Sunday, March 7, 2010

PA Elk Ramblings

We visited the Elk County Pa again this past weekend.  We found that the bull elk still have their antlers and that they were still into aggressive sparring.  We also once again observed bulls still "sniffing" the cows. This is exceedingly late in the year as the bulls will soon be dropping their antlers.

We found nine bulls together in an area where we had previously observed eleven together.  One of the nine could be immediately identified as not being one of the eleven from three weeks ago as he was yet another bull with a "knob" for the right antler and this one has a poorly formed left antler.
That now makes the very mature bull that has a badly deformed right antler and a well developed 7 point left antler, two other bulls with a "knob" for right antler and immature 7 point left antlers and a fourth bull now with a "knob" for right antler and a poorly formed left antler.  It is quite clear that this is a genetic trend.  This type of genetic trait adds another "twist" to the management of the herd under the current methods being employed to manage the hunt.  Most hunters are applying to get their chance at "trophy" bulls and are paying a considerable fee to do so.  Recent publicity on one other blog has focused on the ability to get great bulls in PA (which is a very misleading statement-but that is not what  is being addressed here today).  Bulls such as the one pictured here are not favored by hunters and most likely will not be harvested. As long as the mature trophy bulls are harvested and bulls such as this are not, it will not be long before the majority of the bulls in the Pa herd will have the genetic trait of this bull.  Micro managing a small herd of animals and running a hunt that is not fair chase and is actually a "cull" of mature bulls will lead to the PA herd being one with what could be considered poor genetics.

The picture below is being offered as an example of preferential harvest.  The bull in that picture was very typical (according to my grandfather) for Pa at that time and the herd was hunted to almost extinction with little regard for conservation.  However, note the maturity of the whitetail deer in the picture.  That "quality" of bucks became a thing that was rarely harvested until the last few years when the Pa Game Commission has implemented a deer management program to better enable bucks to get to a mature age.  Our camp still stands a short distance from where this picture was taken and it is hard to even find a whitetail deer in that area now, let alone a "trophy" buck!
We saw a total of 23 bulls this weekend and well over 125 cows and calves.  Most of the bulls were immature.

We were able to enjoy 4 bulls feeding and sparring for three hours with friends Willard Hill, Richard Coy and Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer.  These photographs are "crops" of the originals that can be found on our photography website.  The cropping has been done for the blog to illustrate the size of the bulls versus the normal photographic composition.  I will be posting a "proper" rule of thirds photo of each for comparison later today.

The weekend ended with a fun session with a pileated woodpecker in a tree next to the cabin where we were staying. The weekend elk sessions and the final session with the pileated confirmed my love/hate relationship with the 200-400 Nikor f4 lens.  As long as the subjects are close, the lens performs superbly and gets very sharp pictures.  When the object being photographed is much beyond 75 feet if a full sized animal or 30 feet if a small object such as the wood pecker, the image starts getting soft on sharpness.
The parting "shot" for this week has to do with the ethics and good behavior of elk observation.  We are guests in Elk Country and we should respect private landowners when we are there.  One land owner talked with me and indicated that he appreciated the fact that I stayed in the highway to take pictures and that i parked my vehicle off the highway out of the way.  He said that a growing number of visitors to the area have little to no regard for private property and folks have gotten up in the morning only to find elk viewers and photographers not only on their property but on their decks!   A few inconsiderate people can spoil the fun and ability to enjoy these animals if this type of behavior persists.  If we observe such behavior, we should not wait for the land owner to challenge the individuals.  We should challenge and educate them ourselves.


Willard said...

Beautiful photos with excellent commentary, Jim. A thought provoking post.

Coy said...

Good post Jim, glad to see you came away with some real keeper images.

Brad Myers said...

I wish I could have made it back up this weekend to shoot with you guys. It looks like you had another productive weekend in Elk country. With the dropping of antlers I guess I won't make another trip until June for the new borns.

By the way, a very good post.