Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Is Wanton Waste?: A Disturbing Case Study

Likely The Buck Involved In First Day Of Season Incident: Still Capture From Video Taken At Long Range-Canon Xl-H1
 I came to the conclusion many years ago that not all things that are legal are ethical and just recently I had this point forcibly brought home to me.  On the last Saturday of rifle deer season a hunter shot a buck on state game lands near my home.  I noticed that he left carrying only a backpack with the deer's head with antlers attached, strapped to the backpack. It didn't seem likely he could be carrying the entire deer, so I checked the area out after he left and found a deer carcass that had been there for sometime. It had been hidden under the leaves, but the wind, rain and varmints had caused the deer to be partially exposed so that I could easily see it. This deer had the head removed and the tenderloins or "backstraps".  The remainder of the deer was left to rot, or for the varmints to eat.

Buck Killed Earlier In Season-Most Likely The One On The First Day
This brought to mind that I saw another hunter standing over a dead  buck  in this same spot on the first day of rifle deer season. In fact he was using same stand to hunt from as the hunter on this past Saturday, but it definitely was not the same individual. This hunter attached a tag to the animal and left, dragging the animal behind him, headed toward the area where I found the carcass on Saturday, which makes it seem likely that he dragged the animal to this spot, which was just out of sight of me, removed the head and tenderloins, and then buried the remainder under the leaves. 

It seemed certain that the other deer was hidden nearby, so it was time to call for professional help.  At this point I  called a PGC Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer, who made arrangements to go with me to the area next morning.  On Sunday morning, the DWCO, a neighboring landowner, and I went to the area and in no time found the deer that was shot on Saturday.  This animal was also hidden under a pile of leaves and was only a short distance from the other.  It too had only the head and tenderloins removed. The bottom line was that we had two deer that had been killed and buried under the leaves, with only the head and backstraps removed from each.

Head Removed From Buck Killed On Last Saturday Of Season

Backstraps Removed From Buck Killed On Last Saturday Of season
The Deputy gathered pertinent evidence before leaving the area and he and I felt confident that this was a "good" case.  Leaving most of the animal to rot had to be wrong, or was it? The first doubts arose when I researched  this and found quite a bit of discussion on blogs and forums on the internet about this subject.

A Particularly good discussion can be found at the Fair Chase Hunting Blog, and a continuation of this discussion can be found by clicking here, Wanton Waste And Going Above And Beyond Fair Chase .

Another excellent discussion can be found on the Hunting PA Forums . Particularly relevant are comments by Retired Pennsylvania Game Commission  Bureau Of Wildlife Protection Enforcement Division Chief , John Shutter (John S forum user name). In a comment dated Nov.2, 2011, Shutter States, "Neither State or Federal law forces game to be utilized, I don't know how that would be possible, both simply require the game to be retrieved if reasonably possible and removed from the field. After that, it is a matter of conscience and common sense."

 Here is the pertinent section of the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code, which reads as follows:

 Sec. 2305. Retrieval and disposition of killed or wounded game or wildlife.
(a) General rule.--It is unlawful for any person who kills or wounds any game or wildlife while engaged in any activities permitted by this title to refuse or neglect to make a reasonable effort to retrieve, retain or lawfully dispose of such game or wildlife.

They key to the entire situation is "lawfully dispose".  It was the opinion of Fulton County District Wildlife Conservation Officer, Kevin Mountz, and Southcentral Regional Law Enforcement Supervisor, Roland Trombetto, that removing only the antlers and backstraps is "lawfully disposing" of a deer killed on state game lands, as long as the animal is killed in season, with a legal weapon, and the hunter has a valid tag, which he uses on that animal.  According to Mountz, at that point he owns the animal and can dispose of it as he pleases. There is no section or portion of a section requiring a person to utilize any portion of an animal which they legally harvested. It would possible to charge them with littering if they removed the carcass from one spot and dumped it in another, but in this case it was left in the same general area where it was killed.  (I would assume but do not know for a fact, that a private landowner could bring charges for leaving wildlife parts on their property, but according to Mountz  and Trombetto, "we do not arrest people for leaving deer parts on state game lands"-with the caveat that it must be where the animal is killed and not transported to another spot and dumped).  Legally speaking, at the end of the day all that mattered was that the buck was tagged.

I had not ran into this in my many years as a Deputy for the PGC, and always assumed that it was illegal to waste an animal in such a manner.  In fact most who shoot deer out of season, or shoot more than the law allows, use the argument " I needed the meat" as justification for their actions, or someone might say in reference to an illegal deer shooting, "well, it's OK as long as they use the meat", but in this case we have persons who most likely legally killed two deer, but did not want the meat.  This interpretation of the law led me to ponder what the ramifications would be if one had a valid antlerless deer tag and did the same thing. What, if any, portion of the deer is the hunter required to retain?

On reading  Section 2305 and hearing the explanation from my former superior officers, I could see no point in pursuing the matter further, which at this juncture would be establishing that the animals were tagged, and I have no doubt that they were, so the matter was dropped, but it is one that will leave a bad aftertaste for years to come.

A major problem is the message that this sends to the public.  The law needs to be re-written or at least additional regulations promulgated under Title 58 to cover this type of situation.  In a time when the sport of hunting is under increasing attack from all quarters, this type of behavior only serves to reinforce negative views of the sport.  How can one justify shooting an animal for the antlers on its' head and a few pounds of choice meat, while the vast majority of the animal is left to rot and how can a state conservation agency condone this type of activity?  It appears that the state of Alaska does not and Pennsylvania should follow suit!  Here is the pertinent section of the Alaska Law:

Title 5 Fish and Game
Part 3 Game
Chapter 92 Statewide Provisions
 (a) Subject to additional requirements in 5 AAC 84 - 5 AAC 85, a person taking game shall salvage the following parts for human use: 

Article 20 Definitions (17) "edible meat" means, in the case of a big game animal, except a black bear, the meat of the ribs, neck, brisket, front quarters as far as the distal joint of the radius-ulna (knee), hindquarters as far as the distal joint of the tibia-fibula (hock), and the meat along the backbone between the front and hindquarters; in the case of a black bear, the meat of the front quarters and hindquarters and meat along the backbone (backstrap); in the case of wild fowl, the meat of the breast; however, "edible meat" of big game or wild fowl does not include meat of the head, meat that has been damaged and made inedible by the method of taking, bones, sinew, incidental meat reasonably lost as a result of boning or a close trimming of the bones, or viscera;

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pennsylvania Flintlock Deer Season Approaches

Rifle deer season closed this past Saturday giving the deer a short break from hunting pressure.  Archery season began on October 1st and continued until mid-November so the deer have faced two solid months of hunting pressure.  As a result, the survivors are quite skittish--especially the bucks.  The rut still continues at a very low level and will do so for quite some time yet, as a few does come in heat late.  Few get to observe this as the surviving bucks are nearly impossible to see.

Whitetail Buck Chasing Doe

Flintlock and late archery season begins on December 26th and continues through January 16th in our area.  It is in for a longer period in certain areas so consult the 2011-12 Hunting And Trapping Digest for further details before hunting.  Both antlered and antlerless deer are legal game for those that have not yet filled their tags, but only one buck may be taken per license year so those that have already taken a buck in archery or rifle season may not hunt for bucks in this season.

Hunters May Kill Only One Pennsylvania Buck Per License Year
Most Deer Killed In Late Flintlock/Archery Season Will Be Antlerless
Hunters should obey all game laws and regulations and conduct themselves in an ethical manner, remembering that everything that is legal is not necessarily ethical.  But how can that be you might ask?  I intend to address this issue and more in the near future.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another Winslow Hill Favorite Killed In 2011 Hunt

Wildlife Artist and photographer David Anderson alerted members of the elk watching/photography community some time ago about the death of another favorite bull.  This was an impressive 7x8 bull that thrilled thousands of tourists during the rut on Winslow Hill.  Many if not most of the bulls leave Winslow Hill after the rut and this bull was not killed on Winslow Hill, but in nearby Jay Township, Elk County.  Anderson had been working on a painting of this particular animal.

7x8 Rests With Harem Near Large Number Of Tourists Along Dewey Road
I concentrated on filming the rut this year, and my still photography suffered greatly as I was usually running a video camera during my best elk encounters.  As a result, most of the photographs I am posting today are still captures from the Canon XL-H1 video camera.  The following is one of the most dramatic frame captures I was able to find from the HD video.

7x8 Pauses To Pant On Winslow Hill
Saturday evening, September 24th found The Saddle filled with elk and elk watchers.  I was on a favorite pond bank with the XL-H1, recording the activity.  Two large  bulls came from the woods and passed by where I was standing.  Both were exceptional, but one had a broken beam.  The other was the 7x8.  The following photo was taken at that time and shows how the bull looked from a side view.

7x8 Passes By Pond Bank

The bulls continued past the pond and into a clover strip along the road through the saddle, where they joined a large herd of cows and smaller bulls.

7x8 With Harem Near Elk Watchers
This elk was not among the wildest that I have seen, but neither was he the most acclimated to humans.  Depending on the circumstances he seemed to have a 40-75 yard tolerance range.  I never actually saw him bolt from humans, but did see him move slowly away when persons got inside his comfort zone.

With the loss of this bull and another one known as "Ear Hook", the two largest bulls commonly seen on Winslow Hill this fall are gone.  

Anderson notes that he intends to complete the painting after the Holidays.

Originally Posted At Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Time For PGC To Reach Out

Mature Doe Looks For Danger
 At this point the Pennsylvania rifle deer season is one-half over.  Both antlered and antlerless deer are legal game in our area, but except for opening day and Saturday, there seems to be little hunting--at least away from the state game lands.  This was not the case in the old days, when opening day sounded almost like a battle and hunting pressure was heavy at least through Wednesday of the first week, and picked up again on Saturdays.

Doe season was traditionally held on the Monday and Tuesday immediately following buck season and at times was extended if bad weather caused a low doe kill.  Eventually the PGC settled on a three day doe season which ran from Monday through Wednesday and a flintlock season for both buck and doe was implemented, which ran for two or three weeks after Christmas.

The three day doe season continued until  buck and doe season were combined under Dr. Gary Alt's deer management plan, which also included antler restrictions. an early black powder antlerless deer season and an early rifle doe season open only to Jr. and Sr. Hunters. (Note that there are a growing number of wildlife management units where both weeks of rifle season are not concurrent buck and doe, be sure to check regulations before hunting).

The first day of doe season was often a blood bath under the old system as everyone that had a doe tag had to try and fill it in the two or three day season.  With a multitude of seasons to choose from the modern hunter has much less incentive to hunt on a particular day.  Many have grown discouraged with deer hunting because of a scarcity of deer either real or perceived,  lack of a suitable place to hunt, or a host of other factors including a lessening of the desire to hunt with increasing age. These factors combined with fewer youth taking up hunting has led to an impending crisis.

Hunter Tags Fawn Killed In Concurrent Season
It is now hard to believe that in my early years with the PGC, some thought that hunting pressure would increase to the point that one would have to select which type of weapon they wanted to hunt with in a given year and hunt only in that particular season, or that perhaps buck tags would have to be restricted in availability in some manner.  Few worried about subjects like hunter recruitment and retention, but today these are important topics to conservation agencies throughout the nation and none seem to be able to come up with suitable answers to these problems--perhaps because ultimately there are none that will work.

In the meantime, the PGC and most if not all conservation agencies, consistently fails to address the  needs and desires of growing numbers of wildlife watchers, and photographers, or include them in the management of our wildlife. Instead of ignoring or reacting to this growing, potential constituency with hostility, it is time to reach out to the non-consumptive user and find ways to incorporate them into the funding base and the decision making process. 

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Whitetail Rut Photos-The Lip-Curl

It is quite common to see whitetail bucks lip-curling throughout the autumn months.  This behavior is associated with breeding activity and is most often seen during the peak of the rut.  It is commonly believed that the lip-curl is utilized to determine if a doe is in estrus. 

8 Point Buck Determines If Doe Is In Estrus
At one time I would have thought that the buck in the photo above was either an extra-large  1 1/2 yr. old buck or a small 2 1/2 yr old, but based on my extensive experience with Pennsylvania whitetails, I would not be surprised if this buck is 3 1/2  or more years old, although 2 1/2  years is more likely.

In the next photo a buck with a deformed left antler is captured doing the lip-curl also.  This buck is likely in the same age range.  The most likely cause of the deformed antler is that the antler was injured while in velvet, or that the pedicle was broken loose from the skull in a fight during the previous autumn.  This is one of the most vocal bucks I have encountered.  He frequently makes large resounding bleats while pursuing does.  Even with my severely damaged hearing, it is possible to hear him plainly at well over 100 yards away.

Buck With Damaged Antler

Lip-curling is not confined to bucks with antlers.  Even the 6 month old button bucks get in on the action too.

Young Bucks Lip-Curl Too!

The rut is quickly winding down, and the beginning of the Pennsylvania rifle deer season on Monday will bring much of the activity to a halt, but even if there were no season in the offing, activity would decline very quickly in the next few weeks.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Monday, November 21, 2011

PA Whitetail Rut Peaks As Rifle Season Slated To Begin Next Monday

If one is seriously interested in the whitetail deer, there is something distinctly unique about this week here in Pennsylvania   For  hunters there is the anticipation of the coming season, which is coupled with preparations for the hunt such as sighting-in rifles and scouting.

Interest In Whitetail Bucks Is High In Late November
For the serious whitetail photographer and student of whitetail behavior this is a time of mixed feelings as rutting activity is often exceptional--especially during the early part of Thanksgiving week, but the downside is that it is all about to end with the onset of rifle deer season next week.  In fact activity patterns will change somewhat earlier with the great increase in human activity in deer country as hunting camps fill up over the week end, and hunters pursue small game and scout for deer.  All of this activity serves to put somewhat of a damper on the proceedings and I can never recall seeing intense rutting activity on the Saturday or Sunday before season.

As most of the does are bred by now, it is common to find several bucks pursuing one hot doe.  The inexperienced who is scouting for a spot to hunt whitetails, often sees such a situation such as this and makes the mistaken assumption that this is where the bucks are usually found, and so decides to spend the first day of season in this spot.  Of course it may be a good spot and they may harvest a buck, but it is very likely that most of the bucks will be somewhere else.  They were only there that day because a hot doe was there.

Buck In Hot Pursuit Of Doe
At this time my thoughts always wander back to my years as a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  In my younger days we worked what we referred to as "the marathon".  This mostly involved working night patrol and looking for jack-lighters as locating deer by artificial light at night and shooting them illegally was one of the more serious and most common offenses in our area.  The marathon often began on the Friday night before Thanksgiving week and continued until the Sunday night before season.  This usually involved going to work shortly after dark and staying out until the early morning hours.
Bucks Attract Much Attention, Both Legal And Illegal

Sometimes one was still working long after dawn the next morning, if they encountered a serious offense that took hours to investigate and bring to closure. But it was more likely that one was in bed by 3:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m., and then it was back out at dawn for some small game hunting, or as my priorities changed--wildlife photography.  Mid-day was spent sleeping and then the process was repeated all over again on the following night.  As we grew older this schedule was curtailed somewhat, but even in our last year of working, it was a grueling time. At one time there was little likelihood that one would make it through this period without encountering a serious offense and often there were several to deal with.

Today, the law enforcement is a thing of the past, but I am still out there most days, documenting the whitetail behavior and keeping a close eye on the welfare of the local whitetail herd.  It is always a special thrill to catch a whitetail in the perfect pose--even though the subject may not be a large buck.

Whitetail Buck Performs Lip-curl

I probably spend more time afield in one week than most do in a year, but I have not hunted deer or any other species since about 1998 preferring to photograph and study the wildlife instead.  If you choose to hunt this year, I do hope that you will hunt in a legal and ethical manner. Be sure to read the Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest , which comes with your hunting license and has a listing of hunting seasons and a summary of the game laws. Be aware that in some areas the  first five days of season are for antlered deer only, while in other areas it is still a concurrent buck and doe season.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Whitetail Rut Peaks In PA and SNP

In our area of Pennsylvania, the whitetail rut traditionally peaks around November 12th, and this year is no exception.  This time frame also seems to apply to the whitetails in Shenandoah National Park as well.  Once the Pennsylvania elk rut and elk season is over, I devote most of my time to observing and documenting the local whitetail herd, as well as making frequent trips to SNP.

Shenandoah 9 Point
 Many ask why one goes to SNP when they are a lot of deer in Pennsylvania--at least in spots (a subject of never ending and often bitter controversy).  The long and short of it is that there are few if any areas in Pennsylvania, that are  accessible to the public, where  one can view and photograph whitetails in a setting where the deer are not concerned about human presence, or where the bucks live to reach full maturity. At one time Gettysburg Battlefield was one such spot and I have heard that Valley Forge has or had a similar situation, but a dramatic herd reduction production program was applied to the Gettysburg deer and there was talk of implementing one at Valley Forge as well--not sure if this has happened yet or not.

Bucks appear with increasing frequency as October drifts into early November.  I have noticed that in Pennsylvania, many are animals that have spent the summer elsewhere, and they appear to check on the local doe herd once the rut begins.  A few remain for the duration of the rut, but most only appear for a day or so and then move on.

Whitetail Buck Checks Herd For Doe In Estrus
Mature Doe: The Object Of The Buck's Attention
In SNP there are several bucks that stay near the meadow at Big Meadows, most if not all of the year.  One may photograph these animals from the time the antlers start to grow in the spring, through the summer months, and on throughout the rut, although at times some abruptly vanish when they stray on nearby private land where hunting is permitted, or are killed by poachers who sometimes boldly enter the park to kill wildlife.

Mature Shenandoah Buck Chasing Doe
The SNP bucks posted today are ones that seem to spend most of their life around the Big Meadows complex.  The one above is a wide eight-point, which has been photographed by most who travel to SNP. This fall was one of the best in recent memory at the park, but I happened to be in the wrong place in the wrong time to capture a few of the biggest bucks.  Also I concentrated on video as usual and so much of my best material is captured on that.

The Canon 100-400mm L IS lens is now my favorite DSLR video lens for wildlife at mid to moderately long ranges when light conditions permit its' use, and the 70-200mm F 2.8 is the lens of choice in early morning and late evening.  For stills the 300mm F2.8 is now my favorite, with the 70-200mm F 2.8 being a close second.  I can nail spot-on focus much better with either of these lenses than with the 500mm F4.  The 100-400mm focuses extremely well, but I like the larger apertures of the other lenses and the resulting better control of depth of field and ability to shoot in lower light.  The 500mm F4 is going back to Canon after the fall photography is over to have the focusing system checked out.  I hope this solves the problem, but I am not overly optimistic.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard HIll.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pennsylvania Elk Season 2011-Part 3 Results, End Of 1st Week

Elk Near Gilbert Viewing Area, Winslow Hill Hunt Zone 2  First Morning Of Season
By the end of the first week of Pennsylvania elk season on November 5th, 2011, 19 bull elk had been killed along with 34 antlerless--this from an allocation of 18 antlered tags and  38 antlerless, leaving only 4 antlerless tags to be filled during the extended elk season, which began on Monday and ends at close of shooting hours on Saturday November 12th.  This season is open only to persons with unfilled tags and in the area of the state which is outside of the official Elk Management Area.  It is designed to direct pressure at the elk that have spread into areas where the PGC does not want the animals.

You might ask, how can there be 19 bulls legally killed when there is only an 18 bull tag allocation.  The extra bull is the Governors Conservation Tag, which is auctioned off each year to the highest bidder.    We plan to discuss this in more detail in the near future (there are some details in PGC news release below).

The results of the hunt tends to reinforce the position that most Pennsylvania elk are  not "as wild as any", as many try to claim. Historically, the success rate on bulls has been very high--usually in the 90%--100% range and this year was no exception.  This is not to deny that there may be a lot of hard work involved in the logistics of a hunt, both during  preparation, and dealing with the harvested animal,  but in many cases there is no difficult "hunting story"  to tell, although there may be some hunts that are challenging, especially in the more remote areas.

Bull Elk No Hunt Zone Gilbert Viewing Area -A Survivor Of Monday's Harvest In The Saddle
Below is the official PGC news release, which may be found by visiting the PGC website. To view the official document:  Click Here.

November 08, 2011
Release #126-11 (Source The Pennsylvania Game Commission)

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today announced that 53 of the 57 licensed elk hunters were successful during the 2011 elk seasons. Of that total, 19 were antlered elk and 34 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, without all the travel and expense of a one- or two-week guided elk hunt out West."

The heaviest antlered elk was taken by William G. Zee, of Doylestown, Bucks County. He took a 930-pound (estimated live weight), 9x8 on Nov. 1, in Goshen Township, Clearfield County. It’s unofficial Boone & Crockett green score was 426 and five-eighths inches. If this score holds up after the required 60-day drying time, it would be ranked second on Pennsylvania’s Big Game Records for non-typical elk.

Other high-scoring antlered elk (all estimated live weights) were: Jesse M. Heiple, of Somerset, Somerset County, took a 772-pound, 8x7 on Nov. 1, in Jay Township, Elk County, which green-scored at 399 and three-eighths inches; Ken Kastely, of Carroll, Ohio, took a 780-pound, 9x9 on Nov. 1, in Covington Township, Clearfield County, which green-scored at 386 and five-eighths inches; and Calvin E. Wallace, of Kylertown, Clearfield County, took a 711-pound, 6x7 on Oct. 31, in Jay Township, Elk County.

The heaviest antlerless elk was taken by Garry L. Foreman, of Hershey, Dauphin County, who harvested a 601-pound (estimated live weight) antlerless elk on Nov. 5, in Jay Township, Elk County.

Those hunters rounding out the top five heaviest (all estimated live weights) antlerless elk harvested were: Daniel W. Saulter, of Coudersport, Potter County, who took a 594-pound antlerless elk on Nov. 3, in Jay Township, Elk County; Gregory Collins, of Clearfield, Clearfield County, who took a 579-pound antlerless elk on Nov. 2, in Goshen Township, Clearfield County; David Grata, of Johnstown, Cambria County, who took a 546-pound antlerless elk on Nov. 1, in Goshen Township, Clearfield County; and Joshua Brubaker, of Edinboro, Erie County, who took a 517-pound antlerless elk on Oct. 31, in Benezette Township, Elk County.

Agency biologists extracted samples needed for chronic wasting disease testing. Results are expected in early 2012.

Roe also noted that Michael McGinnis, of Lyndhurst, Virginia, who was the successful bidder for the Elk Conservation Tag, harvested an antlered elk. McGinnis harvested a 7x9 on Oct. 19, in Jay Township, in Elk County. McGinnis purchased the Conservation Elk Tag during the Safari Club International’s national conference in early 2011, and was able to hunt from Sept. 1-Nov. 5.

Under the state law that created the Elk Conservation Tag, of the $29,000 that McGinnis bid for the tag, $23,200 will go to the Game Commission’s Game Fund and $5,800 will be retained by Safari Club International.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pennsylvania Elk Season 2011-Part 2 Results as Of Noon Thursday

Bull Harvested In Saddle Monday Morning
As promised we will soon get to the elk season statistics as of noon on Thursday, but first a bit of information about the bull harvested in the saddle on Monday.  He was captured as a calf in Bear Hollow, fitted with  numbered ear tags, and released.  He was 41/2 years this fall.

The check station was very quiet when I stopped by slightly before noon on Thursday while headed back home.  This was in marked contrast to the day before when several bulls were brought in to the checked.between 10:00 a.m.  and noon. 

Elk Check Station
At noon Thursday there were 3 bull tags and 16 cow tags that had not yet been filled out of a total allocation of 56.  The following is a breakdown of some of the more pertinent statistics:

Allocation Harvested
Hunt Zone Bulls Cows Bulls Cows
1 Open Open

2 4 12 2 10
3 1 2 1 1
4 1 1 1 1
5 Closed Closed

6 Closed Closed

7 4 6 1 2
8 4 6 0 4
9 2 9 2 4
10 2 2 2 0
11-Open Zone

Total 18 38 15 22

Explanation: Hunt Zone 1 has no specified allocation, but is part of the open zone.  The open Zone is also called Zone 11 and is a portion of the Elk Management Area as defined on page 88 of the 2011-12 Hunting and Trapping Digest issued with hunting licenses by the PGC.  The closed area is the portion of the Elk Management Area also described on the same page where elk hunting is not permitted this year.  I do not think the bull killed by the holder of The Governor's Conservation Tag is included on this chart.  If not 3 bulls were shot in Zone 2, but this bull was recovered in Zone 10.

It is my understanding that hunters are required to hunt in the Hunt Zone for which they are drawn, with the exception that they may choose to hunt in the open zone instead if they so desire.  It is interesting to note that 6 bulls were harvested in the open zone, which has to mean that the hunters were originally given another hunt zone but chose not to hunt there.  Surprisingly Zone 2 had yielded only 1/2 of its' bull allocation, while Zone 8 had none killed. and Zone 7 had 1 of its' 4 tags unfilled.  It would be interesting to know what zones the hunters who harvested bulls in the Open Zone were originally chosen for, but I did not think to check and see if this information was available at the time.

Based on statistics from past years, I would venture to predict that it is likely that most if not all of  the bull tags will be filled, but it is very likely that some of the cow tags will not.  According to Page 86 of the Digest there is an extended season from November 7-12, where those with unfilled tags may hunt for a bull or cow depending on the type of license issued to them, but only in areas outside of the Elk Management Area, which are areas where the PGC does not want an elk herd to become established.

Now for a few more statistics. The bulls fitted with numbered collars are listed by bull number and number of points, others by points only. NT means non-typical, while T means typical.

Largest Bulls

Bull 89 (8x9) -, Zone 9 Clearfield County: NT- Gross 440, Final 426 5/8
8x7- Zone 9 Clearfield County: NT Gross 405 6/8, Final 399 3/8
Bull 3B (8x7) Zone 7: T Gross 409, Final 333 5/8.
9x9-Zone 11 (Open Zone) Gross 409 1/8, Final 386 5/8.

The above information about the largest bulls is taken from my hastily scribbled notes and I hope that it is accurate.  I am not sure if the 9x9 listed last is typical or non-typical.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Pennsylvania Elk Season 2011-Part 1

I was in Pennsylvania Elk Country from last Friday afternoon until noon on Thursday, observing and recording events leading up to elk season, and of course the first 3 1/2 days of season.  I spent much of my time at the major viewing area on Dewey Road, which is also the only viewing area on Winslow Hill where elk are frequently harvested within plain view of the general public. This was a hot-bed of elk activity, with a large herd usually visible on the far hillside, which many know as "The Saddle".  I never paused to count the elk, but heard others talk about seeing 100 animals  in the area, which seems to be a good ball park figure.

I saw several bulls on the hill throughout the period, most of which were distinctively 2nd or 3rd tier bulls.  I did film a very respectable bull on Friday evening, but did not see him again.  There were two or more 6x6 bulls that looked much alike, making it hard to differentiate between them.  Saturday brought snow  and  excellent encounters with these animals.  One of the bulls was to figure largely in the events of Monday morning.

6x6 In Snow-Likely The Bull Harvested On The First Day

Many of the elk in the saddle, including several bulls, moved into the no hunt zone after feeding on Sunday morning, but in late evening they started working back toward the saddle and for a time elk viewing and photography was excellent along Dewey Road, but it seemed likely that by dawn most of this herd would rejoin the animals that had remained in The Saddle.

6x6 At Gilbert Viewing Area On Sunday Evening
My brother, Coy Hill of Country Captures arrived early Monday morning and 6:00 a.m. found us at the parking area at the end of Dewey Road.  A few vehicles were already parked in the lot and soon more arrived, with some towing horse trailers. For a time the parking lot was a bustling bee hive of activity. Elk County WCO Doty McDowell arrived before dawn and paused to discuss the situation. With 12 cow tags and 4 bull tags being issued for Zone 2, there was the potential for severe problems at this spot, but I was hopeful that a worse case scenario would not occur, as I had only seen guides from two different outfitters during the weekend, but this did not rule out that several tag holders operating on their own could appear.

I am sure that most readers have already read Coy's accounting of the first day's happenings, but if not go to Country Captures to read the details.

At this point I will continue with the assumption that you have read his posting and will comment a bit on the situation.

The fears of a massacre proved to be unfounded for a number of reasons, one being that as best as I can tell only two outfitters were in the saddle and there were no independent tag holders.  The outfitter that harvested the bull also had a client with a cow license.  Both animals were killed in the same time frame, with the first shot fired at the bull  being the signal for the client with the cow tag  to fire.  Each clients was escorted by an individual guide, who appeared to maintain tight control over the situation and ensured that all went smoothly.

The person that harvested the cow later in the morning was guided by a different outfitter who also appeared to operate in a very circumspect and discrete manner, and it must be emphasized that  the two groups of outfitters respected each others' operations and did not interact in a competitive manner

At no time during the weekend did I approach anyone with an elk tag or a guide and bring up the subject of hunting the elk on Winslow Hill, or even discuss elk hunting in general, but two guides did initiate discussion on the subject with me.    Each had a somewhat different outlook on the situation. (I must emphasize that everyone I encountered that guided or was associated with the guides/outfitters was courteous and respectful).

One guide was especially concerned about the prospects for a "massacre" on Winslow Hill and felt that the tame elk on Winslow Hill should not be hunted--at least on the hillside that is in plain view of the Gilbert viewing area and Winslow Hill Road.  It is my understanding that this guide did have Zone 2 tag holders, but placed them in other areas of Zone 2 and not near the viewing areas.

A guide who did participate in Monday,s happenings in The Saddle had a somewhat different take on the situation.  He stated up-front that he mostly agreed with what I have written and said about the situation in that area, but that if he didn't guide there someone else would, and since they had clients with Zone 2 tags and the saddle was in the hunt zone, then he would guide them there.  He also made the point that even though we could disagree on details that we could still get along.  I wholeheartedly agree with this, and his party and I  encountered each other several times throughout elk season, and maintained a cordial relationship.

I must emphasize again that the problem is not in most cases with the hunters and guides, or the PGC employees, but with the policy that permits this to occur.  There is no use to rehash the entire issue at this point.  If you are a newcomer to the blog, read through the archives or view  "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd" and read and watch with an open mind.  Do not jump to the knee-jerk reaction of a few that this is anti-hunting propaganda.  It has been plainly stated quite often that we are discussing ideas that can result in a win-win situation for both the consumptive and non-consumptive user.

Elk Season Results for Monday through mid-day Thursday to be posted soon.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Friday, October 28, 2011

2011 Pennsylvania Elk Season Nears

Foggy Morning Bull
As I write this, in only three more mornings the 2011 Pennsylvania elk season will be upon us.  With the Winslow Hill sub-herd being larger than ever, we are entering season with ten bulls and twenty cows slated to be taken from Elk Hunt Zones 2,8, 10.  I concentrate on the figures from these zones as it seems likely that a high percentage of the elk seen on Winslow Hill come from these areas--especially the bulls (cows are more likely to remain in their home range, while bulls will range further-especially during the rut..  The allocation was not increased in Zone 10 this year, but it was doubled for bulls in Zones 2, and 8. The cow allocation for Zone 2 was doubled for 2011, while it remains the same for Zones 8, and 10.

Bull Pauses From Chasing Cows
 Most will agree that there were a lot of elk on Winslow Hill during the rut, and many of them were impressive bulls, although upon close inspection it turns out that most of these ranged from 6x6s to 7x8s.  I personally did not see one of the massive, branch antlered bulls such as the bull from the late 1990s and early 2000s known as "Old One Eye", or "One Eyed Frank", or "Fred" the famous town bull at his peak.  That being said, a classically beautiful 7x8 that was seen each day during my two weeks in elk country, is very good indeed.  An experienced guide estimated that he is in the 400 class and predicted that he will be killed this year.

"One Eye" 1999: Video still capture- Canon L2 Hi-8 Camcorder
 Many of the bulls should have left the hill by now and returned to the areas where they normally live, which for a great many of them this is the Gray Hill and Spring Run areas.  Two of the largest bulls taken last year were shot in Spring Run--a 7x7 that is currently the state record typical bull, and the Crazy Legs, Jr. bull, which is why I focus on these Hunt Zones in expressing concerns about the allocations.  Perhaps the best chance for a bull's survival is if he spends the season inside someone's safety zone, or on posted property where the owner will not allow access for elk hunting.

At first glance, the ten bull allocation for these areas may not seem excessive when one considers the number of bulls seen overall, but the problem is that attention will be focused on the largest and the removal of ten large bulls from this area could severely impact the quality of bull sighted in the years to come.  In actual practice it is likely that not all hunters will hold out for a big bull.  To some a 5x5 in their sights is simply too much to pass up--especially after hunting for a day or so, but it does seem likely that most of the bull tags will be filled, as the success rate on Pennsylvania bulls usually runs in the 90%-100% range.

But so much for speculation, the allocations for this year are written in stone, the hunters have their permits and are ready to go, and the elk that will be hunted are there.  In a few short days the drama will unfold and whatever will be,will be.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Late October Whitetails

Yesterday my brother Coy of Country Captures and I traveled to Shenandoah National Park for a morning of wildlife photography, with our primary objective being to photograph whitetail bucks, although we welcomed any photographic opportunity that might present itself.

It was cold and clear atop the mountain with a brutal wind and with these conditions it seemed likely that the whitetail rut was booming.  We saw a few medium-size bucks in the meadow and laid out a plan to photograph the most likely subjects.  Surprisingly the bucks had little to no interest in the does and spent most of the time feeding, but we were lucky enough to capture some outstanding interaction between two of the bucks.  I concentrated on taking video as usual and today the tool of choice was the Rebel T3i with the 70-200mm F 2.8 L.  The best of the action was captured on video, but I did pause at one point and take a few still frames.  For better photos of this encounter visit Coy at Country Captures.

Whitetail Bucks Interact
It is also possible to capture stills from the video recording in an editing program after the fact, but since HD video has only 2 mega-pixels of resolution the photos suffer in comparison to ones taken in still mode where the entire resolution of the sensor is utilized.  That being said, photos captured in this way still work reasonably well for publishing on the internet, and other uses where one doesn't need a large size, razor sharp image.

Still Capture From T3i Video
 All the while I was carrying the Canon 7D with 300mm F2.8 over my shoulder and at one point switched cameras and took several frames with this rig, but by this time the exciting interaction was over.

Whitetail Buck Browses At Shenandoah National Park

The bucks did not linger long in the meadow and by late morning we were headed back toward Thornton Gap and home.  On the way we encountered the largest buck of the trip.  We first saw him feeding by the roadside, but he soon crossed into the woods, which gave an excellent background The late morning light was harsh making for difficult photographic conditions..  This buck was interested in the does, and performed some classic rutting activity by lowering his head and chasing them and then pausing to perform the lip-curl.

Whitetail Buck Performs Lip-Curl
We were back in Pennsylvania by mid-afternoon and that evening I encountered the largest Pennsylvania buck of the autumn to date.  While not exceptional, this is a very decent buck for our area.  Since the distance was 150 yards or more, I was using the T3i with the 100-400mm lens with the 3X crop factor engaged to record the animal to video.  The following photograph is a still capture from that video.

Pennsylvania Eight-Point
This buck was actively looking for a receptive doe, but none were to be found and he eventually moved on, bringing a fitting conclusion to an excellent day afield.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pennsylvania Elk Rut : Paul Staniszewski's Elk Viewing Guide

Mature Bull Guards Harem From Challengers
I photographed this fine bull on the first evening of my  trip to Pennsylvania elk country to photograph and film the 2011 rut.  I carried three telephoto lenses that evening--the 28-135mm, 70-200mm f2.8,  and the 300mm f2.8.  The 70-200mm would have worked fine to photograph the entire bull, but the area where he was standing did not make  the best setting for an elk portrait.  I used the 300mm f2.8 to isolate him against the nearby woods, and further improved the composition by cropping the image in photo shop.

It seems that interest in serious elk photography is increasing each year and Paul Staniszewski has written a "Guide to Photographing Elk in Pennsylvania", which you may access my visiting his website, or by clicking the link in the sidebar of this blog..  The guide features an overview of elk photograph, along with tips on photographic equipment and techniques, the best times to look for elk, and location of the public elk viewing areas.  Be sure to browse Paul's website and stop by the Elk Country Visitors Center to check out his selection of floral note-cards and wildlife photographs, which are for sale in the gift shop.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The First Whitetail Bucks Of Autumn Appear

I am not used to going for long periods without seeing whitetail bucks near my Pennsylvania home, but that is what has happened since late August.  At one point in the summer I did find  a bachelor group of bucks and saw them on several occasions, but I only saw one decent buck in the area where I spend most of my time and he vanished on the night of August 23.  I had been seeing this buck each day in both morning and evening.  I  also found a dead fawn on the following day. While recently killed it had been eaten enough by vultures that I could not tell if a bullet wound was the cause of death, but the combination of this and the disappearance of the buck strongly indicated poaching.

Usually I see bucks on a regular basis throughout the summer and by early September a few strange ones appear.  A few settle in and make the area their home range, but most visit only a time or two or else return at widely spaced intervals.  This did not happen this year and it was not until Saturday morning that I had the opportunity to photograph a buck and he was very small.

First Buck Of The Autumn
I usually consider that the pre-rut begins after the velvet is shed in late August and early September, with the full-blown rut beginning in late October or early November.  Whatever the case this young buck had a swollen neck and an aggressive attitude and wasted no time in chasing does about the meadow.

The next day brought the sighting of a much larger buck, but I concentrated on taking video and did not succeed in capturing him with the still camera until he returned two mornings later.

6 Point Buck Does Lip-Curl
 This buck was very interested in the does also and at times chased them around the meadow.  I was able to capture him doing the lip-curl, which is one of my favorite poses of them when I am documenting rutting behavior.

On the morning between the sighting of the small three point and the second sighting of the six-point, a much larger buck appeared briefly and he too did the lip-curl.  The photo below is actually a still captured in my video editing program from video footage taken with the Canon T3i and the 100-400mm L lens at 400mm with the 3x crop function engaged (a small spike is also in the photo with him).    These bucks were at least 175 yards away, so this serves to illustrate what one can do with the T3i and the 3x crop mode.  In my opinion this makes it very usable as a long range video camera for wild, wary, whitetails.

Eight Point and Spike At Long Range
Today was cloudy and mild with warmer temperatures and not one buck appeared.  Hopefully with the next shot of brisk fall weather more will be seen.  Many times, the very largest bucks do not appear until during the peak of the rut and in most cases they are much more shy than the younger animals. None of the bucks pictured here are considered large for even this area of Pennsylvania where bucks are not noted for their antler mass, but I would suspect that a high percentage of the bucks killed are no larger than the eight point pictured and quite a few are much smaller.

Pennsylvania has had antler restrictions for several years and in our area a buck must have three or more points on one antler to be legal.  A tine is considered a point if it is at least one inch long from the base to the tip, and the main beam is counted as a point regardless of length.  In some areas of the state the animal must have at least four points on one antler.

While some are very upset by antler restrictions, I have noted a marked increase both in antler size and the number of bucks surviving hunting season.  Before antler restrictions, it was not common to see bachelor groups of bucks in the summer, but now it is fairly commonplace. To be successful in seeing them; however, one has to be out there at the crack of dawn or as dusk is falling to see them in most cases.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Two October Mornings At Middle Creek

I traveled to Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania on the mornings of October 9th and 10th for some low-key waterfowl photography and filming.  As happens so often, I focused on video, and so took very few stills.  I like to arrive early and photograph the waterfowl in the lake before sunrise as this period often has some dramatic light.

Waterfowl On Middle Creek Lake: 17-40mm at 40mm
 It was not nearly as exciting as in the spring when large flocks of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese are present, but there were a good number of Canada Geese and Black Ducks, and I spotted a pair of Northern Shovelers.  Other species sighted, but not photographed with the still cameras included Osprey, Great Blue Heron, and Snowy Egret.

As it grew brighter I noticed a pair of Canada Geese in the pothole across Hopeland Road from Middle Creek Lake and photographed them with the Canon 7D and the 70-200mm f2.8 L lens.

Canada Geese In Light Early Morning Fog
 During this time I was shooting a lot of video with the Canon T3i and the 500mm F4 lens.  I find myself using this rig instead of the Canon XL-H1 more and more when I am shooting video.  While shooting video I had the 7D with 70-200mm slung across one shoulder and I shifted to it to capture a few shots of Canada Geese landing in the pothole.

Canada Geese Prepare To Land

Canada Geese Touching Down
This was not as exciting as photographing the Pennsylvania elk rut, but it was very satisfying in its' own way. One could spend a lot of time here working on flight shots and capturing take-offs and landings with both still and video.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Limpy" The Bull That Roars: A Close Look At A Mature Pennsylvania Bull

7x7 known as "Limpy" Roars
It was one of those perfect evenings on Winslow Hill during the rut of 2009 as several small and medium sized bulls ranged a meadow in pursuit of cows. As the sun dropped low on the western horizon the air was tinged with a pleasant coolness, which hinted of cold frosty nights to come.  For a time  many other photographers and elk watchers enjoyed the evening, but they left as the sun dropped below the horizon and I found myself alone with the elk.  I had almost decided to leave too, but there was a lot of bugling coming from the edge of the woods nearby and I decided to get into a better position to record audio of this spine tingling serenade.  As I drifted through the meadow I reflected on what a perfect evening it had been with the exception that I had seen no mature bulls.  I had just placed the Canon XL-H1 video camera in position to record the audio when suddenly several bulls came out of the tree line nearby following cows, which passed to my right side and circled to the hillside behind me with the bulls close behind.  All the while, the air was rent with screaming bugles.  Some of the bulls were raghorns, but others were large, mature bulls and at one point two bulls locked antlers in a violent but brief scuffle.  I had been not been aware of the  mature bulls as individual animals before this, but all were to loom large in my elk experiences during the next few years.

Mature Bull Bugles While Others Lock Antlers
 One of these animals was the bull featured in the first photo above  I was to encounter him again at The Gilbert on December 23, 2009, which was a bright, but bitter cold winter day. He and several smaller bulls spent the entire day there with a large herd of cows, basking in the bright sunlight in areas that were protected from the winds.

7x7 At Gilbert: December 23, 2009
 I was to see him again during the rut of 2010 when he spent a lot of time lying near the rental house at the Donnie Dudley rental house on Winslow Hill.  He walked with a pronounced limp and soon acquired the soubriquet of "Limpy".  Eventually he moved to The Saddle area and figured prominently in the encounter, which I and my brother Coy of Country Captures and retired PGC Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer, had with the holder of The Governor's Conservation Elk Tag and his guide on the morning of September 29th.  See , An Unpleasant Encounter In Pennsylvania Elk Country, which was originally posted on October 10, 2010.

7x7 Bull "Limpy"  September 29th 2010 Before Encounter: Video Still Canon XL-H1 W.Hill
This is one of those bulls that is very impressive indeed, but seems to have grown little if any larger since 2009.  He is also noted for his deep, throaty, rumbling bugle, which could be described as a roar. It is one of the most impressive bugles I have heard!

While one should always respect these animals and not infringe on their personal space, this bull is completely acclimated to humans and is very trusting of them. He is living proof that many Pennsylvania elk are not "as wild as any" as is often claimed.  Hopefully he will not be killed during the coming season, but if he is, it will be interesting to see how those involved try to spin this into an exciting, challenging, hunting adventure.

7x7 Lying In Woods Near Harem
 A seasoned outdoorsman who has photographed elk all over the United States, and hunted them in one of the western states discussed this situation in detail with my brother last week in Elk County.  His two major points were that these are some of the largest, most easily seen bulls anywhere in the United States including the national parks and they are also the most accepting of humans and most docile he has seen .  When discussing that 10 of the 18 bull tags issued (19 if one considers the Governor's Conservation tag)  were for the Hunt Zones that most directly influence the viewing areas on Winslow Hill (Zones 2,8, and 10)-his reaction was WHY?

To be continued along with discussion of more facets of the elk management controversy.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.