White-tailed Deer: A Beautiful Day

When I was younger and dreams of literary greatness teased my brain, I used to read what other writers had to say about writing, hoping to glean some valuable nugget of information that would help me become a better writer.  A writer, from Stevens Point, lecturing in an English class I had, gave me one of those nuggets.  He said it was important to keep your characters in touch with their environment.  Is it cold?  Raining?  Night?  Day?  That was a long time ago and I really don’t write much anymore, mostly because no one has ever paid me to write.


There are white-tailed deer in this picture.  You’d have a hard time finding them even if you had been there.  I know there are deer in this picture because I had been pushing them for nearly two miles when I took this picture.

Yesterday, while hiking, I found a herd of white-tailed deer feeding at the bottom of a hill.  About ten of them.  Below four of them feed on tree bark, branches and soft grasses at the base of a tree.  The one on the right seems to be doing her best Rin Tin Tin impersonation.


They tolerated me for about five minutes and then moved off.


This big doe kept a watchful eye on me while the rest of the herd moved to another part of the park.  She was the last to leave. 

Now for the lesson about keeping your characters in touch with their environment.  We all know distinctive sounds.  The roar of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, or the sound that corduroy makes when walking for instance.  Snow has many different sounds depending on the type of snow it is.  Recently, the weather has been warm – in the thirties.  Much of the snow melted during the day and then froze again at night.  Add in some rain over the weekend and temperatures dipping down into the teens yesterday, and you get a really crunchy sounding snow.  Each step I took, yesterday, sounded similar to shaking a box full of Cheerios.  That’s a bad thing, because deer react adversely to noise – especially noise that sounds like a man walking.

But it was a beautiful day and I wanted to get more deer pictures or at least get far enough back into the woods to get some nice shots of the park that people don’t generally see.  So I found the deer run they used to make their escape and realized immediately where they were going.  So, crunch, crunch crunch I began tracking them.  We had a dusting of snow in the morning, amounting to about a half an inch of snow.  Perfect amount for tracking.  I could see their tracks and crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch that dad-burned crunching.  They’ll run off before I get anywhere near them.


So how did I get close enough to get this shot?  By understanding my environment.  This part of the park is bordered by a pair of roads.  They are not well traveled roads, but a car or two will come through every two or three minutes.  So whenever a car would come through I would move forward a few feet.  For nearly an hour I moved like that, wait for a car, move forward and then stay still when the car had passed. 

The doe in the picture above had been moving slowly along feeding.  I took a few shots and she didn’t notice.  She was obscured behind a tree so I took one step to get a better shot. 


With one step I went from brilliant wildlife photographer to stupid moron, because as you can see in the above photo the deer is now looking right at me. 

She went back and told the herd and I got to watch about twenty deer run through here and disappear into the woods to the right.  Not to be deterred because the direction they were running in has them running through what hunters call a funnel.  With a road on one side, a big field on the other, their only choices are to continue forward, run across the field or turn back toward me.  So I headed out to the field and found their tracks walking along the edge of the woods.  They weren’t in a hurry, they know the human can’t move as fast as them.  Only problem is, it will be a mile or so before they stop moving.


This shot is from about a quarter of a mile away – much too far for my lens but what the heck.  All because of one crunching step they are now about a quarter of a mile ahead of me and all I can think about is that the sun is out and it is a perfect day to get their picture.  I don’t always understand their behavior, but sometimes they surprise me. 


There she is again – tail-end Charlie.  I don’t know why, maybe because I was on the ski trails where the humans are supposed to be?  Maybe they were tired and wanted to rest?  I don’t know why.  But they waited for me to catch up.


And I got one of those shots that I work really hard for.  They let me take about ten shots and then ran off again.  I headed deeper into the woods off the ski trails and took the first photo at the beginning and the next two below.


Parts of the park people don’t see.  There were no man-tracks back here, just animal tracks.  About an hour later I found the deer again.  They had stayed together and were feeding on the bushes near the campground.


But I was losing the light by then and decided to call it a day.


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January 2010

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