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Whitetail deer photo tips

Sam Whitfield , Jun 13, 2002; 11:52 a.m.

I am a beginning wildlife photographer and I love to photograph whitetail deer. My favorite place to do this is in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here the deer are very acustomed to humans and you can get within twenty feet of most. The problem is I only get to go their maybe four times a year and when I do go I only get to stay about two days. I need more oppurtunities to photograph these animals so I have started to photograph in my hometown where the deer are wild and hunted. People say that deer are imposible to sneak up on but I figure if hunters can do it, than so can photographers. Any tips on how or where to find deer, how to photograph them in the wild, tracking, scent control, blinds, ect. would be greatly welcomed.


P.S. How do you photograph deer in the woods. Everytime I try to, there is not enough light and I can never find them in mid day. Do you have to have a f/2.8 lens.


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M. Huber , Jun 13, 2002; 12:28 p.m.

Locate a well used, recent deer trail, possibly on the way to a water hole, take a stand upwind and be patient. Early morning or just before sunset is best. They usually bed down during the day. Be free of all scent, including bug spray. When walking, walk slowly and stop frequently as a grazing animal would do. Might take several tries to locate their patterns and find out more about their habits. Deer have a large grazing range and may not return to the same area frequently.

M. Huber , Jun 13, 2002; 12:40 p.m.

...also, "glass" frequently with as little motion as possible and be sure none of your lenses reflect light back in the direction you are looking.

Ron Berrus , Jun 13, 2002; 12:44 p.m.

Sam, M.H. is quite correct. Eliminate all scent - wash with baking soda, wash your clothes with baking soda, wear rubber boots, stay upwind, wear full camo clothing or better a photoblind like LL Rue, stay motionless, use the fastest lens you can afford, yes a 2.8 80-200 is the standard for shots within 100 feet. Deer move most at the edges of day and in transition zones where forest meets corn fields, swamp and hillside intersec, they like to move earlier in the day on cloudy days and they hate windy days - can't trust their noses with the currents. You may want a flsh extender to help, a fill flash is an almost essentail anytime. Talk with local farmers for permission to photograph and for normal locations and times of day. If not in hunting season, a little well placed corn and apples helps. Forget ree stands for photography - it needs to be eye level. Also, see if there are any Whitetail breeders in the area - the locations may be tricky to avoid fenses, barnyard looking mud, etc - but the opportunity can be worth some investment in time, especially for mid-may fawn closeups. Hope it helps. Have fun - I have hundreds of images and make more all the time. The nat'l parks are, by far, the bestlocations for natural undisturbed closeups - but you already know that. Ron

M. Huber , Jun 13, 2002; 01:13 p.m.

... also, in regard to your references to hunters, it is true that bow hunters can get quite close, but they use special clothing, masking smells, darken their hands and face and do a lot of belly crawling. Rifle hunters with a good scope can get a good clean shot at 300 to 500 yards well out of camera range. Photographing deer is much harder than hunting deer. Also during hunting season, other hunters will keep the deer on on the move. It might help to just explore and study first traveling as light as possible, (maybe even no camera). Regardless of what you see or what you are able to capture on film, you should enjoy the experience.

Nace Goode , Jun 13, 2002; 03:24 p.m.

I suggest you first look up the term "upwind". If you're upwind, your scent will go downwind to the deer, not what you want. The guys above obviously aren't hunters (at least successful ones). Bowhunters don't crawl on their bellies and only trained snipers take "easy" shots at 300-500 yards. Whitetail deer (as opposed to Mule or Blacktail deer) are very much creatures of habit, and unless pushed out by constant human contact, can sometimes live out their lives within a one square mile area.

Stalking thru the woods (called still-hunting) is a viable technique during the day, if you make sure you're always heading into the wind. Whitetails usually lay-up in denser cover during the day, and feed all night (including early evening and mornings). If there has been a stormy night, they sometimes feed during the day.

Flash wildlife photography is rather pointless unless all you're interested in is one shot each time (obvious reasons). Most of the time the shutter/motordrive sounds don't catch their attention right away and you can get many shots. Other times, only the "white flag" of their tails waving good-bye.

For deer not conditioned to human contact, you'll need a minimum 300mm (up to six if you can afford it). The faster, the better. Unless you're shooting for publication or sales, take advantage of the really good 400/800 films available.

A good way to locate good areas, and even to get some shots, is to drive slowly on some of the country roads during the evenings, and pay attention to the pastures close to the treelines. You can usually get fairly close and not spook wildlife as long as you stay in your car.

All the techniques used in successfuly hunting wildlife are used in photography. After all, you're hunting deer, just with a different weapon. Plus you get to do it year round. There are lots of really good books and magazines on the subject (hunting as well as photography), and that is one of the best ways to learn. As in any other type of photography, knowing your subject is the key to success.

Sean Noonan , Jun 13, 2002; 03:53 p.m.


You can bring deer to bait blocks very easily. Many wild bird food supply stores carry "deer blocks" which is a large cube of the deers' favorite foods. These have always worked for me.

Consider visiting suburban areas as well as wooded areas. The deer that live around me (and there are tons of them) are very much used to being around people. Just walking trails in parks, etc., regularly turn up deer and rarely ever do they run away.

PS if you are in the New England area, check out the Crane Estate in Ipswich, MA. The area is infested with deer and the trustees are currently looking into ways to "thin the herd". They have something ridiculous like ten deer per acre, which is causing problems. Anyway, you can go up there and practically trip over the deer without frightening them.

Good luck,


Chris Hansen , Jun 13, 2002; 05:13 p.m.

Start asking around at work ,your friendsor at a Birders meeting Invariably you will find someone that feeds the deer because they are so cute. Ask them if you can photograph the deer on their property. Most will readily agree if you offer prints. Good hunting Chris

Chris Hansen , Jun 13, 2002; 05:58 p.m.

Its nice to have a 2.8 lens . Gee I wish I had a 400 2.8. But I don't. Use a tripod and good technique. When deer are feeding they periodically look up and freeze momentarily. Also a quick chirp on a predator call done gently will cause them to look up and freeze. The attached photo was done during late evening on a foggy day. A 200 4.5/5.6 zoom was used on a tripod with a 1/8 of a sec shutter speed

Attachment: ghost.jpg

Nace Goode , Jun 14, 2002; 12:44 a.m.

The best people to talk to are your local Game Warden and state wildlife biologist. Drop by their office in person rather than phone - that way they can meet you and tell if you're serious about it. In addition to the easier spots, they also plant feed patches and put out salt and mineral blocks that not many people know about. Most biologists enjoy the chance to show people what they do.

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