Deer Spotting

New hunters and non-hunters often underestimate just how difficult hunting is.  Yes, high-powered rifles help, but they merely level the playing field.  Deer can see, hear, and smell you long before you can see them.

When you’re hiking the hills to find deer, the most typical scenario is this: the deer spots you, freezes (motionless and soundless), and decides whether you’re a threat.  This gives you a window of just a few seconds to act.  If you keep moving, the deer will run.  You’ll spot it then, when it’s running away from you, and almost impossible to shoot cleanly.

Practice Deer Spotting!

We’re blessed to have a pretty nice lake/park just minutes from our house, and (for better or worse) it’s never open to hunting.  That’s frustrating one week out of the year, but the other 51 weeks, I’m happy to have a great location to practice spotting deer in their natural environment.  Developing this skill gives me a real edge during deer season.

Since I also just got a new (to me) camera, it’s extra fun to practice my photography “skills”.  Last night was particularly fruitful. Full disclosure, the deer here are obviously more tolerant of people than most, so I’m lucky to be able to slowly move in closer for better shots. The first deer I spotted was nose-down in some (apparently) delicious grass:

Grazing Whitetail Buck at Shawnee Mission Park

When he popped his head up, I was able to see the antlers!  He was about 150 yards away, and I crept toward him, taking pictures every few yards.  These were the first decent shots (camera, heh) I was able to get:

Whitetail buck with velvet still on its antlers

Side shot of a whitetail buck with velvet antlers

Imagine my surprise when I scanned the field and realized he had company! Eventually they grouped together, and I was able to get this shot:

Two whitetail bucks with velvet antlers

When I spotted the first deer from my jeep, I parked on the side of the road to track it.  On my way, I saw other deer in a nearby field, but I chose to follow the buck.  I didn’t have any good buck pictures yet.  After they took off, I backtracked to the other field with deer.  I spotted a doe, and used the same stalk-photo-stalk tactic I did with the bucks.  Eventually, she started to get a little nervous and I got this picture of her tail twitching:

Whitetail doe flicking her tail in alarm

I then spotted her fawn!

Whitetail doe with her fawn

Whitetail fawn hiding behind its mother

There was another doe/fawn pair in the same field, but they weren’t close enough to photograph.  Eventually I got to close, and they scampered behind some trees.  That’s when my spotting practice really paid off.  A couple hundred yards away, just inside the woods, I thought I could make out a face.  Sure enough:

My biggest whitetail buck spotted so far

While he looks pretty obvious in this picture, this is at 12x optical zoom, after I stalked about 20 yards closer to take the picture.  Before that, he was just a little speck.  I’m most proud of this blurry photo, not just because it’s a nice buck, but because I spotted him on instinct.

In nature and in my computer profession, I’m fascinated with pattern recognition.  When I first started practicing deer spotting, it took a lot more effort to look at every square foot of an area to say “is there a deer here?”  Gradually, my mind got better at filtering out the stuff that definitely wasn’t a deer.  Now, a spot in the trees of just the right color, or an outline of big ears on a little head, gets my attention pretty quickly.

If you have great pictures of deer you’ve spotted and captured on camera, let me know in the comments.  I’ll try to get a page setup for amateur shots of deer that have been captured by hunters in training!

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