of the night.

Tuesday came in with light showers and a strong wind from the northwest, which made it brutally cold. I originally intended to spend the day in the backcountry, but re-thought my strategy. What was I going to prove anyway? I likely wouldn’t see anything considering the weather conditions. It seemed likely that I could get a better handle on the hunt by driving the road and checking strategic areas.

To my surprise a herd of elk was at The Gilbert Viewing Area and one of them was a 7x6 bull. I videotaped him at long range with the XL-H1 and 300mmF4 lens. I forgot to take a shot with the card camera function so the picture, which you see, was captured to the memory card by playing the tape back in the camera. This meadow is in the No Hunting Zone.

7x6 Bull Gilbert Viewing Area

I found a pickup parked in a nearby Pa. Game Commission parking lot, so it was obvious that someone was hunting the reclaimed strip mine area. The truck was still there at dark.

Elk Guide's Truck

I drove several back roads and quickly found that there was little hunting pressure, but closer consideration made me realize that with 40 hunters out there and some of them assigned to other areas, that one was unlikely to see a large number of hunters in any given area. It may have looked like nothing was happening, but this was far from the truth. In fact the process was quite deadly.

Most hunters hire a guide although the law does not require their services. It is a problem if one kills an elk and has no method to retrieve it from far back in the woods. A guide solves this problem quite nicely. Also, if one is not familiar with the area it may be difficult to locate the elk. The better guides are deadly at finding large bulls, locating where they feed and sleep, and putting them in the sights of the hunter’s rifle, and that is exactly what happened in many cases.

Hunters must report their kill to Game Commission authorities and must mark the site of the kill and a path leading to it. Each kill sight is numbered. I do not know for sure, but I assume it is the elk license number. I found a kill site marking along Dent’s Run Road where the Elk Trail leads to a complex of meadows known as Bear Hollow.
A Game Commission vehicle was there and the officers were most likely checking the site when I took these photographs. The check includes making sure that the animal was not killed over bait, which is illegal in Pennsylvania, and biological samples are obtained from the entrails, which are usually left at the kill site.

Note tag on post-a trail of orange ribbons leads from there to kill site

PGC Vehicle

It didn’t seem that a lot happened in the past two days, but I was to find out on Wednesday that this was not the case. Stay tuned for more reporting.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Elk Hunt: Monday P.M.

Surveillance of the reclaimed strip mine-note camouflaged 300mmF4 at right corner attached to XL-H1 camcorder

A hunter's support team wating for him

Guide leading hunter and support team

In mid-afternoon two groups of hunters arrived in rapid succession and one group went directly into the area where the 6x6 was staying. There was no shooting which could mean that he had moved to another area, the hunter had a cow permit, or he was holding out for a larger bull.

You will notice that there is more than one person in these parties. Many, if not most hunters hire a guide, and they are also permitted by law to take as many people as they desire with them to observe the hunt and assist with handling an animal after it is taken. These people are required to wear blaze orange, but they are not required to have a hunting license and they may not carry a firearm or herd or drive elk to the hunter. Only the shooter must have a valid hunting license and elk permit.

Other points to consider are: 1. If one disturbs animals before the hunt to make them more wary, they can be arrested for harassing or disturbing wildlife. 2. If they purposefully frighten the animal during the hunt to prevent its’ taking, they can be charged with interfering with a lawful hunt.