Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fred-Bull 36 Appears In Elk Country Visitor Center Theater Production

Mid afternoon, September 27, 2010 and an old bull elk lies dozing in the woods close by to the Pennsylvania Elk Country Visitor Center near Benezette.  Tourists stop by and snap a few photographs of him as he rests.  This is none other than the famous bull 36 also known as "Fred" or "Dogrope".  Many know him, but few are aware as they gaze at him that this is the same bull that they just saw in the Visitor Center theater presentation, defeating a larger bull in an extended fight that lasted about ten minutes.

Bull 36 "Fred" Resting At Visitor Center
One cannot help but think as the gaze at him if somewhere in the recesses of his memory he recalls a day many years ago, when he was the king of Winslow Hill and he met the mighty Test Hill Bull in combat for control of a harem of cows in the backcountry.  At this time he was not yet known as the Benezette town bull and he would not become bull 36 until he was collared in late 2003 or 2004.

It was just one day and 23 minutes shy of the 9th anniversary of this fight that my brother Coy and I found him resting at the Visitor Center and it brought back a lot of memories to see him there.

Mid-afternoon on September 28, 2001 found me trudging into the backcountry on Winslow Hill.  There was periodic showers and fog that morning, but the elk had really been active with a lot of rutting activity in the saddle area.  This was to be the last year that I carried the Canon L2 camcorder and it was having problems that were exacerbated by the damp weather.  I used a Canon 35-350mmL lens for medium to long distance filming, which required a battery powered adapter between it and the camcorder body and this refused to work on occasion, but one could get it back in action by removing the battery, wiping contact point, etc.  This would figure largely in the events that were about to unfold.  Fred was in this area with a large harem of cows much of that week and true to form, he was there on this day.

Fred In Saddle With Cows September 28, 2001

I was walking the road that followed the tree line along the top of the saddle and had reached a spot where one could see the large meadow in the lower part of the saddle (elk watching veterans will recall the log that was in this spot where the Game Commission would stop and give talks to tour groups).

Scene Of Fight: Taken The Morning Of The Day Of The Fight

Suddenly there was an ear-piercing bugle as a monstrous 6x6 emerged from the State Forestry Land at the high part of the saddle and roared forth a challenge.  I powered the camera up and the adapter immediately died.  I went ahead and filmed the bull at this point which resulted in underexposed footage(it does not look the best but could be manipulated with video editing software to the point that it could be used) .

The Test Hill Bull In The Saddle On The Morning Of The Day Of The Fight

At this point in time the bull was over 200 yards away from Fred and the harem but he started running toward them and I began working frantically with the adapter.  To my immense relief it started working again and I had it back in action before the fight began.  At first the animals circled for a short time, and then locked antlers briefly.  Soon this turned into sustained combat that continued until the larger animal broke contact and walked away.

I used this footage in "The Truth About Pennsylvania"s Elk Herd", which I released in 2008.

Showdown In The Saddle from Willard C. Hill on Vimeo.

I was pleasantly surprised when Magic Lantern, the company that produced the theater presentation and other multi-media displays, for the Elk Country Visitors Center selected this footage as the fight sequence for the theater presentation. (Please note they re-edited the sequence ) Video technology has advanced at an amazing rate since 2001.  Today some flavor of HD is preferred with the field moving toward even higher resolutions.  This footage was shot on Hi-8 tape, which was one of the favored video formats for the independent producer during the mid-1990s.  This was replaced by mini-dv in the later 1990s.  To make a long story short , I would give a lot to have been able to shoot the exact same thing in high definition, but even though I have used HD since 2006, I have not been able to capture a serious fight from beginning to end. I have recorded brief periods of antler contact  and a somewhat lengthy fight between bull 8A and Bull 62, but in this case the fighting was not as serious as that in the showdown in the saddle, and the appeal of the footage was reduced by both elk being collared, and elk viewing area signs in the background.

In this case, even though the format was outdated, the footage told the story of a fight from beginning to end, and it was shot from a tripod with no camera jiggle or bounce to disturb the viewer and these considerations outweighed the negative considerations.  Of course the fight does not last ten minutes in the theater presentation, in fact the entire presentation is less than thirty minutes.  It is edited to tell a story, and the people at Magic Lantern succeeded in telling the story very well.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Willard. I wish Fred could relive his better days. Thank you for documenting and capturing so much of his life...and for sharing it with all of us.

Peggy said...

What a fight! And to see start to finish! Too cool! Great footage Willard!