Elk County - Benezette, Pennsylvania
When living in Wisconsin one must travel if you would like to photograph the American Elk in its natural habitat. Most often I have been traveling west to Yellowstone National Park to capture images of elk. This year I thought I would try a location that many view the elk capital the east - Elk County, Pennsylvania.
Through social media and photo sharing sites I have met fellow photographers from Pennsylvania, more specifically within in a short drive from the Pennsylvania Wilds and the heart of Pennsylvania elk herds in Benezette, PA. I now had a chance to meet some of these photographers in person.
Being my first time in Benezette area to photograph elk I was not only unfamiliar with the territory but also lodging/camping accommodations. My wife and I stayed at Campers Paradise in Sigel, PA some 50 miles from the Benezette area. It was a bit of a drag driving back and forth each day but the up side is we were able to take in the beautiful Pennsylvania Wilds countryside.
During our time in Benezette and Sigel we met some of the nicest people.
Charlie Cropp - fellow photographer and admitted elk-aholic
Dan Gomola - fellow photographer which I have chatted with now and again
Dave Wolf - fellow photographer and writer that I learned knew about by Birds In Flight page. :-)
Robert Chubb - a fellow photographer I came upon while chasing elk throughout Benezette
Joe Fenstermaker - the maintenance supervisor at Campers Paradise that was interested in my work
Sorry I missed you David Anderson!
We met several other photographers and visitors to the area, all with a common interest - elk.
There were four-five locations we kept our eye on in search for elk.
Elk Country Visitor Center - Nice lighting in both morning and afternoon but better backdrops with the afternoon lighting. The lighting angle is a little tough. Overcast days are certainly preferred, at least in my my book.
Winslow's Hill - Overall a better place for morning light. The elk are likely off in the distance a bit. A great spot for wildlife scene shot rather than secluded or portrait type shots.
Dewey Road - Still part of the Winslow's Hill area this location can be good in both morning and afternoon lighting. The elk tend to come in the open fields to eat and this makes for some nice shooting.
Dents Run Viewing Area - This is more of a morning location in my opinion. The elk will be fairly far away. Great for a more wildlife scene type shot.
Hicks Run Viewing Area - A great location for afternoon lighting. We never did see elk here but did get a chance to do some birding in the nearby hardwoods.
The Elk Country Visitor Center, Winslow's Hill and Dewey Road are good locations for those unable or not looking to hike too much. For those a bit more ambitious, hiking into the State Game Lands can make for a great Pennsylvania Wilds experience and unique photo opportunities.
Gear of Choice:
Because the elk can tend to get rather close you can get away with some smaller lens choices. I shot with an assortment of lenses. A super telephoto is not necessary to photograph elk in Pennsylvania. I still recommend using a lens that places you in a position to not infringe on the elk which can make them uncomfortable in their own home.
We did not come upon the numbers of elk I had hoped. Being as though we were in Benezette the second week of September we were a little early for peak rut. I was told by those that live in the area the fourth week of September is much better. I figured as much, but the end of September is when I usually head to Yellowstone National Park for the very same reason - peak rut.
Overall I had a very enjoyable time in Pennsylvania. I would certainly head back to Benezette, even if I were a little early in the rut season again. However I would likely find lodging options much closer to save on travel time and fuel costs.
Below is a small gallery of images taken during our adventure in Benezette.