Deer Photography Can Help Your Hunting: by Ralph Curtis

I was getting excited as I watched the huge 13 point buck edge it’s way close to my ground blind. My adrenaline was high after watching three smaller bucks walk by within twenty yards of my setup. Being “on stand” since 3:00 in the afternoon was taking it’s toll on my patience and my butt, but now it was all worthwhile as I watched the trophy buck get closer and closer. Just as the buck dropped his head to nibble on some alfalfa, I pulled the trigger….on the camera, that is!

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This late summer buck was one of four that walked past within “camera” range.

Photographing deer thru out the year can make you a better deer hunter and open doors to more hunting opportunities. By observing deer all year long and trying to position yourself for the optimum “shot”, deer photography is the ultimate practice session for when it really counts come fall.

Opening doors to future deer hunting opportunities.
When scouting for big bucks during the summer months, permission to access land for photography is usually pretty simple, once that big buck is located. MOST farmers and landowners don’t mind someone sitting on the edge of their fields with a camera, as long as permission is asked prior.

This is a prime opportunity to get to know the farmer, and the farmer, in return, to get to know you! After a few visits during the summer, and the farmer/landowner gains your trust, obtaining permission to hunt in the fall comes much easier, and is sometimes only possible thru these “trust-gaining” visits. Numerous times, I have been given permission to hunt, after getting to know the landowner on a first name basis thru photography visits thru out the year. It may not happen the first year, but usually thru time, permission is granted where otherwise it would have been a slim chance.

spacer photo of whitetail doe
A row of flies finds a protected area of this doe’s face where the flinching ears and shake of the head have minimal effect.

In Buffalo County, Wisconsin, where I do a lot of my bow hunting, competition for hunting spots is in a class all it’s own. If you aren’t privileged enough to own property, or don’t have the financial resources to obtain a lease on this high-quality big buck acreage, your chances of just walking up to a farm’s front door and asking ever-so-politely for permission to hunt are worse than the Powerball lotto! I can confidently say that I could bow hunt at least 3 – 4 properties in Buffalo County, all because of photography trips and getting to know the landowners personally thru out the years. Gun season is a different story, as gun seasons are usually reserved for family members or hunting leases. But the fact remains, that previously unattainable hunting land is now possible because of my hobby of deer photography.

Observing deer is always fun and educational.
Photographing deer thru out the seasons gives the hunter new insights on deer behavior that can lead to a more successful deer season. For instance, thru numerous hours in the field, a person begins to know when a deer will raise it’s head from feeding . When feeding undisturbed, deer tend to have a certain rhythm as they gorge themselves.

The persistent observer/photographer of deer will get a better understanding of when a deer becomes nervous and unsure of a possible present danger. The reactions a buck makes differ dramatically depending on what sense triggered the alert to the deer. Knowing such deer reactions thru photography has helped me react to the same circumstances when a big buck is alerted with a bow in my hand.

Sitting on the edge of a food source on a summer evening is an enjoyable time outdoors, whether a picture of that trophy buck is taken or not. You will observe the most comical deer behavior along with the most pitiful. A game of tag between fawns is always enjoyable to watch (but hard to photograph!), a kick boxing match between deer competing for the same soy beans, or a doe kicking the crap out of a buck that, in two months, will have well hardened, polished antlers are all episodes that make deer photography enjoyable and yet frustrating. I get almost as worked up missing that prime photo of two bucks kick boxing as I do when I blow a chance at a buck in the fall. (O.K. that might be pushing it, but you get the point!)

Along with the enjoyable deer moments, there are also the times you almost feel sorry for the deer. The way the bugs in the summer attack the deer, it is hard to imagine how they manage. Once the deer hit the field edge, it seems they are always on the move to escape the persistent insects. I have seen bachelor groups of bucks run from one side of a field to the other just to feed for a few seconds, when they are forced to take off again to avoid the bugs. I have seen young deer with, what appeared to be a nervous twitch constantly twitching annoying bugs off them while blowing the bugs from their nostrils. The insects along with the heat of summer, makes for just another obstacle in the life of the whitetail.

Equipment Can Vary
One doesn’t need to invest tons of money into fancy photography equipment to “shoot” deer all year round.

Just like hunting, a person can spent a lot of money on real fancy high tech bows and arrows, or they can use an old bow handed down from past generations, but both systems will kill deer. Photography is the same way, in that you must remember that you are out there for your own personal enjoyment and education, and that not all pictures you take are for the cover of Deer an Deer Hunting Magazine or National Geographic!

spacer velvet whitetail buck in corn
Shot at thirty yards, the 400mm lens was just right to capture this beautiful buck in early June.

I use a “nice” digital 35mm set up utilizing a 200-400mm lens that is a good lens for deer, but by no means professional quality. Its is the best I could afford, but is effective for giving me the quality of photographs I enjoy.

Like any other hobby, deer photography has it’s extremes. A person can go full bore and opt for a professional 35mm setup with a very high quality (and very expensive!) 2.8 aperture lens at about $10,000 for lens and camera body, or use any of the point-and-shoot digital cameras that can cost as less as $200. There are some very nice cameras available in this point-and-shoot category. One camera that comes to mind is the Panasonic Luminux that has roughly the same focal length (zoom in power) as my lens of 400mm for a reasonable $500. This camera has a very nice high end Carl Zeiss lens and takes a nice photo, even under low light situations. You can also purchase coupling tubes which attaches your point-and-shoot camera to a spotting scope, giving you a mega-telephoto lens that will allow you to “shoot” that sticker point on a bucks antler at 100 yards! This is a fairly new form of photography called “digiscoping” which can be researched on the internet if you’re interested in going this route. This would be a viable solution if you wish to just drive the country roads scouting for bucks and don’t want to put up with the heat and bugs of summer or cold of winter.

Like I said, the camera equipment chosen, is of little significance when it comes to getting the personal satisfaction of scouting, observing, learning about deer, and obtaining permission for possible future hunting hot spots. Some equipment I use is far more important than the camera itself, such as good 3D camouflage, a scent suit, a sturdy tripod ( a must for clear sharp pictures) and a blind. My favorite blinds are made of natural materials like a couple of corn stalks or some logs setup on the edge of a summer food source. I have a self made “blind” that I attach to my telephoto lens and holds a screen of 3D camo material in front of me and my camera. It works well to disguise my camera and my face, even though I wear a headnet most of the time as well. Manufactured hunting blinds can be used as well, but I usually use them where I know they won’t get stolen and where I can erect them a few days prior to me being there to use them.

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