Three months! Three months and the Pennsylvania bull elk will have rubbed the velvet from their antlers that have been growing rapidly since they dropped their old ones in late winter or early spring. Three months and the cow elk will be nearing estrus. Three months and people will be asking "Are they bugling yet"? All indicators that the rut (mating season) is near.
Right now, it's the middle of June and we're experiencing hot and humid weather. The songbirds are still singing. The local Bald Eagles are fledging the nest. There is a lot of wildlife to photograph so I really shouldn't be thinking about fall. The cool weather, colorful landscape, elk bugling, and a few weeks later, the White-tailed Deer bucks chasing the does, takes over one's mind several times a year. My thoughts go back to last fall and some memories and photos I never shared in a photo essay.
This photo essay will highlight some of the "big boys" I photographed last year. Of course, I need to include the girls too. What would the rut be without the girls???
In August, the bull elk are still running in bachelor groups and have not yet become interested in the ladies. Their antlers are nearly full grown and soon the velvet will begin to fall off. This bull was in a good place with all the apple trees surrounding him.
As you can see, elk have no upper front teeth. They are like goats and cows. Way in the back of their mouth they have large molars on both the top and bottom for chewing their cud.
When the rut begins, the bulls have added weight and their necks have swollen to the largest they've ever been due to a burst of testosterone.
The rut is exhausting because the bull is so worried about the herd of cows they've accumulated, they eat less and don't sleep as often. Sometimes, I've seen them lay down in the middle of a field with their harem, and close their eyes. Even when they appear to be sleeping, a distant bugle will cause him to raise his head and answer the call.
Ah, the perfume. Hey, when I was a young, single guy I may have pumped a spray or two of cologne before going out for the evening. Bull elk do the same. It isn't Drakkar Noir or Polo Sport we're talking about, it's urine. During the rut, bull elk urinate on themselves or on the ground and roll in it. The urine soaks into their hair and gives them a distinct smell which attracts cows.
During the rut, some of the cows still have a first year calf by their side. I can't say a bull won't try to service a cow with a calf but I've never seen it actually happen. I guess if the cow goes into estrus, she's not off limits.
One bull can service 20 - 40 cows during the rut.
The thickness of a bull's muscular body is very impressive.
One evening, I decided to get away from everyone, be alone, and look for elk in non-popular locations. I ran into a small herd on a hilltop and photographed them as the sun was getting low in the horizon.
The bull was rubbing and nibbling on the small limbs of White Pine. From the looks of his antlers, he has been in a ruckus or two.
Not long after the elk rut winds down in mid-October, the White-tailed Deer rut begins to ramp up. White-tailed Deer rut activity is a little more difficult to photograph simply because the White-tailed Deer usually aren't acclimated to people like Pennsylvania Elk in the prime viewing areas around Benezette. The doe can be somewhat forgiving and not flee at first sight.
This doe was being guarded by an older 10-point buck. He is off camera to the right but I photographed him for the next photo.
As long as the doe is content, the buck will stand there, eat, or even lay down. That's patience!
Licking branches serve as an important way of communication within the whitetails everyday life. Bucks deposit secretions from their pre-orbital glands on the branch or twig and is one of the most effective means of communication between deer.
I saw a lone doe one evening so I decided to sit and wait for something to happen. Sure enough, an 8-point buck came along. Keeping his eyes on the doe, he hardly even noticed me.
Another nice 8-point.
The White-tailed Deer rut was nearing the end but if a doe hasn't been mated yet, she is still the focus of the males.White-tailed Deer
Here is another look at the last buck as he circled trees while following the doe.
I see a lot of different shapes and sizes of antlers. This photo reminds me of when modern TV's stretch an old 4:3 ratio television show to the High Definition 16:9 ratio in order to fill the screen. Eveybody looks chubby. His neck and antler width was so impressive I had to include him.
All the elk in this photo essay were found in the Benezette, PA area. The White-tailed Deer were found in various portions of western Pennsylvania. All animals in the photo essay were wild animals and not part of a farm or trapped in any enclosures.
I hope you enjoyed my memories of last year's ruts through my lens.