Brainerd – You likely haven't noticed the days are getting shorter. For humans who love summer, that's unpleasant news.
For wildlife — in this case whitetail deer — shorter days cause changes in behavior. In a deer's brain is a gland called the pineal. The pineal influences the pituitary gland's creation of hormones that influence antler growth, shedding of velvet, the hardening of the antlers, and the timing of the rut.
The shorter days also persuade deer to put on the feed basket. Summer wanes, and deer eat more, putting on a layer of fat in preparation for the upcoming winter.
Several years ago, I was able to take advantage of this increased feeding activity to photograph a big, mature buck during August.
It's no secret to deer followers that in late summer, soybeans and alfalfa are foods they relish the most. So, I jumped at the chance when a farmer friend called and invited me to photograph deer that had been feeding heavily in his soybean field.
"I've been seeing two really big bucks, and a number of smaller bucks and does," he said. Best of all was the deer were entering his field before sundown while there was still sufficient light to shoot photos. A scouting trip was in order.
The next day I met with the farmer, and from his backyard, he pointed to the corner of his soybean field where the most of the deer were entering from a heavily wooded area. The assumption was they were bedding there during the day. It was dry that summer, and the farmer's soybean field was irrigated, lush and green compared to other nearby fields. It was an enticement for the deer.
Off I went. It was midday and the wind was right, so I knew the deer would not detect me from the security of the woods. Upon my arrival I immediately noticed the soybeans along the woodlot were heavily browsed by deer. Several well-used deer trails entered the field at a spot that allowed me to place an improvised blind on a slightly elevated location in a meadow on the edge of bean field, but well within photo range of the deer trails entering the field. It seemed like a perfect set up.
For the next few days, the wind was from the south so I was unable to photograph. I needed a northwest wind. However, using binoculars I scouted from a distance so as not to disturb the deer.
The farmer had been correct. Before dusk I spotted a dozen or so deer feeding unconcerned on the soybeans, including two mature bucks sporting large, velvet-covered antlers.
Finally the day came when the wind direction was ideal. I entered my blind an hour or so before I expected the deer to arrive, situated my tripod mounted camera and telephoto lens in front of me, and sat back to wait.
For an hour or so, my only company was a swarm of mosquitoes. I did my best to ignore the onslaught. Then, as the light began to fade, a buck exited the woods. He was a marvelous specimen, his eight-point antlers tall and wide.
Unaware of me, he immediately began to devour soybeans. Because the wind had died considerably as the light faded, I was concerned the big buck would hear my camera's shutter.
I waited until he had his head down and was munching the greens. Then, when he turned broadside I took my first images. Much to my surprise he didn't hear the clicking of my camera, and I was able to get a number of quality images as he fed.
When finally the light was gone, I was done. On that August evening all elements came together, but not without forethought and preparation.
I have never been able to duplicate the images I took on that special day. I doubt I ever will.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.