Bull Getting into a Frenzy!

The fall rut in Pennsylvania is filled with amazing action and mysterious sounds. Bull elk work extremely hard to make their presence known and remind other competing bulls that it will not be easy to dislodge the king of the hill! Just spend one evening out on the mountain during the fall rut and you will receive far more entertainment than Hollywood could ever offer. There is no place like the mountains, especially during the fall months.

This particular bull was the current king of a section many refer to The Saddle on Winslow Hill. This recently reclaimed tract of State Game Lands 311 is a favorite of elk viewers who are accustomed to seeing bulls like this one. I came across him while he was lying down and resting. Bulls expend a tremendous amount of energy during the rut, so even brief rests are essential. I need to practice a great deal of patience as this bull was taking a rather long rest. Patience is always key in wildlife photography.

Eventually, after what seemed like forever, he stood up. Now this might seem like a rather uneventful maneuver to the uninformed, but to a knowledgeable elk viewer, the act of a bull standing up is anything but uneventful. Warning: this might get a little PG-rated since we are talking about the rut, aka the breeding season, aka elk sex! Geez, I didn’t just say that; did I?

This first standing up image shows clearly what all careful elk viewers see when a bull elk begins getting into a frenzy to show dominance and attract cows. The bull will begin to scratch the ground with his antlers and he will also urinate on himself to display his dominance and attractiveness to any cow who is interested. I find this an interesting dating procedure to say the least!

Because this bull was getting into a frenzy in a recently reclaimed field, the grass was green and tall, as you can clearly see in this image.

A frenzied bull almost always bugles, too. This is a mysterious and interesting sound that elk viewers long to hear. The bugle sounds a warning to any bulls who might be considering a challenge. It also alerts cows to the bull’s presence and location, which is important as a bull constant tries to keep his herd of cows in check. Again, this is a very tiring and demanding process that goes on day and night for many days!

The bull will also stretch his hind legs to get the kinks out from lying down so long. It’s sort of like when we get up out of our recliner and need to stretch to get moving again. I always find it entertaining to watch and observe the many different facets of elk behavior. It never gets old for me and I keep learning more and more about these incredible mammals!

As the frenzy is dying down and coming to a close, at least temporarily, the bull will deliver another mighty bugle before moving on to the next task in the rutting behavior.

It will happen again, so be ready! Watching the bulls at this time of year is something I enjoy tremendously. I cannot imagine not spending some time in the mountains to observe and photograph this fascinating behavior. It truly is worth more than a thousand words! If you never observed the rutting behavior in the fall, you owe it to yourself to travel to Elk County, Pennsylvania from mid-September to mid-October. It can yield the sights and sounds of a lifetime!

The Bugles of Fall

If you ever heard a bull elk bugle in the fall, then these photographs will hopefully illustrate these exciting sounds! The bugle of an eager bull in the rut is an undistinguishable and sometimes ear-piercing sound. Some people drive many miles just to hear this musical sound of the fall in elk country.

A bull will bugle for several reasons. First, he will try to show dominance and intimidate competing bulls for the cows that are ready to be bred. Bulls will answer each other even from hills some distance away just to be heard and remind other bulls that there is already a big bull to contend with on this hill. These competing bugles can be quite a chorus! A second reason a bull will bugle is out of sheer frustration. A bull will follow a cow, hoping for her to be ready, but then be sadly disappointed. As the cow moves away, the bull will bugle in frustration.

Bugles can be heard any time of day or night. It can be pretty cool, and even a little eerie, to be out on a full moon night and these shrilling sounds! Careful observation and close listening skills can reveal the variety and unique bugles of different bulls. Some are deeper and some are more high-pitched. Still other bugles can be long and drawn out, while others are more short-lived and concise. Each one has an important message!

Bugles and bulls come in all sorts and sizes. The next time you are out in elk country, listen carefully and listen hard. These unique sounds are sure to bring a smile to your face and perhaps a bit of warmth to your heart. The sound of the bugle indicates the bulls are healthy and active. They have one thing on their mind during the fall season and they are making their presence known–all with the shrilling sound of their bugle!

Bugling in an Unusual Pose

This bull is bugling in the fall rut as many bulls do, but I was struck by his somewhat unusual pose in this photograph.

His back legs are spread out slightly, which created an interesting angle in his left rear leg. The bugling posture is typical, with antlers tilted backward. I am not sure exactly what it is about this photograph that I like, but I do like it. Do you?

Frustrated Bull

You cannot see it in this photograph, but there is an entire field of cows very close to this bull. The problem for this bull is that none of the cows are ready to mate. So, this bull is frustrated.

I’ve watched bulls in the rut for many years now and there is a pattern which repeats itself over and over. A bull will follow a cow, sniffing to see if she is in heat. Typically the cow will trot or run away. This leaves the bull frustrated and almost every single time he will bugle at this exact moment. This is the time to be ready with your camera, which is exactly what I did here in this photograph.

Watching and observing animals is not only enjoyable, it can teach you to be prepared for the best photographic moment!

Bugling Bull

There is nothing quite like an ear-pereicing bugle to roll across a brisk fall day!

If you haven’t heard this unique sound in nature, you owe it to yourself to find a way to be in a place where you can hear it. There is nothing in all of nature like it. It is impossible to describe with words and even this photograph cannot even come close to hearing the sound in person. You just have to hear it for yourself!

I came across this bull because I first heard him bugling. I was just on my way for a walk, barely out the door, when I heard a bugle. Knowing the area well, I followed the sound and located this bull feeding in a meadow with two cows. It was mid-afternoon on a rainy day but the clouds opened up a little bit and some rays of warm sunlight washed over the scene. It looked magical.

Eventually, this bull had enough food in his stomach and he wandered into the woods and laid down to chew his cud. I know enough about wildlife photography to know that spending time with subject is imperative. Time, lots of time, is required to completely document and photograph these majestic mammals. In this case, for example, I could have left after the bull wandered out of the warm sunlight washing over the meadow and moved into the much darker woods where many small trees obstructed most clear views of this bull. Move on or stick with him? I chose to stick with him. And this is the photograph I eventually captured. I am very glad I stayed with him!




Join Us on the Next Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience!

How would you like to photograph an elk as he bugles into the brisk air or stands face-to-face with another competing bull in a showdown during the fall rut?

Our Fall Elk Rut photo workshop provides opportunities like these and more! Fall brings not only a change in colors, but also the Fall Rut for the elk. We are privileged to have elk here in Pennsylvania and my colleague, Dick McCreight, and I like nothing more than sharing this experience with others as we photograph the elk during this breath-taking season. It will be memorable!

The 3-day workshop actually begins on Monday evening and concludes on Thursday. We pack a lot of quality time into photographing the elk, sharing photo instruction and tips, and leading three different photo workshops in the evenings.

Includes 3 workshops:
1 – Setting up & using your camera for wildlife photography
2 – How to use Lightroom to manage and edit your photographs easily
3 – Techniques for Better Wildlife Photography & a History of the PA Elk Herd

Dick is incredibly knowledgeable with Lightroom and will show you how to quickly and easily manage your photo library and also how to edit your photos after a shoot. You will learn ways to photograph the elk at different times of the day and in different situations, how to set up your camera for wildlife photography, and more about this unique elk herd of Pennsylvania in these 3 workshops. We keep the group small so we have quality time together. It is sure to be a rewarding and unforgettable experience, which is why we titled our photo workshop: the “Pennsylvania Elk Photography Experience.”

The cost is $595 for the trip and includes lodging and meals. You can find more detailed information on our website. Join us for this exciting adventure as we photograph the PA elk together!

Here are just a few photographs we captured on previous trips:




The Bull Known as 8A

I guess I am a purist of sorts. Perhaps it was the education I received at Temple University when I earned my communications degree back in 1987. I like my photography to depict real-life situations and tell the story exactly as it was seen by me. For example, I never use Photoshop to remove a collar from an elk. I know some photographers who do this extremely well and they are definitely better in Photoshop than I. And I don’t knock them for what they do, I just prefer a different route in my own photography I guess. To me there is no right or wrong here–just a preference, and I prefer to keep my photos as they were captured. I do some crop some of my photos once in a while, but to me this is a little different from removing part of an image that is seen as the main subject. Go ahead and call me a purist and I promise not to knock you for removing a collar in Photoshop.

Those of us who photograph the Pennsylvania Elk see these collars often. They are radio transmitters used by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to assist in tracking the elk herd. This research tool is quite helpful I am sure, but as a photographer, I prefer to see elk without the big yellow or brown collars attached to their necks. Again, I am a purist. However, the collars some elk wear are part of the elk story and culture on Winslow Hill. So documenting and even photographing them makes sense to me even though I usually prefer to show only those elk without collars.

So yesterday, when I saw a blog entry by my photo friend, Brad Myers, and a comment by Coy Hill; I did a little digging. Brad and Coy were discussing the 8A bull, which is a beautiful bull this year! He garnered a lot of attention during the rut. I went back through my photographs and found these photos of the bull known as 8A, since that is the description on his yellow collar. I am kind of embarrassed that I did not post any photos of this bull earlier. And I most likely would not have posted any photos of  him without the prompting of Brad’s and Coy’s blog conversation. I hope these photos help tell a little more of the Pennsylvania Elk story and help to show just what a magnificent bull is 8A!

Time to Be in the Mountians!

I can feel it. The weather is slowly changing as the evenings and mornings are getting cooler. The leaves on the trees are starting to show some hints that their colors might soon be changing, too. Yep, I can feel it–it’s time to be in the mountains again!

I absolutely love this time of year. It is so beautiful and even the wildlife is becoming more active. The breeding season of the elk feature bugle sounds and sights that are breathtaking and photogenic.

This weekend I will be in the mountains with my son, James, to see and photograph the elk. I can’t wait. It’s only going to be a one day trip but at least we will see firsthand how the elk rut is going. We hope to hear some ear-piercing bugles, see some sparing, and capture some of this action with our cameras. It’s going to be sweet!

There is no place like the mountains and there is no place I’d rather be than in the mountains behind my viewfinder!

Here’s a photo of my colleague and professional photographer, Dick McCreight behind his viewfinder.

September Bulls

I like the fall season. I suppose there are many reasons for me preferring this time of year. First, I played football on my  high school team, so this time of year always reminds me of that. I just received word last night that one of my coaches, Mr. Kuhnert, died this week. He was also my Earth Science teacher in 9th grade and he was a great teacher and encouraging coach. I will miss him but when the fall season approaches my thoughts always turn to football. Another reason I like fall is because I am a hunter. Last, but certainly not least, it is the most active time for the elk. It all starts in September and I cannot wait to get up on the elk range!

I posted a photo here today from a trip I was on last fall. It was a misty, foggy morning but the bull was bugling to beat the band. Have you ever heard an elk bugle? Have you ever watched two bull elk duke it out for breeding rights? These are just the tip of the iceberg sights and sounds that me excited at this time of year. I can’t wait to see the elk in action.