Sunday, September 30, 2012

Will The Biggest and Best Be Lost?

Mature 7x7 Bugling: Panasonic GH2 Canon 500mm F4
I was in Pennsylvania elk country from September 16th until late Friday morning on the 28th.  Overall it was one of the best trips ever, yet I was experiencing  grave misgivings about the bull situation by the time the trip was over. I saw more bulls than ever, and more antlers together, both  in sparring matches and brief fights, which is unlike recent years in which I seldom saw this.

Mature Bull: Canon 5D MK III Canon 500mm F4
Mature 7x7: Panasonic GH2 Canon 300mm F2.8
At first glance it would seem that the photographs I posted indicate there are a large number of mature bulls on Winslow Hill and there certainly are quite a few, but none that I photographed are likely to approach or exceed the magic 400 Boone and Crockett score that so many view as the holy grail of elk hunting.  The one that comes closest is an acclimated animal that has no fear of humans whatsoever.  With him apparently being the largest bull on the hill, there seems little likelihood that he will survive elk season.  Last year we lost two of the best on Winslow Hill and none have replaced the largest to the best of my knowledge.  I would expect the loss of at least one, most likely two, and perhaps all of the bulls shown today in the coming season.

It seems we are striving to become like Kentucky, which has a large elk herd, but which judging from most of the photographs I see, are distinctly second or third tier bulls compared to the best that Pennsylvania can offer.

Last year the largest Pennsylvania bulls came from the outlying areas, with the exception of the 7x8 which was killed near Weedville. It will be interesting to see if this is the case this year.

There seems little doubt that the PGC will address the large number of elk around the viewing areas on Winslow Hill. It is certainly true that the herd cannot be left to grow unchecked, but there is little excuse to kill the biggest and best bulls each year in an area that is home to the Elk Country Visitor Center and the hotbed of elk related tourism.  That being said it is a difficult situation to address as many of the bulls travel a long distance from Winslow Hill after the rut, with many going to Spring Run, the Weedvillle-Gardner Hill area, or further after the rut is over.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Dina said...

Thanks for these exciting photos. Your post is probably as close to an elk as I will ever get. I wish we had even ONE such magnificent animal here in Israel.
I hope your elk will not hurt each other too bad while fighting.

Linda G. said...

All three photographs are magnificent, Willard. I have come to expect nothing less than magnificent from you though! Is it possible to have a favorite photograph from these three? Yes! My favorite photograph is the very first one. I think what sets it apart for me from the others is the pretty pastel colors in the background, especially to the right of the bull elk.

Willard said...

Dinah, I understand that at least one bull died as a result of injuries from fighting during the rut this year. We are truly fortunate to have these magnificent animals here in Pennsylvania.

I agree with you, Linda. The first is my favorite and the next is a close second. The third is less than ideal because of the background. While freshly planted small grain is one of the best wildlife foods, it does not make the most pleasing backgrounds.

JACK MANACK JR. (Elk Co Outfitters) said...

The bull you speak, of that was gored during a fight, was a bull that traveled as far east as Hicks Run Viewing Area to Gray Hill, which is where he spent most of the year. This past week we took the Conservation Tag hunter's bull to the taxidermist and he had the gored bull at his shop. He is doing a full mount of it for the Visitor Center. The bull was one of the best bulls I have ever seen, and hands down the biggest 6x6s ever in PA and one of the best anywhere. I don't like to break things down to inches but it is the most universal way of comparing animals in size. We scored the bull at 404" as a clean typical 6x6, he would have been a new typical state record if taken during the hunt. That bull was truly magnificent and a testiment to PA elk. By the way the bull in the second picture is the culprit that did him in.
P.S. Love the new video.
Jack Manack (ECO)

Willard said...


Thanks for the comment and the further information on the gored bull. It is very interesting to find how far some of the bulls travel. I am wondering if this is the bull that I saw photos of on the internet and did see briefly on the first or second day of my trip, but he was far away and it was too late for good video--I think that one was more than a 6x6 though. I did not see him again and have seen no more photos of him so he either left Winslow Hill or something happened to him.

JACK MANACK JR. (Elk Co Outfitters) said...

I forgot to mention earlier, if you are up that way again, stop at Cliff Cessna's taxidermy in penfield (ask anybody and they'll tell you where he is) he's about five or ten minutes from the red light in penfield (back toward dubois) and turn at gas well equipment place. It is worth seeing and getting your hands on, or you can wait for it to be at the visitors center I guess.

Bob Shank said...

Willard, it was great being with you last week up in Elk Country! You captured some beautiful and spectacular photographs! Great job! I always enjoy the time we spend out on the hill photographing the elk and swapping stories. There is nothing better than this time I get to spend with you and your brother each fall!

Unknown said...

These are Wonderful Elk pictures! You are a gifted photographer. I have tried to get some decent pict of some elk in the past but could not get close enough to them. nature photography