Saturday, January 10, 2009

Camera Critters: Whitetail Deer-The Antlers Are Shed

Whitetail bucks shed their antlers each year after the rut. The buck featured in Wednesday's post still had both antlers as of Thursday morning. I was unable to check on the deer that evening, but when I arrived on Friday morning, I found that he had shed the largest antler.

It seems that the smaller bucks in this area usually shed during Christmas week or somewhat later, with the largest often being among the last to shed. I have seen bucks with antlers in early to mid-February and have heard of them still having antlers in early April, but it seems that most have lost them by mid-February.

I arrived shortly before dawn this morning and is it began to break day, the buck arrived and I could plainly see that he still had one antler. Within ten minutes it became light enough that I decided to set the cameras up and as I was doing so, I was astonished to notice that he now had no antlers at all.

An even closer inspection revealed the raw pedicel where the antler is attached to the skull. Had I been paying closer attention it is possible that I could have seen the antler fall off.

Stay tuned for the next post when we search for the shed antler.

For more Camera Critters photographs, click Here!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Small Bucks Make Good Photographic Subjects Too!

While hunting magazines thrive on publishing photographs of enormous whitetail bucks, these animals are not what most encounter in the outdoors. It is true that large bucks are found in the wild, but they are extremely difficult to photograph. It is more productive to photograph animals in the national parks where they are more easily seen, or in deer enclosures where the animals are usually given the proper diet to produce large body and rack mass quickly.

Personally, I enjoy seeing the smaller animals too, and I thought this yearling whitetail buck made an interesting subject. He was quite aggressive during the past rut and broke one antler. I would like to see what size of buck he was fighting when this happened.

Inquisitive Young Buck

I feel that there are more large bucks in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were enacted a few years ago, but they are difficult to see. Mature bucks travel in bachelor groups most of the year. They are sometimes seen in early morning or late evening in the summer when they visit farmer's fields. They are more visible during the rut, when the bucks leave the bachelor groups and roam the countryside in search of does in heat. They are the least wary at this time of year.

If the buck pictured here survives, he will likely disperse from his home range by the end of May and join a bachelor group. He should grow an eight-point rack with a 12" and up inside spread. Many whitetails can grow much greater antlers at the same point in time, but they must have ideal feed and habitat to do so and this is an average first year buck for this area of Pennsylvania.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Published Photograph-Pennsylvania Bull Elk

The 2008 Pennsylvania Game Commission Calendar features photographs by both current and retired employees of the Agency. I have contributed to the calendar for the past several years. This year I was pleased to find that one of my submissions was chosen as the cover photograph for the calendar, along with being the photograph for the month of September.

Bull #35-Canon 10-D: 300mm F4 ISO 100 1/180 f4.5

The photo was taken at 5:58 p.m. on September 20, 2007. It was a warm evening and the elk were somewhat lethargic acting on this occasion. A large herd of cows had just passed through a newly reclaimed strip mine and the bull was following behind. I was standing inside the woods at the edge of the meadow, looking up at the animals. When the bull stopped and looked at me, I pressed the shutter.

This was the great Bull No. 35, which I videotaped for the first time in 1999 or 2000, and photographed for the first time with a DSLR during the rut of 2004. In short, he was in at least his seventh year as a mature, branch antlered bull, and time was running out for both the bull and the Canon 10-D.

The 10-D was replaced with a 40D in early October and by late winter or early spring Bull 35 was found dead near the village of Medix Run. The bull was wearing a radio collar and the biologists noticed that the signal was no longer moving. There was no evidence that he was the victim of poaching. It seems most likely that he was injured at some point during the rut and never recovered, contracted a fatal disease, or perhaps simply died from old age. The latter does not seem too likely, considering how active he was during the rut of 2007.

Whatever the reason, another famous Pennsylvania Bull Elk is gone, but I am glad that many will be able to look at his photograph this year.