Autumn Snow, The Whitetail Rut, and a Battle-Wounded Buck

A mature buck follows the scent of a doe at sunrise on the farm this morning.

I only hunt deer now with a camera but I’m always just as excited about deer season as I used to be when I toted a rifle into the woods. This year, we were lucky to have the deepest snow (8 inches) that I can ever remember during gun season so that was snow-white icing on the cake for me! I’ve been pretty much living in my turkey chair for the last couple of days, watching and photographing several bucks that seem to have lost their minds with passion since the snow began.

I made the featured image this morning at a very slow shutter speed in the twilight of dawn. I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out as well as it did. As I followed the buck with my lens, I wondered why it had its eye closed. As it got closer, I realized that it had been in a vicious fight with another buck the night before. A closer look at the wound, see below, reveals a three-cornered tear that appears to have been made with a sharp antler of a tough opponent. As a matter of fact, I have a pretty good idea who the culprit was as I saw them together at sunset yesterday.

A closer look at the battle wound.

The injured buck hung around all morning, totally oblivious to my presence in the nearby treeline, especially when its right side was turned toward me. I’m confident that its eye was not injured; it is just closed from swelling of the wound behind it.

I suspect that this bruiser did the damage to the buck in the featured image. My friend Mike Smith named him “Ghost Buck.”

The buck featured above is the most impressive of the group and likely the victor in the previous night’s battle with the featured buck. I haven’t been able to get a clear shot of him yet but this image, taken through dense prairie grass, turned out pretty cool as the buck almost looks like an apparition emerging from the oak tree. As you can see from the image, he spotted me in the prairie and watched with intense pissoffedness. He began stomping his feet shortly after and disappeared like the ghost he might have been.

I was lucky to get any of these close-ups of the injured buck because my camera battery had died well before the deer re-emerged from the woods an hour or so after I took the featured image. Apparently, during all the excitement of the last couple of days I neglected to charge my battery. When the buck came out of the woods, I attempted to make my first shot and realized my battery was completely dead. In a great moment of dumb luck, the buck proceeded to bed down at that location to lick its wounds in the warm sunlight. I frantically removed the battery and placed it inside my coat to warm it up. During the next 10 minutes, the buck stayed at its location while I replenished my battery with warmth.

I finally reinstalled the battery but before I began shooting I turned off the autofocus, something I highly recommend if you ever are in the same predicament. You’ll never be able to get more than one hail Mary image from a dying battery if you leave the autofocus on. Believe it or not, I made at least 30 more images after warming up the battery, and my camera was still working when I got back to the house! Most photographers know that you can get more shots from a dead battery in winter if you warm it up, but remember my tip about the autofocus because that is what will suck the remaining life out of your battery when you might be trying to get the shot of a lifetime.

I always know I’m well-concealed when a mature buck beds down a stone’s throw away. 

A final image of the battle-scarred bruiser. Brings to mind the images of Rocky after his first fight with Apollo Creed.

After watching the regal buck all morning, chasing does and chomping acorns I was convinced that it wasn’t any the worse for wear. As Joyce said, the wound will heal much better than it might have in the summer.

As I’m typing this, Joyce is calling from upstairs that I better come up and look out the window with my binoculars. Yep, the “Ghost Buck” is standing in front of the oak tree eating acorns again! He is too far away to check for blood on his antlers. Maybe I’ll get a shot of him this evening or maybe in the morning. I’ll keep trying but won’t get my hopes up. After all, he is a ghost.

Thanks for looking,


Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

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