Thursday, November 8, 2012

PA Elk Season Report 2012

For the past two years I have observed the first several days of the Pennsylvania elk season, but due to a variety of reasons I did not go this year. Most important was a significant conflict with photographing the peak of the whitetail rut as elk season was a bit later this year and I wanted to be in Shenandoah Park for most of elk season week,.  For reasons described in the last post ,that trip did not work out and it would have been better had I gone to elk country.

Upon returning from Virginia I learned from David Anderson that two of the character bulls that were favorites with the elk watching/photography community were killed during the first few days of elk season. I partially predicted this outcome in the post of September 30, 2012,"Will The Biggest and Best Be Lost?" In that post I predicted the loss of at least one, most likely two, and perhaps all of the bulls shown. I did not include the famous bull "Attitude" in this list as in my opinion he was not as large as the three shown, plus he often spent a lot of his time in downtown Benezette once the rut was over, which gave him a better chance of surviving than most. His luck ran out this year when he was killed on Monday morning, the first day of season well away from Benezette.

"Attitude" 2012
Another favorite bull known as "Uncle Bob" was killed on Wednesday. He first gained wide attention in 2011  when he was named in honor of Bob "Uncle Bob" Woodring ,who is a close friend to many in the elk photography community.  This came about when we photographed him extensively in August of that year in Mr. Woodring's meadow. This was his first year with an impressive rack and he would likely have been killed in the hunt that year, but he broke his left main beam during the rut, which destroyed his trophy value. This ensured his survival that year, but he had a beautiful set of antlers this year and no one was likely to pass him up.

"Uncle Bob" 2012
Today well known elk enthusiast Jeff Thomas sent me what information he has on the hunt as of late this afternoon and I will share it with you below as reported by him.

"Attitude was taken Monday morning on Rock Hill road. I dont' have other details on him. Uncle Bob was taken Wednesday near Weedville. He weighed 649 lbs field dressed and green scored 365. The guide was Eric McCarthy. I heard he got away from them on Tuesday and on Wednesday they spooked him, but the hunter made a good shot and dropped him. They brought a large bull in from Mason hill on Monday and he scored 405 green, it was the 6c bull, I never saw him before. Watch the Endeavor news for Carol Mulvihill's story on him, its a real human interest story.

There were 16 bulls in by 1 o'clock on Wednesday and at least 24 cows. A lot of the big bulls were coming from the New Garden area and below Karthaus near the Kuhn farm. I heard that on Tuesday evening there were 19 bulls in one bunch. They brought 5 cows and possibly 1bull out of the gates at the bottom of Dewey.I didn't actually see the bull brought out.

I spent Sunday afternoon on Dewey and saw a cow bred by a 6x6 with a brown collar. There were elk everywhere. I saw 75 on the big hill, 45 in the first field on Dewey Road and another 35 in the second field. They took a cow in the new field in front of the limestone pile on Monday morning."  Jeff Thomas reporting from Pennsylvania Elk Country.

A special thanks to Dave Anderson and Jeff Thomas for providing us with this important information.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Whitetail Photographers--Avoid Shenandoah National Park!

As I write this post, I originally planned to be in a motel room in Virginia, savoring the memories of a day s afield photographing  the whitetails of Shenandoah National Park and anticipating another full day and Friday morning doing likewise.  Instead I find myself  at home in Pennsylvania, sitting at the computer and pondering how easily whitetail photography at Shenandoah National Park was destroyed.

Let's face it--I knew conditions were less than ideal at the park based on information received from many sources such as Larry Brown, Billie Cromwell, Jim Fields, and Todd Mann, along with my own experience from a brief morning visit in late October.  I did not realize: however, that things were as bad as they turned out to be.

My brother Coy and I left for SNP in the early morning hours and saw not one whitetail as we drove from the Thornton Gap Entrance to Big Meadows before dawn.  Shortly after dawn we found this superb buck at the Tanner's Ridge overlook.  This did not seem all that bad as the tags could easily be removed with Photoshop, but unfortunately this proved to be the best encounter of the day.

Buck 91--One of the few that has only ear tags
Most of the does that we sighted had either ear tags or collars.  We did see one mature buck without a collar or tags, but he was shy and we did not get good photographs.  I think this buck is a bit too wild for the tagging team to dart him, but in hopes of protecting him, I will not reveal where he was sighted.  With the exception of this buck--every buck that we saw from medium size to mature rack bucks were fitted with the ridiculously large numbered collars.

Buck With Damaged Collar that is damaging the hair on the neck.

In late morning we saw a group walking toward the Visitor Center carrying equipment, with a least two of the party wearing uniforms and we realized too late to take photographs that this was most likely the deer tagging crew returning from a mornings' work in the field.  We talked to Billie Cromwell in the early afternoon and he said that every mature buck that he had seen had a collar, including a large 12 point that was collar free just two weeks ago.  We did see some yearling bucks that were not collared or tagged, but it seems likely that this is because they are concentrating on mature deer--likely in hopes of studying the movement patterns of mature bucks in particular.

Another Victim
I could perhaps understand it if a modest percentage of the bucks and does in the Big Meadows area were marked for study, but it appears that the vast majority of the animals are so marked and that the tagging crew is still at work trying to process those that have escaped so far.

We originally planned to stay for 2 1/2 days, but this was so frustrating that I called the motel where we planned to stay and cancelled our reservations--telling the owner why we were doing so.  The management was aware of the situation at the park, was very understanding, and did not penalize us for cancelling on such short notice. This was one of the few bright spots of the day.  In the future, I may visit the park on rare occasion to observe the effects of the study, but my frequent trips to SNP are over--at least until the study has run its' course.

While this is distressing for the photographer/wildlife watcher, the worst aspect of the situation is the undue stress and discomfort that this places on the deer.  The negative aspects of this study could perhaps be justified if it would significantly benefit the well-being of the deer or combat the spread of CWD, but at this point many are not convinced that it will do so.  With that being said, even if the study proved to be fully justified and extremely necessary, there seems no reason to use such a large sample size, which negatively impacts both the animals and the wildlife viewing/photography experience at Shenandoah National Park.

If you have not already done so, be sure to check out the links in previous poss to other writing on this issue by Larry W. Brown, and Todd Mann.  Also be sure to check Country Captures for Coy's take on this situation.  If his post is not up already--it should be soon.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.