My Experiences During The Pennsylvania Elk Rut 2022

December 15, 2022  •  3 Comments

The elk mating season, known as "the rut", begins in September each year.  Normally, I make a few day trips and one or two overnight trips to Benezette to photograph the elk.  This year I didn't get up there as often as I would have liked.

Each year it is getting harder and harder to find elk in the same places we found them in previous years.  I do not have a real solid reason as to why.  A lot of speculation is in the air though.  One place that has been very reliable is the Elk Country Visitors Center so Elena and I did spend one evening there.

The elk are really spreading out.  I've seen photos of nice bulls and rut action in areas 45 minutes or more from Benezette. 

I was stubborn this year.  I stayed in the Benezette area hoping to have a breakthrough but that didn't really work out for me.  Next year, if signs indicate the elk are once again in those other places, I will be there also.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the images made this year in Benezette, PA. 

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

While I do try for images of the perfect pose in perfect light, I enjoy capturing photos and video of wildlife behavior too.  This is classic rut behavior of a bull elk flicking his tongue.  Many people I encounter in "busy" Benezette don't fully understand rut behavior.  I hear giggles when a bull follows a cow while flicking his tongue. Facebook posts of bull elk sticking their tongue out will always encourage comments like "He's sticking his tongue out at you". I'll tell you now that isn't the case. Tongue flicking is part of a bull elk's behavior during the rut as he tests a cow to see if she is ready to mate. If she's not ready, she'll lower her head and swing it side to side as she walks away. If she is ready... she just stands there and, well, you know! More giggles!

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

This photo shows the difference in size between a bull elk and a cow elk.  According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's biologist Wildlife Notes, there is a huge size difference between males and females.  They say, "a mature male elk, called a bull, stands 50 to 60 inches at the shoulder and weighs 600 to 1,000 pounds. Females, or cows, weigh 500 to 600 pounds."

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't like photographing wildlife in bright sun.  When there is no other choice, I make the best of it.  This bull was displaying between two herds of cows providing a lot of opportunity for photos.  But oh that sun!

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

Sunset is a time when a clear sky creates dramatic lighting.  He was standing on a ridge watching over a small haram of cows.

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

On another evening in Benezette, Elena and I were watching a few bulls and some cows in a valley where the setting sun disappeared behind the surrounding mountains long before actual sunset. 

This bull is performing the flehman response while displaying a headpiece he gathered while performing another rut behavior.  Bulls scrap the ground with their feet, rake the ground with their antlers, urinate on themselves and the ground, then lie down and wallow in it.  All to attract females.  Sometimes raking the ground picks up vegetation which is also thought to be a way to assert their dominance to both males and females.

The flehman response is when an elk curls his upper lip to expose their vomeronasal organ (located in their palate) that is used to detect estrus in cow urine.  In turn, it lets the bulls know when it’s time to go courting.

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

Awesome Benezette bull standing in a field of fall wildflowers.

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

This bull is not in the middle of a bugle. Bulls tend to get exhausted during the rut and he's showing it with this big yawn. I think he made me yawn when I was watching him!
PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

Their winter coats are growing in and the calves lost their spots but that doesn't stop a mom from being a mom.

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)

 

Here's another photo of a cow and her calf.

PA Elk (Sep, 2022)PA Elk (Sep, 2022)


Here's a short video displaying some of the rut behavior I explained earlier.  You will also get to see mom caring for her calf as pictured above.

American Elk

 

That's all I have to share from the 2022 elk rut.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


Comments

Michael & Margie Balog(non-registered)
Dan, we are so impressed with your knowledge and talent photographing the elk and bears, etc. We can tell that you really enjoy taking these wonderful pictures. Great Job!!
James Weixel(non-registered)
Dan, You always do a magnificent presentation of your subjects! Congratulations on this new piece of work!
Jim Weixel
Mark Burkett(non-registered)
Thank you so much Dan As always great photos I really enjoyed them
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