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.