Hunt And Shoot Wildlife Out-of-Season
Learning to effectively photograph animals during the off season will improve your hunting skills for when the season rolls around.
It is the middle of July. The truck thermometer says 92 degrees with the usual Georgia humidity. Deer season is still two months away. Turkey season has been closed for two months. What is there for a hunter to do? Over the last nine years, I feel that I have found a solution to the lull between hunting seasons that allows me to spend more time in the woods and at the same time makes me a better hunter. My solution is to get out and hunt with my camera.
I purchased my first zoom camera when our daughter was born. Little did I know how much this decision would also impact my hunting. At first, it was the typical photos we all take as our children grow before our eyes. Then I started to notice the butterflies in the flower garden we created for our daughter, so I started to take pictures. The next thing I knew, I was researching and seeking to photograph the butterflies of north Georgia. As that list neared completion, I began to search for my next challenge.
The next challenge ended up being birds. This led to my next step up to a DSLR camera, which helped with getting photographs of song birds in the tops of trees or ducks across the swamp. At this time, I have photographed more than 200 species of birds in Georgia. This takes us to the previously mentioned day in July and how a camera can help with the lull between hunting seasons and make a person a better hunter.
Today, if I am in the woods, I have my camera with me whether scouting or hunting. You never know what you might see. In the summer, I will get phone calls from friends about birds they have seen while checking recently planted beaver swamps. To get consistent photographs of birds up close, such as great blue herons, little blue herons, great egrets, wood storks, red-headed woodpeckers and other birds found in swamps across Georgia, a person can not just walk up making a lot of noise and wearing a red shirt. To get consistently high-quality photographs, it helps to have on your favorite camouflage pattern in light-weight material because it is not only important to be hidden but you have to be comfortable. The longer you can stay by the swamp, the better your odds of getting that special photograph. You also need to take your time slowly and quietly walking in so as not to cause the birds to leave or retreat to the opposite side of the swamp. Trust me, a group of wading birds will test your stalking as much as any whitetail, bear, hog or turkey.
Selecting the area to shoot from also brings in to play the same tactics used in placing that deer stand or ground blind. A photographer must consider roosting areas and location of the birds’ food sources, such as crawfish, fish and seed. If you find the food source of deer, bears, hogs or turkeys you are hunting, and the areas they are bedding or roosting, odds are in your favor for a successful hunt.
Once I have made my way into the area, I have to sit still and patiently wait for the shot. The more time I spend doing this, the more patterns I notice in animal behavior, the more I become in tune to the sounds of the woods, and I started to notice things we often miss while in the woods. I feel that this greatly helped me to recently harvest a mature 9-point buck.
It was a day late in November that was very windy. I had not seen but a few deer in the bottom I was hunting, and hearing only a couple of shots, I decided to slowly stalk into the wind to an area that provided food and bedding areas close by. By slowly stalking into the area, listening to the sounds of the woods and observing the area around me, I noticed a deer’s leg in a thick area in the upper end of the bottom. Out of the thicket walked a nice 8-pointer. Having recently shot an 8-pointer of similar size, I decided not to shoot. I watched the buck slowly walk down the bottom toward my stand.
After continuing my stalk, I started to hear a second deer walking out of the bedding area into the bottom. As I slowly looked to my right, I saw the mature 9-pointer heading down the hill that would provide a broadside shot at 35 yards. I feel that the time I have spent taking photographs of the wading birds in the swamp helped me to harvest such a mature deer by stalking on that windy November day.
However, not everyone is interested in sitting along the edge of a swamp in July’s heat and humidity. I once told my dad as he stopped to take a photograph of a great egret on the way to the beach when I was 8 years old, “That is just an old stupid bird.” Funny how sometimes our words come full circle. So what is out there for you?
July and August can prove to be excellent times to take a survey of the deer or bear populations in the areas you hunt. Practicing good hunting tactics is the key. To get quality photographs, a person needs to know or locate the bedding areas and food sources, and a quiet, well-hidden location to take the photographs is a must.
If you have never been in the woods in July or August, you are missing out. Bucks are gathered in their bachelor groups. Deer and bear are often more willing to walk into food plots or agricultural fields during daylight during this time of year. I know I was amazed at how early they will come into the food plots or fields the first time that I went on a hot July afternoon. Seeing multiple mature bucks in a field two hours before sunset or a large bear should get any hunter’s heart started.
As my friend John Seginak told me, try not to visit a field more than once a week to avoid the animals becoming aware of your presence. Watching as bucks add inches to their antlers from week to week is an amazing event to witness.
You also become more aware of how animals interact with each other, which can only help a person to become a better hunter. For example, how does that 2 1/2-year-old buck act to clue you in that an older more dominate buck is about to come in? Knowing this could be the difference in waiting that extra few minutes as sunlight fades to take that buck of a lifetime and having your picture on the cover of GON.
A hunter can also learn what areas deer or bear enter a food plot or field, and if it varies, why it does? This can help with stand placement. You might also see bucks that have never been seen on a trail camera or by any hunter in your club or surrounding clubs. Personally, I get as excited photographing deer or bear as I do when hunting. With all of these factors, getting out in July and August can increase your odds of having deer or bear within 30 yards of your stand come September.
The other bonus of taking your camera in the woods is there is not a limit on how many pictures you can shoot with your camera, and a photograph that you frame and matt will cost around $10 to $30, depending on the size of the photograph compared to $300 or more for a mount at your favorite taxidermist.
The same is true for duck and turkey hunters. While you are out preseason scouting, take your camera to document what and where you saw these birds. To get the good photo, you need to again find the food and their roost. You need to have good camouflage and quietly get into position. A person must also be patient and still. You never know when that wood duck drake or gobbler will give you that amazing shot. Photographing turkeys and ducks in the wild are some of the hardest photographs for me to take, which forces me to focus and up my game. Again, I feel this helps make me a better hunter.
With all of this said, what do you need to get started? Today’s cellphones can take excellent photos in the correct situation. Some professional photographers have even gone to using cell phones in some situations. Cell phones can not take the best low-light photographs. Just try and take a picture of a deer walking in a field during those last few minutes of light. However, as cell phone photography has increased in popularity, so have the number of apps and attachments.
A lot of bird watchers will use attachments to their cell phone’s case to allow them to take photos through their spotting scopes, and the results I have seen can be amazing. The good thing is that most of us already have a cell phone, and paired with a spotting scope or even binoculars, it makes cell phones an easy entry point into wildlife photography.
Next would be a point-and-shoot zoom digital camera. I would recommend at least 10+mp (megapixels). The higher the megapixels, the more you can crop or zoom in when printing, and the larger you can print your image. In most situations, 10mp can give a person a nice 8×10 photograph. You want the most optical zoom you can get for the money you want to invest. The quality of an image goes downhill once you start to use the digital zoom. This is the type camera I first started with, and a quality camera can be purchased for less than $200. Considering the memories it helped me capture, how it extended my seasons, made me a better hunter, and let me take pictures of my kids, I feel that it was a great investment.
The next level is a DSLR camera. This is the type of camera I use currently. If you are wondering, these are the cameras with the removable lenses that you will see along the sidelines of football games. The cameras you see at sporting events can cost up to $7,000 just for the body of the camera. The lenses can cost more than $12,000 with the total purchase running more than $19,000. Needless to say, I do not have a camera body or lenses that comes even close to that level.
Fortunately, with the increased popularity of photography and decreased cost of technology, quality cameras can be purchased with the body and lenses needed to start photographing wildlife for $600 or less, especially if you find a good used camera from someone wanting to upgrade to a newer camera.
Most cameras today are going to be 18+mp. An added bonus is that a lot of newer DSLRs are also able to take videos, if you prefer movement over still pictures. Videos also allow a person to document and review how the animals interact and any vocalizations they might make. The lens should be at least 185mm. I have found 300mm works best for what I need when trying to photograph deer 200 yards across a food plot or field. The same is true for waterfowl and turkey. A DSLR allows you more freedom to control how your images turn out. DSLR do have a lot of functions to learn, but with the resources out there on YouTube, photograph blogs and in print media a high-quality image is possible in a short amount of time. Things such as the shutter speed, depth of field and ISO can be adjusted to create your image.
With a tripod and a slower setting on your shutter speed, you can get some good low-light photos that other cameras can not come close to. The main thing to know is the more photos you take, the more you will learn, and the better your images will be. Digital cameras allow you the freedom to take as many photographs as you want and review them right there in the field, which can greatly speed the learning process. I do want to warn you that photographing with a DSLR camera can become very addictive.
Next thing you will know if you choose to go this route is that you might miss the chance at a north Georgia bear because you leave your bow in the blind when you went to take that amazing photo taking shape you just can’t miss. Trust me I know.
Now that you have a place to photograph deer, turkeys or your animal of choice, you have your camera, and you have taken all of these photographs, what do you do with all of your images that you now have? You have a lot of options. For example, you can make a slide-show of the images to show to your friends or use to look back on past seasons. You can document different views over multiple years of a buck’s growth. Photographs can be framed and given as gifts. You can even enter them into your local fairs, art shows or sell them as various places like festivals, galleries or on the Internet. You can also share them with your GON family.
The next time you find yourself longing for the next hunting season, think about grabbing your camera and heading to the woods or swamps. Not only will you be able to get out, but you will capture some great images, make lasting memories, and you just might find yourself becoming a better hunter along the way.
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