I ain’t no predator, yo

I’ve always said I would be a terrible hunter.  And I don’t mean terrible as in I’d never kill anything; I mean terrible as in I’d be a nightmare for whatever I was hunting.  That’s because I’ve spent years photographing wildlife and learning about wildlife, both activities having given me a tremendous understanding of animals, including how to get close to them, how to get them to come close to me, and how to make them either ignore me or feel comfortable about me being there.  In the hands of a nature photographer and naturalist, these skills are paramount and rewarding, offering something better than what the biggest lens can offer (which is just cold distance rather than close-up experience).  But in the hands of a hunter, these skills would be a terrible thing indeed.

She stood drinking from a dwindling pond when I first stepped into the open.  I didn’t know she was there until she bolted up the game trail and stopped just beneath the drip line to watch me.

A female white-tailed deer (a.k.a. whitetail deer; Odocoileus virginianus) standing at the head of a game trail (2009_05_16_018743)

Although curiosity and human tendencies demanded that I turn to look at her, to identify her and determine her disposition, I denied those urges and kept my face looking forward and away from her.  I let my peripheral vision do the work so I could accurately identify her location, then I slowly raised the camera, put it in front of my face held in both hands, and slowly turned only my head so I could get the lens aimed at her—and I turned only enough so I could look through the viewfinder without facing her directly.

With her tail held downward, she indicated she was not alarmed, and by her steady gaze she indicated she was curious about what I was up to but not yet ready to run for the hills.  So I started meandering toward her, never moving directly toward her and never moving too quickly, and never looking at her to get my bearings or judge distance.

A female white-tailed deer (a.k.a. whitetail deer; Odocoileus virginianus) standing at the entrance to dense woods (2009_05_16_018739)

She never flinched.  She kept watching me, always with tail held downward, her gaze constantly on me.  I suspect she was confused about what I was doing and whether or not I was a threat.  I never gave any predatory signals, never indicated I was even aware of her, so she stood her ground and observed.

A female white-tailed deer (a.k.a. whitetail deer; Odocoileus virginianus) standing at the entrance to dense woods (2009_05_16_018737)

I closed the distance by at least half, though I couldn’t judge distance without utilizing binocular vision; that would require looking directly at her, something I was unwilling to do.  So I’m not sure how close I got, but it was much closer than I expected.  And it wasn’t until I spooked an alligator—which in turn spooked me—that she finally turned and vanished into the woods.

Had I been a hunter, I could have killed her many times over.  Thankfully for her and me, all I was shooting with was my camera.

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  1. Photos are of a female white-tailed deer (a.k.a. whitetail deer; Odocoileus virginianus)
  2. I have nothing against hunting or hunters so long as the practice is done for sustenance and not sport; killing for pleasure is an indication that you have problems.
  3. There are many tricks to approaching wildlife and/or making them comfortable with you.  I will never publically discuss them in detail.
  4. Depth perception is a function of binocular vision.  Since I never looked at the deer except with one eye through the viewfinder, I really can’t judge how close I got, though I’ve been within six feet/two meters of one, a story I’ll share at a later time.
  5. This entire encounter lasted less than ten minutes.
  6. Were it not for that one dead vine hanging down and sometimes obscurring her face, these photos would be awesome.
  7. I was stupid not to watch more closely at where I was walking.  I would have noticed the alligator if I’d been doing so.  I was lucky I didn’t walk up on a venomous snake, and I was lucky the alligator decided to flee when I invaded its personal space.  Lesson learned.

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