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A Beautiful Encounter with a Red Deer Stag During Bugle Season

Have you ever had the chance to observe a deer in its natural environment during the bugle season?

I lived this story during the month of September 2021. The slab had just begun. This encounter with a wild solitary red deer stag lasted several minutes. It was 4 minutes of complete happiness and intense joy. It happened in the western France.

I have been photographing the red deer stag's bugle every year for the past 10 years. It is a season that I look forward to with great anticipation and excitement. These intense moments that I experienced will remain forever engraved in my memory.

Besides sharing this interesting story, my main purpose of this article is to also show you that the fixed blind is certainly the best way to capture unique and intriguing wildlife photos of mammals in Europe.

Red deer stage during the rut of the deer. Photograph in black and white by Amar Guillen, artist photographer.
I only kept this photo of my encounter with this deer during the slab. It is the most accurate to illustrate what I felt.

The Story

September 2021. It is 6 o'clock in the morning. The night is dark. I know the terrain well, as I have been scouting it for two days. I have been walking for 15 minutes through the woods. My goal is to reach a meadow which is a well-known spot for bugling.

The night is quiet. I hear a few deer bugling in the distance. But no deer are bugling yet at the place where I am headed towards.

The closer I get to the place, the more I slow down my pace so as not to be heard. I want to blend in against the foliage of the ancient and peaceful oaks. Under my feet I sometimes feel an acorn. I sometimes step from side to side so as to avoid a branch or pile of leaves. There is no question-I must not alert a potential buck or worse, a doe. At night, even if these deer are able to see shapes, it is mainly their hearing that is on alert. They can detect an unusual noise at more than 900 feet (300 meters). At the slightest sound will easily startle. I have already experienced this.

They do not always run away if they hear a peculiar sound, but they remain alert. They keep a close eye on the area where the noise was detected. If they see a human form, they immediately flee to a safer place.

If it is a herd, the spotter will give the signal by barking. The leader doe will do the rest by leading the herd in the direction she has chosen. If it is a single deer, he will run away without a sound.

I finally reach the edge of the woods. The meadow is in front of me. I hear absolutely no noise. The night is peaceful. An owl hooted in the distance. Maybe there was a deer that ran away. I will never know. Too bad. I will set up my blind and wait.

Stalking for long hours is a true pleasure for me. I can hear the daytime world slowly awakening. I discover the chirping birds. I admire the spider webs built during the night and shining when the sun rises. Contemplating nature is an extraordinarily relaxing act. I forget everything. The noise of men is forgotten for a few hours. If you have ever experienced these magical moments, you certainly know what I mean. If you have never experienced these sensations, try to settle in the forest on a foggy morning. You will understand the wonder that I feel.

For this blind, I chose to set up in a bramble towards the edge of the clearing, with my back facing the direction in which the sun will rise. I am downwind. The temperature is around 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). Under my camouflage hood, I can feel the cool wind rushing in. I am well covered. At this time of year, I wear gloves. I also use the three-layer system for my clothes. I am prepared for several hours of waiting.

The sun will rise behind me. Conditions are optimal. With a headwind from the west, the animals will not smell me. With the sun at my back, they will not see me easily. I have been waiting three days for all these elements to come together. I am impatient. I hope that a deer deigns to make an appearance.

When I choose a blind, I know the location has potential. In this case, I know that this meadow is a bugling site. I have already had the opportunity to observe with a pair of binoculars a herd with a nice buck and a few does. I know that satellite deer are trying to conquer some females by snatching them from the herd master. It is a beautiful sight.

I most often use a blind tent with a chair. This time, I chose a cloth photo blind. I wanted to be equipped light. Indeed, the tent is quite heavy. The walk was long. I did not want to embarrass myself. I really like the cover flap. It allows me to have a wider angle of view than my small tent. I lose comfort, but I am more versatile.

I set up my seat, my tripod. I set up my camera. My lens is a 500 mm. I always have an SLR camera. I use an anti-noise mitt to reduce the sound emitted at the time of the release. Even with this accessory and even if I use the silent mode of my camera, the deer still detect my presence because of the noise. Mirrorless cameras are a real breakthrough because they do not make any noise. At the time of writing this tree, Nikon still has not released a mirrorless camera that is on par with its competitors.

Next, I put my cloth photo blind in place. I chose the summer model. In the morning, it lets the cold through, but at this time of year, when the sun comes up, the temperature becomes quite pleasant. If I used my winter clothe blind, the temperature would be difficult to bear in the middle of the morning.

After a few minutes of preparation, I crawl under my cloth photo blind. I sit down. My seat is not as comfortable as the one attached to my tent. It has no backrest. But I do not regret this choice. I will have more leeway if a deer makes an appearance in the meadow.

It is 6:25 in the morning. The night is still dark. There is no moon. The waiting begins. I scan the meadow through the net. I try to see a shape. But apparently no deer are present today. I will wait. Patience is a quality of any wildlife photographer.

What can you do when you are in a blind? The answer is simple: wait and think. The minutes and the hours pass slowly. One can easily count each second during this time of waiting. It requires great patience.

It is 8:15 a.m. The day is breaking. The first rays of sunlight appear. The meadow is empty. I thought I saw a red deer stag was coming on my right. But I was wrong. There is nothing.

9:02 am. I take my time. The lights are still beautiful, but no deer are present. I decide to stay another hour before putting my things away.

Suddenly, down and to the left of the meadow, I hear a deer bugling. I am a little numb from the early morning chill, but the cry gives me hope. I feel my senses are on alert. I put my eye against the eyepiece of my camera. The deer is about 450 feet (150 meters) to my left. It is downhill. He is very badly positioned. He is sheepish. He moves forward slowly, bugling as he steps. I am a little disappointed because I did not expect it at this place. Despite everything, I take some pictures. I let off steam and try not to be annoyed that after all of this time, this creature comes to me from a direction I least expected.

I tell myself that with a bit of luck, he will come towards me or go to my right. He will then be at my level. Maybe I will get a good picture. Hope is life.

He is still moving. He has a 16-point rack. He is magnificent. I do not understand why such a buck did not manage to conquer the hearts of a few does. He must have encountered youngsters, who are more valiant, quick, and agile in battle. I begin to realize that he is heading towards me. It is incredible. I am so excited. I also realize that I have not chosen my place well. I have brambles in my field of vision. I never thought it would have appeared on my left. I had placed everything on my right.

He keeps coming. He is handsome. His head is down. I trigger the shutter two or three times. Soon, he occupies a good part of my viewfinder. I do not dare raise my head, because I do not want to startle my woodland ghost. The sight of deer is very sharp. The slightest suspicious movement can make them run away.

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He must be within 75 feet (25 meters). I take a first photo, holding my breath. And quickly realize that he has heard the sound of the camera. He is raising his head. His ears are pointed in my direction. He is on full alert. I wait a few seconds to trigger it. I do not want him to run away.

His 16 points are incredible. He is proud, elegant, and powerful. He stares at me. He does not know what he is dealing with. Deer have an excellent photographic memory. They know how to spot something unusual in their environment. He looks at me. I wait. We stay more than a minute, our gazes locking together. He and I can both be patient.

There is no need for me to go off. He has just got a bramble behind him. The picture will not be interesting. Suddenly, he decides to step to his right. I move my camera slightly. This movement does not escape him. He is really tense and worried. I realize that the area in the background is now clear. There are no more brambles. So much for the noise. I trigger twice. The noise and the previous movement have really made him wary. He decides to leave.

He is gone. He is out of my sight. And I have only two pictures. But what incredible pictures they are. It is rare that I take pictures from so close with my 500mm. The encounter lasted 4 minutes. The intensity was strong. I feel my heart beating fast. I am so happy.

The following pictures show the sequence from the moment of the first bellow to the final picture. They are from my camera. They are raw film.

The last picture is the one I selected and developed.

 

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