Thursday, November 1, 2012

11/1/12 The Late Rut & What's Ahead

Where Are We At Now?
At the beginning of November the rut is slowing down, but it is far from over. There will be big bulls "running cows" until after Thanksgiving, and there is usually a bull or two that will still be rutting in December. This means that the rut actually stretches out to 3 months, even though it peaks in October

Bull in Rut in Lost Valley in Heavy Frost -- 11/25
The annual fall elk show lasts longer than most believe. Cow elk return to being "in heat" until they are successfully bred on 30 day cycles . So there are multiple overlapping cycles until the rut is done. October is the peak, but the second smaller estrous cycle is in November, and there is a much smaller one in December. The handful of very small calf elk you see in the valley now are 3rd estrous calves and were probably born in August. 

I photographed a bull fight in mid-November, and I have seen bull fights at the end of November. Bugling continues, but it is less common. 

Late rut elk watching is in cold weather and it often lasts all day long. I still prefer early and late elk viewing because the elk are more likely to be close to the roads and active. As a photographer I also prefer the light early and late. 

Bull Elk Photography Gets Better
Bull elk photography actually improves as the rut slows down, and it continues to be very good until the antler drop in April. The reason is that post-rut, cow and bull elk split into sex-based herds. This means that all-bull herds begin to form from the end of the rut, and they last until the next rut. For serious bull elk photographers, this is a bonanza of big bull photo opportunities that don't even exist during the rut. 

Big Bulls Sparring in March (Big Bull Herd)
All-bull elk herds tend to further break down by the size of the bulls. There is generally a big bull herd, basically 5x5's and bigger that will form. I consider getting pictures of these bulls to be trophy shots. If you are an antler fan, there is nothing better. 

Another part of post-rut elk watching and photography is snow and frost. In snow, elk are illuminated by reflected light from below. It is true that snow makes a scene more contrasty and a challenge to get, but opening up the dark areas on an elk's neck is always a challenge and snow or thick frost can actually help with fill light. 

Post-rut bull shots should be on everyone's "bucket list" for viewing or photography. Pictures of big bulls in groups happen at no other time. 

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