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How to successfully photo hunt deer
Preparing for the Hunt
One of the most common animals across the globe that people encounter on a daily basis are deer. Much of the time it is an unexpected event, which many are not prepared for, such as having one run across a road in front of them. Unfortunately these animals account for numerous accidents world wide due to their vast numbers. Local wildlife management programs help to limit the number of deer casualty's on roadways, along with increased public awareness efforts.
For some, the presence of deer may be a daily occurrence in their yards and pastures. Others not as fortunate, must travel rural and back country areas to locate them. Though there are plenty of areas deer may be found, getting close enough to photograph them can be a daunting task, and one which often carries a great deal of personal risk.
Injuries among hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts are common, however by properly preparing, and practicing awareness, they can be avoided. Always take a first aid/emergency kit along with you, even if it is a simple waist pack. Just a slip or fall on rough terrain can have serious consequences, so preparedness is key to ensuring your experience in the wild is a safe one.
When heading out it is always a good idea to study some maps of the area that you will be going in to, as well as to let some one else know where you are heading. In the event that something were to happen to you, rescuers will at least have a basic idea of where to start their search. This has made the difference between life and death for many.
Knowing the terrain will give you an advantage in locating deer. Since deer are more active at night, it is possible, especially during periods of snow or high wind, that they will be bedding down in the thicker cover of trees or high grass fields. Bucks are notorious for hiding out in thick cover, and many times I've found them in areas where there is a lot of open space around them so they can see any approaching danger from farther away.
Stealth is key
When trying to approach wildlife of any species to photograph, always remember that stealth is the key to getting close to them. Here are a few tips to consider before heading into the brush.
1. Cover your scent. Don't use any fragrant soaps on your skin or the clothing that you will wear into the area. Definitely don't use cologne, perfume, or smelly bug repellant either.
2. Wear camouflage clothing, or clothes with broken up design patterns.
3. Determine the direction of the wind, and always approach your target area from down wind side.
4. Look for trails, fresh tracks, animal dung, scrapes on trees, or bedding areas.
5. Take your time, walk slow and quietly.
Deer have very keen eyesight, and a sharp sense of smell. However, the one thing that seems to catch them off guard is their routine, which can often be very predictable. Deer usually travel in groups, known as 'herds'. They establish movement patterns based on weather, and available sources of food. Most of the time the male deer, which is known as a buck, will oversee the others from a distance.
Senior bucks follow the others, and can often be seen watching from the nearby cover of trees. They are always on the lookout for potential predators, and will warn each other by either grunts or hoof stomps to the ground. White tail deer are known to use their tails as warning signs to one another as well.
Locating food sources, such as grass, nuts, or flowers, is a great way to anticipate where deer will feed. Setting up an inexpensive trail camera in areas where signs of deer are, is a good way to help you understand their habits better. This will no doubt give you an edge in finding them when you are ready to photograph.
The rut means battle time for deer
The best time to photograph
While just about any time of the year is good to take pictures of deer, there isn't a better season than the Rut. This is deer mating season, which means the bucks are distracted. Whether due to fighting, or trying to impress a doe, they aren't as easily "spooked" by your presence. Just remember, that they are also a lot more aggressive this time of year as well. Male deer have been known to attack people who get too close, so always keep that in mind when you are near them, especially during the rut. Those antlers can do some damage, as the video of them fighting each other demonstrates, so always maintain a safe distance.
This is also the time of year that you can call them in to an area by "rattling" a pair of antlers. Although they do make devices which mimic this sound, it is more commonly done by taking a set of antlers, and clicking them together repeatedly for a minute or so. Wait for a minute or two, and repeat. When done correctly, other bucks in the area will hone in on the sound, and move in closer to see what they think is a fight.
"Rattling up" a buck takes practice, but it can be a very self-rewarding experience to know that you fooled one of the smartest animals in the woods!
Finding a good location to take photo's or videos from can sometimes be a daunting task. Especially if you are in an area where there is little cover, and animals are already present. Although being at ground level doesn't provide the best vantage point, it may be your only option. In this type of situation an observation blind can be made out of nearby branches, or brush.
If you are a serious photographer, it may be a good idea to purchase a small lightweight portable blind. They are fairly inexpensive and can be found online or at just about any retail sporting goods store. With all of the different aspects of terrain to be encountered, having a universal platform such as this is a great way to ensure you remain concealed and undetected while filming.
Tips from others
Do you have any words of wisdom, or personal experience finding deer? If so please feel free to share them. Happy hunting!