Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pennsylvania Elk Country: Bachelor Groups of Summer

Fulton County Bachelor Group 2012: Panasonic GH2-Canon 500mm F4

 In my early years of deer watching and hunting I was not aware that mature bucks spent most of the year except the rut in bachelor groups. This was long before antler restrictions,  nearly all of the land in our area was open to public hunting, and there was little respect for the game law. One did not see many bachelor groups for the simple reason that few bucks survived to the age where they formed bachelor groups.  It also seemed that in that period, the outdoor newspapers and magazines did not deal as much with wildlife biology, but mostly with hunting stories and  firearms articles so there was not the awareness of  this concept that there is today and if one did see several bucks together they were likely to assume it was just a happenstance occurrence and not in fact normal behavior.

In time there was a lot more posted ground in my area and larger bucks were seen, but bachelor groups of large bucks did not become commonly seen in my area until antler restrictions were implemented in 2002.  I still don't think they are seen that often by the casual observer, because these animals are more shy than the yearlings and are usually seen in remote, quiet areas and are usually seen extremely early in the morning and very late in the evening.

The point of this ramble about bachelor groups  is that Wednesday morning, July 11th was an exceptional morning for seeing bachelor groups of both bull elk and whitetail bucks.  I traveled some distance from Winslow Hill to check out an agricultural area at dawn.  Shortly after dawn, I saw two outstanding whitetail bucks, but had no opportunity to photograph them.  Moving on, I came to a pull-off overlook a large reclaimed area.  There I saw three bucks.  One was small, but the other two were very nice indeed.  It was too far for good still photography so I took only video, using the Canon 500mm F4 with the Panasonic GH2 hybrid camera.  This camera has a micro-4/3 sensor, which has a 2x crop factor.  It also has an extended telephoto mode when shooting video, which is also about 2x, so in effect this gives the 500mm on this camera the effective focal length of a 2,000mm lens.  It can do this in video mode without enlarging pixels (digital zoom) because HD video is only 2 MP resolution, so it reads its information from only a certain part of the central portion of the sensor.  One can capture a still from the video in either the camera or in an editing program, but the resulting picture is only 2 MP.

Elk County Bachelor Group: Panasonic GH2 Canon 500mm F4- still from video
To this point I had not yet seen one elk, but after filming the bucks I drove on a short distance and came to a field beside the road and it seemed to be filled with bulls.  Parking in a safe place, I  got out and mounted the Canon 5D with 24-105mm lens on the video tripod and took some stills and video of the entire bachelor group.

Bachelor Group of Young Bulls: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 24-105mm F4 L ISO 400 1/60 sec. f8
One's first reaction on seeing this was that the field was full of large bulls, but closer inspection revealed there was not one truly impressive mature bull.  These were all either raghorns or young bulls that still need to live a few years before they can grow impressive racks.

Young 5x5 Has Potential: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm F4 L ISO 400 1/320 sec. f4.5
Even though the bulls were not as large as hoped, it was still an impressive sight and a morning to remember. To emphasize how important being out early is--the elk left the field shortly after 7:00 a.m. and I saw no more elk or deer until that evening.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.