Friday, December 24, 2010

Whitetail Deer-A Favorite Animal

While I am continually writing about elk and they are one of my favorite animals, I have spent more time around whitetail deer than any other wild animal.  I never tire of seeing them or photographing them, and while I am fascinated by the large bucks, I enjoy photographing all of these graceful animals regardless as to sex or size. For today I am posting three of my favorite antlerless deer photographs from this autumn.  All were taken with the Canon 7D and the 500mmF4 lens.

The first is a three year old doe, which is in her prime.  An animal such as this will ordinarily have at least one fawn each spring and, frequently have twins.  On rare occasion they may have triplets.

Mature Whitetail Doe

The next photographs are of this year's fawns, and both were taken in November when they were about five months old.  Fawns have spotted coats at birth, but they begin to fade in late August and September, until most have a completely brown or gray winter coat by late September or early October.

Five Month Old Doe
Another Five Month Old Doe
If the young does survive hunting seasons and the rigors of winter, they may have fawns next spring.  Under ideal conditions they may have twins, but in our area of Pennsylvania, most does do not have fawns until two years of age and then they usually only have one. From three years of age on, it is common for them to have twins.

 I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Update From Pennsylvania Elk Country-Visitor Center Hours

According to Paul Staniszewski, Monday December 20th was an overcast day with steady snow in the Benezette area. He and Ron Saffer traveled there that day to photograph elk and found that the large herd of more than 120 cows and calves were still utilizing the Gilbert Viewing Area.

Paul also says," after the hunt this year, several people mentioned to me that the bull in the photo below, was one of the larger bulls that was shot.... Well, this is a photograph that I took of him in town yesterday and I'm happy to report that he is alive and well."

Bull Resting In Benezette: Photo by Paul Staniszewski
We thank Paul  for sharing this photo with us.  They also saw several more bulls and report that bull #36, "Fred" was spotted on Gray Hill.

 Paul also sent the 20011 schedule of operation for the Visitors Center.  Please verify this information from other sources before traveling to Benezette as changes could be made at any time.

The Keystone Country Elk Alliance has announced the days and hours of operation of the Visitors Center for 2011 as follows:

DAYS and HOURS for 2011:

January – March: Saturday & Sunday Only | 9am – 5pm
April – July: Thursday – Monday | 9am – 9pm
August: Wednesday – Monday | 9am – 9pm
September – October: 7 Days a Week | 8am – 8pm
Grounds open Dawn til Dusk
November – December: Thursday – Sunday | 9am – 5pm

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Controlling Pennsylvania's Elk Population-Is Shooting Necessary?

Elk In Hunt Zone 2-Day Before Elk Season: photo by W.Hill

In the most recent post, Pennsylvania Elk-As Wild As Any?, a reader raised an excellent question:

"I also own a family camp on Houston Hill, and we are privileged enough to have Elk come right into our backyard. Elk on our mountain seem to be a little bit more skittish than the ones around Winslow Hill, but not by much. I know that's a subjective comment, but it's the only way I know to describe it. I agree that hunting these Tame Elk is like shooting fish in a barrel, but how would you propose we control the Elk Population if we do not hunt them? I would love to hear your ideas/proposals."

I begin by stating that I believe that the Pennsylvania elk herd is of more value to society as an easily viewable natural resource than as the object of a limited hunt in which only a small number of people will ever participate.  With that being said though, there is room for both world class tourism and a hunt to co-exist in Pennsylvania, but for this to be, the herd needs to be managed in different ways in different areas.  Hunting for the sake of hunting itself should be conducted  in areas well away from  Winslow Hill,  but  it is uncertain as to  how wild elk in these areas are also. For example I have heard from reliable sources that they find the elk on Moore Hill to be as wild as whitetails in many cases, yet certain stories of hunts in  the remote areas raise a flag in my mind. One of these describes a situation in the Quehanna Wild Area in which a hunter fired a "challenge shot" at a bull at short range (sounds like another word for all of my years of hunting I have not heard of firing a shot to challenge an animal, but such is the way the story goes ). The party then followed the animal's tracks to a nearby food plot where the bull was feeding in spite of being recently shot at, and the hunter then killed the animal.

But I digress, let's assume that elk in areas such as Quehanna, Moore Hill,etc. are sufficiently wild to justify calling shooting them hunting, this does not excuse trying to portray the elk on Gray Hill or Winslow Hill as being "as wild as any" and portraying shooting them as being a challenging hunt, yet, by looking at PGC harvest maps it is obvious that most of the elk killed since season resumed in 2001 have been taken in the Winslow Hill /Gray Hill areas, and the 555 corridor.  With that being said,  there are possibly times that elk in this area would need to be shot to control the population, but that should be limited to antlerless elk only, and it should be plainly stated up front that this would not always be a  fair chase hunt, but rather the necessary removal of surplus animals. The animals would be just as dead, but at least we would be honest about the situation.

2001-2009 Elk Harvest Map: Source-The Pennsylvania Game Commission

In the documentary film, "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", I advanced several ideas designed to give further protection to the large bulls that frequent the elk viewing areas. These ideas should  result in less killing of acclimated elk as well.

One possibility is to retain the current No Hunt Zone as an area where no elk of either sex would be killed, with problem animals being relocated by trap and transfer. The No Hunt Zone should possibly be expanded to protect the areas in the Medix Run, Benezette, Rt 555 Corridor.

Alternate No Hunt-Population Control Only Hunt Zones From "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd"-map is approximation only not accurate in fine detail.

Second would be a substantial zone around this area which would be a population control only hunt. There would be no bull tags issued for this area and only enough antlerless tags to contain the population at an acceptable level. It would not be portrayed as a challenging hunt, but rather as a population control tool, held only when strictly needed and not utilized as an excuse to conduct a yearly hunt.

At this point it is not clear that we are at the place where we need to control the size of the Winslow Hill sub-herd by shooting.  According to The Management Plan For Elk In Pennsylvania 2006-20016,( In the following quote, BCC means biological carrying capacity or the amount of elk the habitat will support and SCC means social carrying capacity or what society will tolerate) " The BCC for elk in Pennsylvania is unknown, but there is no indication that the population is reaching it. None of the studied indications mentioned above have been observed. In fact, elk appear to be reproducing and reaching weights above what is expected and survival rates are normal to high. The SCC is also unknown at this time. However, indications are that number hasn't been reached either. Most interested parties haven't complained of too many elk and would actually like to see more. As we gather more information, we will balance the numbers so that we do not go over the BCC but still maintain an elk population that provides enjoyment for the people of the Commonwealth.(written by elk biologist Jon Marc DiBerti)

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pennsylvania Elk-As Wild As Any?

Today we explore another segment of Ms. Becky Polaski,St Marys Daily Press reporter's interview with Tony Ross, Regional Wildlife Biologist for the PGC in the Northcentral Region, "Range of area elk herd expanding", which was published on November 5, 2010.

In the post of Thursday November 18th, we proved that tame elk are in fact hunted and shot quite near one of the most popular public viewing areas on Winslow Hill  in spite  of Mr. Ross's claim in the article that the elk in the area immediately around Benezette and Winslow Hill are protected from hunting.

Elk In Hunt Zone 2 Winslow Hill-Saturday Before Elk Season 2010: photo by w.hill
 Mr. Ross tries to make the point that the behavior of the elk that one sees in Benezette and on Winslow Hill is not representative of Pennsylvania elk in general, but then he goes on to make some extremely interesting observations. At one point in the interview, Mr. Ross remarks "while elk and deer may be similar in appearance, their behaviors toward people, while cautious, are completely different.""An elk by itself is a big animal. It's not going to act just like a deer because as soon as a deer sees you, it can move because it's so quick and so small. An elk, they've got to stand there and they will still turn, but they don't have that ability to run away as fast as a deer,"

This is in direct contradiction to the experiences of prominent firearms manufacturer and seasoned hunter, James F. Borden. In a letter to Ms. Polaski following the publication of her article, Mr. Borden states:

"I am a seasoned outdoorsman that goes beyond parking lots and the edge of the road--I have spent much time in the "bush" of Alaska as well as the Western States hunting as well as doing wildlife photography.  I have hunted many species in the USA and Canada from prairie dogs to grizzly bear.  I have hunted elk in Montana and Idaho.  You will not find the behavior of those elk to be anything like the Pa Elk herd behavior.   I know animals and know their habits very well.  What was described to you about an elk being large and can not turn and run like a deer was passed along to you by an individual that does not know and understand elk behavior or does not want the truth known.  I advise you to go into the woods of Montana, Colorado or Idaho and try to walk up on elk --you will find that they spook easier than deer and flee hard and fast.  If you do your research you will find that the western states that have truly wild elk do not have 100% bull hunt success-it runs closer to 15 to 17%."

Earlier in his letter, Mr. Borden makes some interesting observations about the behavior of the Pennsylvania elk herd;

"I have visited Benezett as recent as the weekend prior to the opening of the elk season and there were in excess of 150 animals on Winslow hill in the hunt zone 2 and I could walk among them and walk within 15 yards of the big bulls.  These animals are highly accustomed to humans--the same day there were in excess of 125 elk in the town of Benezett across the bridge near the old train station-so that totals over 275 Elk out of a herd of 700 to 800--so I saw 25% of the entire Pa elk herd that day and none of the animals were the least bit skittish or afraid.  I have observed elk up the Sinnemahoning and found them to behave in the same manner."

Herd In Hunt Zone 2-Winslow Hill Sunday Morning Before Season: photo by w.hill

I can personally attest that what Mr. Borden said about the Winslow Hill herd is true as I had extensive experience with these animals during the same time period.  Some would seek to remedy the situation by making the herd on Winslow Hill "truly wild", but this may or may not be possible to do, and attempting to do so would negatively impact the elk viewing experience. 

Visit Jim Borden's blog, JJ Widlife Photography for an excellent article ,PA Elk In Fall, describing his experience with the elk during the weekend before elk season.

Excerpts from letter to Ms. Polaski reprinted by permission of James F. Borden.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer  by Willard Hill.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

More Thoughts On "Kissser" aka "Odie":

Regular readers of this blog know that one of Pennsylvania's few surviving character bulls known as "Kisser" or "Odie" was killed during the past elk season.  I first filmed and photographed this bull in Benezette during the summer of 2007 when he was already a beautiful 7x7.

"Kisser" aka "Odie" in Benezette: July 2007

While most referred to him as "Kisser", our close circle of photographers and elk watchers named him "Odie" There is of course a story behind this.  Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer and Odie Swartz were photographing this bull and several other elk during the rut of 2007 when he had a fight with another bull and broke one of his tines.  Odie Swartz found the tine and from then on Buckwheat referred to the bull as "Odie's Bull".  In time we simply referred to him as "Odie"

"Odie"In Woodlands On Winslow Hill Rut of 2007: Note Missing Tine On Left Antler
By 2010 most of the character bulls were gone.  The famous town bull "Fred" was in declining health, and most of the others had been poached (Club Horn 2005), killed in elk season, or died of natural causes. "Kisser" was positioned to replace Fred (bull #36) as the most observed and photographed Pennsylvania bull elk, but this was not to be.

In the Saturday November 27, 2010 edition of  Endeavor News, Carol Mulvihill features this bull in her  "Elk Watcher's Journal "column  - "Remembering bull elk "Kisser".  The story covers the life history of the animal, especially the early years and reveals that he was named by a local resident and elk guide when the young bull walked up to his house in 2005 and touched noses with a puppy dog standing on the porch.  A photograph of this encounter is featured on the front page of the print edition of the paper.

 The story in its' entirety is available initially only to subscribers, but is available to the general public after three weeks.  I  recommend that those who are seriously interested in the elk herd and issues impacting the elk range such as Marcellus shale drilling subscribe to this paper.

For more on this animal read "A Gentle Giant" by Coy Hill ( March 11, 2010). The story of this animal is yet one more reason why we need an expanded No Kill Zone!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

News From Pennsylvania Elk Country: A Report From Paul Staniszewski

Today, I received a very informative e-mail from Paul Staniszewski that covers some important developments in Pennsylvania elk country and will be the basis for most of today's post.

There was much speculation that the bull known as "Attitude" among our circle of photographers was among the bulls that were shot this past hunting season, but Paul reports that he and Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer did see this bull and seven cows across from Benezett store. They also saw four other large bulls, which included the famous Benezette town bull "Fred", aka "Dog Rope", aka "Bull No. 36". This is welcome news when two of the most famous character bulls "Odie" aka "Kisser" and "Crazy Legs Jr." were killed during the past elk season, along with the large 7x7 that thrilled thousands of visitors to the Elk Country Visitor Center.

Two Of The Major Attractions At Elk Country Visitor Center, Killed In Elk Season: Photo by W.Hill
 In addition, Paul reports:
"In traveling down Dewey Road we were surprised to see that the barn and garage at the Gilbert Farm were gone.... I was glad to see that theywere not simply burned down, but dismantled with the barn siding and foundation stones salvaged.

Kenny Gilbert Barn: Photo by W.Hill
Shed At Gilbert: Photo by W.Hill
Further down across the road from the "Stink Ponds" we observed at least 75 cows feeding in the field.

Elk At Ponds Near Gilbert Buildings: Photo by W.Hill
  In our discussions with local residents, all of the talk was about the all the Marcellus Gas Well leases being signed and a lot of money changing hands.I am very concerned about how all the drilling being planned in the area will impact the elk herd and how the hundreds of thousands of visitors and gas well activity (including traffic) will coexist.

Marcellus Sale Related Work-Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill Viewing Area: Photo by W.Hill
 Editor's Note:
According to other information that I have received, it seems that the gas and oil rights on at least a portion of the public lands on Winslow Hill are still owned by previous owners or their families. This includes the land where the Elk Country Visitor Center is located. A local resident told me on the day that the above photo was taken that a gas well is to be located there.

Now more from Paul Staniszewski:
"We stopped in the Elk Country Visitors Center and the staff reported that the previous day (Sunday) was just as busy as it was during the rut in October. The traffic to the center has far exceeded everyone's expectations. I look at this as being very positive because more and more people are being educated as to the value of the elk herd as a asset to be viewed and appreciated by many tourists rather than a handful of hunters.

On the way home, we stopped in Hollywood and spoke to Larry Alexander,an environmental engineer from DEP, and he gave us a tour of the abandoned mine drainage reclamation project that is currently underway. This project is very important because these are the headwaters of the Bennetts Branch that runs through Benezette. Larry previously worked out of the trailer that was parked on the Gilbert Farm for 8 years while he supervised the building of the 2 silos, the construction of the "Stink Ponds", and all the other activity related to cleaning up Dents Run. He told us that presently the lower reaches of Dents Run are now able to sustain aquatic insect life and will be stocked with trout. I never thought that I would see that happened in my

A special thanks to Paul for another informative report.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Photos From The Whitetail Rut

This blog has been entirely devoted to issues concerning the Pennsylvania elk herd during the month of November, but today we take a break from Pennsylvania elk to post photos of some of the bucks I photographed during the whitetail rut.

In our area, the rut begins in late October, intensifies in early November, peaks around November 12th, and then declines until it is brought to an abrupt end by the rifle deer season in late November. Whitetail deer have not been nearly as easy to see this autumn, either at home or at Shenandoah National Park due to a bumper crop of acorns.  As a result they are not frequenting the meadows as much as usual, but spend more time in the woodlands.  Also, here at home we have been plagued by a large group of youths and young adults that have embarked on a thrill killing spree, driving about at night with spotlights and firing at deer.  In several instances we have found deer shot and left to rot.  To date Pennsylvania Game Commission Officers have not been able to bring them to justice in spite of an  intensive effort to do so.

My best encounters with whitetail bucks this autumn have been in Shenandoah National Park.  The first photo is of the largest buck I photographed this fall. Since I am an incurable video addict, I actually began this encounter by filming the animal with my Canon 7D and 500mmF4 lens as he walked through the woodlands.  When he paused I pushed the shutter release and managed to capture one still image before he ran.  I prefer to film wildlife with the Canon XL-H1, but find myself using the 7D more and more as one has the option of taking high quality stills, which cannot be done with the XL-H1 (The H1 can take acceptable stills if one is content with less than stellar quality and a small print size).

Shenandoah 9 Point
The next encounter occurred in Big Meadows when a beautiful buck pursued a doe across the meadow and into the area around the visitor center.  My brother Coy and I have photographed this particular animal since the autumn of 2007 and it was good to get to photograph him again this year.

Another SNP 9 Point

Coy and I photographed a beautiful 10 point near Big Meadows Campground, and late in the morning of November 6th.  I heard several other photographers talk about seeing him on subsequent trips, but I did not see him again.

10 Point At Big Meadows Campground
This animal had a doe lying near by. When a small buck approached he stood up and confronted him, but lay down again as soon as the threat was over.  The early to mid-stage of the rut is characterized by the bucks frantically chasing does as most of the does are not yet ready to stand for them.  They are highly visible at this time, but hard to photograph as they can cover ground so quickly.  Once the does become receptive to them it is common to find them spending a lot of time either lying down or standing for long periods.  It is at this time that mating is likely to occur and the animals are more easily photographed.

For more Camera Critters photographs, Click Here!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

They Don't Shoot Tame Elk In Pennsylvania-Or Do They?

I had really wanted to avoid this subject but then I happened to read an article,"Range of area elk herd expanding".  This was published in the Nov.5, 2010 edition of the Daily Press a newspaper from St. Marys, Pennsylvania and was written by Becky Polaski.   The article is constructed around an interview with Tony Ross, the Regional Wildlife Biologist for the PGC in the Northcentral Region.

I have reason to believe that I met Ms. Polaski that day as I was at the elk check station late in the morning of November 3, 2010 when I overheard a young lady introduce herself to a hunter as a reporter from a St Marys newspaper.  Soon we were engaged in conversation and she told me she had heard reports about tame elk being shot in the hunt and she wanted to interview a PGC official so that the record could be set straight about this subject.  As she was leaving the check station, she told me she had interviewed Tony Ross about this subject and felt that he gave a fair presentation of both sides of the controversy.

In the interview, Ross explains about the No Hunt Zone and claims that this gives sufficient protection to the elk that are completely acclimated to humans as these animals remain in the No Hunt Zone and do not go into areas where hunting is permitted. He goes on to point out that people see how these elk behave and then wrongly assume that all elk in Pennsylvania are as tame as The Winslow Hill herd.

Today we will focus on one particular incident, which occurred at the Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill Viewing Area (The Gilbert) on Dewey road, which proves beyond any doubt that the acclimated animals that frequent the viewing areas on Winslow Hill are subject to hunting at times.

Most visitors to Pennsylvania elk country do not realize that the Hunt Zone begins just beyond the double gates at the PGC parking lot at the end of Dewey Road. If one walks through the gate to the left and follows the road to Benezette, the area to the left of the road is No Hunt Zone, while the area to the right is Hunt Zone (check the PGC Hunting and Trapping Digest for a more detailed description of Zone boundaries) . This is the hillside that is plainly visible from Winslow Hill Road.  This year a tremendous herd of elk (well over 100 animals at times) utilized this area and passed freely between the Hunt and No Hunt Zone.

Dawn of November 1, 2010, the first day of elk season, came in cold and frosty. At first nothing could be seen but the piercing bugles of bulls rent the air signifying that elk were present. Soon a hunting party became visible on the crest of the hillside. This is the area that long time elk watchers refer to as "The Saddle".

Hunting Party In Saddle At Dawn
Simultaneously, one was able to make out the forms of a large herd of elk spread out along the hillside below and in front of the hunting party.  Legal shooting hours were at 7:10 a.m., but it was still very dark at that time. At about 7:25 a person dropped into shooting position and fired one shot at about 7:30.

Hunter Prepares To Shoot
The elk did not show any significant reaction to the shot.  A still capture from video taken of the herd within a minute of the shot being fired shows that some of the animals have their heads lifted, but they do not look alarmed, while others continue to graze.

Elk Herd Moments After An Elk Was Killed In Their Midst

Still Grazing Peacefully at 7:47
About 7:50, a full twenty minutes after the shot was fired, elk began moving toward the No Hunt Zone.  At this time the hunting party stood up and two of them walked down the hill to the kill.  As they did this the herd grouped and ran into the No Hunt Zone.

Elk Move Into No Hunt Zone
An observer told me later that someone was hunting with a bow and while they could see several elk, none came within range until the hunters came down the hill.  At that point elk came within range and the archer killed an antlerless elk.

Soon all of the elk were in the No Hunt Zone and I saw no more elk on the hillside that was open to hunting as of  the time I left elk country on Thursday morning of that week.

The photo below shows the area that was filled with elk at dawn and it seems likely that the pile of entrails are near to where the animal fell.  

Area Of Kill From Hunters Point Of View
I must emphasize that this was a a legal hunt, conducted in an area open to public hunting, and it is not my intention to criticize the actions of the hunters, but rather to bring attention to a flawed policy that permits hunting in this area.  I and several others have repeatedly made the case for a larger no hunt zone and this is a prime example as to why this should be done.  In fact this area was NOT in the Hunt Zone during the first few modern day elk hunts, but was included in the Hunt Zone in 2005.

There were 2 bull tags, and six antlerless tags issued for Hunt Zone 2 and it is possible that more of these hunters could have tried to kill elk in this herd.  There were several people along Winslow Hill and Dewey Road observing the hunt and the potential existed for a public relations nightmare had several tag holders co-operated and fired a volley into the herd of acclimated elk. A well known elk guide later commented on the situation and said that he was hoping that the herd moved out of this area before opening day as "we didn't need a massacre". Now seems like a good time to remove the legal basis for such a potential disaster by removing this area from Hunt Zone 2 and making it part of the No Kill Zone.

I hope to explore this article and the situation concerning Hunt Zone 2 and the No Hunt Zone in a series of posts in the very near future.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.  All photos by W.Hill.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

E-Mail From Paul Staniszweski: Change In Visitor Center Operation Schedule

The following is a letter to the editor so as to speak, which was sent in the form of an e-mail.  This is from Paul Staniszweski, a retired educator who is currently a Pennsylvania Wild Juried Artist and a volunteer at the Elk Country Visitor Center.

Willard, I would like to comment on your blog: First of all, I would like to go back to October and the dedication of the Elk Country Visitors Center.... At that time, I mentioned that there was a noticeable absence of any representation from the PA Game Commission... Everyone that I talked to said that the reason was that there is an ongoing conflict between the Game Commission and the management of the Keystone Country Elk Alliance.... In my opinion, I think that more is involved. I feel that the vast majority of attendees to the "grand opening" were against the elk hunt and the Game Commission didn't want to have to answer questions about the hunt being unethical and giving new meaning to the word "sportsmanship". In truth, I believe the the PGC is embarrassed about the hunt and they know that it is a joke.... And the PGC knows that this hunt amounts to "shooting fish in a barrel".

Acclimated Bulls Sparring On Winslow Hill: Photo by Paul Staniszewski

The following are concerns I have about the hunt:

  • The elk hunt should NOT be promoted as a trophy event.
  • The "no hunt zone" needs to be extended to include Winslow Hill (I Understand that bugling was going on there throughout the hunt).
  • The elk hunt does not need to be an annual event, but conducted on a "need to have" basis.

Willard, again, these are only my thoughts and now I will get off my soapbox... Sorry for the long post...


Paul also informs us that the days and hours of operation of the Visitor Center have changed.

"The management of the visitors center has announced a change in their hours and days of operation for the upcoming months as follows: For November and December, it will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and for the open days, the hours will be 9:00 AM til 5:00 PM.... And for January, February, March,
and April it will be open on Saturdays and Sundays only from 9:00 AM til 5:00 PM."

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Thursday, November 11, 2010

PGC Releases Elk Hunt Results: 100% Success Rate On Bull Elk

While many claim that Pennsyilvania Elk are as wild as any and that the hunt is fair chase, we once again find that bull hunters were extremely successful.  In fact this year's success rate was 100% and last year only one bull tag was not filled. The success ratio on antlerless elk is always somewhat less.  It seems likely this is because a cow hunter is not as likely to hire a guide and is more likely to give up if they are not sucessful within the first few days of the season.

Acclimated Elk Near Boundary Of Hunt Zone 2: Photographed in 2008
We stand by our position that there needs to be a larger No Kill zone to afford  protection to more of the acclimated bulls that frequent the viewing areas.  While many bulls travel long distances to Winslow Hill during the rut, several do remain in the area and these have been hit hard since elk season resumed in 2001. 

On a postitive note the Pennsylvania Game Commission must be commended for eliminating the combined hunt zones on Winslow Hill in 2009 and allowing only hunters with zone 2 tags to hunt in zone 2.  (For a period zones 1,2,3,10 were combined which allowed a hunter with a valid tag for any of these areas to hunt wherever they chose within those 4 zones. This gave the potential for an extreme amount of hunting pressure to be directed at the elk in Zone 2, near the viewing areas on Winslow Hill. This year 2 bull  and 6 cow tags were issued for Zone 2.

Reprinted below is the official PGC news realease for the elk season which ran from Monday Nov.1 through Saturday Nov. 6th.  Please visit their website for more information on Pennsylvania wildlife.

November 09, 2010
Release #120-10
Source: The Pennsylvania Game Commission

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today announced that 41 of the 51 licensed elk hunters were successful during the 2010 elk season, which includes a possible new state record for the typical elk category.  Of that total, 18 were antlered elk and 23 were antlerless elk.
  “Elk are one of North America’s premier big game animals,” Roe said.  “Pennsylvania is privileged to offer this unique hunting opportunity, a product of successful wildlife management that supports Pennsylvania’s rich hunting heritage.  It’s an unparalleled experience for hunters, particularly those who can’t afford to go on an expensive one- or two-week guided elk hunt out West.”
           The heaviest antlered elk was taken by John A. Murray Jr., of Grindstone, Fayette County.  He took a 880-pound (estimated live weight), 7x7 on Nov. 1, in Benezette Township, Elk County. 
           Those hunters rounding out the top five heaviest (all estimated live weights) antlered elk harvested, were: Charles H. Stowman, of Westover, Clearfield County, took a 868-pound, 8x7 on Nov. 3, in Grove Township, Cameron County; Domenic V. Aversa Sr., of Woolwich, New Jersey, took an 867-pound, 7x7 on Nov. 1, in Jay Township, Elk County; Richard R. Lundgren, of Kittanning, Armstrong County, took a 852-pound, 8x9 on Nov. 1, in Jay Township, Elk County; and James F. Wolfe, of Mercersburg, Franklin County, took an 823-pound, 7x7 on Nov. 1, in Covington Township, Clearfield County.
           Roe noted that the antlers from Aversa’s elk green-scored at 389 and seven-eighths on the Boone & Crockett Club’s official scoring system.  If that score holds after the required 60-day drying time, it will set a new record for Pennsylvania state typical elk taken with a firearm. The current record is held by John A. Polenski, of Meyersdale, Somerset County, who, in 2009,  harvested a 6x7 antlered elk that scored 370.
The heaviest antlerless elk was taken by Mark E. Gowarty, of Johnstown, Cambria County, who harvested a 582-pound (estimated live weight) antlerless elk on Nov. 2, in Benezette Township, Elk County.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How To Access Our Ideas On Pennsylvania Elk Management

Elk In Hunt Zone 2 October 31, 2010: Photo by W.Hill
 Today I return after being in Pennsylvania Elk Country since Friday Oct. 29 to observe first hand events leading up to the hunt and activity on the first three and 1/2 days of elk season.While we will delve into specific details of the trip in future posts, today I wish to address the core beliefs that drive this blog. At one point I joined several persons in contributing to the Support PA Elk Blog.  The mission statement that blog is as follows:

"The Pennsylvania Elk Herd is a unique and valuable natural resource that should be managed for all of the citizens of the Commonwealth. Hunting may be a necessary management tool at times, but it should be used only to control populations and not promoted as a viable trophy hunt. At present much of the herd is comprised of acclimated animals, which raises serious questions as to the fair chase nature of any hunt. The herd is of far more value as a viewable resource to the citizens of The Commonwealth than a limited hunt can ever be and a truly satisfying tourist experience cannot be based on a herd that flees at the sight of humans. A significant expansion of the No Kill Zone is essential! We also need to support some method as to gain funding for the PGC from tourism as this would give them a vested interest in tourism rather than as it is now when they receive little to no income from it."

One of the major disadvantages to a blog versus a website is that the material is being continually updated and important informant is eventually lost in the shuffle.  This is especially true of our personal photo blogs where the management/issue related posts are scattered among posts dealing with a wide range of subjects.There is little point in re-writing the same articles over and over, so for those who are interested in Pennsylvania elk management issues, I have compiled a list of certain posts from the SupportPAElk Blog.  Another option is to simply go to the Support PA Elk Blog and read all of the posts.

I bring this up as I was talking to a person that was interested in elk management issues and referred them to Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer blog as a source for information on elk management from the non-consumptive users point of view, but after they left I realized that one has to sort through a lot of material to find the elk management related writing and that the links to other elk information are not the most intuitive.  Hopefully putting this information in one post will help new readers interested in elk issues, until I can come up with a better layout for the blog. Simply click on the title to go to that specific post on Support PA Elk.
Why Hunt Our Elk?: By Coy Hill-Explores the reasons for the Pennsylvania Elk Hunt.

Scientific Wildlife Management? By Willard Hill-Raises the questions-does science dictate that we have an elk hunt and have our elk management policy decisions always been based on sound science?

Who Really Pays For Elk Mangement -Is A Change Needed? By Willard Hill- Raises the point that much of the public land in the elk range is owned by DCNR, which is not funded by hunting license dollars so to a certain extent the hunting public is being subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

More Questions Than Answers? By Coy Hill-Asks the important question-who really owns the elk?

Pennsylvania Elk: The PGC & The Money By Coy Hill-Further explores elk funding issues.

Pennsylvania Elk: Two Compelling Reasons To Expand The No Kill Zone: By Willard Hill-Discusses why there should be a larger No Hunt or No Kill Zone.

Pennsylvania Elk Management: A Need For More Mature Bulls: By Willard Hill-Discusses the size and composition of the elk herd , includes PGC Elk Biologists Jon DeBerti's thoughts as to herd size and large bull survival.

Genetics And The Hunt: By Jim Borden-Discusses the possibility that we may be damaging the genetics of the elk herd by removing the biggest and best.

Also be sure to visit Benezette Elk on Facebook for interesting discussion and photographs

Pennsylvania Elk Harvest Report

For the past two years the Pennsylvania Game Commission elk check station has been located at the Food and Cover Corps maintenance building along the Quehanna Highway near Karthaus. All successful hunters are required to bring harvested animals to the station so that biological and other data may be gathered.

PGC Elk Check Station Quehanna Highway:Photo by W.Hill
The following statistics are what were posted on the informational board outside the maintenance as of late morning on Thursday November 5, 2010.

Bulls: 15   Cows: 16.  This is from a total allocation of 17 bulls for the November season and 33 cows.  Counting the Special Conservation Tag bull taken earlier, the total number of bulls taken as of late Thursday morning was 16.

The bulls broken down by Hunt Zone and points are: Zone 2: 7x7, 5x6, Zone 3: 7x6, 5x6, Zone 4: 6x6, Zone 7:  9x7, Zone 8: Hunter had tag for Zone 8 but filled it in Zone 11, Zone 9: 7x7, 6x6, Hunter had tag for Zone 9 but filled it in Zone 11, Zone 10: 8x9, 7x7, Zone 11: 7x6, 7x7, 7x7. I asked for clarification above the Zone 11 situation  and was told that anyone with a tag could fill it either in their designated unit or in Zone 11.  I asked no further questions as I assumed that this Zone would be shown in the Hunting Digest, but it is not in my copy of it, so at this point it is unclear just what area Zone 11 encompasses. 

PGC Personnel Process Elk: Photo by W.Hill
While the regular elk season ends on Saturday, there is a week long season outside of the Elk Management Area, which runs from November 8-13, 2010.It requires a valid Elk Hunting License with an unfilled tag and a limit of one antlered or one antlerless elk, depending on what license the hunter originally obtained. At this point it appears likely that there will be several unfilled cow licenses, but there should be few if any bull hunters still qualified to hunt during this season. One guide pointed out that there is a discrepancy in the hunting license digest between the map of the area which is off limits to hunting during this season and the text describing the same situation. Giving accurate advice on this situation is beyond the scope of this article, but hunters would be well advised to obtain accurate information as to where hunting is permitted before venturing into a questionable area.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sitting Alone In The Moonlight-A Chilling Serenade

2:00 A.M. and the moon hangs low in the western sky, shining through thin clouds and tree branches, bathing the countryside in an eerie glow.  Far from any major road, total silence hangs in the air like a heavy blanket. Wildlife, game wardens, and poachers rule the night in the remote Pennsylvania wilderness.

The old man sits alone in the moonlight, his thoughts wandering back over the years.  Long ago when he was a young game warden, such times were spent anticipating what the future might hold in store, and he felt a longing for exciting action, but now many years worth of memories keep him company, and he no longer feels the need for adventure. He would rather be home sleeping, but he is here because of wildlife criminals that roam the backcountry roads, locating deer with spotlights, shooting them with small caliber rifles, and letting the animals to lie and rot.

Suddenly the silence is broken by the shrill barking of a fox and the wild, wailing voice of a coyote joins in- creating a harmony that makes the chills run down the spine. No music on earth can sound better.

The poachers do not come this night, but the old man will never forget the wildness of that moment in the moonlight when the fox and coyote made the hills and hollows ring with their chilling serenade.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Camera Critters: Photos From Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area

Here are a few photos from a trip to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Klinefeltersville, Pennsylvania, which were taken recently on a beautiful autumn morning.

The first two photos are of a Great Blue Heron, which was taken at long range with the 500mmF4 and the 2x extender.

Great Blue Heron Fishing

The heron alternated between periods of standing still looking for fish swimming nearby, and stalking slowly along the pond bank.  At time he tried to spear his prey with his long bill.   I was able to film this activity, but did not get a still photograph of him attacking.

Wading In Search Of Prey

It was a special treat to sight three River Otters, but unfortunately I was not able to get close-up photographs of them.  Still, I was thrilled as this is the first I have photographed or filmed them except I did film the release of River Otters when they were re-introduced into the Juniata River near Everett, Pennsylvania in 2002, whileI was working for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

A Rare Sighting Of River Otters

For more Camera Critters photos, click Here!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pennsylvania Elk Season Nears-Special Conservation Tag Hunt Ends

Pennsylvania's elk season will be held from Monday November 1 to Saturday November 6th, with an extended season being held the following week. Hunters in possession of a valid elk license with an unfilled antlered or antlerless tag will be permitted to hunt in any area outside of the Elk Management Area. This is to help prevent the spreading of the elk herd into areas where the PGC believes the potential for significant elk-human conflict may occur. Seventeen bull tags were issued, plus the Special Conservation tag for a total of 18 bull tags and 33 antlerless tags

Acclimated Bull Elk Near Hunt Zone 2 Boundary

The last day for the Special Conservation Tag Hunt is November 6th, but it appears that the hunter was successful and as there is only one Special Conservation Tag issued per year, that season is effectively over. According to an unconfirmed report, "the gentleman with the Governor tag allegedly wounded a extremely large bull last week and they hunted for it for two days and did not find it-so he shot a 6x6 that scored about 340 inches." At the time that we saw the Conservation Tag hunter, he was hunting with a bow, but we have received no information as to what weapon or weapons he was using in the incidents related above.

As a follow up to the story "An Unpleasant Encounter In Pennsylvania Elk Country", sometime after our encounter with the hunter and guide on Wednesday morning September 29th, I spoke to a gentleman who was in the same area on the previous evening (Tuesday Sept. 28) He was walking along the brow of the hill looking for elk when he noticed a strange colored object on the hillside below him and glassed the area with his binoculars. He found himself looking at two persons, one of which was armed with a bow. They were wearing camouflage clothing, but the colored fletching on the arrows in the bow quiver had attracted his attention. He approached them and asked if they were the Governor's Conservation Tag hunting party and they indicated they were. According to this person, the hunter had just passed up a shot at a large bull because conditions were too windy for accurate archery shooting under the circumstances.

My party was nearby at the time and  we were headed for the spot on the pond bank where the confrontation was to occur on the next day, but we saw a large bull come from that area and cross the top of the hill in front of us.  It seems likely that this is the bull the person was talking about.

Mature Bull Crossing Reclaimed Area: Photo by W.Hill
View Of Area Where Encounters Occurred From Winslow Hill Road: Photo by W.Hill
After photographing and filming the animal, we decided to go in another direction as there was no bugling coming from the area of the pond. As it turned out the large bull we saw went to the Gilbert Viewing Area as did most of the elk in the area that evening, while we went into another back country area and found no elk until we returned to the parking lot near the Gilbert Viewing Area.

This leaves one to ponder why the hunting party did not take exception to the other person walking up to them and talking on Tuesday evening, when it was unacceptable for us to be in the area on the following morning.  Also had we gone where we originally intended on Tuesday evening, would a confrontation have occurred then?

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Historical Landmark Is Gone-Burning Of The Gilbert Farm House

As darkness fell on Sunday September 26th, I paused by the glowing embers of the remains of the Gilbert farm house. As I stood there a great sadness came over me as I thought of the hopes, dreams and hard work of those that lived there. Now they were gone, and it was gone,. As I stood there in the darkness, the piercing bugles of  bull elk provided a fitting requiem for the passing of a way of life on Winslow Hill that is gone forever.

Glowing Embers Mark The End Of An Era: Photo by W.Hill
It is PGC policy to raze buildings such as this when they acquire the land, so this was to be expected, yet one  still felt a great sense of loss. As I stood there, I could still picture Kenny Gilbert, the last inhabitant, standing in the doorway as he talked to a visitor, and I wondered how long it will be until few visitors to Winslow Hill will know there had ever been a Gilbert Farm. This area was referred to as "The Gilbert" when it was first purchased from Betty Gilbert, Mr. Gilbert's Widow, and I still refer to it as "the Gilbert Viewing Area, but the PGC christened the area, "The Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill Viewing Area" and I can understand the reasoning to a certain extent, as the Gilbert is a but a small part of the entire viewing area.

Gilbert House And Worker's Vehicle: Photo by W.Hill
Gilbert House-Facing Dewey Road: Photo by W.Hill
I  learned that the buildings were to be razed some time ago, and late in the week of September 19th, I found that Sunday morning September 26th was to be the day that the house was to be burned. I photographed elk in the backcountry near there that morning and when I came into view of the house I found that the burning was underway.

Early Stages Of Burning: Photo by W.Hill
This was a highly controlled burn, with several fire companies on the scene.  Flames were immediately dampened with water when they appeared.

Photo by W.Hill
Water Was Pumped From Nearby Ponds: Photo by W.Hill
 Photo by W.Hill
I mentioned the proposed removal of the buildings in a previous post concerning the opening of the visitor center and other updates on conditions on Winslow Hill. Click Here to read that post.  As a result I received an e-mail concerning this house and the efforts of John and Kathy Myers to save it.  Mrs. Myers kindly granted permission to reprint it here.  It is well worth reading and I highly recommend that you do so.

Here it is in its' entirety:

Hi, Willard - I found photos of the Gilbert farm on a blog page and wanted to make a comment.

The Gilbert House In Winter: Photo courtesy of Kathy Myers
 I am a Winslow descendant whose 3rd great grandmother lived in that house, she being a Mayflower descendant. I began a project to save that house and asked the state to consider turning it into a visitor center. While DCNR had all kinds of reasons why it couldn't do that, I did receive some encouragement elsewhere to try to preserve the house. The Game Commission did agree to give us the house, but it had to be moved off the property.

I formed a 501(c)(3) non profit corporation, Winslow House Heritage Council, in order to save it. The state asked us for a feasibility study and gave us a $22,000 grant to conduct same. It was done by a local architectural firm. The results were that in order to meet current code (we wanted to operate it as a B&B and museum/shop) we would take the house down, salvage parts, and rebuild it elsewhere on Winslow Hill over its original footprint, only larger.

As you are aware, prices have skyrocketed on Winslow Hill. We were initially offered the remaining one acre parcel that was attached to St. Cecelia's Cemetery which is surrounded by the visitor center property; however, Rawley Cogan and RMEF arranged a land swap with St. Joseph's Church, the group that oversees the cemetery, and the priest who offered us the land and was a member of our board, was actually somewhat dismayed at the plans in progress to build the visitor center. For that reason, we lost our opportunity to get that land.

We tried to establish a heritage shop, for which we were given a grant, but there was nothing available for us on Winslow Hill or in the town of Benezette. We attempted to purchase the Don Wood property, but USDA thought we would have a hard time making a go of it "selling souvenirs" on Winslow Hill.

Possibly if the Game Commission had just given us the house with a little land around it as we first requested, we would have something going today. My letters to the Governor, where I asked him to override the Game Commission and just give us the house, went unanswered even though we had received two grants from the Commonwealth.

While Mr. Cogan wants to preserve Winslow Hill, I am concerned that the history of the early pioneers will be lost. When RMEF had its initial study done shortly after it purchased Elk Mountain Homestead, I was asked to meet with Rawley Cogan and the person who was conducting the study for RMEF. As a matter of fact, RMEF suggested our two organizations work together which never happened.

I attended a meeting at Game Commission Headquarters in Harrisburg in August of 2007 that was arranged by Senator Joseph Scarnati's office. In attendance was Dennis Duzia, PGC, Meredith Hill of DCNR, a representative from PA Historic and Museum Commission, the Senator's aide, Casey Long, and my husband and I. I was shocked at our treatment. Mr. Duzia was adamant that there would be no further extensions on our efforts to save the house. His words to my husband and I were that not many people were interested in the project "other than you people", and that they were going to take a "big D9 dozer in there and bulldoze it over and it won't be a pretty sight." DCNR and PHMC could offer no assistance, even though the house was listed as endangered by the PA Preservation group. In January, 2008, I contacted Carl Roe, PGC Director, about Mr. Duzia's comments. Mr. Roe did say that as long as the house was standing, if Winslow House Heritage Council could present him with a plan and timetable for moving it off the property, we would still have that opportunity. And he noted that Mr. Duzia would not be taking down the house without notifying us.

When RMEF pulled out of the visitor center and it was turned over briefly to another state agency, I contacted that agency and asked that Winslow House Heritage Council be given space in the visitor center to operate a heritage shop, noting that I had many good ideas for such a shop. I also discussed my concerns for the lack of information about the early pioneers, etc., which I feel should be presented for those traveling to this area. I was asked to list what I thought should be part of an educational display which I did. But then the management of the center was turned over to the Elk Country Alliance people and that was the end of the dialogue.

There is more to Benezette than the elk.

Kathy Myers

I wish to thank Mrs. Myers for sharing this information with us and I hope to discuss some of the issues involved with this type of situation in a future post.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Camera Critters: Pennsylvania Elk-An Evening To Treasure

On Sunday evening, September 26, Brad Myers of Bradley Myers Photo Blog accompanied me to my favorite elk photography spot.  This is the same area where the encounter with the holder of the Governor's Conservation Tag was to occur on Wednesday morning.  While we were standing on the pond bank, another group of people appeared.  It turned out that they were friends and they came and stood on the bank with us and talked for some time, but as it was growing late they decided to leave.  I knew that elk were bedded in the woods nearby and an occasional bugle could be heard.

At 6:30 a young bull came from the woods and walked directly to the base of the pond bank below us, and horned the ground for a period of time.

Young Bull Horns Ground
Sometimes bulls do this to vent their frustrations and may urinate over their legs and lower body when they do so, but in many cases they do this and then lie down to rest, which is what happened in this instance.

Young Bull Resting
It must be emphasized that this animal was aware that we were on the pond bank, yet he approached to within very close range and ignored us completely.  I have photographed wildlife most of my life and can be as secretive as the situation dictates, yet I am aware of the nature of the elk in this area and adjust my approach accordingly, so there was no attempt at concealment.

While he was doing this, a herd of elk and a large herd bull emerged from the woods, and treated us to an exciting evening.

Herd Bull And Harem
The herd bull was not quite as trusting, but he still came fairly close to where we were standing, even though we were not concealed.

Mature Herd Bull

This animal left this area on Tuesday evening and for the next few days was seen frequently at the Gilbert Viewing Area.  While conditions were less than ideal for still photography as a front was moving in which resulted in flat, uninspiring lighting, it was till an evening to treasure for years to come.

For more Camera Critters photographs, Click Here!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.