Photo of the Week – October 7, 2016

Mule deer in Cherry County, Nebraska.

Mule deer in the Sandhills of Cherry County, Nebraska.  Read below for the story of how I ended up with this photo.

I have very few photos of deer.  Clarification: I have very few GOOD photos of deer.  I suppose that’s because I’ve never actually gone looking for deer photos. Instead, I try to photograph deer opportunistically as I’m out looking for more interesting things like stink bugs or purple poppy mallow flowers.

Because of that, most of my deer photos are of the rear ends of deer running away from me.  I suppose that if I walked around with my telephoto lens on all the time, I might have a few more good deer images.  There have been numerous times when I’ve spooked a deer out of tall grass or other cover and watched it run ten or twenty yards, turn to look at me briefly (NOW!  TAKE THE PICTURE NOW!) and then sprint out of sight.  If I’d been ready, I might have gotten a few decent shots from those opportunities.  But no.  My lens for wandering through the prairie is my macro lens, or less often, my wide angle lens to try to capture prairie scenics.

This is a more typical deer photo for me. I walked over the crest of a hill and came across this one. I ducked back down and switched lenses, but only managed one quick shot of the buck before it ran off.

This is a more typical deer photo for me. I walked over the crest of a hill and came across this one. I ducked back down and switched lenses, but only managed one quick shot of the buck as it turned to run away.

While in the Nebraska Sandhills this summer, I got several opportunities for wildlife photos that I didn’t really earn – other than by being there, which is no small thing.  On separate occasions, I got really close to a prairie dog and a red-tailed hawk and ended up with very nice images of both.  A mule deer doe gave me a third opportunity during a June trip to the Sandhills.

I got up early in the morning, hoping for nice light.  After climbing to the top of a steep hill, I was rewarded by a fantastic sunrise.  Once the sunlight brightened a little, I spent time looking for yucca and other flowers to photograph, but didn’t find much that interested me.  As I was about ready to give up and head back down the hill for breakfast, I looked up and spotted a mule deer watching me from the top of the next hill.  I called good morning to her and she didn’t run away, so I replaced my macro lens with my telephoto and started a very slow approach.

I spent maybe ten minutes zig zagging back and forth across the space between us, pretending not to be at all interested in her, and she just watched me.  Whenever she would twitch nervously, I’d stop and examine a flower or blade of grass – just to make it clear I wasn’t stalking her.  Eventually, I got within about twenty yards and started taking photos.  During the next ten minutes she walked around a little bit, keeping a sharp eye on me, but she didn’t act like she felt threatened.  She finally moved downhill enough that she was out of the direct sunlight, and since I’d already gotten way more photos of her than I deserved, I wished her a good day and walked away.

A very accommodating mule deer.

A very accommodating mule deer.

The same mule deer.

The same mule deer, right before she walked out of the light.

I must have taken more than 100 photos of that doe during that ten minutes we spent close to each other.  It was hard to select just three for this post because nearly all of them were nice.  Good light, a tripod, and a subject that stands still and looks at you makes photography pretty easy.  A little luck doesn’t hurt either.

…It was a pretty disappointing morning for wildflower photos, though.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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3 Responses to Photo of the Week – October 7, 2016

  1. Ed May says:

    Good Morning Chris, Your topic of deer reminded me to share that around our cabin in northern Wisconsin we occasionally see some white deer. Snow white. It’s obviously some genetic abnormality but there are a number of white deer within a 25 mile radius of our place. I must say that they are beautiful. Have a great weekend. Ed >

  2. Scott says:

    I wonder if she had a fawn stashed nearby and that contributed to your good fortune.

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