Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pennsylvania Elk Rut 2013 -As The Rut Continues, Some Calves Still Nurse

I filmed and photographed a lot of elk during my recent two week trip to Pennsylvania Elk Country.  There is certainly no shortage of bulls, but with few exceptions the bulls seen on Winslow Hill this fall are young animals that have not yet reached their full potential or older bulls that  do not have the genetic make-up to grow a large rack.

Winslow Hill Bulls: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 70-20mm f2.8 IS L@105mm--ISO 1000-1/200 sec. F 4.0
The bull on the right is the famous 2D and yes I did remove the collar with Photoshop to preserve the wild look of the scene.  He is one of the few elk, and perhaps the only bull, on Winslow Hill that still has the bright yellow collar and number.  The PGC has shifted to a more esthetically pleasing brown collar as the yellow collars made the animals stand out like a sore thumb in elk season.  I hope that in time the collars will be eliminated entirely and replaced by an implanted chip or something like it.  At any rate the new ones are much less objectionable than the old and are worlds ahead of the ridiculous collars used on the whitetail deer in Shenandoah National Park.

2D is the largest he has ever been, but it seems that he is one of those elk that will never be a real contender. Although it is possible that he will be a late bloomer so as to speak and suddenly skyrocket in size,  I do not expect this to happen.  I first photographed him about 2008 and he is not a great deal larger now.  One need only see a mature bull up close to fully realize the difference between them and the second tier bulls.

Mature Herd Bull: 5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L --ISO 200-1/800 sec. F 2.8
 The bull above is the only mature herd bull that I saw on Winslow Hill this fall.  He is a bit smaller than last year.  It was truly a privileged to document him during the rut this year.  There were other bulls with wide,  high antlers, but they were young bulls with years of development ahead of them if they live, while this bull has the thick heavy antlers typical of a bull at or past his prime.The photo below was taken when he lunged at a cow which he was following.

Herd Bull Lunges at Cow:  5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L+ 1.4x extender II --ISO 200-1/250 sec. F 5.0
While the bulls are the center of attention, it is worthwhile to pay attention to what the other elk are doing as well.

Elk Herd on Winslow Hill: 5D MK III-Canon 24-105mm f24 IS @85mm-ISO 200-1/200 sec. F 8.0
 Some have expressed amazement that they are seeing calves still nursing from the cows.  This is not extremely common at this time of year, but neither is it rare and I get to film this on occasion.  I even saw a calf nursing on President's Day weekend one year, and I have seen a cow nursing its' calf from the previous year, during the rut in Septermber..

Calf Nursing-Sept. 25, 2013: 5D MK III-Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L+1/4 extemder--ISO 400-1/1000 sec. F 4.5
Whitetail fawns are  still nursing at times also, but the does ordinarily do not stand long for them and in some cases will not stand at all but shy away from the fawn as it approaches.

Whatever the species, the outdoors is a place that never ceases to amaze and there is no better way to appreciate the beauty of nature than to be afield with a camera.

Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.