Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Whitetail Buck Sheds Antlers

Yearling Spike: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L II @ 135mm-ISO 400-1/400 sec. F 5.0
Each year one hears about hunters shooting what they assumed was a doe, only to find on close examination it was a buck that had already shed its' antlers. Most whitetail bucks in our area shed their antlers in early February. I have seen bucks that just lost their antlers in late December and early January. but it was not until this year that I was present when a spike buck lost both of his antlers in mid-December.

The buck is a small spike that did not disperse from his family group this fall and I have seen him almost daily since he was a fawn.  I saw him late in the afternoon of December 16th, as I was setting the cameras up and he still had both antlers.  Imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw that one antler was missing.  I tried to photograph him, but before I could get a shot he ran behind some other deer and when he was visible again, both antlers were gone. I did get some shots of the area where the antler attaches to the skull which is known as the pedicle. I wish I had a closer shot, but it was not possible.  As it is the photo below is severely cropped.

Pedicle: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm F 4.0-ISO 200-1/2500 sec. F 4.5

Spike After Shedding: Canon 5D MK III-Canon600mm F 4.0-ISO 400-1/800 sec. F  5.0
There was a bit of snow on the ground and I searched for the antlers, but it soon grew too late to see well and I gave up.  It snowed more that night and the ground was snow covered until Friday when the ground was bare again and I found one of the antlers.

Shed Antler: Panasonic GH3-Lumix 17-140mm@25mm-ISO 200-1/60 sec. F 7.1
Shed Antler: Panasonic GH3-Lumix 17-140mm@140mm-ISO 200-1/40 sec. F 9.0
Sometimes bucks shed their antlers simultaneously or as in this case a few moments apart, but in other instances it can be days. The antlers in the photo below were found in mid-April of last year. They were evidently cast only a few seconds apart.

Mature 8-Point Rack 2012-Found In Mid-April
In the case of the spike, it is possible I could have filmed an antler actually falling off had I kept the video camera running and followed him from the time he appeared, but that was not to be.  It is possible to film antlers being shed,  but it has to either be a lucky accident and they just happen to fall off at the correct time or it has to be captured by an unmanned camera as humans do not have the time or the patience to keep a camera running that long.

Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More Whitetail Rut Images

Whitetail Buck Chasing Doe: Canon 7D-70-200mm f2.8 L IS II @70mm- ISO 400-1/640 Sec. f 5.0
I  spent most of November photographing the whitetail deer rut in Pennsylvania and Maryland. While I like to photograph deer at any time of year, the rut is an especially favorite time as the bucks are more easily visible and excitement can run high when they are chasing  the does--especially if a dominance fight occurs.  I did not get to either photograph or see a fight this year, but I did photograph several bucks with broken antlers, which were likely a result of fighting,  including the eight-point shown  below.

Eight-point With Broken Antler:  Canon 7D-70-200mm f2.8 L IS II @142mm- ISO 640-1/200 Sec. f 4.0

Buck Charges From Woods After Doe: Canon 7D-600mm f4.0 L IS - ISO 400-1/640 Sec. f  4.5

I couldn't be more pleased with the 600mm f4.0 that I started using this fall.  About the only downside to it is the weight and mass.  It comes in especially handy when photographing deer that are not as acclimated as park deer.  The lens especially paid off on the lip-curl photo below.  The buck was fairly close for a Pennsylvania whitetail, but the image is still heavily cropped to get the dramatic close-up composition.

Lip-curl: Canon 7D-600mm f 4.0 L IS- ISO 200-1/600 Sec. f 5.0
While I do prefer the 70D to the 7D in most cases, I have been using the 7D quite a bit for long range shots with the 600mm as the 70D is usually reserved for video use.  If possible I like to set up with the 600mm on a Gitzo tripod with Wimberley head and the 70D on a Manfrotto video tripod with fluid head. If the light level is low or the subjects are close enough I use the 5D MK III  with the 600mm to take advantage of its' superior image quality, but if the range is long and there is enough light I use the 7D body.

Mature Buck At Long Range: Canon 7D-600mm f 4.0 L IS- ISO 200-1/600 Sec. f 5.0
Pennsylvania rifle deer season came in on December 2nd this year and will go out at the close of shooting hours on the 14th.  Most of the bucks I photographed this fall are likely dead now as the rifles really hammered on the first day.  I began hunting as a teenager and was an avid hunter for most of my adult life with a special emphasis on deer. I quit hunting for any species at the end of the 1998 season and in fact all but quit at the end of the 1997 season, but that is a story for another day.  As it is I spend far more time afield than most hunters and have been out most of the daylight hours during deer season keeping close tabs on the local deer herd with my cameras close at hand.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, November 29, 2013

More Thoughts About SNP Whitetail Study

Today I would like to thank those who made comments on the blog and on Facebook about the last blog post", "Whitetail Photography at Shenandoah National Park -Destroyed For Now".

Most seemed to agree that the collars are unsightly and are likely to cause the animals a lot of distress, while one reader wants to know if the condition of the animal was reported to SNP officials.

Buck Was Standing Near Visitor Center When Photographed by Billie G. Cromwell

My Response: I spoke with Billie Cromwell who took the photographs and he said he felt no need to report this as the animal was in the lawn right beside the visitor center and was easily visible to maintenance workers and rangers.  As much time as this buck spends between there and the Big Meadows campground makes it extremely unlikely that officials are not  aware of the situation.

Fellow wildlife photographer, Dan Gomola raised the question:"Is there a any way people could band together against animal cruelty of these herds".

My Response:  I have no good answer to this question.  All I know to do is contribute what little I can by trying to draw awareness to the problem.  One should also write letters to officials and attend public meetings.  It would be nice if a large organization with a lot of political clout would take this up but it never seems to happen.  As it is, it seems that the National Park Service has its' way regardless of public input.

Bill, who is an avid hunter and photographer, said, "Those appear to be the most intrusive tacking devices I've ever seen. Monitoring animals for study is fine I suppose but do it in a way that isn't a burden on the animal. With the technology available today those are a little more than over-the-top and ridiculous."

My Response: I agree completely.

Over-The-Top and Ridiculous Collar
Alyssa Johnson who is involved with big game management (as a student in New York State) wrote, " I feel like there must be more to this story than we, and possibly you know. I feel for the animal, of course, because I'm human. But, perhaps there would be more damage done than good to try and remedy this defunct collar. Unfortunately, many people seem to suggest "with today's technology... _________" fill in the blank. Why can't there be a smaller collar, something less obtrusive, microchip, nothing at all, etc. I would like to believe, as someone who is involved with the big game management in my state, that the managers in charge WOULD utilize something less obtrusive, if it was available. I just attended the 2013 TWS National Conference, and was able to handle and examine all kinds of remote-monitoring equipment at the trade show. You lose battery life, distance of signal transmission, type of transmission, and amount of stored data when you make the device smaller. The severity and scope of CWD, for example, is so large and potentially dangerous to our deer herds, that these measures of using hardcore collars, with big packs on them, is so necessary. Without this monitoring, "we" wouldn't be able to manage the deer herds for hunters, photographers, and other wildlife enthusiasts. I'm glad I got to see this pictures, thanks for sharing."

My Response: I will approach the issue by first discussing the Pennsylvania elk herd which I am quite familiar with.  I do not like to see collars on these animals either.  It seems possible that some elk have had problems because of wearing collars, but I have never personally seen an elk's neck severely damaged by a collar.  At one time many of the elk were fitted with brown collars with large yellow side plates attached on which the number of the animal was displayed.  This is shown in the photo of bull 2D below.

Bull 2D-Old Style Collar
This type of collar really became a problem once Pennsylvania elk  became hunted animals again in 2001, as the bright yellow collar made the animal stand out to hunters.  As a result the PGC discontinued their use, but  they did not remove the collars from elk already fitted with them.  From a certain point going forward elk were fitted with brown radio collars. These collars are not numbered like the yellow ones.  The PGC gave up the ability to easily identify individual animals by visual means and must now rely on radio tracking-GPS equipment to do so. I do not like to see these collars on elk any more than I like to see them on deer, but at least they are not causing problems for the animal in most cases.

Brown Collar Currently Used by PGC
In comparing the use of collars on elk and deer one must realize that a deer is a much smaller animal and as such has less space to fit a collar.  This may be part of the problem but it is not all of it. If one looks at the old elk collars closely the numbered panels were not larger than the collar band, but the number panels on the deer collars extend well beyond the collar band.

Numbered Tag Is Larger Than Collar
In addition they appear to be made of a hard material.  It seems likely that this is at least partially responsible for the damage.  Also the brown part of the collar is broken in the photo above, which would contribute to the chafing on this particular animal.  I suspect that these collars were designed so that animals could be visually  identified from a distance without relying entirely on radio transmitters, but if this is the case, does the supposed benefit of this outweigh the damage done to the animal?  Speaking off the record, a  wildlife professional employed by a state conservation agency, said that it could be as simple as the NPS already having that type of collar on hands and using them without giving the matter further thought.

At this point I would like to take a closer look at two portions of Ms. Johnson's comments and respond to them.

Ms Johnson, " I would like to believe, as someone who is involved with the big game management in my state, that the managers in charge WOULD utilize something less ,if it was available."

My response: " I would like to think that too, but unfortunately after working most of my adult life for a state conservation agency,  I wouldn't put too much stock in this. What is proposed and implemented  can be mind boggling at times, in spite of the competence and good intentions of most agency personnel.

Ms Johnson, "The severity and scope of CWD, for example, is so large and potentially dangerous to our deer herds, that these measures of using hardcore collars, with big packs on them, is so necessary. Without this monitoring, "we" wouldn't be able to manage the deer herds for hunters, photographers, and other wildlife enthusiasts."

My response:  I am aware of the statistics on the severity and scope of CWD, but it is not in the least bit clear to me how that measures such as this or drastic herd reduction are going to save the day.  I may live to see the day that I regret this statement, but at this point I think that conservation agency and NPS reaction to the disease has the potential to have a far worse impact on the herd than the disease itself.

In closing, I will mention that I still list a blog or two in my side bar that are no longer updated on a regular basis.  One of these is Larry Thorngren's . "The Wild Photographer".   His last post about radio collars was "Abused Radio-Collared Bison-Yellowstone National Park" on Nov. 6, 2011.  If you are interested in reading more about this type of thing, it may be worth your while to browse through his older posts.

Also check the comments section of this post to read more input from Larry W. Brown and follow the links to see photos of deer in winter that show severe hair loss from the collars.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Whitetail Photography at Shenandoah National Park-Destroyed For Now!

"Old Rutter Before He Became H 2" in 2012: Canon 7D-300mm f2.8 L IS-ISO 400-1/1600sec f 5.0
Ever since my first visit during the autumn of 1998 I have traveled to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to observe and photograph the whitetail deer especially during summer and autumn.  As time passed I went more and more often and felt reasonably safe in assuming that regardless of what befell whitetail deer in all of my other favorite spots that the deer of Shenandoah would be there.  I must confess that having worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission most of my adult life, and therefore being very aware of deer management issues, that a bit of concern did exist in the back of my mind that the National Park Service could also fall victim to the malaise that has effected so many agencies and pursue herd reduction strategies to an unacceptable extent.  This concern was further heightened by the increasing prevalence of  CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease), nevertheless I was shocked when the NPS, suddenly and without warning to the public, collared and/or ear tagged most of the bucks and many of the does at the prime whitetail spots such as Big Meadows and Skyland.  The collaring was an integral part of a CWD and mature whitetail buck movement study.   Public meetings were also held to determine if herd reduction would take place at the spots of major deer concentration within the park either immediately or when CWD was detected  within a certain distance of the park.  Much of this subject has been covered here before, but I will remind readers that well known Virginia wildlife photographers Larry W. Brown and Jim Fields have done an excellent job of bringing this matter to our attention and keeping us updated on it.  For those who have not read it yet I would recommend that they read CWD The Truth by Numbers  by Larry W. Brown.  This well researched article contains a wealth of information on the subject.

The buck shown in today's first photo was a large mature buck that was a favorite with the whitetail photographers at Big Meadows.  Many feared he was missing when he was not seen for a time after the collaring was done, but he was eventually photographed with  a large collar numbered H2.  I only went to SNP once during the rut of 2012 and was so disgusted that I left after only 1/2 day there.  Well known Pennsylvania photographer Billie G. Cromwell did stay for some time and was able to photograph the buck after he was collared.

"Old Rutter" 2012: Photo Courtesy of Billie G. Cromwell
I did intend to make a few day trips to the park this year to personally check the situation out, but after reading reports from Larry W. Brown that the whitetail photography was terrible at Big Meadows I did not go.  With advancing age I find that the 300+ mile round trips are not  as appealing as they used to be, especially when there is not great likelihood of getting exceptional whitetail photos.  Billie Cromwell did spend a few days in SNP last week and was gracious enough to share a few of his photos with us.  He did photograph "Old Rutter".  This once magnificent animal was now suffering from the effects of advancing age with his rack declining in size.  It is possible that the marked decline in rack size was triggered by the trauma of being tranquilized and fitted with radio collar, but as mentioned he does seem to be an old animal.

"Old Rutter" 2013: Photo Courtesy of Billie G. Cromwell

"Old Rutter" 2013: Photo Courtesy of Billie G. Cromwell
This is not the worst part of the story; however.  Many have pointed out that these collars do not fit the animals well and may cause significant hair loss and skin damage. Such is the case in this situation.  I cropped the photos above severely so that the problem areas are easier to analyze and they are shown below.  These photos were taken with a 5D MK III and 300mm f 2.8 lens, but the animal was too far away to get fine detail and sharpness at this degree of enlargement. Note the collar is out of place and in front of the ear on one side, while the hair is missing over a wide area under the collar and the skin appears to be damaged with at least some sores present.

"Old Rutter" 2013: Photo Courtesy of Billie G. Cromwell

"Old Rutter" 2013: Photo Courtesy of Billie G. Cromwell
It amazes me that is legal and acceptable for the NPS to inflict this kind of damage and distress on an animal, yet had Billie walked close enough to the buck to get detailed close-ups of the damaged area it is likely, had he been observed doing so by enforcement personnel, that we would have been warned to not approach so closely as it could cause the animal undue stress and it is even possible he would be arrested.

Billie reports that there were a 4-5 does using the meadow on a fairly regular basis and he saw a few small bucks in the woods around and going to the campground.  The situation was so bad that it did not even seem like Big Meadows.  He did encounter one buck in the woods along the drive south of Big Meadows that did not have a collar and give him a photo opportunity.

Deformed 13 Point: Photo Courtesy of Billie G. Cromwell
Whitetail viewing and photography should recover in time if the herd is not reduced, but considering the numbers of whitetails seen this fall, many are wondering if the herd reduction has not already secretly taken place.  There are very few things that can impact the visibility of park deer.  One and would be a lack of food on top of the mountain, but in years with a poor mast crop, deer are usually concentrated around the open areas such as Big Meadows and so sightings should be higher.  A heavy mast crop could keep sightings in the meadow down, but they should be seen in plenty elsewhere along the drive. As I have not been there this fall, I do not know what the mast crop is like, although it is very poor in our area. Whatever the case one cannot recommend that a serious whitetail photographer visit SNP at this time.

Again I wish to extend a special thanks to Billie Cromwell for most of today's photos and to Larry W. Brown for this efforts in educating the public as to the truth about CWD and the situation at SNP.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard C. Hill.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Whitetail Rut Explodes

Mature 8 Point Lip-Curls: Canon 7D-Canon 600mm f4-ISO 400-1/400 Sec. f 5.0
The rut of the Whitetail Deer is now going full steam and I am seeing quite a few bucks while photographing in Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Unfortunately one of my favorite whitetail photography spots, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia,  has been ruined temporarily by the CWD study, which resulted in most of the mature bucks being fitted with collars.  The loss may be permanent with the specter of herd reduction looming on the horizon.  As a result most of the bucks I am photographing are smaller than the better ones that could be found at SNP in the past.

Photographing and filming the bucks as they check the scrape lines, and chase the does has been one of my favorite outdoor activities for many years.

Mature 8 Point At Scrape: Canon 7D-Canon 600mm f4-ISO 400-1/1250 Sec. f  4.5
I have been using the 7D a lot lately after a long period of letting it gather dust..  I now use the noise reduction tools in Photoshop CS6 Camera Raw  and Adobe CC rather than noise ninja and I have found that the 7D's low light performance is not as bad as I had thought, although it is not as good as the 5D MK III in that respect.  I now feel comfortable using it at ISO 800 and 1000 and will use 1600 in a pinch.  Some will want to know why I am using the 7D instead of my 70D.  The long and short is that I am using the 70D primarily for video as its' auto focus system works very good for video, while the 7Ds' does not.  I usually shoot with both cameras set up on their respective tripods and the 7D is used on the 600mm to take advantage of long range shots.  I do often use the 5D MK III in poor light or when the animals get closer and it is not hard to shift between the 7D and 5D MK III on the 600mm F4, but it is a hassle to tear the video rig down to use the 70D on the 600mm.  When the 7D is on the 600mm F4, I usually keep the 5D MK III handy with a smaller lens such as the 70-200mm IS II  mounted to handle the closer shots and at times I even use the 300mm f2.8.  This rig is used hand held unless conditions are such that I decide to dismount the 600mm and go with a smaller lens for my shooting and want the added stability of the tripod.

The next two shots were taken hand hand held with the MK III and the 70-200mm.  I still like to use a tripod when possible, but lenses such as the 70-200mm f2.8 L do work well hand held when one uses good shooting technique. I find that I get a high percentage of sharp shots while doing so, especially when using the 5D MK III.

 8 Point Chasing Doe: Canon 5D MK III-Canon  70-200mm f2.8  IS II@200mm-ISO 400-1/1600 Sec. f  5.0
 8 Point Chasing Doe: Canon 5D MK III-Canon  70-200mm f2.8  IS II@200mm-ISO 200-1/640 Sec. f  5.0
The rut should continue for at least two more weeks with some periods being more active than others, but the activity will crash with the opening of rifle deer season on the Monday after Thanksgiving if it does not wind down on its' own accord before.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pennsylvania Elk Season Results-2013

Character Bull "Limpy" Most Likely Survived

I did not go to Pennsylvania Elk Country to cover elk season this year, and while there has been quite a bit of statistical information available about the hunt results, there has been little to no information available as to the impact on the bulls that most who photograph at the Winslow Hill viewing areas are used to seeing. 

We wish to thank Jeff Thomas for sending us the following report late Friday evening. 

"As of 2:30 this afternoon all the bull tags and 52 of the cow tags were filled.I saw the first 22 bulls and heard the last 3 were not very large, so it looks like Limpy and the U bull have made it through again. I will be posting 2 pictures on face book of bulls that will  not be back for next years rut.They only got 25 bulls because one of the bull tag holders did not show up. They don't know if he had moved or did not want to hunt.Will keep you posted if I hear anything else."

The first bull Jeff is referring to is one that was known by some as "The Field Bull" because for a time he was one of the most commonly seen bulls in the upper field at the Gilbert Viewing Area. He was also seen in "The Saddle Area" and that is where he is shown in the photo below.  Gray Hill is in the background.

Field Bull-Killed Ardell Road Area 2013
Another decent size bull was taken on SGL 311 which is the game lands that surrounds the viewing areas.  I have no information as to exactly what portion of the game lands that he was killed.

7x7 Killed SGL 311 2013
An unusual bull that many have photographed for the past two years appears to have survived elk season this year.  Some refer to it as the "U" bull.  It appears to have the genetics of the "Crazy Legs" strain.  I only filmed him at extreme distance this year and got no still photographs.  Jeff photographed him in 2012, but got no photos this year, so I am posting two of his photos from last year so you can see the antler configuration of this bull.

"U" Bull in 2012

U Bull Likely A Descendant of the "Crazy Legs" Bulls
I will post more information if and when it becomes available.  I also plan to discuss elk management and other controversial subjects such as anthropomorphism in the near future in a View From The Saddle post.

Again, I wish to extend a special thanks to Jeff Thomas for providing the information and several of the photos for todays post.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Reactions to Bull Fight Ends In Death Post

Goring Victim: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission
The recent post, "Bull Fight Ends in Death" gained national exposure when it was shared on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Facebook Page. The person who shared the post introduced it with the tag, "Nature is not a Disney movie. Here's another real life --and deadly-- example of what can happen in the wild when bulls spar."
The reader comments on the blog post seemed to draw the most attention. The one that drew  the most ire was  "It is a shame to see beautiful wildlife of any kind dead. However, I would much rather see a dead elk caused by an elk-to-elk fight than a dead elk killed by a hunter". This was followed by a comment in agreement with that sentiment and then two comments that expressed sadness that the bull died.

The reaction to these comments was all out of proportion to what was actually said.  First of all I will say that I have only personally met one of those that originally commented, but I follow the others  blogs and Facebook pagse and and have read their thoughts on many things. Some if not most have either  hunted in the past and may still hunt at present, or have family members that do-- I do not know and I do not care.  The lady who drew the most negative attention did not say that hunting was wrong and did not personally attack any hunter, she simply would rather  that the animal died doing what bull elk ordinarily do and not be killed by a hunter.  That statement is not pro-hunting, but neither is it an attack on hunting or hunters. I repeat she did not personally attack any hunter, but some of those  that commented later did not return the courtesy and did personally attack her while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity in some cases.

I will post the comments here and follow with a brief bit of commentary about each.
Paul Griffin said...
"Sure hate to see that meat go to waste. Would have loved to have tagged that beautiful creature and filled my freezer! Roasts, steaks, jerky, salami and back straps galore! MmmmMmm mmm Good!"
November 5, 2013 at 11:23 AM 
My Take: Griffin has been on Blogger since January 2012 and has had four profile views in that time.  He shares no personal information.  His comment seems designed to draw a reaction from someone who does not approve of hunting, but is not an attack.
"Okay, you people make me laugh.The elk are competing with one another for the right to breed. Their fighting isn't meant as a spectacle for those of us watching, it is a life and death struggle and truly defined as "survival of the fittest." It's not "sad", it's the way the world works. There are no second place trophies in nature.

And for you anti-hunting types, shall I remind you that the only reason these elk are in PA is BECAUSE of modern hunters and the value they place on the conservation of natural resources? The Eastern Elk was "hunted" to extinction in the 1800's, not for sport but out of necessity by the farmers whose crops they decimated. As the conservation movement grew at the turn of the century, the herd was reintroduced to the state using stock from western states. All the money used to originally transport them here, to acquire land to support them, to educate the public on their welfare, and to maintain the herd comes directly from the PA Game Commission and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. For you to say that elk shouldn't be hunted is as naive as it is unfair to those who have footed the bill for their very existence.

Oh, and to those of you who have "pet" deer, remember... a fed deer is a dead deer.
November 5, 2013 at 11:28 AM

My thoughts: This comment is somewhat of a turn off because the author again hides their identity behind  what appears to be an AOL account number.  It is mostly accurate once one gets past the condescending "Okay, you people make me laugh"  and his attack on feeling sadness at the loss of a bull.  The writer states, " It's not "sad", it's the way the world works. There are no second place trophies in nature".  By the same logic you could say that it was not sad that someone died from cancer or was killed in an auto accident as that is the way the world works.

Now lets look at this part; "The Eastern Elk was "hunted" to extinction in the 1800's, not for sport but out of necessity by the farmers whose crops they decimated."

My Take:  It is hard to tell if this is accurate.  I have always read that it was because of unregulated hunting and market hunting in particular, but I never heard it blamed on "farmers"  Of course some farmers would have participated, but so would persons from other vocations such as loggers, etc.

This commentator says in reference to the re-introduction "All the money used to originally transport them here, to acquire land to support them, to educate the public on their welfare, and to maintain the herd comes directly from the PA Game Commission and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation"

My Take:First a bit of historical background.  The PGC established a elk hunting season in in 1923 with only bulls of 4 or more points being legal.  Twenty -three bulls were killed the first year, but by 1925 the kill was only 6.  In 1931, only one animal was killed and the season was closed the following year. (Harrison: The Elk of Pennsylvania)  After that the PGC lost interest in the elk herd and it was not until the 1970s that another state agency now known as DCNR began elk habitat management work on their lands.  It was only after the herd began to rebound and interest to grow in it that the PGC devoted their attention to the elk herd again.  This is no bad reflection on many of the PGC field personnel at that time  or the agency at present, but the PGC was not always supportive of the elk at upper management levels and not all funding for elk work has come from the PGC or RMEF.  Even to this day  the majority of the public lands in elk country are administered by DCNR , which is not funded by hunting license dollars

"Oh, and to those of you who have "pet" deer, remember... a fed deer is a dead deer."

 My Take: This is a bit of propaganda that has gained widespread acceptance and has a nice ring  to it.  Like most propaganda it does contain a kernel of truth , but one only needs look around a field of corn left standing to see that to a large extent it is not so or else the field would be ringed by the carcasses of dead deer, etc.  It can contribute to the spread of disease, but so can a food plot.  

As to his closing statement, "You should educate yourself on a subject matter before speaking to it"--I couldn't agree with him more on that one.
Adam Prusinowski said...
"Linda is a very ignorant or naive person to leave that comment
 November 5, 2013 at 11:44 AM

My Take: A personal attack with  no constructive value.

Mr. Ego, to you. said...
"Honestly people, stop anthropomorphizing these animals. Yes, you can grieve for the dead, you are human. But don't put your feelings into an animal that does this for shear necessity. For those who do not know what the word is I posted, here is the definition:

[ ànthrəpə máwr fz ]

treat nonhuman thing as human: to give a nonhuman thing a human form, human characteristics, or human behavior

My Take:
This name is linked to a blogger profile that has had four views since  May 2011. Anthropomorphism is a  subject is for another day, but all in all I don't see that it has much to do with the issue at hand--in fact there was no issue at hand other than reporting the death of a bull as the result of a fight.
November 5, 2013 at 11:52 AM
Pianoman said...

"To Linda:Just so you know, there wouldn't be any elk in PA unless hunter conservationists had given their money and their volunteerism to transplant them there. You may not want to hunt and that's your choice. But you need to know that hunters spend more money and give more time to wildlife conservation than all other animal groups combined. Without hunters, the elk in this story would likely never have been born."
November 5, 2013 at 5:53 PM

My Take: No abuse or unprofessional behavior here, but the person did not put their real name to it.  It is possible to find that they are a moderator on the Hunting Washington forum.  The part that many that take this stance  never tell you is that they do not want other sources of funding for wildlife conservation. They want to be able to hold it over the head of the non-consumptive user of wildlife that the hunter pays the bill and wildlife should be managed for them alone.
 weiserbud12 said...
"Yeah because feeding my family is appalling. Your stupid, your an animal remember?
November 6, 2013 at 10:48 AM"

My Take: This comment speaks for itself.

In closing I must say that it never ceases to amaze me how that many who comment on issues of the day do their cause more harm than good by the tenor of their writing.  I cannot help but wonder if they have ever converted anyone to their point of view by calling them "stupid" and "clueless"

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Leaves Change Color As The Whitetail Rut Begins

Many Pennsylvania nature photographers have commented that fall colors have not been as spectacular this year as usual and I have found that to be true here in the south-central portion of the state as well.  With that being said I did capture a decent fall scene last Thursday.  Wanting to travel light, I carried only the Panasonic GH3 and tripod with the 14-140mm Lumix lens mounted.  I also carried the 100-300mm Lumix in case I encountered wildlife.

Fall Colors: Panasonic GH3-Lumix 14-140mm@17mm- ISO 200-1/100sec. f 11.0
It seems that the GH3 does quite well as a still camera at the lower ISO settings and it is very easy to carry, but with that being said I still like to use the Canons for most of my still photography.

I have seen quite a bit of wildlife as well in the past few weeks.  One of the most memorable occasions was when I was watching a distant flock of gobblers in a portion of a meadow that was dry enough for the farmer to mow this summer. Since the fall rains it is now a wetlands and  some of the gobblers were drinking from the pools of water among the grass. The image is severely cropped to give a more dramatic composition.

Gobbler Drinking: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0-ISO 400-1/250sec. f 8.0
The whitetail deer rut was early last year and I had seen a lot of bucks chasing does by the middle of October, but things have really been slow this year and there has been little signs of the rut until lately.  I have noticed that in the last few days the young bucks that are still traveling with the family groups are showing rutting behavior.  It is amusing to watch these little fellows acting aggressive.

Yearling Buck Performs lip-curl: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0-ISO 400-1/320sec. f  4.5
On October 25th I saw the first buck chasing a doe.  I did film the chasing with the Panasonic, but the stills I got with the 5D MK III and the 600mm were only portrait shots.  This was a buck I had not seen before and is either a larger than usual (for this area) yearling or is a small 2 year old.

6 Point Buck Pauses From Chasing Doe: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0-ISO 3200-1/200sec. f  4.0
The light level was low enough that it was good to have the MK III's excellent high ISO capability.  I was hidden behind a hay bale, but the buck still caught the movement as I switched from the video camera to the still camera. He soon lost interest in me and began chasing the doe again.

6 Point Buck: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0-ISO 3200-1/160sec. f  4.0

He evidently got the leaves in his right antler from horning the ground, which is something I would liked to have seen and recorded.

I enjoy photographing almost any species I can find, but I have been fascinated with the whitetail deer since a young age and they are my favorite species to film and photograph.  Each year I especially look forward to filming the excitement of the fall rut when bucks that are ordinarily shy and hard to see are suddenly everywhere running about after the does.  It will be interesting to see what buck sightings the next few weeks bring.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bull Fight Ends In Death

Photographers enjoy the beauty of the natural world and strive to capture their subjects in beautiful, exciting poses, but unfortunately  some things in nature are not beautiful.  While I prefer to concentrate on the awesome beauty that can be found in the outdoors, it is good to document  some of the less pleasant  aspects of the outdoor experience so that the public is aware of the reality of life for animals in the wild.

The Beauty of Nature: Canon 70D-Canon 300mm f2.8-ISO 400-1/320 sec. f 3.2
As we pointed out in the last post, most who visit the elk hope to see an exciting bull fight, but they often do not consider the serious injury that can result to the participants.  A prime example of this was when the famous character bull "Fred, Jr." was gored in 2000.  I do not know if anyone got to see the fight in which he was injured, but I found him in the Winslow Hill back country one September morning in 2000 and was surprised to find that he had a large hole in one side.

Fred Gored-2000-Canon L2 Hi-8 Camcorder Video Still Capture

 I spent over an hour with the great animal as he stood on a hillside licking his wound.  After close observation it seemed likely that the wound had not penetrated vital organs and he had an excellent chance to recover.

Fred's Wound: Canon Elan II-Lens Unknown-35mm scan
 I was further reassured when he suddenly scented the air and then ran into a nearby hollow where I found him  pursuing a hot cow.  By the next autumn there was no sign of the injury and I had the privilege of recording him and the Test Hill bull in the fight that is featured in The Elk Country Visitor Center theater presentation and my film, "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd.  A small portion of this fight is also included in my latest film, "Running Wild in Pennsylvania Elk Country".  Both films may be purchased at Benezett Store.

At least one fatality resulted from a bull fight on Winslow Hill this year.  To the best of my knowledge someone reported to the PGC that a bull was dead, but the officer who responded  could not find the animal and asked noted elk photographer Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer if he had seen it.  At this point Saffer had not, but he later found the animal and notified the PGC.

Goring Victim: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission
The bull was in The Saddle Area.  If you look directly over the back end of the bull in the photo below you can see Dewey Road in the background and the large meadow to the side of the road where the fight took place that was featured in the short video I posted recently.

Goring Victim: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission
Soon Wildlife Conservation Officer Doty McDowell arrived and removed the animal.

WCO Doty McDowell Arrives: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission

WCO Doty McDowell Removing Elk: Photo Courtesy of Ronald J. Saffer- Used by permission
According to Buckwheat this was not a particularly distinctive bull. Although it had a beautiful 6x6 rack, it was still a young animal albeit one with excellent  potential to grow into an exception bull had this not happened. It is not one that stood out above the rest of the herd for any particular reason and so would not be a "character" bull that was known to a lot of photographers and elk watchers.

The first question someone usually asks is what did they do with the elk?  I have not corresponded with WCO McDowell about this, but based on my past experience as a PGC Deputy and Maintenance worker I would expect that the elk would be not fit for human consumption. It is possible that the hide was saved and extremely likely that the antlers were salvaged and will end up being exhibited in an information/education display at some point.

Deaths from fighting are not an every day occurrence during the rut, but they are not rare either and it seems that one usually hears of one or more bulls dying each year from injuries received in a fight.

I wish to extend special thanks to Ron "Buckwheat "Saffer  for sharing his photos of the incident with us.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October Brings Good Variety of Wildlife Encounters

I returned home from my annual two week trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country to record the elk rut  after the morning photo shoot on Friday September 27th.  According to reliable sources  the rut continued full-bore for  awhile after that, but has now tapered off quite a bit.  Since returning home I have been working with the local wildlife each day, but things have been slow.  With that being said, I have captured a few usable images over a period of time.

I see raccoons occasionally, but usually it is not under the most photogenic conditions. I was set up near an old barn one morning and kept hearing a "chirring" noise so I slowly turned around to see two young raccoons peering at me from a hole in the side of the barn.  I had the 300mm f2.8 attached to the 5D MK III and it was the right combination for the encounter as the light was still very poor and the combination of fast lens and good high ISO capability contributed to a successful capture.

Young Raccoons: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 300mm f 2.8 IS L-ISO 3200 1/160 sec. f 2.8
On another occassion I captured a fox squirrel as me passed by my stand.  When I was young it was very rare to see these large squirrels, but although not as common as the gray squirrel I do see them frequently.

Fox Squirrel: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm f 4.0 IS L-ISO 1000 1/250 sec. f 4.5
It is always a thrill to see Eastern Wild Turkey Gobblers.  These are extremely shy birds that are usually seen only at a distance. I will digress for a moment to say that  I recently got a 600mm F 4.0 L IS lens of the same version as my 500mm and 300mm.  All of these have now been replaced with a II version that is lighter, but the price of a new 600mm is beyond my budget so I settled for a used one that is in excellent condition with no signs of wear.  This was an ideal lens to use to capture a group of mature gobblers when I was fortunate enough to spot them at a distance in the woods.

Distant Gobblers: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0 IS L-ISO 1000 1/200 sec. f 4.5
The lens also worked quite well when I caught a mature gobbler running across a meadow one evening.  In this case I used a high ISO so that I could use a high shutter speed in hopes of stopping the action.

Running Gobbler: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0 IS L-ISO 1600 1/1000 sec. f 4.5
The lens also worked well to capture a distant whitetail buck late one evening.  This was another situation ideally suited for the low-light capability of the 5D MK III.  Even with using the 600mm the image is substantially cropped to get the composition that I desired.

Late Evening Whitetail: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 600mm f 4.0 IS L-ISO 3200 1/180 sec. f 4.0
This has been an unusual fall for me as I have seen very few rack bucks since coming back from elk country.  Most of the bucks seen so far are the spikes and three points that are still traveling with their family groups.  Ordinarily I have photographed several rack bucks by this time, but with the local photography not being as good as expected and the buck photography being ruined in Shenandoah National Park because of the"CWD" study, which has caused most of the mature bucks to be collared, and the government shutdown which has closed the park to all for the time being, there has been no chance for any outstanding encounters.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.