My old friend, Rick Patridge, sells land and hunting properties. One day he calls me and asked if I would be interested in going with him to a place he was listing, to take some pictures. He told me about the huge deer on this property and that we would be able to stick around and photograph them from one of the many blinds on the property. That made the decision easy, I was in! If I remember correctly, the land was one mile square. Huge. The owners practiced Quality Deer Management, only harvesting certain monster bucks and keeping the herd strong on the land. The place was incredible. Giant house, barns, ponds and monster deer. After we took the pictures for the sale of the land, we headed off in a golf cart to a deer blind. The owner told us the deer usually come out about 5pm and we should expect to see some big racks. Well, 5:00 came and went and nothing. I figured it was just another of those places where "you should have been here yesterday". Finally, about 5:45pm out pops our first buck, a monster spike horn! We looked at each other and laughed. Our laughter was short lived as shortly after, as if out of nowhere, antlers started to appear in the woods. It was definitely worth the wait. The obsession was born.
The above pictures are all from that late August day in 2011. If I remember correctly, that piece if property was going for something like 3 to 5 MILLION dollars. No idea if it ever sold. Anyone want to pool up some cash????
Fast forward to 2014 and hip replacement surgery. Going stir crazy from just being home and going to rehab. Camera sitting, collecting dust. Needed to break out and do SOMETHING. I started looking at maps and contacting a few people. I got really lucky to find yet another old DuPont employee that set me up with a place that had deer and no hunting pressure. The first time I walked it, I think I saw a couple of Doe and that was about it. It had a lot of edges, diverse habitat, a creek and small pond. Promising, but I didn't see a buck. It would have been easy to just move on and look elsewhere, but something made me go back. Could have been the lack of fear from the deer I did see or just that it was really a nice area. Safe to say, I haven't stopped going back.
Going out and getting pictures is way easier than writing, I can tell you that. Today I want to just share what 2020 has been like in the "deer" woods. Please excuse all the pictures you are about to see, I know it's a lot - it really is an obsession. Even when I try to stay away, I go back. Yes, many of the deer are the same, but it's just enough different each trip me wanting more. Watching them change throughout the seasons is very interesting to me. Being able to just sit still and watch, reality tv in it's purest form. Just going to start in the Spring and move forward to last weekend. Hope you enjoy.
Something to keep in mind as you look at the pictures - I shoot with a 500mm lens, at times with 1.4x multiplier. If I'm using a camera with a crop sensor, that makes it something like a 700mm to 800mm lens. Crop the picture in post and you have what appears to be some very close shots. They are, in fact, at a good distance in most cases.
I didn't realize it at the time, but the deer in the next picture is one that I've photographed for at least 4 years now. Take a look at the damage to his early antler growth.
The slice on this girls ear makes her stand out. Like the buck with the damaged antler, I wonder how these things happen.
Sometimes it's not the deer, but the place. The fog in the back of this picture is why it's here.
Things are beginning to get serious. Rainy days are the best!
Remember that damaged antler?
There is a slight chance that I really like this buck. He's a stud.
I waited and waited for this next shot then almost missed it. Really wish he had done that when he was closer. Shake it up!
And then there are the days when they just don't cooperate. Fortunately, Mother Nature gave me a pretty cool shot for my drive.
and as a reminder, they are not all monsters, but someday, maybe.
This next picture was actually on my way home. This is the corner of Utica Road and 17 Mile. I just pulled over to the side of the road, grabbed the camera and took a quick picture. Not a great photo but the timing and place really made my day. Plus, seems like that fella on the left is winking as if to say "You drove how far to get pictures of deer?"
The shed of the velvet and the exit of the summer coat has begun!
Please don't eat the daisies.
As you might expect, those of us that take pictures of deer are generally very protective of the places we go. Unfortunately, I've had a couple other places that I once used that I have not been to in a long time because that person that promised to never say a word couldn't stop talking. The place I go now, I have not shared with anyone. In late 2018, I photographed, twice, a Varied Thrush, a rare bird to Michigan. It might be a first for the county, but after talking with the property owners and knowing what happens when a rare bird report goes out, I decided to just be happy with my photos. No sense ruining a good thing. It's the same with where I go for Spring duck photos. Two places I go, alone. If I drown, you'll never find me.
A couple years ago I met a fellow photographer, Mike. Let me tell you, this guy is a master behind a camera. His pictures are amazing. He has been photographing deer for close to 20 years. Not only have I learned a lot about cameras and photography from him, but I've learned some pretty good tricks to get deer where I want them for pictures. Mike also has one of those places that he goes to for big bucks. When he asked me if I'd like to go there, I almost fell over. How could I refuse? The conditions were that I not tell a soul and that I never go there without him. DEAL!!!!!! Now this property is for sale and the few times we were out may be the only times I ever go, but it truly was a great experience. He says that the Spring and Summer are the best times for this area, so with some luck we will be back there again in Spring. One time, while we were there, I asked him why he let me go with him. He said it was because he knew he could trust me to keep my mouth shut and that sometimes it's nice to have someone around to talk to. Mike has this little saying that goes something like, "I don't always talk about where I take my deer pictures, but when I do, I lie."
Great advice! The next 11 pictures are by me, from Mike's place.
Mike works hard to keep his place safe from poachers and trespassers. He does a very good job of keeping the area like a sanctuary so that the deer feel safe. how safe? Safe enough to bed down within 50 yards of the blind. Yes, it was as amazing as it seems.
This next buck, if he lives another couple years, is going to be a complete monster. I haven't seen him in a couple weeks. Could be he wandered to the neighboring properties and was shot or hit by a car, or that he is like another deer I know of that just vanishes for 4-6 weeks at a time.
Friends, until the rut starts....
The first signs of the coming rut.
The future looks bright! Those buttons are like beacons on this little guy.
One day I was out shooting and I sent Mike a text after I got home telling him about the HUGE buck I had seen. He told me to send him a picture. The monster below is what I sent.
In the Summer, everything is green and more green. Once Fall arrives, I begin to think about composition. Where the sun is, best lighting, how to get in the spot I want to be so that I can get that background. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it actually works!
Now I don't remember why he pinned his ears back like this, maybe to scare away a Doe because this little guy is not going to run off any of the big bucks in the area. Capturing deer personalities is always a good time.
This next guy is so unique. I don't know what happened or if it's genetic, but that might be the widest spread I have ever seen on a 4 point.
Because every picture I take is perfect, I thought I would share this exquisite picture of a Virginia Creeper Vine that I found in the woods one day. Naturally a deer tried to photobomb the shot, but even the deer can't take away from the beauty of the vine!
While I do spend 99% of the time looking for antlers, it does not take away from the beauty of the ladies and yearlings. If not for the ladies, the bucks would be elsewhere.
While I don't get the shakes anymore, I still get a slight heart skip and chills when I see a big buck. Even if it's a buck I've seen many, many times. Being able to get close to wildlife and photograph them is something I will never take for granted.
Trying to decide what pictures to use is not easy. I shoot all year round and weather doesn't normally stop me. I've shot as many as 700 pictures in a day (even more if it's Spring bird migration). Today I walked about 5 miles and took 2 pictures. A lot less time deciding what to keep with just 2. For the record, I deleted both.
The story of the buck in the muck. This happened not all to long ago, very early in the morning. I didn't even get to my spot before a nice buck showed himself. Now the little pond in the area had some Doe near it and they were grazing on the grass. This buck comes along and decides he wants to see the ladies. Instead of crossing where the little creek is, he decides to cross the pond. He gets to the island in the pond and starts across.
Well the bottom of the pond is more like quicksand and muck than it is solid. He kept going back and forth, struggling each time to get back onto the island.
I thought for a moment he might actually get stuck and stopped photographing, but he was finally able to pull himself out.
A little water in the ears...
After a quick shake, he returned the way he came from and left.
I can only imagine what could have happened if he had gone across, as this next fella was waiting with the Doe to greet him!! Remember that buck with the fouled up antler in Spring and Summer? He shed his velvet!
The sun even popped out to give me a better look.
This next buck has been around a few years but last year he was injured. He had a pretty good limp, but no visual injury. He seemed to me to avoid the other bucks, maybe for fear of worsening his injury in a battle. I did not expect this buck to make it through the winter. I have seen him twice this year, both times within the last 30 days. He still has a limp, but not as bad as last year. He has been chasing Doe and looks to be in much better health than last Fall.
BEHOLD! 14 reasons to love Fall!!!! Oh and the colors too, lol.
There are really two bucks that basically rule the property. The one you have seen with damaged antler. The other, you may have caught a glimpse of in previous pictures. I do not recall photographing this deer in any other year. He is very impressive with his double main beam.
On my way out of the woods the other day, I noticed a doe feeding in the shrubs. Behind her was the big buck in the previous pictures. He just stood, watching her. She would move 5 feet, he would move 5 feet. It seemed obvious to me that he was going to breed her. He moved up to just behind where she is standing in the picture below. The picture I got of him is my favorite of 2020. Maybe it's because I was standing in 4" of water to get it, or just the berries around him. Regardless.
This is it.
So a farmhand told of a battle royal that took place while I was away at that place we call WORK. How rude of the two biggest bucks to decide to fight without a camera present. Just days before it happened, I took these photos of the big guy in an area he does not go to very often. He was chasing Does around and stopped to pose for me.
Now he fought with the guy below and I'm told this buck below was bleeding from his leg. I've not seen any cut and he is still walking just fine, so that is good.
Our champ suffered an injury also, although it was just cosmetic. Both deer are fine as far as I can tell.
Somewhere in the back of my head I hear those famous words from Monty Python, "Merely a flesh wound." Not as photogenic as he was, but is now going to war with a spear in the arsenal!
Still attractive to the ladies! Deer porn...XXX
Tried to get a shot of where the antler broke off. The force it took for that to happen must have been incredible. It would have made for some awesome pictures/video.
So that's it up to now. Hoping for a little weather change and maybe some snow pictures. I hope that the people that hunt will find some deer like these in the crosshairs! Hunters, keep in mind that photographers spend all their money on equipment and just because we photograph deer doesn't mean we don't eat venison!!
As always, thanks for taking the time to stop by and see my photos. Until next time - BE SAFE and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Oh - if you are interested in purchasing some land, check out Rick's website at www.hunting4land.com or give him a call at (810) 597-1327. If he can't help you, I'm sure he knows someone that can! Side note - he is one of the BEST storytellers you will ever talk to, just don't ask him about the corncob that hit him in the head, he might still want to hurt me.