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Eight Seconds of Fury

Brahma Bull Riding: “The most dangerous 8 seconds in sports”

The American Flag

If you have them, jump into your Wranglers, put on your Tony Lamas, snap up your long-sleeved shirt, lock in your silver belt buckle and top everything off with your best Stetson. Then head to the Fairgrounds for a night of fast and unpredictable action. The Jackson Hole Rodeo has been thrilling tourists each Wednesday and Saturday for decades. If you can can’t make to either of those nights, Friday night rodeos have been added to the lineup.

Little Bull Rider

Each week, little tikes are initiated to the cowboy tradition and develop the skills for a lifetime of rodeo action. Bear Emlyn isn’t in Kindergarten yet, but he’s already on a bull! The Rodeo way of life starts early for some!

Sequence 1

Each cowboy that gets on the back of a one ton Brahma Bull knows they are taking an eight second ride that can possibly kill them—or cripple them or life. No two rides are the same, but they are all potentially dangerous. These athletes “cowboy up” and put it all on the line, while us spectators do just that from the safety of the bleachers.

Sequence 2

To “earn the points”, a bull rider must hang on for a full eight seconds without touching the bull or the hardware with his free hand. If they hang on for the full eight seconds, judges give them style points based on a 100 point system. The action of the bull can augment the score, with a good ride in the high 70’s.

Sequence 3

When things start going bad, they can go really bad in a split second. Landon Smith’s ride looked great for the first few seconds, but as the bull spun to its left, Land began to lean to the right and it was all downhill from there.

Sequence 4

Judges, rodeo clowns and other rodeo officials scamper up a fence as a raging bull approaches. By this time, I am sure Landon knew his ride would never reach 8 seconds.

Sequence 5

“Survival mode” kicks in.

Sequence 6

In real time, this sequence happened over a period of only a few seconds. I’m sure it felt like slow motion to Landon.

Sequence 7

This is a place where no cowboy ever wants to be.

Sequence 8

The job of the rodeo clowns is to distract the bull once the cowboy becomes defenseless, but they have no control of where the back legs of a bucking Brahma bull will land. I this shot, the back legs of the bull are pushing the Landon to the ground.

Sequence 9

The grimace on Landon’s face tells of the pain he must have been feeling at that split second. All of the bull riders wear a protective vest and many wear helmets during their bull ride. Luckily, the bull’s hooves landed on the ground and not in the middle Landon’s back, but it appears there was plenty of weight pressing down on his lower back and buttocks. Interestingly, he’s still hanging on!

Sequence 10

Chaos—captured a 12 frames per second!

Sequence 11

1/12th second later.

Sequence 12

Still not out of danger!

Sequence 13

Any doctor or E.M.T. would tell someone that just experienced a back injury event to “stay still”. In that moment, a bull rider’s instinct would be to attempt to protect himself from additional danger. After he saw the danger was gone, he collapsed to the ground.

EMT

An E.M.T team is always on hand at a rodeo. They were quick to respond to this event. The arena was quiet for around 10 minutes.

Walk Off

Cowboys are tough. Landon walked off on his own power as the arena cheered and the announcer wished him well.

Jerry Jeff Walker – Ro Deo Deo Cowboy

You might enjoy Jerry Jeff’s 1977 song about bull riding! Click the link above, or read the lyrics here!

Saddle Bronc

If you were to do an Internet search for “The most dangerous 8 seconds in sports”, you’ll find a page or so of references to Brahma bull riding. Even if you could come up with a few other dangerous sports, like cliff diving, the photos on this page should convince you to put bull riding right up there with anything else you might consider. It’s bad enough to think the bull is doing it’s best to buck the rider off his back, but knowing the same bull is plenty willing to turn and gore the helpless cowboy puts this sport in a category all by itself.


A Photographer at the Rodeo

I mentioned earlier that the JH Rodeo is held during the summer months on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. I like to go early in the summer while the days are longest and light is best for photographing the first round of the bull riding. The Fairgrounds Arena has new lights, but they are not strong enough for most photographer’s needs once the sun goes down. I have three camera bodies, but I immediately grab my Nikon D5. It can shoot at 12 frames per second, and it can handle high ISO speeds much better than my other two cameras.

On the positive side, rodeo photos (and western photos in general) can handle more “grain” than some other genres of photography. It’s almost expected!

You can get all of the dates and prices for entry into the JH Rodeo at their site:  Jackson Hole Rodeo — Where the West is still Wild! I never hesitate to ask for my “senior discount”! More importantly, you probably don’t want to pay for the better seats under the canopy and at midfield. General admission tickets will allow you to move around based on the event. Unlike the NFR rodeos in the huge arenas, this is a small, intimate rodeo. You’ll be close to the action anywhere you stand or sit.

Camera Settings: For freezing action, I like to keep my shutter speeds at 1/1000th to 1/1250th second. I’d love to keep my aperture at F/8, and I’d love to keep my ISO speed at ISO 400 or less. At the evening and night rodeo, that’s probably not going to happen! There will be compromises! For example, the Brahma bull ride shots on this page were captured at 1/800th of a second, wide open at F/5.6, and the Auto ISO varied between ISO 5000 and ISO 6400. By the time, the cowboy was walking off the arena, the Auto ISO had jumped to ISO 11,400. I photographed these images with a Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens, using a tripod with VC OFF.

American Flag Blur: For this photo, I was set up on a leveled tripod at 1/13th Second, at F/11 and Auto ISO at 125. Nikon D5 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens, using a tripod with VC OFF.

Bronc Rider Blur: For this photo, I was set up on a leveled tripod at 1/20th Second, at F/6.3and Auto ISO at 560. Nikon D5 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens, using a tripod with VC OFF.


Other Posts of Interest

Another Day at the Office! An unexpected broncing horse ride.

Rodeo – Saturday Night Action, Jackson Hole Style!

Wild West in Jackson Hole: Cowboys, Wranglers and Horses


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If you are going to be in Jackson Hole and would like a On-On-One Photography Tour in Grand Teton Natioal Park, check out this option!

Teton Photo Excursions

 

A Morning with Moose ~

Wyoming’s Shiras Moose on Display in Grand Teton National Park.

Soggy Washakie

It was cloudy when I drove north this morning, but there were hints of possible breaks in the southwest clouds. I found Washakie at about the same time the sky temporarily cleared, but he was still soaked from the overnight rains. His normal light ivory antlers were darkened and rich in color.

Soggy Washakie

Washakie seemed to be sniffing the air and was alert to something in the east.

The Crossing

As is turned out, these two youngsters were following a cow and calf moose across the river. It is difficult to say if they were crossing to get to the cow and calf or crossing to get away from approaching Washakie, seen in the willows above them.

Black Hawk

The larger of the two came back to the river and crossed again.

Black Hawk

The young bull cautiously crossed the river, as if worrying whether the big bull would come crashing towards him.

Washakie

On the other side of the river, Washakie had returned to the cow and calf he had been following all morning. Cottonwoods and ground cover is now bright yellow and occasionally orange.

Cow and Calf

A mature cow and a two year old calf watched from the edges. Normally, cows hang with their young for a couple of years. Young bulls seem to split from it mother a little sooner than young cows. Washakie might have something to do with running this one off this year.

Digging

Bull moose will often paw at the ground to clear a place to bed down, but during the rut, they dig “scent pits”, which often attracts cows in the area. They roll in the scent pit for a while before the cows get their turn. The smell is quite pungent!

Eye on the Young One

The young bull stayed just out of range, but Washakie kept an eye on him.

Black Hawk

A few people call this one “Blackhawk”. He’s has a nice dark coat, plus remnant velvet he didn’t clean off at the right time.

Cody

Another nice bull was in the area today. It took some searching and hiking, but found him near the river. I’ve seen him for four or five years, usually staying in the same area, and showing up at about the same time. I have always called him Cody. He has a beautiful coat, long dewlap, and distinctive tines. He needs a few more years of growth, but he’s a beautiful bull right now!

Cody

Cody seemed to be on a scent trail of a cow. He stayed on the move, barking regularly.

Fall Crossing

Possibly a mile from where I first saw him, he crossed the river.

Fall Crossing

As tempting as it might be, none of us can cross the Gros Ventre River into the National Elk Refuge to stay with the moose. Once they cross, they disappear in to the willows and cottonwoods, and the “show is over”…at least for the day.

Yesterday afternoon, I took around 175 images and deleted 173 of them. One appeared on the September Daily Updates page and the other was merely a record shot. This morning, I took over 2000. I will probably trim that group down to 200, that should be 200 nice images! Light changed regularly, and the moose stayed fairly active until late in the morning. Chalk that up to the rut and cool fall temperatures! I took these images with a Nikon D5 and a Tamron 150-600mm lens, all with the aid of a tripod.

Additional Posts Featuring Washakie:

I’ve been photographing Washakie for 10 years now! He currently has a limp, but appears to be coming out of it.


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A Harbinger of Fall!: Moose Stripping His Velvet Covered Antlers.

Short-lived, yet captivating to experience!

Shiras Moose (Wyoming Moose) grow and pamper their delicate velvet covered antlers in August. They often begin stripping the velvet during the last few days of August, into the Labor Day Weekend, and even a few days beyond. The yearly stripping event for each bull takes place over a precious short window of time!

It takes patience and persistence to catch a bull stripping his velvet—and realistically it takes a fair amount of luck! You have to be in the right place, on the right day, and the right “hour”. I’ve seen one strip the bulk of the velvet in as little as 15 minutes!

Washakie in Sage

This page contains photos from one bull on one morning…September 1st to be exact. This bull, Washakie, is one I’ve photographed digitally since 2006 and possibly even earlier on film. He was in the sagebrush at 6:57 am, with the outer portions of his velvet already stripped.

Moving to the Woods

Most Moose leave the sagebrush at about the time first light hits the valley floor. As the rut progresses, the bulls follow the cows into the cottonwoods and willows, but at this time of the year, they are much more independent. They show little interest in the females, and sometimes run them off.

Washakie Thrashing

Coming off the sagebrush flats, Washakie stopped at the first set of willows and thrashed his antlers against leaves, branches and stems.

Pause

My wife hates these kind of photos! Too much blood for her tastes. And, they don’t sell well for the average household walls, but I like to take them. They document an important stage in their life cycle, and as I indicated, the event signals a new “season” of the Moose rut.

Snack

I’ve heard of bulls eating their velvet, but have never seen it. Washakie has this strip of velvet in his mouth, but I can’t say for certain that he was actually eating it. The velvet comes off in sheets, as seen above his left eye. I’ve heard people say they thrash the willows to sharpen their antlers, but in fact, they are pointed and ready to go!

Washakie

I’ve seen Moose with branches in their antlers so many times, you’d think they do it on purpose. Bling…for the Babes! Washakie’s brow tines are already very impressive, but I guess a little extra bling to impress the photographers can’t hurt!

Thrashing

This image has a bit of motion blur from his thrashing and scraping, but it possibly gives a feel of the action. The next time I get a chance to photograph one thrashing like this, I plan on really dropping the shutter speed to exaggerate the motion effect.

Thrashing

This broken Aspen sapling was just what he needed!

Thrashing

They seem to prefer short cottonwood and will trees, but any tree is a candidate.

Thrashing

Most bulls I’ve seen continue velvet removal until it is mostly gone. A few years ago, I watched a big bull at a time when he “should have” been stripping. Patches were falling off as he grazed on willows, but he didn’t aggressively remove the velvet. The velvet dried on his antlers and it took much more effort to remove. The inner portions of his large paddles never did get cleaned.

A couple of Tassles

Often, a bull will have a couple of “tassels” hanging from the rough edges at the base of their antlers. It takes them a while to remove them. Washakie didn’t have that problem this time.

Lost Velvet

There’s not much left of the Aspen stump in the image above. Almost all of the velvet was removed when this shot was taken at 7:25 am. That’s 28 minutes from the first shot of him in the sagebrush.

All But Finished

Once Washakie finished the stripping, he headed to the cottonwoods.

Rest Time

After a morning of activity, Washakie settled in for a rest in the shade of spruce tree. He has an injured left front leg again this year. He can walk on it, but spends a lot of time with his weight off the limb. By the time I see Washakie again, he will have finished removing the last of the velvet, and will likely have polished off the residual blood.

A Few Moose Notes: Most of the bulls can be distinguished from year to year by their antlers. They grow back similarly each year. Washakie always has distinctive, large brow tines. You can view him over the years on this page Washakie: Washakie has additional markings. Watch for a couple of deep scratches on the right side of his muzzle (they look a lot like a warrior’s warpaint: part of his namesake). Washakie has a fairly distinctive “dewlap” or bell below his neck, and he has a deep cut in each of his two ears. You might also enjoy this Washakie page: Moose Courtship Behavior

A Few Photography Notes: I used a Nikon D5 and a Tamron 150-600mm lens for these shots. At that time of the morning, I was having to compromise on slower shutter speeds than I would like, aperture wide open (F/6.3), and ISO that ranged often between 2000 and 4500. As the sun came up, I was able to adjust the shutter speed which adjusted the ISO when set to Manual / with Auto ISO. I took around 1600 images during my morning session with this bull and another 400 later in the day. You might enjoy this page: The Secret to Becoming a Good Photographer: Some of the shots on this page are very similar to each other, but in many cases, one showed an eye or detail not seen in images taken fractions of a second apart. Likewise, some have catch light in the eyes, while some have closed or blinking eyes. I like having the option of picking the best ones!


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Moose and a November Snow Storm

~ Effects of Shutter Speed on Streaking Snow

In the early part of November, I found this nice, mid-sized bull Moose along the Gros Ventre River.  I have lots of shots of Moose images without snow. This snow squall was exactly what I had hoped to capture that day. More importantly, this moose stood essentially still for about 10 minutes during the storm.

Moose in Snow 1-200-f8-3600

Moose in Snow: As I usually do, I checked the settings on my camera before leaving my vehicle. 1/200th of a second at F/8 on a dark day would give me a good starting point that morning. The actual settings were: Manual Mode, with Auto ISO as the variable. I left the van with a Nikon D810 and a Tamron 150-600mm lens attached to my tripod. Who knew what I might actually find? It was overcast and the skies had a feeling of a pending storm. After a good half mile hike, I found this mid-sized Bull Moose along the Gros Ventre River. It had begun to snow as I entered the area. I found a good spot with limited background distractions and planted the tripod at about 40 yards distance, then snapped off a few quick shots. He had his head up and looking straight at me. Click, click, click! I typically get a few quick shots “in the can” (on the card), and then check my settings. He could look away or turn away at any second—so getting some shots always seems like a good idea. At 1/200th second at F/8, the resulting ISO was 3600.

A Nikon D810 can handle an ISO 3600 shot fairly well, but I prefer to be lower if possible. 1/200th of a second will also freeze most snow flakes. The first few shots were perfectly fine, and depending on my mood back at the computer, might be THE shots. Luckily for me, this alert and curious moose stayed put and gave me lots of chances to try additional settings.

Moose in Snow 2-40-f56-400

Moose in Snow: This image was captured at 1/40th of a second at -F/5.6. The resulting (AutoISO) ISO was 400. At that point, I knew I had plenty of elbow room for additional changes. While the images on this page show the moose more or less centered in the frame, I did a lot of additional captures with it off to the side, or in one of the four optimum “designer” locations in the scene. Sometimes, the camera’s auto focus will grab flakes much closer to the lens and put the subject out of focus. If you are using “back button focus”, I’d suggest refocusing regularly. You don’t want to get home and discover you captured 200 images focused 5 feet in front of the subject!

Moose in Snow 3-25-f56-220

Moose in Snow1/25th of a second at F/5.6, Auto ISO 220. At F/5.6, only the flakes close to the focal plane of the Moose’s eyes would be in focus. There are lots of long streaks at a slow shutter speed.

Moose in Snow 4-100-f8-1600

Moose in Snow1/100th of a second at F/8, Auto ISO 1600. I think this is a fairly nice balance in the settings.The shutter speed allowed for some streaking, the aperture gave me a variety of sharp and blurred flakes, and I can easily live with ISO 1600 on an image like this.

By experimenting, and being able to review my captures in Lightroom, I am able to dial in the settings for future similar occasions when I might only get one or two captures. If I walked up on a similar scene in the future, I’d probably set the Shutter speed to 1/80th Second to 1/100th of a second (assuming the animal is not moving), set the Aperture to around F/8 (which is where I started), and try to keep the ISO at 2000 or less.

Nanny and Kid

Nikon D810 100th of a Second at F/6.3, Auto ISO 560

Empirical Notes about Shooting in the Snow:

Living here in the mountains, I get quite a few chances to take photos of animals during a snow storm. Not all snow storms are the same! The four images of the Moose at the top of the page were taken during a relatively consistent storm, with relatively light flakes. However, even within a few seconds of time, flakes can be thicker and larger, and wind gusts can pick or slow down, creating a matrix of variables. This is a time to SHOOT A LOT! I  have no control over flakes covering the eyes of the animals, so having a large number of captures gives me better chances of getting a few keepers. I like to get “the most bang for my buck”—so to speak. I change the settings, then click two or three shots, zoom in closer, click another two or three, and keep zooming in steps until fully zoomed. I pull back on the zoom lens, make a few settings changes, and go through the routine again and again until the situation changes.

Wall Of Snow

Some snow is light and fluffy, while others are wet and chunky.  1/640 of a second at F/8, Auto ISO 320.

There is a “wall of snow” between the camera and the animal. A long exposure means there will be much more snow passing in front over the lens, and that will directly affect the overall sharpness. It’s the same for distance to the subject! Besides the issue of sharpness, those two variables also increase the chances snow will be covering the subject’s eyes. Large, chunky flakes multiply the issues. Dark areas, or a dark background, helps accentuate the flakes and the drama of the storm.

Streaking Snow

Aperture Priority 1/40th Second, F/7.1, ISO 400, Nikon D300 and Nikon 70-200mm (cropped image). Also note, you’ll need to be shooting from a tripod for long exposure shots like most of the images on this page. Almost ANY movement, like simply rotating the head will result in some sort of motion blur at these speeds.

I’d prefer to be out in a snow storm than a rain storm—but both can be hard on equipment. Especially during periods of heavy winds, snow can land and accumulate on the front of the lens. The flakes or drops can eventually distort or ruin images, so I check it regularly. I usually carry a clean, dry chamois in my pocket to clear and dry the face of the lens.

Remember, very few other photographers will be out during a snow storm. If willing to pay the “price of admission”, the shots are often unique and memorable. Use information on this page as a starting point. Go out…give it a try and review your own captures. There’s a lot of valuable information stored in the shooting data that can help on your next shoots. If you are shooting always in Auto ISO, Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure, and Auto Focus, you’ll be at the mercy of the settings the camera applies. The results are often “pretty good”, but you certainly can take over some creative control! Also remember, you can pre-visualize or anticipate what you might find, then set your camera in advance. If you actually find the subject, you’ll be ready. The Moose at the top of the page gave me plenty of time to adjust from from my original settings—but I find that to be the “exception to the rule” and not “the rule”.


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Antlers and Wyoming’s Shiras Moose –

Velvet, Growth, & Characteristics.

Bull Moose shed their antlers sometime in mid-December to mid-January.

Antlers Sequence Strip

By April, they begin regrowing their antlers, and by late August the antlers will be fully formed. A thin layer of delicate “velvet” covers the growing antlers during the process. Deer and Elk go through the same velvet growth stages, though timing varies somewhat on all three. When Mother Nature triggers the response, the bulls begin stripping the velvet to reveal the season’s final product. Click the image above to see it much larger!

WashakieSequence1400

Most of the stripping can happen in 30-45 minutes or less! Of course, it can also take hours, depending on how motivated the particular bull is at the time. On some bulls, the velvet comes off in large sheets or strips, often dangling as bloody remnants. The event is not particularly “pretty”, but it is an important stage in the fall rut. I like to photograph it when I can, but it is not an easy assignment. For many, finding any Bull Moose at any time is victory enough. Finding one just beginning to strip adds more of a challenge and a whole new layer of difficulty. It seems to take a little luck, too! The first image above was taken at 7:07 pm on August 30, 2012 and the last image was taken at 8:04 pm. (These are small crops of distant shots.) Click this image to see it much larger!

If you’d like more specifics and statistics about our Shiras Moose sub species (Wyoming Moose), check out Facts about Wyoming’s Moose via Casper Star-Tribune Online.

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My Time With The Moose

2005 MooseI’m just a photographer with an art degree! To be more specific, I am NOT a biologist!  I’ve  been photographing the same moose families for eight or nine years along the Gros Ventre River, and over that period have amassed a fairly extensive collection of images I’d sure biologists would love to see. This page has just a few of them.

I never see park biologists out studying the area moose, but I suppose someone must be doing it somewhere? They would use DNA tests, tags and tracking collars. If the Teton moose are numbered, I’ve never heard the numbers (like Grizzly sow 610 or 399). Along the Gros Ventre, I’ve only ever seen a couple of small silver ear tags but no collars. This lack of visible researchers is perplexing knowing the population of Shiras Moose has been plummeting.

One of the major problems with trying to keep track of moose from year to year is the fact they lose their most important identifying elements—their antlers—in the winter. Once they drop them, most of the bulls look essentially the same. A few have cuts, scars, and scrapes, but those clues are much harder to see at a distance. Without antlers, cows are much more difficult to distinguish from year to year.

The winter photo with the bull moose under the snow covered Tetons was taken in December of 2005. It is one of the first images I have in digital form. I am sure I have additional photos taken with a film camera, but they aren’t dated. One site I found suggested moose live between 5 and 16 years in the wild. I like to think they live longer than five years, but possibly they are factoring in kills by wolves, vehicles, and other predators.

I have lots of photos from 2006 and each year since, taken mostly along the Gros Ventre river basin. There’s a very good chance I photographed some of the nice bulls of today as tiny calves eight to nine years ago. I’ve seen adolescent bulls grow into bulls capable of contending for, and winning the cows of the region. Some of the older big bulls I saw originally are dead or no longer coming around. I’ve been privileged to have been able to witness close to ten years in the cycle.

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Bull Elk Looking Back

Elk antlers seem to grow with a fairly consistent look from animal to animal. Over the years, they grow more points and become larger and thicker. I took the Winter Sleigh Ride on the National Elk Refuge last year. The driver pointed out an “a-typical” bull, but suggested the cows stayed away from him for the most part and would seldom mate with him. If so, it might explain why their is such of a conformity within the appearance of the antlers.

Variety

Moose antlers, on the other hand, are much more varied in size and shape, including the number and length of their tines. Washakie’s distinctive brow tines  set him apart from many of the other bulls. Another bull shows up near the end of the season with extremely broad antlers, while one of the recent dominant bulls along the Gros Ventre had narrow, but long “all business” antlers. More importantly, the shape of a bull’s antlers seems to be hard coded to that animal. They grow back essentially the same from year to year, so even before their antlers have fully formed, it becomes possible (for me anyway) to identify most of them.

GV Crossing

This is a nice bull I call “Custer”. Lacking a long bell or dewlap under his neck, he looks more like he has a goatee. Hence the name. I’ve photographed him since at least 2011, originally calling him Balboa (after Rocky Balboa…the contender). Several years ago, he showed up covered with bleached white spots on the lower half of his body. He’s had them since, but less this year than last year. In 2014, he developed a distinctive “drop tine” on the lower part of his right antler. Sure enough, he has one again for 2015 as seen in the photo above. Custer is now one of the bigger bulls and has begun to develop the big bull “swagger” and dominance. I can always count on Custer being one of the last bulls to strip his velvet each year. The point here is there can be patterns from year to year and some bulls are easy to identify because of their special markings and behavior.

Custer

This is the same moose from 2013. That was the first year he had the speckled white spots on his body. At that time, his antlers were respectable, but smaller than now and lacked the drop tine he has today.

Custer and Cow

Cow moose will sometimes hang close to a Bull, but they show very little interest in them.

Thrashing

On stripping day, bulls look for any branch capable of helping them remove the clinging velvet. I’ve heard and read they sometimes eat the velvet, but I’ve never personally observed the behavior.

Elvis with Bloody Velvet

The image above is one of a bull I called Elvis. In 2012, I was near him on the day he “should have stripped his velvet”. Some of his velvet was coming off during simply feeding on the willow shoots. I was primed and ready for good shooting that day, but instead, he bedded down. I found him later in the day and he still had a lot of velvet. Much of it was beginning to dry and get hard on the fresh antlers underneath.

Elvis and Washakie

Elvis managed to scrape off most of the outer edges of the dried velvet over the next few days, but the inner paddles could never be scraped off. Elvis and Washakie are seen here sizing each other up, though no battle ensued that day.

Elvis in Fall Back Water

Elvis’ distinctive rack made him easy to identify at a distance, even in silhouette form. During the 2012 fall season, the dried velvet made it easy to get a positive identification.

Elvis in 2010

Up until 2008, I probably photographed this moose and just considered him “one of the boys”. In 2008, I started paying more attention to him as he grew in size and his antlers developed. By 2010, he was a menacing looking animal. It was also the year he took down Gaston as the top bull.

Original Gaston

As I began photographing the Gros Ventre bulls in earnest in 2006 or so, this bull was the dominant Moose. His swaggering approach sent smaller bulls packing. My kids were younger at the time and the show “Beauty and the Beast” was still fresh in my mind. I started calling him Gaston (the Beast). He normally had about a dozen distinctive tines on each antler. His antlers wrapped around as a single unit on each side, unlike Washakie which had a gap between his main paddles and brow tines.

 Gaston's Antlers

Somewhere along the way, a large bull showed up with roughly 12 points on each antler. As I compare photos of the two (years later), it is apparent the new one was different, but I called him Gaston. Rangers have told me there have been several “Rosies” at the Roosevelt area of Yellowstone, and there have been lots of Lassies. My mistake was unintentional. Another photographer told me he didn’t think the two were the same, prompting me to review the images. There were plenty of similarities, but a couple of glaring differences, including the long dewlap on the second one.

One fall morning of 2010, I found Gaston(2) along with a group of cows, but for some reason, he was staying back in the shadows and letting Elvis go from cow to cow. Eventually I saw the problem. Gaston had a large gash in his side from an apparent battle. From that day forward, Gaston backed away if Elvis approached him. At that point, this Gaston(2)’s antlers had begun reducing in size from year to year. More than likely, he was past his prime, opening the door for Elvis.

Cody

Another big bull shows up from time to time along the Gros Ventre I’ve always called Cody. It would be easy to confuse him with some of the other bulls, including the second version of Gaston. He usually has a split at the back of his right antler.

Early Antlers

Calves are usually born in early June. By the rut season of their first year, they are still small. The young bulls usually have only a small nub where their antlers will someday grow. A yearling bull (one year plus four months) often has a spike and a two year bull often has a small ping-pong paddle sized antler on each side.

Young Bull

Young bulls like this one are difficult to identify from year to year. This one was probably three or four years old in 2012. After three years of additional growth, he’s probably becoming a distinctive looking sub-adult. At some point, their antlers begin to develop distinctive characteristics. At the time, we were calling this one Pretty Boy.

Thrashing

Starting the day they begin stripping their velvet and into late winter, bulls thrash their antlers into willows, cottonwoods, and about any kind of textured surface they can find. Young bulls regularly tear up camper’s tents. I’ve heard a few uninformed comments suggesting the thrashing is to indicate discontent with people being too close, but I don’t believe that statement for a second. They thrash to clean off the velvet initially. Without a mirror, they never really know when the job is complete. They also thrash to impress the cows, or to let the young ones know they should stay back. Occasionally, it backfires and draws the attention of a much larger bull. The photo above shows one of the bulls well into the fall with several broken tines and even the entire tip  broken off his paddle.

Moose Sparring

Typically, young moose spar with each other to prepare themselves for future battles. It is actually a common site. A large bull sometimes spars gently with one of the small bulls. I never saw too many of the big bulls sparring as seen above. There’s always evidence of actual fighting, like broken tines and deep scratches, but I’ve never been in the right place at the right time to witness a “for keeps” fight. Bulls of any size continue to spar well into the winter and past the actual rut.

Moose Feeding

The site in the link near the top of the page says bulls don’t feed during the rut and can lose a large portion of their body weight. It’s possible the biggest bulls lose some weight, but they definitely eat their normal diet of bitter brush, willow leaves and shoots, and an occasional Russian olive plant. Bulls still fend off smaller bulls and check each time a cow urinates, but they eat! I’ve heard the same comments from of the tour company guides. Don’t believe it! I’ve also overheard them telling their guests moose are solitary in nature. In my experience, it appears they enjoy the company of another male or female or two.

Lewis

I photographed this moose at Schwabacher Landing last year in October. He’s the same moose people see regularly under the bridge over the Snake River at Moose Junction. Later in the year, he was along the Gros Ventre near the town of Kelly. As winter’s snow covered the valley floor, he was seen regularly out in the sage flats north of Kelly.

Antler

In mid-December, you might run across a shed antler like this one. While inside the park, it would be illegal to remove it. Outside the park, country regulations prohibit people from removing antlers until “opening day” for antler hunters on May 1st.

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Over the years, I have taken lots of photos of numerous different bull moose. Without a scar on the muzzle or cuts in the ears, exact identification is not 100% possible. I prefer them without tags and collars, so I can certainly live with the uncertainty and just enjoy taking their photos.

Previous Moose Posts:

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Anthropomorphism

I give the area moose names. The scientific community doesn’t care for the practice, but if Jane Goodall can name the chimps and apes she studied, I’m good with it! Without published numbers, it’s difficult to quickly tell someone I just saw the moose with 9×11 points, cuts in two ears, and a scrape down the right side of his muzzle. How about simply “Washakie”? Other people can call the same moose anything else they want, but a few names seem to have stuck, at least within a few of my photographer friends. There’s a large bull near the Snake River Bridge. He used to have an equally large bull with him for much of July and August. I called one Lewis and the other Clark. I hear people calling the remaining one Hollywood and the smaller one Understudy. The people in the Dornan’s area know them by those two names. The non-scientific community is plenty comfortable giving human names to their pets and also to the wild animals they see frequently. Lastly, a name or number helps me find specific animals if I take the time to add them into the keywords in Lightroom. This page would have been a much bigger challenge without the keyword searches.

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Caution!

TouronBefore I wind this page down, I feel like I should include some words of caution to all readers. First, the minimum legal distance is 25 yards. That’s very, very close to a standing moose! I prefer to stay back 40 yards or more and photograph them with telephoto lenses. Many of the images on this page are heavily cropped from the original. Please, don’t try getting close-up shots of a moose with an iPhone, and if you have a shorter lens, don’t expect it to get the same kind of shots as the people setting back from the scene with a jumbo lens. More than likely, you’ll be standing in their way! Don’t get fooled. Moose along the Gros Ventre and around Dornans are usually more accustomed to having humans around than back country moose.  Lastly, most moose will let you know if they are uncomfortable. Their ears drop down and their heads usually drop below their shoulders as they dance around in a distinctive tromping fashion. That’s a good time to get way back and give them ample room.

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Elvis—King of the Gros Ventre

Some of it’s magic—some of it’s tragic.

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Elvis 2010

In the fall of 2010, this big bull moose I called “Elvis” established his dominance along the Gros Ventre in Grand Teton National Park.

Gaston with Cut

For many years prior to Elvis’ “hostile takeover”, this bull I called “Gaston” had been the dominant bull in the area. On this particular morning, I found a group of familiar bulls and cows along the Gros Ventre—but something was different. Another big bull was going from cow to cow, yet Gaston was standing off to the side letting it all happen. At the time, I was confused by what I was witnessing. Eventually, Gaston stepped into the light and everything made sense. Half a dozen of the tines on Gaston’s antlers had been broken off and he had a large gash in his shoulder. The battle apparently happened overnight or earlier that morning, but unfortunately, I missed it. For the rest of the fall, Gaston backed away from Elvis if he approached.

Elvis at the Dumpster

Elvis in 2008: In years prior to the 2010 changing of the guard, I saw Elvis on quite a few occasions. The bull on the right is no slouch, but this shot shows how much bigger and bulkier Elvis was even then. The other distinguishing features were his long, “all-business” tines.

Elvis at Water

Elvis at Water in 2010: With a rack like this, it was easy to identify Elvis from afar.

Wide AntlersMany moose have antlers that sweep out from their skulls like this one. Elvis’ antlers reached almost straight up. Between the long, intimidating tines and the reach, Elvis presented himself as a formidable opponent.  Compare the antlers of this large bull to Elvis below!

Elvis Resting

To the Victor: I took this image in the evening following the “changing of the guard”. I knew at the time that things would be different and I’d be taking more images of him going forward. Gaston hung around most of the fall, but wasn’t a factor in the rut.

While some people don’t like the idea of giving human names to wild animals (Anthropomorphism), I do it! It helps me keep track of them while out in the field and it definitely helps me find specific animals in my Lightroom catalog when I need them—as was the case for this post. Originally, I called him “Emporer”, but it just didn’t seem to fit. I was thinking about his regal crown like set of antlers. “King”…? No. But that led to “Elvis…(King of the Gros Ventre)”.  I told a few other friends what I had been calling him and the name stuck. I am sure other people had a different name for him. Over time, we had fun with the name. “The Elvis show is at 9:00 am” or if he crossed the river, “Elvis has left the building”.

Elvis and Cow

Most confrontations between two bulls require only a stare down. This little bull was more of an annoyance than a threat.

Web_ElvisInSnowStorm2008

There was plenty of potential for good shots of this bull all the way back to 2008. Over the next five years, he grew even bigger and more powerful.

Elvis in 2010

Elvis in 2010: You can see the growth in his antlers over two years. It was time! Elvis enjoyed a couple of years as the top breeder along the Gros Ventre. He roamed around three miles of it regularly during the fall.

Elvis in Willows

Elvis in Cottonwoods and Willows along the Gros Ventre River.

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The Beginning of the End

October 13, 2011

October 13, 2011: In the fall of 2011, Elvis and a few other cows in the Gros Ventre contracted Pink eye (conjunctivitis). The link will take you to the Mayo Clinic. His right eye became extremely swollen and eventually closed up, with drips of puss streaking from the eye. At the time, I thought it could have been from a fighting injury, but other cows began to show similar symptoms.

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

October 20, 2011: It was difficult to watch as things seemed to get worse on a regular basis. I deleted almost all shots of Elvis if I could see his swollen eye, and then began to only photograph him on his good side. I feared the worst for him during the winter.

Elvis, Washakie & Slim Jim: August 28, 2012

Clear Eyes 2012: A year later, Elvis appeared with clear eyes. I was relieved, along with other photographers familiar with the earlier infection. This is Elvis (right), Washakie (left) & Slim Jim (back): August 28, 2012

September 2013

In 2013, his eye turned milky white. I don’t know if he could see out it?

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

Elvis Eyes, Sept 18, 2013: Within 14 days, his velvet had been stripped, but his right eye was sealed again.

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013: Now, both eyes were infected, with fluids dripping from his left eye.

Elvis Crossing Oct 22

This is the last photo I took of Elvis at 7:30 am on September 22nd of 2013. A day later, Elvis was dead.

Elvis Necropsy

The necropsy was conducted in the afternoon on September 23rd. I heard a few reports of the death of a large bull, then managed to get a photo and some information from the WY Game and Fish. This is a post I made on Best of the Tetons Daily Update Page for October of 2012:

Oct4. News: Elvis has left the building: One of my favorite bull moose has died from an apparent fighting wound on the National Elk Refuge. This recent photo, supplied by Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist, Doug Brimeyer, shows a Wyoming Game Warden, conducting a necropsy. Doug Brimeyer reports, “We did confirm that this moose had two large puncture wounds in the chest and abdomen that likely caused it to bleed internally.  We skinned the animal and  looked at the injuries.  We ran a metal detector over the area and the injuries were consistent with trauma caused by blunt force and punctures from antlers.”

Elvis, an un-numbered bull, has been a fixture along the Gros Ventre river bottom for four or five years, or longer, and been a popular subject of many photographers and tourists at the pullouts. The big bull was often seen crossing the river and courting the cows of the Gros Ventre river bottom. While I know I will miss him, I will have a favorable lasting memory of him going down in a battle over a “hot” cow. Thanks to biologist Mark Gocke for helping me obtain this photo and permission to use it! Of course, thanks to Doug Brimeyer for supplying it.

Elvis: Late October 2010

Elvis: Late October 2010

Looking for a Silver Lining:

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of this magnificent animal. It is difficult to look too long at the necropsy photo. Still, I saw Elvis breeding with numerous cows over his two or three year reign as the top bull. Undoubtedly, his genes are now being shared with the new crop of young moose in the area. It will take a few years to start seeing his distinctive rack showing up again. Less Eye Infections: During the same period, at least two other cows fell to the eye disease. One was seen circling blindly in the Gros Ventre River before being put down. During the 2014 fall season, I only saw one cow with the eye problems. That cow eventually damaged her leg in the GV campground after being chased through a campfire grate by a bull during the rut. Hopefully, the worst of that contagious disease is behind the moose of the Tetons. Despite the loss of one of the patriarchs, everything seemed back to normal this year. Washakie filled in, sharing space with Cody and Custer. Another big bull, Lewis strolled through after spending his summer along the Snake River at Moose Junction. There are links to additional pages for Washakie and Custer below. I feel so fortunate to able to witness this yearly pageant, even though I get more attached to them than I know I should!

Elvis Video on YouTube:

Gaston 2007

Gaston: After comparing photos in my Lightroom catalog, I don’t think I ever saw Gaston again after the 2010 rut season, even though other bulls look similar to him. Hopefully, he just moved to a different part of the valley and is still passing along his genes to calves there.

Other Featured Moose:

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Resting Moose: A Collection of Less Seen Lifestyle Images

Moose spend much of the daylight hours bedded down after grazing during the pre-dawn and first light periods.

Over the past 8 years or so, I’ve taken thousands of shots of moose bedded down in various locations and under most conditions and light. Resting moose images probably aren’t as popular or romantic as ones crossing a stream or in some sort of rut behavior. I enjoy trying to capture them—but then, I also take photos of metal rusting and paint peeling! For viewers not around moose that often, this Feature Post should enlighten you about some of their lifestyle and behavior when they are not “posing” for us in the other classic shots. This page is loaded with some of my favorite resting moose images, along with some comments about them.

Custer Watching

Moose usually bed down within an hour of the first light hitting the valley floor. They may continue to graze at the edges of the forest or move to the relative safety of the willow trees, but you’ll seldom them find them standing in the sagebrush during the heat of the day. To get resting moose shots, all you have to do is stay with them in the morning until they go down. It’s a given.

blade of grass

After feeding and going through their morning rut behavior, moose move to a cool, shady spot. They do a good job of bedding down in a place with small stems or branches in front of them. You’d almost think they do it to annoy photographers! Since I live here and get plenty of opportunities, I typically don’t photograph one with stems in their face unless the rest of the scene is outstanding.

blade of grass removed

It is possible to remove small imperfections in Photoshop. The “content aware” healing brushes can work wonders. It all depends on how much of a purist you are and how many days you can spend photographing them.

removing branch

It doesn’t happen that often, but occasionally a moose will reach out and chew off a branch or stem, cleaning up the scene the natural way!

cleaned scene

Perfect! No Photoshop needed on that pesky branch!

Moose in Sagebrush

I’d like to get more of this kind of image showing some of the distant mountains. Normally, I am out with a 200-400mm lens. It takes something wider like a 70-200mm lens to include much of the environment. Ideally, I’d be about 10 feet from the moose with a short lens to let them fill the frame—but that would be illegal and dangerous. They never seem to be alarmed or concerned with me at 35-40 yards out. Most moose in GTNP were born here and have grown up with photographers and tourists around them. As long as people don’t abuse the privilege, GTNP moose appear to view us no differently than any other grazing pronghorn, elk, or bison they see in the same areas. Back country moose “might” be less tolerant and either run or charge.

Moose in Sagebrush

Early morning or late evening light always help “romance” an image. A little “catch light” in the eyes helps most images, too.

The little bull

While this little bull has a lot of character, it is more of novelty shot for me. My rule of thumb is “shoot now” and try to decide if it has any long term value later. This particular image makes a great addition to this post, but who knew in 2008 I’d be writing a blog post in 2014. I didn’t know what a blog was in 2008.

Washakie

I tend to spend more time following the larger bulls and taking their photos—even the resting versions. They are wonderful subjects with a lot of expression and character! A bull will typically yawn once or twice after lying down. They also stretch their neck once or twice before settling into an extended nap.

Flat Out

Most “sleep” with their head up.  They can close their eyes, yet listen for threatening sounds by swiveling their ears in any direction. It is not uncommon to watch a moose’s head bob from semi-consciousness to full sleep like I used to do in a 7:00 am art history slide show back in college. Sometimes they roll over on their side, as seen above.

Completely out

Occasionally, one of the big bulls will fall asleep…all lights out! The fall rut can drain their energy.

awake

This bull woke up with snow stuck to his antler. He slept for roughly 15 minutes.

legs showing

This bull bedded down in an open area, revealing his folded legs. This kind of shot isn’t too common.

Two Bulls

If one resting bull is good, then two resting bulls must be even better!

Six bulls

Then again, if two bulls are good, six bulls are much better!

Bull and Cow

During the fall rut, bulls stay fairly close to the prime cows.

Gentle Prodding

It’s rewarding to be able to capture behavioral shots, too! This bull was prodding the cow to get up for a little “action”.

stacked calf and bull

This little frisky calf bedded down on a sand bar. The bull walked up, got a drink and bedded down next to the water. I shot this scene from several angles, but liked this one best.

curious young bull

Large bulls are often amazingly tolerant of a smaller bull. During the heat of the rut, you’ll seldom find two of the large bulls that friendly around each other.

after the rut

After the rut, bulls often reassemble in small groups. One year, quite a while back, I counted 28 antlered moose in one area, plus several I was sure were bulls that had already lost their antlers. I haven’t seen that many since, and reports indicate moose populations have been on the decline. Once moose bed down in the sagebrush, they can be difficult to spot, made worse once their fur gets covered with snow.

Lost Antler

By mid-December, some of the bulls shed their antlers. This bull had apparently just lost one of his. The off-balance effect of having only one antler must be hard on them. This bull was following a group of around 6 bulls but was constantly bedding down to rest while the others continued to graze.

On lost antler

I’ve heard it said the largest bulls lose their antlers first, but I am not so sure that is a correct statement. I don’t really see much of a pattern to it at all.

Washakie

Most tourists visit Jackson Hole during the Summer and Fall and never get to see moose in snow like this.

getting up

What goes down, must come up! Newton didn’t exactly say it that way, I guess. If you are willing to wait him out, a resting moose will eventually get up. They almost always do a unique “stretch” of their back and neck before being ready to continue with the rut or feeding again. Click this image to see it much larger!

cow with calves

I typically don’t take that many shots of resting cows. In the early part of June, moose are shaggy and not too “pretty”—and that’s being polite! Early June is also about the time the cows show up with newborn calves. Exceptions have to be made!

Cow in the river

This is another example of capturing a resting cow moose while doing something unique. By mid-August, afternoons can get warm enough to bake their dark fur.

Youngster

This young calf was just too cute to pass up!

in the pool

Okay, I would have photographed this bull in velvet whether he was in the sagebrush, willows, or grass, but catching him in a cool pool was a a treat.

with a rope

Once a bull’s antlers get to a point the velvet is ready to scrape off, they rub their antlers against just about anything they can find. Apparently, this bull found a worthy tent or clothes line. The line must have affected his desire to finish the velvet stripping. Luckily for the moose, both antlers would be falling off in December and he’d be ready to start over next year. Bulls start stripping their velvet a few days either side of Labor Day, but not all begin at the same time.

Scratching

Bull Moose seldom spar until they have had a chance to strip off all of their velvet. Once stripped and their antlers polished, they become a multi-purpose tool. When bedded down, they often use their antlers to scratch their back. By late December and into early January, he’ll lose his back built-in scratcher.

Washakie

This venerable bull moose (I call “Washakie“) has been one of my favorite subjects. I first photographed him with a digital camera in 2006. He was an impressive bull even back then, but each year, his antlers have been getting larger and more distinctive. He’s in quite a few of the images in this post above. He spends much of August near the big pull out along the Gros Ventre river feeding on fresh willow leaves and stems. During the rut, he can roam along the Gros Ventre all the way from the highway to the town of Kelly. As the willow leaves wain, moose begin to switch their diet to bitter brush, which grows alongside sagebrush in the open flats. This shot, taken in mid-November (only a few days ago), will probably be one of the last images I get of Washakie this year. He has snow on his face from pushing snow away to get to the low bitter brush. Their long legs allow them to pass over high snow and tall sagebrush. Their thick fur allows them to tolerate -30°F temps and heavy winds. They can sometimes be found near the roads near Ditch Creek road, but eventually, they move on West and out of range for most people.

Frozen Water Source

During the coldest periods of winter, finding water might be a moose’s biggest challenge. This irrigation ditch originates at the Kelly Warm Springs and travels towards the Mormon Row barns. Most parts of Ditch Creek freeze solid, but I believe moose move away from the roads and towards this irrigation ditch for the chances to break through the ice. Once an opening is found, other moose drink from the same spot. While this isn’t a resting moose photo, it goes with the preceding image and caption.

I am working on another Feature Post containing a collection of “unique” moose activities, similar to the one above. Now’s a great time to sign up to follow this blog if you haven’t done so. You’ll receive an email notifying you of any new feature posts. This photo makes me smile. It reminds me of a story about one of my young nephews. His mother had quoted the line from the Bible that goes something like, “And, Jesus walked on the water”. My nephew pondered it a minute…then said, “Must have been damned cold”.

Shooting Info

Most of these shots were taken with a Nikon 200-400mm lens at a range of around 40 yards. Most have a little cropping. The early images were taken with a Nikon 300 and later shots were taken with either a Nikon D4 or a Nikon 800. Resting moose seldom move their head too fast, so shutter speeds are not much of an issue. The distance from the tip of the nose to his ears is close to 2 feet. Lower shutter speeds and smaller apertures normally work fine. If looking at me, I typically focus on their eyes and let their muzzle go out of focus slightly. When at a 3/4 pose, most of the face will be sharp.

depth of field

Shooting Comments

For this Feature Post, I went through around 20,000 moose images and found around 1500 resting moose shots. No telling how many thousand additional resting moose shots I took and deleted. I included way more images on this page than some might think is appropriate for a blog post, but I tried to find images with some sort of unique nature or quality. When you are out in the field, it is way too easy to set up on a tripod and shoot 300-400 images of essentially the same pose of a resting moose. That just means you spend a lot of time having to cull a bunch of them. Over the years, I shoot less of them and cull more of them. I’d probably be much more discrete if I had to change rolls after every 36 captures.

If I find a nice bull moose in the morning and stay with him until he beds down, I typically head home or go somewhere else during the middle of the day. Moose sometimes get up in the middle of the day, but usually only to switch sides or move to a new shady spot. If I go back in the afternoon, they are seldom more than 50-70 yards from where I left them in the morning. I will usually be more tempted to go back in the afternoon if I left them bedded down somewhere near the river. They usually go to the water once a day, sometimes crossing after taking a good drink. Wild mustangs, elk, and pronghorns males “herd” their harem, usually away from other males. During the rut, bull moose normally just follow the “hot” cow wherever she goes instead of trying to keep her in a specific area.

Maybe you’ll agree—even when they are just resting, moose are incredibly captivating animals.

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Custer: Majestic Bull Moose Along the Gros Ventre River

Moose are one of my favorite subjects—especially around the Tetons. I have digital photos of the Gros Ventre moose in my Lightroom Catalog going back to 2005 and had quite a few on film before that. One of my favorite bulls is one I call “Custer”. (Okay, if you don’t like someone naming an animal, just call him #7. Some people will understand the number). I usually try to come up with a name that makes sense to me, even if no one else uses the same name or no name at all. This bull lacks the traditional long dewlap. To my eye, it looked more like a goatee. I tried to come up with historic names of a figure with a goatee. Buffalo Bill came to mind, but that didn’t seem to fit a moose. Custer seemed to fit. Now, after assigning the name with keywords to his photos, I can find just photos of him (more on this at the bottom of the page).

Custer in Velvet September 11, 2011

Custer in Velvet September 11, 2011: I may have photos of Custer that predate the 2011 series, but that was the first year I really started paying attention to him. I have lots of him stripping willows, eating in the sagebrush, resting, sleeping, and interacting with other moose, but for this page, I thought it might be nice to document him with similar shots over the past several years. It’s hard to beat a nice bull moose next to, or in a stream.

Custer Stripping Velvet September 14, 2011

Custer Stripping Velvet September 14, 2011: Catching a bull moose stripping his velvet is not an easy task. The bulk of it can be stripped off in less than an hour, so being there when it happens is a challenge.

Washakie and Custer in November of 2011

Washakie and Custer in November of 2011: This cropped image was taken in mid-November of 2011—after the rut. There’s another image from that day at the bottom of the page. I include this photo to show the relative size of Custer to one of the venerable old bulls in the region. Ironically, I spoke with a tourist who was describing Custer. He had seen him earlier in the day. He told me he was “huge..the biggest bull moose he’d ever seen!”.  That was probably a true statement, but it is balanced with the fact he probably hadn’t seen too many moose. Custer would be no match for Washakie in 2011 as evident in this image. As two bulls approach each other, they swagger and sway, snowing off their antlers to the other bull. This allows them to size up the other bull. The smaller bull usually backs down quickly without a fierce confrontation. Light sparring like this is common after the rut.

Custer in Velvet August 29, 2012

Custer in Velvet August 29, 2012: Antlers grow back in a similar pattern from year to year for each moose, making it fairly easy to identify them. Custer’s lack of a dewlap can give me a clue earlier than some of the other bulls.

Custer Losing Velvet September 3, 2012

Custer Losing Velvet September 3, 2012: I was at the right place at the right time again in 2012. While I have lots of photos of moose in sagebrush, I’d much prefer getting photos of them near the water. I probably have more river crossings of Custer than any other bull moose. There are very few locations along the Gros Ventre where you can include the Grand Teton Range, but otherwise it can be very good shooting.

Custer in Velvet with Spots August 23, 2013

Custer in Velvet August 23, 2013: Notice anything different in 2013? The bottom 2/3’s of his body was covered in white spots. At first, I thought they might be splashes of white mud, but it became clear the white spots were actually white fur. Besides the normal identifying features, Custer was easy to spot.

Custer in the River September 8, 2013

Custer in the River September 8, 2013: I was on my stomach well upstream for this shot, using a telephoto lens. I got “lucky” again that year and was around the same day he stripped his velvet.

Custer Sparring October 31, 2013

Custer Sparring October 31, 2013: Young bulls often spar with each other for years prior to maturing into the top breeders. Custer is seen here sparring with a smaller bull, yet when a larger bull was in the area, he normally backed away from a confrontation.

Custer in Velvet August 28, 2014

Custer in Velvet August 28, 2014: This year, Custer emerged with only half a dozen white spots on his fur on either side. I was curious about him all through the early summer. Would the white spots be more numerous and larger? Apparently, the new coat replaced the previous one and the spots went with it. I can’t say what causes the spots, but I now wonder if he doesn’t bed down in some patch of the valley with the ability to bleach some of his fur? This year, Custer grew a new and distinctive “drop tine” on his right antler, making him even easier to identify.

Custer with Clean Antlers October 11, 2014

Custer with Clean Antlers October 11, 2014: I missed Custer stripping his velvet this year, but I guess I had a pretty good streak going and I can’t complain.

Custer at Evening Rest

Custer at Rest October 22, 2014: Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to witness this bull moose grow into one of the premier bulls along the Gros Ventre. In the early years, he backed away from confrontation, but he now has a “swagger” when other bulls enter his territory. I’ve never seen him fight, but he now has a gash on the left side of his muzzle and a fresh one on the top of his muzzle you can see in this photo. There was blood showing around the edges when I zoomed in tight on an image on my computer. Still, Custer probably needs another year or two to know he is a powerhouse. Other large bulls will have more fighting experience and probably an advantage he can sense. The small gashes he is getting now will give him experience for future battles.

Check out this accompanying Feature Post: Photographing Large Game Animals in Grand Teton National Park: 

Moose Gathering November 13, 2011

Moose Gathering November 13, 2011 : Custer is second to the end on the right.

Gaston and Custer Sparring

The photo above was taken in late October. Custer is now large enough to challenge most of the other large bulls and certainly large enough to keep smaller bulls away from his cows. These two bulls were just sparring and not actually fighting.

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Lightroom and Keywords:

Custer Search in Lightroom

At the very beginning of this page, I mentioned how and why I name the moose I photograph. This screen grab is added to let you see how it actually works. The keywords for the right image look something like this: “1-994352512, animal, antlers, bull, copyrighted, Copyrighted Image, Custer, Fall, GTNP, Jackson Hole, mammal, Moose, official, rut, tassels, VAu 1-149-749, VAU001149749, wildlife, willows, WY”. The strings of numbers are something I added during my copyright submissions to the US Copyright Office. Initially, the list looked like this: “animal, antlers, bull, Custer, Fall, GTNP, Jackson Hole, mammal, Moose, rut, tassels, wildlife, willows, WY”. There are lots of ways of adding keywords in Lightroom. I usually add them once I cull the big shoot down to a tolerable level. My images are subdivided into “old school” folder names as seen on the left which allows me to go to just the moose folder and do the search within that folder, or I can search for moose or Custer from the entire catalog. Having a name that correlates with features on the moose helps me identify them in the field and later organize them for searches over the years. For this Feature Post, all I had to do was enter Custer in the Text search field and all of them came up in one single grid view. Out of the 19709 moose images in the catalog, 1900 of them contained the keyword “Custer”.

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More Moose Images:

Here’s a list of additional Feature Posts on Best of the Tetons with moose, and even a link to my artistic images as Teton Images. There will be plenty of moose images, including quite a few of Custer on the Daily Updates pages from August to December, too.

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Copyrights and Sharing:

Please note that the images on my sites are copyrighted and protected by the US Copyright Office. You are welcome and encouraged to use the Social Media Icons below to share the pages on the site, but please do not take/borrow/steal the images—and absolutely do not use them for any other purpose!

 

Photographing Large Game Animals in Grand Teton National Park:

 Moose, Elk, Bison, Deer, Pronghorns, and a few others.

Wildlife Banner

The Tetons have a large variety of species of both large and small mammals. This page contains images of the larger ones, most of which are on visitor’s “bucket list” of desired subjects. Some are easier to find than others. Some are easier to find than photograph. Elk and Deer are hunted in the region and are typically wary of humans. Pronghorns are hunted in areas south of Jackson and are also more likely to stay out of close range. Bison and Moose seem to understand they are safe in the Park and seldom run attempt to evade humans.  These various dynamics can make photography challenging. The Park has several rules designed to keep both animals and tourists safe. Other rules are in place to keep from stressing the animals as they go about their life’s business. To get good photos, it also helps to know a little bit about each subject—like what they eat, when they are up and visible, where they get water, and so forth. This page is intended on helping with all of these topics.

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Park Rules

Rules for Grand Teton National Park’s two major predators—bears and wolves— require people to stay back to at least 100 yards. And, that includes while being inside your vehicle!  The 100 Yard Rule(s) The page contains the actual wording in the Park Compendium. The park’s compendium also addresses other animals in the park. For all other animals, the rules require people to stay back to at least 25 yards. People are not permitted to change any animal’s behavior—regardless of the distance. Lastly, visitors are required to follow the orders of a ranger or on-duty volunteer. Again, you might be well outside the legal distance, but if they ask or tell you (or a group) to move back, you simply must do it. A few areas, like Willow Flats, are closed to human entry all year long and other areas like the Snake River bottom are closed during the winter months. Click the link to read the actual rules for yourself. I carry a “Rangefinder” with me almost all the time so I know how far I am from a subject.

Bison Tourons

Bison Tourons

Distance Rules for Moose, Elk, Bison, Deer, Pronghorns and Bighorns are clearly defined as 25 yards. The same would apply for Foxes, Coyotes, Badgers, Eagles, Owls, Hawks, Meadowlarks, Beavers, and so forth. How about Chipmonks, Ground Squirrels, Butterflies, Beetles, and Bluebirds? Of the group, Bison are potentially the most dangerous animal in the park. Yellowstone gives out a florescent yellow sheet advising people of the extreme danger of bison, however there are many areas of GTNP where people can drive and never pick up a map or information about rules or dangers. Antelope Flats is an example, along with the Moose-Wilson Road if entering at Moose. Some rules appear to be “gray” and not simply black and white. Even since the new rules were implemented, the Park Service allows people to weave through a herd of Bison on the road. I’ve even watched Park rangers and personnel drive through the herds. In my opinion, the most dangerous zone in the park is along Antelope Flats Road, as seen in the photo above.

Moose Tourons

Moose Tourons

Recently, Moose have been moved higher on the Park’s watch list. Rangers have become much less tolerant—even when people are well outside the legal distance window. The “long lens” professional photographers are being grouped in with point-and-shoot and cell phone photographers as problems the Park Service needs to solve. At least in my experience, the pro photographers are most likely to yell out to a short lens photographer to move back if they are getting ridiculously close. I don’t think the long lens photographers are “the problem”. At the same time, the Gros Ventre Campground probably needs a better “ranger presence” during the peak fall periods—made worse by the fact other campgrounds in the park close early and push more campers into one congested area with moose doing what they have been doing for decades.

Photography Suggestions:

I guess the top section of this page could sound a bit like a “rant”, but that’s not what this Feature Post is supposed to be about. It’s just a necessary evil in regards to the rest of the page. Lots more people die from climbing accidents or boating accidents than are injured in any way by animals in the park. Whew…I’m glad that’s behind me!

But wait!…

Short Lenses, Pads, & Phones

One more thing. I am not sure how many people reading this site are what you might call a “long lens” photographer? I write this blog to help everyone! Still, this photo and the one above it illustrate an important issue in regards to wildlife photography. In both cases, when I took the shots, I would have been a way, way back from the scenes with my telephoto lens to capture a wide scene like this. I would have needed to be pulled back to 200mm on my 200-400mm lens, too. From where I was set up, I could have zoomed in and captured just the moose feeding on the bushes, and I could have cropped that images to show just his head, the top of the bushes, and his antlers. Many of the point-and-shoot, pad, and phone photographers “want” those shots. Right? To get the same shots, they have to move close. That’s a problem! In many cases, that is THE problem the Park Service needs to address.

So, my first suggestion to anyone wanting to take wildlife shots: Buy at least some sort of consumer camera body and a reasonably good, mid-priced zoom lens! Many of them are very capable of taking wonderful images, and despite the claims of all the phone and pad makers, they simply can’t take the same quality images. The glass is not as good and the sensors are very small. I am a Nikon shooter, using some of their top flight gear, so I am more familiar with their equipment than Canon’s offerings. Canon will have equally capable gear. Check out a Nikon D5200 body and a 28-300mm lens. Or look into a Nikon 80-400mm lens if you have the budget. My son has a Nikon D5200 body. I own a 28-300mm “carry around” lens, and I hear nothing but rave reviews on the 80-400 mm VRII lens. If I had the money, I’d add one. My wife has a hybrid point and shoot Nikon P7800 and it does a great job, but it isn’t really designed for wildlife and long distance shots. Other bodies might include the Nikon D610, Nikon D810, and the recently announced D750. The links take you to B&H, but you can also order one from Perfect Light Camera and Supply in Idaho Falls.

My GearPersonally, I use a Nikon D4 and a Nikon D800 body. (Newer versions are D4s and D810). I typically use a Nikon 200-400mm lens for most wildlife shooting and I almost always use a tripod. I like the option of the zoom. I don’t own a 500mm or 600mm and seldom feel like I need on in GTNP. I’d probably change my mind on the longer ones if I were trying to take a lot of photos of wolves and bears in GTNP. The 100 Yard Rule(s)

Before I get into the individual species, you might find this page helpful:  Where to Find Wildlife in the Tetons and JH Area

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 Photographing Moose:

Gaston and Custer Sparring

Moose live  generally in two zones: River bottoms and in the sage flats. They like to strip leaves off willow branches along the river and they like the bitterbrush often found where sagebrush grows. Additionally, at certain times of the year, you might find them in shallow ponds or streams feeding on aquatic vegetation. Often they will switch it up day to day or even bitterbrush in the morning and willow leaves in the afternoon. They will usually be visible only during the pre-dawn period and into the first hour or so of morning light. I find getting shots of them in the evenings tougher, but not impossible. They tend to get up to feed only after the sun drops behind the Tetons, so most evening shots are in low light or shadows. Once you leave a moose bedded down in the morning, they’ll usually be somewhere within 50 yards of the same spot by late afternoon.

Web_MooseCowCalf_June19The first baby moose are usually seen around the first week of June. Many of the adults look terrible at that time of the year as they shed their winter fur. Other than hoping to find calves with the cows, I normally don’t spend a lot of time trying to photograph them.  Bulls start showing bulbs of velvet in early June and by late June, their fur looks clean and bright and their antlers begin to fill out. By mid to late August, I am out looking for them on a regular basis.

Bulls live a solitary life most of the summer as their antlers grow. Occasionally, you’ll see two bulls in the same area, but seldom spend much time around cows. Effectively, they have no interest whatsoever and seem more annoyed by their presence. Cows with calves of the year stay close to them and are very protective. Also note, moose in and around most of GTNP are mostly accustomed to tourists, but you have to understand back country moose can be much more dangerous. This is a park and not a zoo, so you have to take some initiative to stay safe.

Custer in Velvet August 29, 2012

By late August and into the first week of September, many of the bulls will begin to strip their velvet. Finding moose is tough enough, but being there when they strip the velvet is not an easy task. They can strip most of the velvet in an hour, so being there at the right hour is the challenge. With a telephoto lens, you can stay back and let them go about their task. Moose typically find water once a day. Sometimes they move to a river or stream or get a drink in an irrigation ditch that criss-cross parts of the valley floor.

Custer Losing Velvet September 3, 2012

The photo above is the same moose as the one on the right in the previous image, but taken four days later. In wildlife photography, there is a lot of waiting around for something to happen, but the only way to actually get this kind of shot is stay with the moose until it does. I knew the moose was ready to strip his velvet and kept going back each day.

Washakie in Grass

Bulls spend a couple of days polishing their antlers, then begin roaming the valley floor looking for cows nearing estrus.

Harbinger of the Rut

Bulls can tell when a cow is ready by sniffing their urine. A Flehmen response, like the one in the photo above, is often called a “lip curl”. Anytime you see a cow urinate, be ready. At this time of the year, large bulls and fight over a hot cow, but I’ve never personally witnessed a serious fight, much less photographed one. Sparring takes place fairly often, but usually not between to prime bulls during the rut.

Bulls thrash their antlers in willows, small trees, and sometimes tents. They are either trying to polish their antlers, make a gesture towards other bulls, or are trying to impress a cow. Sometimes, a bull will work himself into a “tizzy” while thrashing, and if you see this behavior, be prepared to move back and be ready to find some place safe. They will drop their head, thrash and dance around small willows, and act erratically. Moose will drop their ears back to their neck as another bull moose approaches. Cows will do the same when another cow is too close to her calf. But, if you are too close, watch for the down ears as they stare at you. You can see the discontent in the moose around the campers near the top of the page. They will let you know if you are too close, and you better listen!

Moose Gathering November 13, 2011

By late October and early November, some of the bulls gather in the sage flats and will spend much of the month of November and December in fairly tight groups.

Web Bull Moose Aspens Dec13

Bulls can still roam around the valley floor, sometimes alone again.

Web Lost Antler Dec7

By mid to late December and into the first week or so of January, bulls begin to drop their antlers. Normally, I get shots like this one from my vehicle.

Web Bulls Sparring Dec7

During the Winter, a scene like this is not that uncommon.

Web Moose Cow Calf Dec8

Cows will stay with their calves all year and into the fall of the second year, at which point one of the bulls will chase it off.

Moose recap: Photography for moose isn’t much different than any other subject. It just takes a lot of field time, some patience, persistence, and even some luck.

Photographing Bison:

Web Frosted Bison Dec12

Bison spend most of the Winter in the far Northeast corner of the National Elk Refuge—after the bison hunt on the refuge. They are smart enough to stay away until the shooting stops. They now know to stay inside Grand Teton National Park (north of the Gros Ventre River) and out of the National Forests. It is possible to find a few herds of bison in the early winter snow around Kelly.

Web Bull Bison Dec26

An adult bison can run as fast as most horses. While they might appear docile, I don’t trust any of them any farther than I could throw one of them. Considering an adult bull can weigh a ton, that’s not far at all!  Normally, I take photos of bison from the window of my vehicle or next to my vehicle. I don’t suggest ever being very far from safety, and I definitely wouldn’t walk out into a field to them. I’ve seen people standing behind a barbed wire fence or a buck rail fence with bison not far away. That is absolutely no deterrent to a bison. They can jump or go through all but the tallest and most sturdy fences.

Web_BisonCowCalf_May23

Most baby bison, or “red dogs” are born in late May and early June. Sometimes, you can find them amongst Arrowleaf Balsom Root plants or Purple Lupine. Cows will normally still be scraping off their winter coat at the time.

Smokey Tetons

Bison roam most of the region east of the Snake River, primarily up on the sage flats. Being a grazing animal, they will seldom be in the same place two days in a row, but are still easy to spot against the sagebrush. Bison and Pronghorns are often seen in the same zones. There are several creeks and numerous irrigation ditches in the sage flats, and they often go to the Gros Ventre or Snake River to drink.  In this shot, the Tetons were dimmed by smoke from an Idaho fire.

Web_BisonFirstSun_July19

On this morning, the first rays of light were being amplified by smoke. I took this one along Mormon Row road, a common place to see bison. In Grand Teton National Park, you will almost always be able to find some bison. Unlike many of the other large game animals, they stay hidden in plain sight.

Rolling in the Dust

Bison, especially bulls, like to roll in the dirt. I like to catch at least one horn, one eye, and some legs. Having another bison in the scene can help a viewer know what the other shape is on the ground without having to decipher the scene. They will typically roll up twice or three times on each side, then get up and shake off the dust and dirt. Occasionally, one will do the entire process twice in the same spot.

Bidon Face

Don’t get close! This bull walked up to my vehicle while I was stuck in a “bison jam”. I took the photos out the window with a telephoto lens resting over a bean bag. Again, this is an animal worthy of your utmost respect.

Photographing Elk

Web Elk Refuge Sleigh Ride Jan31

One sure fire time to see elk is in the winter while taking a Sleigh Ride on the National Elk Refuge:

Web Bulls Waiting Jan31

The Sleigh Ride will take you very close to wintering elk. This might be the “deal” of the season in Jackson Hole.

By late April and early May, the herds move off the Refuge and begin their journey north. This is a great time to find lots of elk, but they are still wary of people. While there are ongoing efforts to stop the “hunt”, officially called the Elk Reduction Program, some hunting is still happening inside the Park’s boundaries.  Elk are normally only seen very early in the morning and very late in the evening. They move back into the forests before most people are finished with breakfast.

Bull Elk with Calf

Elk follow pretty much the same schedule as Moose each year.  Adults will be shaggy in early summer, then appear with beautiful new coats. The calves are born in early June and are sought out by the grizzlies, especially around Willow Flats. Bulls begin growing their new velvet covered antlers until fully formed. As Fall approaches, bull elk shed the velvet and then attempt to gather cows into harems. By early November, or into mid November, elk begin trying to make their way to the National Elk Refuge, but they must first make their way through the gauntlet of hunters waiting for them. In 2014, only antlerless elk kills are allowed. This image was taken a bit before sunrise in late October with my camera set to a high ISO of around 1600. I took it from inside my window with a telephoto resting over a bean bag in the window. Only a few minutes after this shot, the bull and his harem disappeared into the lodge pole pine forest near Jenny Lake.

Photographing Mule Deer

Buck Mule Deer

Grand Teton National Park has a healthy population of Mule Deer and even a small population of White-tailed Deer. The latter are harder to find and harder to photograph. I seldom see does with newborn fawns, but then I don’t spend a lot of time looking for them. I believe the Mule Deer rut starts a little later than moose and they typically drop their antlers later than the other ungulates. In my experience, you have a better chance photographing Mule Deer from your vehicle window than out of the vehicle.

Web_MuleDeer_Jan21

Some bucks are more tolerant than others. If they don’t run immediately, some will graze and feed with you tagging along. Quite a few Mule Deer winter around the buildings and barns in Kelly, and this group seems to be much more tame than other parts of the park.

Web_MuleDeer_Jan22

Occasionally, a mule deer will allow you to get a few quick shots before moving back into the forest.

Web Mule Deer Dec29

Young Mule Deer bucks, like young Moose bulls, spar regularly until it’s time to fight for real. By December, many of Mule Deer work their way to the town of Kelly or along the Butte near the National Museum of Wildlife Art. They can be seen and photographed along the highway during much of the Winter. Mule Deer are also seen inside the town of Jackson, however less often than in earlier years. Feeding them is now illegal.

Photographing Pronghorns

Pronghorns in Gold

Most Pronghorn photos you get in Grand Teton National Park will looks something like this one. They typically stay off the road a ways and will often run if you get out of your vehicle. The gold light was a result of the first few minutes of morning light passing through smoke from an Idaho fire.

I like this kind of shot with an animal being part of a landscape.

Occasionally, a Pronghorn will pose on a hillside for a few minutes.

During the rut, Pronghorns lose much of their wary nature. This buck caught sight of a couple of does on the other side of Mormon Row and ran right by me. Opportunities like this develop quickly, then are over just as fast. It is easy to miss them, but rewarding if you are both lucky and prepared.

AntelopeDoe1_July3

This doe is a little shaggy, but she looked nice against the dark background. Bighorns normally leave the valley and winter near Pinedale or Big Piney. During the 2013-2014 winter, a group of around 25 stayed in the valley and spent most of their time on the National Elk Refuge.

Photographing Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats

Impact Nov21

This section is a bit of a “trick question”. While there are some Bighorn Sheep in Grand Teton National Park, they are seldom seen by an average tourist. I’ve never seen one in the Park. I’ve been told there is a population of them on some of the slopes of Mount Moran. Not many roads there! Instead, most people photograph Bighorns at Miller Butte on the National Elk Refuge in December and January. The first groups start showing up around Thanksgiving. Earlier in the year, some bighorns can be spotted near the campground at Slide Lake and farther out the Gros Ventre near Red Hills Ranch. Still, these are not really part of GTNP.

The other half of the topic above is Mountain Goats. They are not native to GTNP. The Park Service is not welcoming them in the park and are asking people to report any sightings. A healthy herd of Mountain Goats can be seen in late Winter in the Snake River Canyon near Alpine Junction. At certain times of the year, Mountain Goats graze on grasses next to the road while still in their beautiful winter coats. Here’s a page dedicated to  Mountain Goats of the Snake River Canyon:

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Copyrights and Sharing:

Please note that the images on my sites are copyrighted and protected by the US Copyright Office. You are welcome and encouraged to use the Social Media Icons below to share the pages on the site, but please do not take/borrow/steal the images—and absolutely do not use them for any other purpose!

Moose Courtship Behavior

Early Rut and Courting.

Moose are my favorite large mammals in Grand Teton National Park. They are beautiful, majestic and sometimes animated. This morning, I got to witness a behavior I’ve seen several times. I anticipated the action, found a good spot, and managed to capture much of it in my camera. (Note: These images are heavily cropped)

Moose Courtship 1

A mature bull moose finds a soft, sandy area and starts digging a hole. His activity catches the attention of an interested cow.

Moose Courtship 2

Once the hole is completed, the bull urinates (and no telling what else) in the pit. The smell is quite pungent to humans, but it’s like calogne to the cows. It seems to drive them crazy.

Moose Courtship 3

Even before the bull finishes his “business”, the cow is ready to knock him off the scent bed.

Moose Courtship 4

Today, the cow put her muzzle under the legs of the bull and lifted his rear end off the ground.

Moose Courtship 5

After a little touch up to the site, both are ready to lie down in the scented mix.

Moose Courtship 6

The cow is cautious, but motivated.

Moose Courtship 9

The bull is tolerant but keeps an eye on her.

Moose Courtship 7

Today, the pair stayed in the pit for around three or four minutes—both seemingly content.

Moose Courtship 10

At some point, the bull got restless and stood up.

Moose Courtship 11

Once up, the bull proceeded to run the cow off the spot. Later, the bull bedded down and the cow returned to lounge in the scented patch.

I’ve heard this called a Moose Wallow, Rut Pit, or Scent Pit. I’ve only ever seen it with moose. If there are two or more cows in the area, they compete for space next to the bull—sometimes becoming agitated, aggressive, and possessive. You quickly learn the pecking order. If you do a search on the Internet regarding the purpose of the bull’s dewlap, you might understand some of today’s behavior. Some biologists suggest the bulls dig the pit and fill it with their unique scent, then wallow in it to cover their body and the dewlap. Later, the bulls can be seen caressing the flank of the cows with its neck and muzzle—possibly transferring their scent via the dewlap to let other bulls know she is taken. Other biologists are not convinced the dewlap has a specific purpose at all, as some of the other bulls successfully court their cows without one.

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Late October Wildlife: Owls and Moose

Wildlife from the last couple of weeks of October, 2013

Great Gray and Great Horned Owls:

Great Gray Watching Oct20

Great GrayOwl  in Aspen Tree

Great Gray Claw Up Oct20

Great Gray Owl  turning around with claw up.

Great Gray Owl In Grass Oct27

Great Gray Owl  after missing his prey.

Great Gray on Fence1 Oct27

Great Gray Owl  on Buck Rail Fence

Great Horned Owl Rocks Oct27

Great Horned Owl  atop Granite Rocks

Great Horned Owl in Rocks Oct27

Great Horned Owl  in Rocks

Great Horned Owl Rocks Oct27

Great Gray Owl  hunting from Rocks

Bull Moose

Moose Bull Cody and Cow Oct17

Bull Moose: Cody,  with a resting cow.

Custer Resting Oct18

Bull Moose:  Custer, resting in the shade of a cottonwood.

Custer Pausing Oct18

Bull Moose:  Custer,  pausing at the edge of the shadows.

Cody Lip Curl Oct17

Bull Moose:  Cody,  lip curl or Flehmen Reaction

Custer in Morning Sage Oct18

Bull Moose:  Custer,  in morning sagebrush flats.

Cody Walking Oct17

Bull Moose:  Cody,  walking across sage and cottonwoods.

Gaston Approaching a Cow Oct26

Bull Moose:  Custer approaching a cow.

Gaston's Best Pose Oct26

Bull Moose:  Custer—striking one of his stoic poses.

Washakie Portrait in Snow Oct29

Bull Moose:  Washakie,  resting in fresh snow and sagebrush.

Custer and Shadow Sparring Oct29

Bull Moose:  Post rut sparring.

Washakie and Custer Oct29

Bull Moose:  Custer approaching Washakie while he was resting for some sparring.

Washakie Stepping LightlyOct29

Bull Moose:  Washakie’s left front leg is gimpy right now, causing him to walk carefully and slowly.

Washakie Resting in Snow Oct29

Bull Moose:  Washakie, resting with his injured leg outstretched.

Washakie Resting Under  a Cottonwood Tree Oct29

Bull Moose:  Washakie, stretched out again…

Sparring Moose Oct31

Bull Moose:  Sparring Moose in the cottonwoods.

Washakie Resting Oct26

Bull Moose: Washakie, resting. I was worried about this bull. He’s going better—but still limping. He feeds and moves around, but is quick to bed back down. I have another full page of Washakie: from earlier in the year.

Equipment: Images on this page were captured with either a Nikon D4 or a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 200-400mm lens on a Gitzo Tripod, Arca-Swiss Ball Head, and Wimberley Sidekick.  When action is slow, I use the D800, but switch bodies when it appears there is going to be action.

If you like moose, check out my Moose images at my Teton Images site. Most are presented with an artistic effect.

Please Note: All of the images on this page are fully copyrighted with the US Copyright Office.  ©2009-2013 Mike R. Jackson – All Rights Reserved

Moose of Grand Teton National Park: 2013

MooseCalves2_June7

Moose are some of my favorite animals! Luckily, I live relatively close to some of the best moose photography and viewing areas anywhere!

By mid-December and into early January, bull moose drop their antlers. Up until that time, I try to photograph them as much as possible. Road access sometimes gets limited and I must stop—but each year is different. Once they lose their antlers, I lose interest in them for a while. They all look essentially like cows for six months, other than the small knob of an antler that starts growing in early summer. In the spring and early summer, they start shedding the fur from the previous year and usually look mangy. That period might be considered an “acquired taste” at best.

By sometime in mid July, the moose sport their new coat of fur and the bulls begin growing their trademark antlers. That’s also when I start getting interested again. The exception to this schedule, is of course interrupted in the last week of May or the first week of June when some of the cows have their newborn calves. Moose cows and calves are entertaining all year!

For now, I will add a bunch of this year’s images, but will add captions and shooting information as I have time. And, I will add in some new photos as I get them processed and copyrighted.

Almost all of the images were captured with either a Nikon D4 or a Nikon D800 with a Nikon 200-400 mm lens. Occasionally, I rig up the D4 with Nikon 28-300 VR2 lens to carry around with me for a relatively lightweight combo. The D800 works great for moose when they are feeding and milling around, but if they move close to water, I switch the 200-400 lens to the Nikon D4 body. That allows me to shoot quicker bursts and not worry much about filling the buffer. Image quality is great either way. When using the 200-400 mm lens, I am almost always on a Gitzo tripod with an Arca-Swiss Z-1 Ball Head, and combined with a Wimberley Sidekick. VR is Off when on the tripod. When using the 28-300 mm lens, I usually have VR on and am hand holding the camera.

 

MooseCalves3_June7

Mom and Twins: June 7, 2013  Taken along the Gros Ventre river in Grand Teton National Park about five or six days after birth. The mother was alert but more interested in something down river than me. She calmed down, then bedded down with the two little ones as seen in the image at the top of the page. I sat off to the side and got comfortable so I could prop the camera over my knees to hold it still.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 28-300mm lens.at 300mm. Hand Held, VR On, ISO 640, F/7.1, 1/160 th Second. The same settings were used for the image with the bedded down cow at the top of the page.

MooseCalves1_June7

Alert Mom and Twins: June 7, 2013  Taken along the Gros Ventre river in Grand Teton National Park about five or six days after birth. The mother was alert but more interested in something down river than me. She calmed down, then bedded down with the two little ones as seen in the image at the top of the page. I sat off to the side and got comfortable so I could prop the camera over my knees to hold it still.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 28-300mm lens.at 300mm. Hand Held, VR On, ISO 640, F/7.1, 1/160 th Second. There was a small amount of cropping on this one.

YoungBullEatingWillows2_Aug19

 

BullMooseCrossingWater2_July5

Crossing the Main Channel: July 5, 2013  Bulls make slow and careful steps crossing a stream like this. Rocks on the bottom are about the size of a fist and are often covered with slimy moss.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 400mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 640, F/6.3, 1/200 th Second.

BullMooseCrossingWater1_July5

Calm Crossing: July 5, 2013  By this time of the year, some of the heavy flows on the Gros Ventre had dropped, leaving calm pools in the side channels.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 360mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 640, F/6.3, 1/160 th Second. I like to try to time my shots when they make a forward step like this one, making a forward splash.

CusterResting1_Aug17

 

YoungBullFeeding2_Aug21

 

GastonRunning1_Aug16

Double Timing it Back to the Willows: This bull had been feeding on the berry bushes on the opposite side of the road from the river. As more people stopped to see him, he finally left the area and headed back to the river bottom. This was taken early in the morning on a day when there was a little residual smoke from one of the Idaho fires. Between the normal morning gold light and the smoke, the light had a rich, mystical quality.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 400mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 800, F/8, 1/800 th Second.

MooseCusterStanding1_Aug27

 

BullMooseTorso1_July5

 

BullMooseByWater1_July5

Summer Bull Moose: July 5, 2013  Grass and willows are a beautiful hue of green in early July and early morning light aids in saturating everything. This was taken along the Gros Ventre river.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 200mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 640, F/6.3, 1/250 th Second.

MooseWashakieInWater2_Aug27

 

MooseCalvesFeeding1_Aug24

 

MooseCalvesFeeding1_Aug20

 

MosoeCodyShadowResting1_Aug29

 

MooseCusterStanding2_Aug27

 

CusterInRiffle1_Aug23

Bull Moose Pausing in the Riffle: August 23, 2013 This beautiful bull came out of the willows behind him after feeding for about 45 minutes.  I had hoped he would walk up the riffle, into the light, but he decided to walk across the pool in front of him. No complaints! Every shot with the water were vivid blue that morning. I had to tone it down to make it look convincing!

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 28-300mm lens at 150mm. Handheld, VR On, ISO 200, F/8, 1/250th Second. This is a case of having a camera with me at the right time. In some previous years, I’d hike around in the river bottom looking for moose, then go back and get my gear if I found them. It is not uncommon for me to walk a mile or two along the river bottom on some days. This year, I added the 28-300 VR2 lens just for this purpose. That lens is not as sharp as my Pro lenses, but it is still very good on my D4.

Moose_CodyShadow1_Aug30

 

GastonWithMoon1_Aug22

Bull Approaching Side Channel: August 22, 2013  Taken along the Gros Ventre river in Grand Teton National Park.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 24-70mm lens.at 70mm. Hand Held, ISO 320, F/8, 1/800 th Second. If anyone would have asked, I would have said I had the Nikon 28-300 with me that day, but it wasn’t until I made this post I realized I grabbed a different lens that morning. Either way, having the extra body and lens gave me a chance to open the scene and catch the full moon overhead.

Bull Moose Standing in Willows

Waiting In Willows: September 1, 2013 This is one of my favorite bull moose. I caught him in the willows early one morning along the Gros Ventre river.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 400mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 400, F/7.1, 1/320 th Second.

MooseSparring1_Sept2

Bulls Gently Sparring: Sept 2, 2013 Photographed early in the morning on a slightly overcast day. These two bulls did their trademark swaying of their head and antlers to greet each other, then began to gently spar. This is a bit unusual, since neither of them want to tear their delicate velvet covering until it’s time. One of them had deep scratches, which dried up later in the day.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 300mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 1250, F/4, 1/100 th Second. Luckily, the action was slow and deliberate as 1/100th of a second will not stop much action. On this lens, F/4 is wide open so my only choice would have been to bump the ISO up to 1600. I typically have my D4 and a 28-300mm VR2 lens around my neck. I can shoot wider shots if necessary, or switch the body to the 200-400mm if I need more frames per second than the D800 can shoot.

 

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Soaked Gathering: September 2, 2013 This group of four bulls gathered along the Gros Ventre temporarily on a rainy morning. I got wet, but it was worth it. All four bulls were still in velvet at the time.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 200mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 640, F/6.3, 1/320 th Second. The shutter speed blurred the rain with only small streaks while freezing the slower action of the bulls.

MooseFamilyFeeding1_Aug20

 

MooseFeedingWatching1_Aug17

A Watchful Eye: August 17, 2013  Taken along the Moose-Wilson Road  at Sawmill Pond in Grand Teton National Park. This bull had a lot of spectators that morning. He kept an eye on everyone as he dipped his nose into the water for the plants.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 380mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 400, F/5.6, 1/640 th Second.

MooseBullTrio1_Sept5

Leaving the Sage Flats: September 5, 2013 These bulls had been grazing on bitter bush (like the darker green clump in the center of the image) out in the sage flats. As the light hit them, they moved back towards the river bottom.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 28-300mm lens at 90mm. Handheld, VR On, ISO 1250, F/5.3, 1/6400 nd Second. This body and lens had been around my neck all morning and the settings had been adjusted for the period before sunrise. I had been shooting the same bulls with a D800 and a 200-400mm lens on the tripod, adjusting it as necessary as the light changed. When they started moving, I grabbed the camera around my neck to capture the group of three. Looking back, I would have set the ISO down to around 640, and increased the Aperture to around F/8.  Shutter speed would have still been plenty to freeze them.  I removed a few annoying distractions in this image in Photoshop.

MooseBullOnRidge1_Sept5

Bull Moose on the Ridge: Sept 5, 2013 This is a shot taken a few minutes after the image above. I was able to anticipate his movements and be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, a bull will stop on a ridge to look around, but this bull kept on moving.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 210mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 500, F/9, 1/500 th Second.

GastonInCalmPool1_Aug22

Bull in Side Channel: August 22, 2013  Taken along the Gros Ventre river in Grand Teton National Park.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 210mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 640, F/8, 1/320 th Second.

Moose_WashakieTorso2_Aug31

 

Moose_WashakieStanding2_Aug31

 

MooseBullTrioResting1_Sept2

Trio of Bulls: September 2, 2013 The smaller of these three bull moose finally had enough and took a little nap as the close bull stretched out. These bulls were found along the Gros Ventre River.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens at 280mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 640, F/7.1, 1/400 th Second. This is a fairly straight forward image. I was focused on the face and eyes of the closest bull, and a medium focal length. That let the far bull go out of focus slightly. I removed a couple of minimal distractions in Photoshop. It had been cool, with some overcast skies at the time I took this image.

GastonByRiver1_Aug16

Bull Moose in Spring Creek: August 16, 2013  Taken along the Gros Ventre river in Grand Teton National Park.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 400mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 800, F/8, 1/500 th Second.

GastonApproachingInPool1_Aug22

Bull Leaving Side Channel: August 22, 2013  Taken along the Gros Ventre river in Grand Teton National Park.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 240mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 640, F/8, 1/250 th Second.

BullMooseAgainstTetons1_Sept5

 

MooseBullFlatOut1_Sept5

Long Wait to Strip Velvet: September 1, 2013 Occasionally, a bull will stretch full out, but it is not that common to capture it. Sometimes, especially during the rut, one will completely fall asleep, but there are usually twigs and deep grass covering their face. This big bull was only flat like this for a few seconds. Taken along the Gros Ventre river in Grand Teton National Park.

Nikon D800 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 310mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 1000, F/5.6, 1/100 th Second. With a resting bull, I usually don’t need a lot of shutter speed, so it just a matter of balancing the expected action with the depth of field and the ISO. This photo was taken early in the morning with soft overcast light.

GastonFullBodyV1_Aug22

Edge of the Willows: August 22, 2013  Taken along the Gros Ventre river in Grand Teton National Park.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 310mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 1250, F/5.6, 1/125 th Second.

CusterResting2_Aug25

 

MooseCalvesMJ

 

GastonCrossingRiver1_Aug22

Bull Crossing the Gros Ventre: August 22, 2013  A scene like this happens fairly often in GTNP, however being there and being prepared to get the shot doesn’t happen that often.  This was definitely my best day of the year with the moose. I was able to photograph this big bull in a variety of locations before he finally crossed the river and disappeared into the willows. If you are a fly fisherman, you’d know what I mean if I said this was a “Green Drake Hatch Day”.

Nikon D4 with a Nikon 200-400mm lens.at 240mm. On a Tripod, VR Off, ISO 640, F/8, 1/500 th Second. It was apparent this bull was going to cross the river, so I was prepared for it. He grazed on some willows next to the river for a while and then stepped into the edge. I was flat on my stomach with the tripod spread out with me. I probably got 200 images of him while making the crossing. There were lots of good ones, too! The D4 was able to capture little bursts of steps, write to the card, and let me keep shooting. I have a 64 Gig Sony XQD Series S card as the primary card and a Lexar 1000x CF card as the secondary card. Both are very fast!

BullCrossingWithFreshAntlers1_Sept8

Newly Stripped Antlers: September 8, 2013 This bull moose had stripped most of his antlers overnight and in the early morning. He still had blood residue and a couple of hanging velvet tassels when I caught him crossing the Gros Ventre River.

Nikon D4 with 28-300 VR at 300mm. Handheld with VR On.  ISO 800, F/6.3, 1/800th second. Instead of carrying heavy tripod, ball head, and lens, I carry a D4 and the flexible 28-300 mm lens when I don’t know where the moose are at the time. I can cover a lot of ground quickly and will occasionally stumble upon a scene like this. This bull was fairly close to the water at the time I found him, so I didn’t want to chance missing a crossing by going all the way back to the truck for the other lens and tripod. Good call! For this shot, I was lying on my stomach on the rocks along the side of the river.

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