I don’t consider myself a great photographer. As they say, “I have much to learn.” But, that doesn’t stop me from taking the Nikon that the guys at West Photo (and my cousin Scott) showed me how to use, with me everywhere I go. I get lucky; trying to be in the right place at the right time and I try to practice a lot.
In my quest to become a better photographer and find content for the Minnesota Sporting Journal, I spend countless hours, camera in hand, pointing at marshes, woods, fields and skies. Sometimes you get the shot and sometimes-most of the time, you don’t. But each time I try to learn what worked and what didn’t.
Tonight was one of those learning experiences. How not to take pictures in the shady woods and how to avoid getting run over by a fawn.
I was driving through a secluded area nearby when I spotted a doe in heavy cover. I’d been through this area before and knew it held deer, but the woods were a gnarled mess of branches and leaves, almost as if I’d teleported to the rain forest. I spotted a nice doe and maneuvered into a position where I could catch her head through the trees. As I peered through the viewfinder I realized that this was an adult doe and instantly remembered what had happened two nights earlier.
I was driving out to this area when I spotted a doe in the ditch duck into the woods. I was searching for bucks who were starting to show antlers, so I didn’t get too excited. Then, I noticed something right behind her: A fawn! It was my first sighting in the area, so the deer couldn’t have been more than a few days old. I quickly grabbed my camera but the pair disappeared before I could say “Cheese!”
Fast forward to this evening.
I saw the doe and instantly wondered if a fawn was nearby. The underbrush was so thick that I probably wouldn’t see it anyway even if it was there. So I took a few shots and got ready to move on, when suddenly I caught movement around her legs. I craned my neck trying to peek around fallen logs and finally the small, spotted animal popped it’s tiny melon above the forest floor. Little good it did me way back in there. I snapped a couple of shots that I wasn’t happy with and started to move forward. I noticed a small clearing up ahead and hoped maybe they’d work their way into it where I could snap a better photo.
They didn’t. They started to work their way, slowly, the other direction.
I put the truck in drive and pulled back onto the road and crept forward. Suddenly I noticed a public trail through the woods that would meander near where the deer were walking. I steered back off the road, flipped the gear selector up to “P” and started to climb out. I’d walk down the trail, ninja-like, and see if I could get a closer picture of the mother and child.
I took two steps and was almost run over by a fawn blazing down the path like it’s white tail was on fire!
That wobbly creature, less than a week old, was getting a crash course in mobility as it clumsily darted off the path, across the road in front of my truck, and into the woods on the other side. It happened too quickly to even raise the camera, let alone get it focused for a good shot.
I cursed my bad luck, but had to laugh at the sight of this tiny deer high-tailing it 10 feet in front of me, eyes as wide as the ocean, running for it’s life.
But what had happened? Did the mother cross the road in front of me when I was parking? The path continued along the other side so I decided to quietly give chase. Sure enough, I saw a small, flicking tail in the distance. Mom was ahead with junior close behind. As I neared, the fawn froze. I expected it to lie down in the cover, but I figured it thought it was too late to try to hide at this point. I raised my camera and snapped away. I was able to get within 15 yards or so, but the dense canopy proved to be an efficient source of shade. For a photographer who’s still learning to make adjustments on the fly like myself, this was a challenging shot: I was dialing in my ISO and changing white balances and getting chewed by mosquitos and laughing at what just transpired. I needed to help the camera out in the darkness, while trying to focus through branches and leaves, while keeping the animal at ease enough to not run. Fortunately it stayed put, but as I was finally getting my settings right, a vehicle came down the road and in my haste, I had left the back end of my pickup exposed. Not wanting to cause any traffic jams, I quickly returned to give ample room on the one lane passageway. I considered heading back to the fawn but figured it had enough of me at this point.
While it wasn’t the best picture of a fawn you’ll see, at least it’s got a story. A story that I’ll remember even if you don’t. And of course, if you see fawns, don’t get too close. This animal was never frightened and the mother was nearby. The DNR advises that if you see a fawn lying down crying, just leave it. Mom is probably nearby waiting for you to leave.