Friday, July 17, 2015

A Tale Of Bulls And Thunderstorms

By mid-July the antlers on the bulls are mostly grown. It is always a special treat to photograph them with the velvet covered antlers and I usually spend several days in Pennsylvania Elk Country in this time frame.  Most of the photographers report seeing average size bulls for the most part and most of the bull pictures posted on Facebook seem to bear this out.  This was also my experience in most cases and I saw a lot of nice young 4x4 and 5x5 bulls, but I did see one very nice 6x7 and this is mostly the story of that encounter.

5x5 Bull Pauses From Browsing
I don't need to tell anyone that it has been an exceptionally wet July and a lot of my photography earlier in the week involved dodging thunder storms.  On Tuesday evening I traveled to a remote area to film and when I arrived water was running in streams down the ruts in the dirt road.  At that point the cloud cover was broken with the sun peaking through at times.  I took the video rig with tripod and carried the 7D MK II with the new 100-400mm L IS II lens strapped around my neck and hiked to a meadow that showed some promise.  I had no sooner reached the spot I wished to watch than the sky became very threatening and thunder began rumbling.

The Gathering Storm
It seemed a wise course to pursue a hasty retreat to the vehicle and as I was half-way back to the vehicle when I noticed two large bulls had just emerged from the  woods and were feeding in the meadow.  I concentrated on filming them with the video camera, and also fired a few frames with the still camera.  The bulls were at least 150 yards away.

Mature Bulls Feeding-Taken At 110mm
Mature Bulls Watch Photographer-Taken at 400mm
It was raining lightly when I saw the bulls and it became heavier and heavier as I filmed.  While this doesn't show up in the still photos, it made for especially appealing video as there is something so wild looking about film of wildlife in falling rain or snow. While the still equipment can endure quite a bit of rainfall I had an external monitor on the video camera, which is not weather sealed, so I filmed for a short time and then covered it with a garbage bag and took cover in the vehicle.

In time the rain dropped off to desultory sprinkles and I considered the situation.  Should I move on to another area or should I return.  There was a likelihood that the bulls would be gone, but my gut instinct told me there was a very good chance  they would still be there and that other animals would have joined them.  The next decision was which camera rig to carry.  Usually I would carry video when the light is very murky, but I finally decided to carry the best long-range low light still rig I had along, which was the Canon  5D MK III and the 600mm F 4.0.  Sure enough when I got back to the meadow I found they had been joined by two more bulls so I took several frames of them at about 150 yards distance at ISO 1000 with a shutter speed of 1/100 at F 4.0.

Two Bulls After Thunderstorm
The one on the right, which is also pictured directly below, was the most impressive of the group because of his wide spread. He appeared to be a 6x7 while the smaller bull was at least a 5x6.

Largest Bull After Thunderstorm
The photo below shows the fourth bull standing on the right while the animal on the left is the smaller bull from the first encounter.

Bulls After Rain
With that it was time to leave as darkness was rapidly approaching and the sky cleared soon after sunset giving the promise of more pleasing weather conditions for the next few days.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.