White-tailed Deer: The Autumn Pursuit

December 04, 2016  •  2 Comments

September and early October was a whirlwind for me photographing rutting elk.  If it weren’t for the 2.5 hour drive each way to the Pennsylvania elk range, it wouldn’t have been so hectic.  Shortly after the rutting period of the American Elk ends, the White-tailed Deer doe (female deer) enters her estrus cycle and their world turns into chaos with every buck (male deer) within sniffing distance vying for breeding rights.

Rut activity of the White-tailed Deer is more difficult to photograph because of their fear of humans and their rut is relatively short compared to the American Elk.

I began photographing this year in mid-October and pursued deer until the end of November and the beginning of the Pennsylvania rifle season.  I hope you enjoy the photography.

Many doe are still accompanied by their offspring from earlier in the year.  Some attempts are still being made to nurse but the doe seems to push them aside and the fawns are feeding on plants, fruits, acorns, and other nutty goodies when they are available.  Soon they will need to rely on whatever food is available such as fallen leaves, twigs, bushes, evergreens, and other woody plants to nourish them through the winter.

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Most of the images in this photo blog were made with a Canon 1DX MKII camera body and either a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS or Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II lens.  I needed the low light capabilities of that equipment to photograph this buck as it was nearing complete darkness.

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I was positioned on the lower end of a hillside that had a well-worn trail etched into the forest floor when a doe came walking along.  Just then, I saw her pursuer in a thicket about 10 yards behind.

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The doe ignored me and continued to walk along the trail.  Just then, the buck stepped out of the thicket and into plain view.  He is a 6-point with a truly impressive spread.  A huge charge of testosterone during the rut period can make a bucks neck swell up to 50% of its normal size.

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This buck was rushing down a hillside when he stopped briefly, illuminated perfectly by the evening sun.

Notice the dark spot on the inside of his rear leg?  That is called the tarsal gland and there is one on the inside of both hind legs.  Smell typically comes into play when deer scent-check each other.  Normally, identification is determined by smelling each others' tarsal glands.  During mating, the dark, stained tufts of stiff hair reek with odors, besides urine added for sexual excitement.

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This guy was in pursuit of a couple does when he crossed my path.  The does stopped to feed on nearby acorns so, hiding himself behind the trees, he stopped to check me out.

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I found this buck on a hillside meadow accompanied by about seven doe and their fawns.

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As all the doe continued to feed in the meadow, he became more interested in me.  He slowly walked toward me in a curious posture.

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As he walked a little closer, he held his hoof high.  He wasn’t alerted enough by my presence to flip his tail up or to give me a foot stomp.  A deer communicates with other deer in many ways but both genders will stomp the ground to alert other deer, or attempt to lure an intruder into exposing itself.

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Most of the time, especially when the weather is warm, I don’t see many deer until the sun begins to set, leaving little time for photography.  This buck, holding his rack high, was following a few doe around a meadow. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed Deer

 

After becoming wary of my presence, he headed toward the woods.  He only paused in response to me yelling “hey buck, hey buck”.

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Not all journeys into the field searching for a whitetail buck are successful.  Many times the deer are frightened and run away or they hide unseen in a deep thicket.  On the other hand, one might find a little buck that is cooperative, such as this guy illuminated by the setting sun.

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With light diminishing quickly, I probably shouldn't have been photographing anything at this time.  I saw this buck crossing a field and just as he entered the woods I whistled to get his attention.  He stopped and turned.

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I was sitting one evening just before dark watching a small herd of doe and spotless fawns.  I was hoping a big buck would walk over the crest of the hill but that didn't happen.  I did see a tender moment between one of the doe and her fawn.

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I was drinking coffee in my living room one Saturday morning when our two Shelties began to bark at something in our backyard.  This buck, who is frequently photographed on my backyard trail cam, came in to feed on our Crabapple tree.

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This is a late November buck.  With no doe to pursue, he is a little more cautious and is keeping himself protected behind branches.  I was hoping he would move into the open but he didn’t.  Instead, he turned and ran into an adjacent field.

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With the rut over the bucks are a little harder to find.  Couple that with the fact that rifle deer season is now half over, all of the deer are very cautious.  Here is a doe that paused to see what my next move was going to be.

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Female White-tailed Deer will fight to protect their fawns or a food source.  I'm not really sure if these two were fighting or playing.  They broke away a couple times and came back to each other.  In either case, I wish my shutter speed was a little faster to stop the blur.

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Well, that’s it for this year’s White-tailed Deer rut.  I wish I had photographs of more obvious rutting activity like rubs, scrapes, scent marking, or fighting but I wasn’t able to find it this year.  That’s okay, maybe I will be able to make up for it next year.  I hope you enjoyed the experiences I was able to share.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


Comments

Kevin Kuntz(non-registered)
Great photos Dan. You are professional once again!! I needed you to guide me this hunting season.
MBallon(non-registered)
That was beautiful photography of the deer. I seldom get to see them up so close. Spectacular!

Thankyou for the post.
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