How I got this photo: Behavior studies and a whitetail fawn

  • Article by: BILL MARCHEL SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: July 3, 2014 - 9:38 AM
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The photographer preset his aperture and shutter speed before heading into the field. He was able to capture this image only by anticipating the fawn’s movements.

Photo: Bill Marchel.• Special to the Star Tribune,

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About two weeks ago, on a sunny June morning, I took a hike, camera in hand. I had no agenda — no specific photography subject in mind.

I had been occasionally seeing a whitetail doe in the area for several weeks. I assumed if she had a fawn or fawns hidden nearby, they would be traveling with her any day now.

In the world of the whitetail, newborn fawns remain hidden for the first weeks of life. Their spotted coats blend remarkably well with the sunlight dappled forest floor. But the young deer grow fast, and within two or three weeks, they will begin traveling with their mothers.

I thought about this as I walked that morning. When I left on my hike, I had preset the aperture and shutter speed on my camera and lens, making the adjustments I thought would provide me with a good image should a subject suddenly appear. I also stuck to the edge of a meadow and made sure I walked into the wind so my scent wouldn’t give me away. Deer and other wildlife possess a highly sensitive sense of smell.

As I rounded a corner in the meadow, there stood the doe with her two fawns, their orange coats in stark contrast to the green surroundings. Immediately the doe spotted me. She and one of her fawns bolted to my right and disappeared into the shady woods. The second fawn seemed confused. Instead of following its family, it ran to my left down the edge of the meadow. Its speed caught me by surprise. I didn’t even have time to raise my camera.

After sprinting about 30 yards, the fawn suddenly stopped. It realized its family was missing. This is going to work out just perfectly, I thought. Because of past experience, I was certain the young deer would run back past me while trying to catch up with its mother and sibling.

And it did.

This time I was ready.

As the young deer bounded past me, I followed with my eye to the camera’s viewfinder, panning my lens as it sped along. In a moment it was gone. But I was able to fire off five frames during that brief period, relying on autofocus to track the fleeing little deer.

Later I downloaded the images to my computer. Much to my delight, the photo on this page, and a couple of others, were crisp and clear.

The moral of this story: Luck favors those who are prepared.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

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