A nice Whitetail Buck stands erect shaking his antlers in the overhanging pine bough
After 30 seconds or so of standing erect the buck dropped to all fours and began making a scrape. With the colder weather the pre-rut activity is picking up swiftly. I expect it will be another week or two before many of the does come into estrus.
For those of you who must drive through whitetail habitat; do so carefully. The next few weeks are the most dangerous time of the year for both the deer and the automobiles. I know from experience.
Living in deer country and traveling a lot during the hours of darkness I have collided with more than my share over the past few decades. Just this past Saturday evening as I topped a small rise three deer darted into the path of my car. With no time to stop I braked hard. At impact the deer was thrown into the air falling on the left-hand berm dieing. The results: one dead deer and $900 damage.
Not really a race; but rather the beginnings of the whitetail rut
This nice buck appeared as daylight was rapidly fading. I panned along with him as he chased a doe and fired the camera using a 1/4th second shutter speed. I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Not the portrait shot that I am always striving for but I think it turned out pretty cool.
Our weather has taken a decided turn colder. With the colder weather the beginning of whitetail rutting activity has became noticeable. This evening I joined Willard in hopes of having an opportunity to photograph some of the early rut activity.
The Tufted Titmice were busy feeding on a sunflower head tacked to a nearby tree. This particular bird paused on an overhanging branch long enough for me to capture its image with the 400mm lens combined with flash from a Canon Speedlite.
As day fades into night a Bull Elk screams his challenge from a hilltop meadow
The Pennsylvania elk herd is a unique treasure. Where else in the Eastern United States can one view and photograph such magnificent animals?
For a population of animals to be available for viewing and photography they must not flee at the slightest hint of human presence. These elk are acclimated to human presence, allowing photographer and viewers a memorable experience.
The Pennsylvania Elk herd in the Winslow Hill Benezette area is visited by thousands of people each year in hopes of viewing these magnificent creatures. Also a select few, chosen by public drawing pull tags to kill an elk. Currently a small no-hunt zone encompasses the tourist area but the Pennsylvania Game Commission has seen fit to allow as many as 40% of this years allocation of bull tags to be filled around its border. The hunting which was begun a few years ago has effectively removed the huge bulls from the population. Few if any bulls survive long enough to obtain the truly massive size that was common before the hunt began.
Since shooting the Elk rut in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Allegheny Mountains I have not found much time for photography. Soon that will change for I have planned my next two vacation weeks to coincide with the whitetail deer rut.
When I answered the phone, the voice of an old friend greeted me. During my years as a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Andy and I had patrolled together many times. We covered untold miles both with our patrol vehicles and with our conversations as we passed the uneventful hours of night patrol.
Now Andy was asking if I was interested in dusting off the old duty weapon and showing up at the local range for some friendly competition. I informed him that I didn’t recollect having fired it since retiring two years ago but he assured me that the shooting wouldn’t be all that difficult.
Five old bowling pins were set on a table in front of each shooter. All courses of fire began with the weapon loaded, holstered and secured. The objective was to be the first to clean the table of pins.
As I later recalled the evening events and the good fun had by all, I began to think about the issue of gun control.
Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, firearms were an everyday part of life. The .22 always stood in the corner; ready to dispatch any varmint that happened to wander into the farm and on butchering days it was used to kill the hogs. There were a couple of 12ga. shotguns that dad and granddad used to kill a few squirrels and rabbits each fall, adding some variety to the family meals and then there were the deer rifles. Guns were tools, tools that were used for a useful purpose. Gun ownership in our rural county to this day is very high. I have no doubt that guns outnumber the people by a considerable number and yet crime is very low in our community.
From a high mountain overlook I watch the glorious golden sunrise
No two dawns are alike just as no two sunsets are identical. I treasure the moment when I have the opportunity to greet the dawn from a scenic spot for most dawns pass me by unnoticed while I am busy at work; working in a small office without so much as a window
For more Sky Watch and to join in click HERE and visit the gang
With their attention riveted upon an approaching smaller bull the dominate herd bull and his cow watch his every move.
Finding and photographing Pennsylvania elk is not difficult for those who choose to visit Winslow Hill, the center of the Pennsylvania elk tourist area.
Oft times the elk are observed in lawns, around buildings or in other areas with equally unattractive backgrounds. The most daunting task for the photographer becomes that of attempting to get good lighting, a decent background and the elk all in one place and then to capture the moment when the animal poses just right.
If the dominate breeding bull were to take him serious he would be ready to flee without protest
After spending a few days with in Elk County during Pennsylvania elk rut, the woodlands of southern Pa seem strangely quiet. During my short stay the squealing, braying, grunting sounds of elk bugles filled the air only becoming quiet for a short time around mid day.
This photo is the best of the series I obtained from an encounter with a Ruffed Grouse, my first encounter with camera in hand!
The shy elusive Ruffed Grouse is difficult at best to photograph. With the depressed populations brought on by over-browsing of the underbrush by deer; photographing Ruffed Grouse has became next to impossible.
This grouse was alarmed upon discovering my presence but its curiosity allowed me to get a few frames off before it rapidly departed.
No Photoshop trickery here folks. While Willard and I were passing some mid-day time during my recent trip to Elk County Pa. we drove past a camp with this young buck feeding near the cabin. He began walking through the trees and framed himself for this shot.
It may be an omen of things to come for this fellow for his position and framing reminds me of a shoulder mount whitetail in the full sneak position hanging on the wall.
Two Pennsylvania Bull Elk posture in an attempt to intimidate the other.
As these bulls passed the nearer bull took the opportunity afforded and charged into the flank of the larger bull. The attack was violent and could have ended badly if his antlers had penetrated his opponents flank. Fortunately, there was no penetration and only the pride of the larger bull was damaged.
With antlers locked in combat the bulls shoved and retreated, separating only to again crash together trying to gain the advantage. During this time I and another photographer was quickly maneuvering to keep in sight of the battle. The fight moved down over the side of the meadow and to view more than just the backs of the combatants required closing the distance to about twenty yards.
After considerable fighting the smaller bull suddenly wheeled 180 degrees and fled the scene at top speed. There was only one problem, I was in his path.
With 700 pounds of elk and antlers bearing down at what appeared to be a terrific rate of speed I grabbed my tripod and began moving as fast as my legs would move. As the pounding hoofs of the bull closed the distance I saw recognition in his eyes and with that he turned slightly to his left and passed within probably ten feet.
In retrospect the bull intended me no harm. His only concern was to get away from the larger bull. Was it exciting? Heck yes! The adrenalin rush left me with pulsating heart and slightly shaking legs.
The incident was something I would not have wanted to miss, but it is something I will try to avoid in the future.
Tuesday morning a breeding frenzy was taking place in the area where we had left the elk the evening before. I counted seventeen animals in the harem (cow/calf herd) and was able to identify at least seven different bulls. The herd bull featured in Friday’s post was kept extremely busy shooing the satellite bulls away from his girls. Of the satellite bulls tending the herd this non-typical was the largest.
On a number of occasions when the herd bull was otherwise engaged, this bull would rush into the harem and begin checking the cows. As the herd bull would rush in to vanquish the intruder the non-typical would literally run to get out of his way.
I overheard a local elk guide explaining that non-typical bulls very seldom fight as their malformed antlers do not provide them with the protection as does a typical rack.
That may very well be the case but the elk fight that I was to soon witness occurred between this bull and a smaller rival.
A beautiful non-typical bull bugles while facing the elk viewers along the road
The entire family can enjoy viewing Pennsylvania’s elk. Frequently they are sighted from the road. With their tolerance of humans one need not worry about spooking the animals as long as the viewers use common sense and do not attempt to approach too closely.
This was the first bull we encountered on Winslow Hill upon my arrival Monday morning. He was pacing the length of a meadow alternating between bugling and feeding.
Soon I was to learn that he was a satellite bull, circling the harem but never daring to spend much time with the cows lest the dominate herd bull catch him.
Fighting between these animals is dangerous. Most disputes are settled with posturing and intimidation rather than combat. This bull did not question the dominate bull’s authority during the time I spent with these animals, giving way each time the herd bull arrived upon the scene. As with most bulls on Winslow Hill this bull was quite tolerant of people.
As sunset approached Monday, the heavy cloud cover that had been present all day began to break. A nice bull and a single cow were in the woods along this woodland opening. Hoping for the bull to move into the beautiful light of the setting sun I was to be disappointed when he bed down and continued to bugle from his bed.
Shortly after the sun dropped behind the distant ridge the cow moved into the opening. The colors of autumn enhanced by the beautiful light remaining painted a beautiful backdrop to photograph the cow against. The only thing missing was a majestic bull.
As the evening light was fading fast, a dominate herd bull hove into view. With mud smeared flanks and antlers he staked his claim to the winsome cow with an ear splitting spine tingling bugle.
I have just returned from a three day shoot in the Pennsylvania Elk Range.
I met Willard in Benezette early Monday morning and daylight found us on foot moving towards the thrilling sounds of bugling bulls. This trip proved to be my most thrilling elk shoot ever with repeated close encounters with rutting bulls and with one encounter just a tad too close for comfort, but that is a story for another day.
I have returned exhausted and happy with a collection of 1050 images to sort through. Many will be deleted and a few will make the grade. For now I will share an image that caught my attention as I was quickly reviewing the images on the computer. It may become my favorite image from this trip.
I shot this image with the 100-400mm lens set on 400mm, f5.6 ISO 200 and a 1.3 second shutter speed. The sun had been down for some time and the bull was barely visible with the naked eye in the darkness. Skylineing him against the rising fog on the distant mountains made capturing an image possible.
The bull pictured here is in most probabilities the oldest in the state. He is known by many as Fred, others call him Dog Rope and the Pa Game Commission simply calls him Bull #36. For more information on this majestic old animal estimated to be approximately fifteen years old, visit Willard’s blog, Pa Wildlife Photographer.