Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pennsylvania Elk Kill Statistics: A Different Perspective

Antlerless Or "Cow" Success Ratio Was 61%

Based on the kill statistics from the recent Pennsylvania elk season, some are insisting that killing an elk is far from a sure thing, and that Pennsylvania elk do offer a challenging hunt.

60 licenses were issued for the 2009 season. 21 bull tags and 39 cow tags were issued. 20 bulls and 24 antlerless elk were harvested for a total of 44 animals. These figures include the special conservation bull tag that was auctioned off by the National Wild Turkey Federation. (that individual did take a bull during mid-October).

In an article in the November 14, 2009 edition of Endeavor News, "Elk Hunter Success Rate Down, Huge Bull Taken", author Carol Mulvihill quotes elk biologist aide Mark Gritzer as saying, "The abundant protein-rich acorns this year lured elk into forested areas,”

Writing in PGC News Release #116-09 , PGC Executive Director, Carl Roe said, "This year's overall success rate was 73 percent, which is down slightly from the past year, which I believe that this can be attributed to the improved food conditions this year throughout the elk range."
Source: News Release #116-09

Did An Excellent Mast Crop Reduce The Success Rate ?

Here is the breakdown:
Bull success rate:-------95%
Antlerless success rate-61%
Overall success rate: ---73%

It may not be immediately obvious, but a 95% success rate on bulls is only one animal away from a 100% success rate. The much lower antlerless success rate brings the overall average down to 73%, but it raises an important consideration.

If the relatively low antlerless success rate can be explained by a more abundant mast crop causing the animals to spend more time in wooded areas instead of the open and edge areas where they are ordinarily found and resulted in them being spread over a wider area, then we must ask why the bull kill was not impacted nearly as much by these same conditions and instead was just one animal shy of 100%.

There are likely several contributing factors:
  1. Many, if not most, will hire a guide when the stakes involve a chance to kill a large bull, but some are hesitant to spend the money for a guide when they are looking for a "cow".
  2. Unlike deer, elk are large animals, and some may not want to expend the effort required to retrieve them under difficult circumstances, and so would not venture far from a road while hunting.
  3. Many will not expend as much effort in trying to kill a cow versus a bull as it may not be as exciting or prestigious to them.
  4. Elk may not be present in the zone that a hunter is assigned to.
It may be possible to have a fair chase hunt in the more remote areas, but the statistics and explanations as presented do not prove that all or even most Pennsylvania elk are "as wild as any" or that the hunt is difficult and challenging. Many claim that the elk season is mostly about population control, but it seems obvious that many, if not most persons who participate in the elk season, are primarily interested in killing the large bulls.

Mature Bull-A State Treasure!

A mature bull elk is one of our state's natural treasures. It takes six or seven years for a bull with the right genetic makeup to reach the stage where it is truly impressive and all too often they are killed at that stage. Remember, One person can kill him, but once, while thousands may enjoy viewing him time and time again.

We need a larger No Kill Zone, possibly surrounded by a population control only zone, with no bull tags issued for that area. This should not be viewed as a threat by the hunting industry, but should be a win-win situation for both factions, as the majority of the elk range would still be open to elk hunting, but more if not most of the bulls that frequent the tourist areas during the rut would be protected.

Some will counter that this is not the case as bulls may travel long distances to visit the breeding grounds on Winslow Hill and then return after the rut is over, but that is a subject for another day along with a more definitive look at what an expanded No Kill Zone should entail.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Canon 7D and HD Video: Wildlife Clips

I acquired a Canon 7D in late October with a view toward using it primarily as a still camera, but since my primary focus is filming wildlife, I was intrigued by the possibilities that the HD video option on this camera offered. I pre-ordered the camera from B&H at the end of September and while waiting for it to arrive, it seemed that I did more reading about the camera's video capabilities than the still aspect of it.

After owning it for a few weeks I must say I find it much more difficult to use for filming wildlife than the Canon XL-H1. Most noticeable is that the 7D is not as effective at long range as it has a 1.6X crop factor while the XL-H1 has a 7.2X. For example the 500mmF4 has an effective focal length of 3,600mm in 35mm terms, while it is only 800mm on the 7D.

I have been working on a short film to demonstrate the video capabilities of this camera, but have not completed it yet and some want to see some samples so I am posting three clips today.

I admit that I am a poor record keeper. With still photos I depend on reading the meta-data to tell what settings I used, but as best as I can tell this function does not work with video clips. If anyone knows a way other than writing it down, please let me know.

The first clip was taken at moderate range with two different lenses. The first portion is with the 500mm F4, and the second with the 300mm F4. I cannot recall if the ISO was 100 or 200, but I am certain it was not over 200. Shutter speed was 1/60 sec. with the appropriate f stop.

Canon 7D With 300mmF4

I replaced the natural sound with a sound track of crows and bluejays as there was no good natural sound at the time of the filming and the camera only recorded the thumps and bumps of me operating the tripod. (You really didn't want to hear that, did You?)

Eastern Wild Turkey Feeding-Canon 7D demo clip from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

Canon 7D With 500mmF4, Wimberley Head, Gitzo 1348 Tripod

The Next two clips are with the 500mm F4 at fairly close range. I prefer to use the camera on a video tripod when shooting video, but a video tripod is less than ideal for still shooting so I used the Gitzo with Wimberley head in all of the clips today. The Wimberley head actually works well if one can avoid panning and even then does fairly well with the shorter telephotos, but there is too much jerking and wiggle if one must follow motion with the 500mm.

If I recall correctly I set the ISO at 400 for this clip as it was taken late in the evening, but there was still a decent amount of light.

Whitetail Does Grooming: Canon 7D Demo Clip from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

I am certain that the last clip was taken at ISO 1600 and 1/60 F4. It was growing very late in the evening by this time and the light had a warm afterglow.

Whitetail Doe In Late Evening: Canon 7D Demo Clip from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

I look forward to exploring the video potential of this camera in more depth, but find that it is much more difficult to use for filming than the XL-H1. I previously mentioned the limited long range ability, but the LCD viewfinder is even more of a liability in bright conditions, although it works reasonably well in subdued light. It seems that one would need one of the finders such as the Zacuto Z-Finder, or IDC Viewfinder before they could realize its full potential for filming.

I also have an issue with editing. I am using an older machine that handles HDV quite well with Vegas 9.0b editing software, but it crashes once I add a few of the native MOV files to the timeline. I also have Cineform Neo Scene installed on the machine and it is much more usable than the raw files, but there is still an occasional crash. The clips shown today are Cineform files, edited to remove camera movement and then rendered to Sony AVC with the Internet 16:9 HD 30P template.

In spite of some of the issues, I think the integration of HD video in DSLRs is a revolutionary change that will alter our expectations from still and video cameras alike.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Shenandoah Bucks

Buck On The Skyline: Canon 7D-500mm F4

Billie Cromwell and I were at Shenandoah National Park from dawn on Monday November 9th, through mid-morning on November 11th. Overall it was a somewhat disappointing trip. Whitetail activity was good on Monday, but most of the bucks were small.

We did see a large eight-point on Monday evening. There was a large herd of does in Big Meadows along with some smaller bucks. Suddenly the large eight-point pictured below came running across the drive from the nearby woodland and into the meadow. This is the same animal that was photographed by my brother Coy of Country Captures in 2007. One of the photos from that session was featured for the month of December in the Pennsylvania Game Commission 2008 Calendar. The animal was a ten-point in 2007, but while only an eight-point now, he has retained his antler mass.

Canon 7D: 100-400mm F5.6 L

Canon 7D: 70--200mm F2.8 L

While the buck was in the meadow most of the time, the best still photos were taken while he was in or near a small island of reverting meadow between the meadow proper and the main parking lot.