Friday, October 5, 2007

"Where's Them Elk At" The Narrative Continues

As our narrative continues we will partially answer the question posed by Wom Tigley, “Where Them Elk At?” We will also address my thoughts on hunting in time but that time is not yet. This will become apparent as our story unfolds in future posts.

Winslow Hill rises from the bottom lands along Bennett's Branch of The Sinnemahoning Creek, with the village of Benezette situated on its' lower slopes beside the stream. The Game Commission viewing areas are located on Winslow Hill. At one time the hill was a farming community, but then it was strip mined for coal and much of it was not re-claimed.
Terrain Devastated By Strip Mining
Recently there has been a massive reclamation effort, both on public and private lands.This has impacted the areas in which elk were traditionally seen. No longer do they necessarily appear in the same areas year after year. There are now many more food sources available and the animals have their choice of where to feed. This year was very short on rainfall in late summer and early autumn. Food plots were planted at the public viewing areas, but did not grow well because of the lack of moisture. A newly re-claimed area did have a stand of fall grain that was evidently planted early enough that it received sufficient moisture to grow. This was a magnet for elk. I had photographed elk there in the summer, so when I found none were using the viewing areas, I hiked to the remote reclamation site and was soon videotaping and photographing a herd dominated by a large bull

Herd In Newly Reclaimed Meadow
This area was much like the top photo before restoration work was done

Bull With Harem

Over the next eleven days I developed a pattern of checking different areas in the mornings, but going to this spot on most evenings. There were always cows there and a bull or so. Over the period several different bulls were sighted. A down side to shooting video is that I couldn’t carry my 500mmf4 and tripod for the still camera, and I was taking my best shots with the camcorder, so many of the stills taken were not of the best situations. Most were taken hand held with a 300mmf4 image stabilization lens when I decided to take a break from the filming.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Where's The Elk

It is a straight shot from Bedford, Pennsylvania up Interstate 99 to Bald Eagle and then a short trip over the Allegheny Front to Phillipsburg. A few more miles, and one travels past Interstate 80 and then turns on a secondary road. From there the remainder of the trip passes through back country Pennsylvania-a world far removed from the strip malls and subdivisions that are common elsewhere. While there certainly are developments in the area, most buildings are either scattered rural residences or summer and weekend homes.
When I first visited the area in 1995 there were no signs identifying the elk range, but this has changed with Governor Rendell’s emphasis on tourism in the north woods.

I headed out for my annual excursion to Elk County at mid-day on Sunday September 16th and there was quite a bit of traffic headed south on the Quehanna Highway. This was the weekend of the “Elk Expo”, an event celebrating the elk and in particular where the drawing was held to determine who would receive hunting licenses for the elk season this fall, and for the early month long September season in 2008 which is held in high crop damage areas near St Mary’s. This is a lottery type event where prospective hunters must pay in advance and the fee is non-refundable. With the festivities over, most tourists were headed home.
Usually there is a large crowd at the viewing areas on weekend mornings and evenings, but I was surprised to find very little activity. The answer was soon evident. There were no elk to be seen. At first I thought this was a fluke but this turned out to be the way it was each and every day at the popular elk viewing areas.

The Gilbert Viewing Area, known as “The Gilbert”.
Usually an elk hot spot, it was only an empty meadow.

Bull Elk Bugling
According to The Pennylsvania Game Commission, an estimated 75,000 people visit the elk range each year in September and October, which coincides with the mating season known as the rut. This is the most exciting time to see elk as the bulls run about bugling and sometimes fighting. The elk have proved to be a year around attraction as well and there is now significant tourism at all times of years.
This year; however, the common refrain was, “Where’s The Elk”. Keep checking back to find the answer.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Shedding of The Velvet

Whitetail bucks begin growing antlers in March but they do not reach substantial size until late May or early June. Antlers are covered with a soft velvet coating, which contains a network of blood vessels to nourish the underlying bony structure.

By August, the antlers are fully grown and the velvet dries, cracks, and eventually comes off in strips. The animals usually hasten the process by aggressively rubbing trees and shrubs. In Pennsylvania many bucks lose the velvet in late August or early September.

The bucks above were photographed in Shenandoah National Park on August 28th. Usually the larger bucks lose the velvet first, but in this instance the opposite is true.

This small Pennsylvania buck which I am able to observe on a regular basis still had velvet on September 14th, but on the morning of the 16th it was mostly gone. As you can see it is quite a bloody affair when the velvet first comes off.