September 24th was the first day of a full three days in Elk Country for my wife, Elena, and I. We arrived in St. Mary's on the evening of Friday, September 23rd and made sure we had a good night sleep for an early morning departure for Benezette. We reached our first stop at 5:30 a.m. which was to attend a biannual gathering of our Facebook group "Benezette Elk Camera Club". We grabbed coffee and donuts, talked with a few friends and met some Facebook friends for the first time. 6:30 came fast and the sun was beginning to glow in the eastern sky so everyone said their "see ya laters" and headed in all directions to where they thought they would see elk.
It was still dark so Elena and I used a flashlight while walking through the woods to distant meadows. Once there, we and several other people with the same idea, began to set up. As soon as there was enough light, I began to make photographs. You see, one never knows how long an elk herd will stay in the fields so you have to act quickly. My beginning camera sensitivity, called iso, on my Canon 1DX MK II was set at 3200 which is about 8 to 16 times higher than normal daytime shooting. That was the minimum setting I could use while keeping a decent shutter speed.
The camera brightens the scene a lot but this was my first look at the herd this morning. If you look closely, you can see the dominant bull standing in the woods in the left side of the scene.
This first morning started out really good. We got to watch several bulls jostling for position to intrude on the herd that was obviously following a dominant bull. This bull spent most of the morning "on the sidelines" because he knew he couldn't compete with the leader of this herd.
Bull Elk generally lose weight during the rut because they burn a lot of energy and are too busy to eat. Here's another look at the same bull as he takes time to eat. I guess when you don't have your own harem, you get to enjoy breakfast.
I saw this young guy getting ready to cross the creek so I ran into position to photograph the crossing.
I keep mentioning the dominant bull and you got a glimpse of him in the opening photo but I've kept him a secret long enough. This next photo is the bull that was "ruling the roost" so to speak. Although others tried, no other bull could shake loose a cow for themselves with this big guy watching. PA Elk (Sept, 2016)
This video contains two scenes. The first scene is the smaller bull making a move to enter the herd and the second scene is the dominant bull chasing the intruder into the woods. Unfortunately, they are not close to each other during the chase so you will only see the dominant bull.
After the herd left the meadow, Elena and I hooked up with Tom Dorsey, Jim "Muck" McClelland, and new friends and Baltimore residents, Mark and Carolina Hendricks, to go porcupine hunting. After a couple hours of hunting, we went back to the picnic without any photos.
We ate lunch, BS'd with a lot of the club members, and even won a White-tailed Deer fleece blanket in the Chinese auction. About 2:00 Elena and I went to the hotel for a few zzz's before the elk became active again. Sorry, club members, I didn't take any photos at the picnic. I was too busy talking. Go figure!
Benezette was really crowded on this Saturday and the evening wasn't panning out to be very good for elk viewing. About an hour before dark, Elena and I drove east on Route 555 to the Hick's Run viewing area. We met a friendly couple in the parking lot who gave a tip on a large bull a couple miles back toward Benezette. Thanks to new Facebook friend Sarah Glatfelter, we knew where to stop to get the next two photos.
This bull had a small herd of about six cows and they were all his. We watched the "Rt. 555 Bull" until it got too dark to photograph and we didn't see any challengers.
Here is another view of the "Rt. 555 Bull".
Before going back to the hotel for the evening, we visited the campground of Tom and Jeanne Dorsey. It was a great evening with a great group of friends. While we were there, Muck taught me how to photograph the stars. Below is my first attempt of shooting the Milky Way Galaxy. Not too bad for a beginner.
Cheers to a great group of people!
It was very late when we got back to the Cobblestone Inn in St. Mary's. Wake-up call in five hours.