It was a late September day, and the fall colors were near their peak. I left my truck about 3 p.m., camera in hand. I had whitetailed deer on my mind. My plan was not to photograph deer on that gloomy day, but to scout for future photography locations, much as a deer hunter would before the opening day of hunting season.
Because I intended only to explore, I contemplated whether to carry my camera gear with me. After all, it was midday in September — not exactly the time I would have expected whitetails to be on their feet. More likely, they’d be bedded down, awaiting dusk to begin their nighttime feeding forays.
Knowing nature has no hard-and-fast rules, I decided to carry a camera with a 200-400 mm lens attached. The lens was a VR (vibration reduction) version. The feature allows photographers to hand-hold a camera/lens combo and still get sharp images at shutter speeds/aperture settings that wouldn’t work otherwise.
The woodland area I scouted had been clear-cut two years earlier. The regrowth glowed red, gold, orange and green. The dull light on that cloudy afternoon seemed to make the landscape all the more brilliant.
I crisscrossed the area and looked for signs of deer. Tracks, trails, droppings, rubs — anything that would determine where the deer had been and were moving.
I also kept an eye on the vegetation. I saw evidence of nibbling on jewelweed and raspberry, two early fall food favorites of whitetails. Here and there I spotted kidney-shaped depressions in the grass. Deer beds, for sure.
Still, I had little hope of actually seeing a deer. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had decided to reduce the whitetail herd by allowing hunters up to a five-deer limit. I had photographed this location for many years and it was easy to see deer numbers were significantly reduced. I noted this not only by sightings but by markers of deer presence.
So, I was bit surprised to see a buck jump from its bed as I topped a rise. Beforehand I had set the camera’s settings to compensate for the lighting and had the lens set on autofocus.
As the buck retreated in high gear, tail raised in typical whitetail fashion, I brought the camera to my eye and pressed the shutter. The auto focus worked well, and I was able to capture the image.
Lesson learned? Luck favors those who are prepared.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd.