Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Slide Show-A Revealing Moment

Each year since 1995 I have traveled to Pennsylvania’s elk range, to record and photograph the action at this most exciting time of year. I retired at the end of June last year. As a result I was able to spend two weeks at the end of September pursuing the elk.

At the end of my first week there, I received an invitation to attend a slide show at Ronald J. "Buckweat” Saffer and Odie’s Swartz’s campsite.

Shortly after darkness fell on Saturday evening, groups of people drifted in with their camp chairs and formed a semi-circle around one side of Odie’s camper where a projection screen was erected. This was much like the old fashioned slide show, except that the pictures were not slides in a Kodak Carousel projector but rather digital files on a computer connected to a digital projector.

Sadly, I took no photographs of this gathering and of course have none of the photographs that were shown. I had seen some of the photographs before when Buckwheat gave me a private showing, but I was unprepared for the impact of this screening.

At the end of the screening, I felt a great sense of loss. To those who think things are better in Pennsylvania Elk Country today than at any time in the past, I respond that you didn’t see this presentation. If a young man set out today with a DSLR and a suitable battery of professional lenses, he would face a daunting task in assembling a body of work of this depth and quality. In addition, based on my recent experience, the opportunity to photograph some of the activity shown is not here today.

I will not argue with anyone who contends that there are still some large bulls and that some of them are in remote, wild country. There are likely as many elk and quite possibly as many or more bulls on Winslow Hill as in the past, but there is not the number of “quality” bulls that there were a few short years ago.

Some shots that stand out in my mind are those of elk herds crossing the river with several large bulls in velvet together in one shot. I seriously doubt that this can be duplicated today.

Is it really better that these opportunities are greatly diminished or gone to be replaced by an elk hunting industry that only a relative few will ever experience?

Raghorn Bull: Canon 10-D 300mmF4: 1/60 sec.-F4

This young bull was taken on 2nd day of 2007 season, Photo taken during rut in 2007.

Mature Bull: Canon 10-D 300mmF4: 1/90 sec. F4 ISO 200 . Not as large as they come in Pennsylvania, but this animal has great potential to become an outstanding bull if he survives!

If anyone is inclined to argue, I heard first hand the speculation among officers and the general public as to what quality of racks that were going to be taken in the first hunt because there had not been a hunt in 70 years, speculation as to what trophy fees a landowner would be able to charge to permit an outstanding animal to be taken on his land. I saw first hand the “kid waiting to get in the candy store” mentality.

Few expected that quality level of animal to be present in large numbers after a few years of hunting, yet at the same time we were promised that the herd would be managed to maintain a large number of mature, branch-antlered bulls. It all boils down to what we consider “large branch antlered bulls”.

I recently viewed some video footage from the 2007 hunt and the shooter comments how large Pennsylvania bulls are compared to western bulls, this while showing small to medium size bulls walking about in a food plot and several extremely small bulls in a wooded area. It seems we were willing to sacrifice the extraordinary, and settle for second or third class!


Gretchen said...

Beautiful photos.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Willard: Wonderfully posted with your thoughts and some great pictures. The Elk seem to be surviving to be a very nice herd.
Some times hunters don't realize what potential can be reached after hunting only deer all their lives.

Tom said...

It must be very heart-rendering to see how things have gone over the past years for the sake of the few you mentioned.
I still after all I've read here and the links you have provided in the past cannot see the sense in shooting the prime stock This is the same stock which surely provides the overall strength and future of the herds. Without these animals to pass their genes along the herds are doomed.
It must really sadden all of you over there that have the well being of the herds in your heart. Just reading your posts I find it very exsasperating.. so how you feel I don't know. :O(

Anonymous said...

I like your photographs. I think they are marvelous.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic photos and a another great moment about Nature and choices we can make!

Travis said...

WOW! That first shot is just amazing. Very good stuff going on here. Wonderful.

imac said...

I 2nd what Tom says, but I really love your photos Willard.

Marvin said...

Fantastic photos of magnificent animals.

There's not a lot to add to what Tom has already written. The expression "money talks" keeps popping into my mind.