Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Spring Morning On Winslow Hill-Elk In Velvet

Maple Leaves: Canon 40-D- 500mmF4 1/60 sec.- f 11 ISO 200

Early May and Pennsylvania’s Northwoods is bursting with life, as the tender new leaves appear. At this time the two major events in the life cycle of the elk are the growth of the new antlers and the shedding of the winter coat. Last years rack is ordinarily shed in a period ranging from early March to late April, with the larger bulls losing the antlers first. It is common to see them with substantial new growth while many of the younger bulls have not yet shed.

I consider this to be the best photograph of a bull from my recent early May excursion to Winslow Hill as I found him in a woodland setting and he was illuminated by beautiful, early morning sunshine. This animal has the potential to grow an exceptional rack!

The thin, reddish hair of the summer coat replaces the winter coat. This process happens over a long period of time and the elk is disheveled or ragged looking until shedding is complete.

4x5 Bull Elk: Canon 40D-500mmF4 1/350 sec.-f 5.6 ISO 200

Velvet Covered Antler: Canon 40D-500mmF4 1/180 sec.-f 4 ISO 400
The antlers are covered with a network of tissue and blood vessels that is soft and fuzzy to the touch and reminds one of velvet cloth; hence the descriptive name “velvet”. This supplies nourishment to the growing antlers. This is the difference between horns and antlers. Horns receive nourishment from the core, while antlers receive it from the covering. An antlered animal in this stage of development is known as “being in velvet”. Elk shed the velvet in early to mid-August, after antler growth is complete.

Visit Misty Dawn for more Camera Critters photographs!

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!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ronald J. "Buckwheat" Saffer: A True Crafstman

There is an old saying, “birds of a feather-flock together” and that is the case in Pennsylvania Elk photography, where the photographers who shoot Canon Digital SLR cameras with the big L series telephotos soon seek each other out and spend hours discussing the merits of different lenses and cameras. Of course I am sure there are many who shoot Canon pro equipment that are there for a day or so, or shoot other areas other than Winslow Hill, or they may be primarily elk hunting oriented. Most if not all members of the group featured today are not supportive of an elk hunt anywhere in the Winslow Hill area.

The undisputed leader of this group is Ronald J. Saffer, better known as Buckwheat.He was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident nearly twenty years ago and almost lost his life. He has little to no use of his left arm, which he wears in a sling and he is in severe pain at times from the effects of the injury.

This was a life-changing situation and Buckwheat took up wildlife photography after recovering from the accident. My earliest memories of him are from stories that Billie Cromwell told about his excursions to Elk County from 1988s through the mid-1990s. These stories commonly involved how Billie was photographing elk, often in a remote area, when Buckwheat would suddenly materialize beside him, and once the photography was over they would discuss cameras and lenses.

I came to know him personally in 1995. I was primarily into video while he was a dedicated still photographer so we did not talk as frequently as now, but both realized that each was seriously interested in his chosen field and often compared notes. At that time his primary tools were a Canon 300mmF2.8 and two Canon A2 film SLR cameras. This was my first exposure to a Canon L “prime” lens and I was suitably impressed by it. The camera and lens were affixed to a Gitzo tripod with a Bogen head. He practiced until he could use the rig fluently. I feel confident in saying that he can deploy a tripod mounted SLR more quickly and effectively than I can with the full use of both arms!

I bought my first digital SLR, a Canon 10-D in October of 2003, and shot the Elk rut the following year with it and a 100-400mm Canon L Zoom. That fall I decided to pursue serious still photography more intensively and in December purchased the Canon 500mmF4 lens, and the 70-200mmF2.8 the following summer. That autumn Buckwheat and I discovered that we had quite a bit to discuss now as he was shooting digital also and I became a regular member of Winslow Hill’s unofficial Canon L lens brigade.

Buckwheat and his 300mmF2.8: Photo Courtesy of "Salty" of Country Captures

Buckwheat is a meticulous craftsman who is highly critical of his own work and is constantly striving for perfection. He is a widely published photographer and among other successes, has been frequently featured in “Bugle” the official publication of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation as well as providing the cover photograph for the PGC Elk Video.

Odie Swartz, Buckwheat, Randy Quinn

Odie is an excellent photographer and Buckwheat's close side-kick. Randy is an up an coming young photographer who pursues his work with extreme seriousness. To see some of his work visit his website.

Pa Wildlife Photographer with XL-H1 Camcorder: 70-200mmF2.8, Odie Swartz looking on: Photo Courtesy of "Salty" of Country Captures

One Of The Animals That Keeps Us Returning Year After Year!

Not pictured, but not forgotten are: Billie Cromwell PGC Retired, John Eastlake DCNR Retired, and of course "Salty" of Country Captures, PGC DWCO Retired.

If I have neglected to mention anyone else, I do apologize for the oversight.

Also I am not inferring any position that anyone may have about the hunt, other than Billie, Salty, Buckwheat and I. We are glad to socialize with anyone of opposing viewpoints as long as the discourse is courteous and professional in nature.