Saturday, October 10, 2015

Early October In Elk Country

As the calendar turns to October the Pennsylvania elk rut begins to wind down, for the most part. There will still be rutting activity and behavior throughout the month, though usually on a lesser scale and intensity. I have personally witnessed cows being bred in late October on more than one occasion. The real draw for me, as a photographer, is the opportunity to photograph the elk among the fall colors although the elk don't always cooperate with this.

Cow elk among the Asters.

After a month of making weekly trips to the elk range to photograph the rut, I found myself a bit burned out and contemplating giving it a rest for a few weeks. The pull of fall in the PA mountains turned out to be too strong however and I found myself back in elk country with camera in hand. 

Bull among the pines.

The fall colors are really coming on in some areas but it looks as if it's going to be one of those years where it is spotty. My last trip up found me in familiar haunts and most of the bulls I saw were ones I had already photographed the month prior. I spent the last few ours of the evening observing a young bull with a decent sized harem. There was a larger bull with a nice harem of his own not far from this location and they bugled back and forth quite a bit but as the sun became low on the horizon it turned quiet for the most part.

Announcing his arrival.

This young bull was pretty serious about keeping these cows together and more than once a few tried to head off to parts unknown but were herded back each time. Most of the cows seemed ready to leave this nonsense behind but he would have none of it and it was comical to watch.

Young bull in full rut mode.

As the light began to fade, I worked my way over to one of my favorite spots and sat down and watched the show. It was then that I noticed two young bulls feeding in a meadow on the opposite hill. They showed no interest in the goings on over here and seemed content to just eat and rest. The last few rays of the setting sun lit up the aspens around the meadow and here and there the red and orange leaves of maple added another splash of color. It was a beautiful sight and a beautiful evening, so much so that I sat and watched it all until it was nearly dark. These are the moments that keep me coming back.

An autumn meadow.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Chasing the 2015 Pennsylvania Elk Rut

From my own perspective, the Pennsylvania elk rut this year seemed a bit off and I'm not sure I can put my finger on the exact reason I feel this way. Yes, there was bugling, bulls sparring and fighting, and everything that goes along with the rut, but somehow it all seemed to be on a lesser scale. Last year I took a little over 2,000 photos from early September to mid-October and as it stands now after one month I am at less than half that amount for this year. Perhaps I'm just getting more particular about when I press the shutter button but I don't think that is it.

The dry weather towards the end of summer had many popular food plots in the elk range looking less than lush and this, along with warm temperatures, was most certainly a factor to the apparent lack of activity. Most evenings elk did not come out of the timber until it was nearly dark, too dark for good photography. One of the biggest surprises this year was the areas that always have elk activity, and I mean always, sitting empty and quiet even during ideal conditions. At times it was a surreal experience.

I was able to photograph several bulls that I have photographed in the past and it is always interesting to see how their antlers have increased in size or regressed and to witness how their position in the dynamic of the elk herd has changed.

As usual, the last week or so of September found cows coming into heat and there was an uptick in activity, though not to the degree I have seen in the past. As the calendar turned to October the intensity of the rut seemed to be waning a bit already.

It was still enjoyable 'chasing' the elk rut this year even if it didn't seem to live up to expectations for the most part. Being out in the wilds of PA observing these amazing animals is never a disappointment no matter what time of year and I am thankful for every opportunity I get to do it.