Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Elk Rut, Photography, & Thoughts

For me, every August the anticipation begins building for the elk rut and for autumn, two of my favorite things. The days are spent looking for those very first signs of either, almost wishing time along at a faster pace. Before you know it, both are upon you and both will be over in the blink of an eye. I suppose as a photographer that briefness of the experience drives one to try and capture everything they possibly can, to preserve the memories of the season. When it comes to photography my thoughts on this are changing a bit, but more on that later.

Every elk rut in Pennsylvania seems to have it's own identity if you will, something that sets it apart from years past. Some years things are moving along as soon as the calendar turns to September, other years the activity seems to trickle out in spurts. So far, I would have to say that this year is shaping up as a typical year and seemingly better in terms of overall elk activity from last year. Granted, that may be the case in the places I happen to be out and about, and not representative of the elk range as a whole.

Early Afternoon In Elk Country

As it stands today, I have already been fortunate enough to watch and photograph several outstanding bulls. In fact, there seems to be a good number of bulls out there that currently are or are on the cusp of being something special. One thing that is standing out for me this year is the lack of bulls with large harems of cows. Just a few years ago it was nothing to see a bull with twenty, thirty, or more cows in his harem. Now, it seems they have a handful at best for the most part.

A young bull in the pre-dawn light.

It used to be that while photographing the elk I would be happy just to get a shot and to be honest as those images start building up they seem more and more generic. Basically, in the popular photography spots you will have numerous photographers all photographing the same thing. It can be interesting to see what others take from the experience in comparison to your own photographs but in these circumstances it can be hard to get anything truly unique. I go to these places, especially if there is not much going on elsewhere, and it is still possible to extract something different than everyone else, but I would rather be somewhere getting shots others are not. For me photography seems to have moved beyond just getting a picture of something, there needs to be another element to it or it just feels empty anymore. At times lately I have begun to question why I lug all of this equipment around, then I will capture something that seems to make it worthwhile. Sometimes it seems, seems mind you, that I was more creative when I was carrying a point and shoot camera everywhere. I don't know, somewhere along the line something seems to have been lost. I guess it's that way in anything you do, it is hard to keep that sense of excitement and 'wonderment' as things become old hat.

Getting A Drink

Open Wide

In Pursuit

Normally in the down time between morning and evening elk excursions I will do a bit of trout fishing to pass the time. The streams are still low and they really aren't much fun to fish when they are this way. I did catch a nice brown trout when I floated a mini-hopper pattern along an undercut bank. After that I decided to quit as the fish seem stressed enough as it is with the conditions they are enduring.

Fall wildflowers are in bloom and line the trails through the woods and along the streams.

By the time the calendar turns to October the elk rut is beginning to wind down. Really, the elk rut and the goldenrod bloom seem to be intertwined. Both begin to some degree in August, peak in September, and begin to fade in early October. It is amazing to me how quickly the month of September went by this year, though it seems the older you get the more that seems to be the case.

A near full moon and being surrounded by bugling, it doesn't get any better.

Herding Display

In the Rain

There is still some rut behavior and activity to be found in the coming month, along with the fall colors and less and less people to deal with as the month wears on. It can almost be more enjoyable in a way but the call of elk country in September will always be hard to top...