It was a bone-chilling 19 degrees when we awoke Saturday morning. It felt cold, but it wasn’t the cold that chills your core and burns your face, you know that type of cold that hits you around the end of January when you wish Winter were over.
Cyndie & I, along with our good friend Linnae, arrived at Fort Snelling State Park shortly after sunrise. Traces of Autumn can still be seen, but for the most part the brilliant colors are gone – almost. We found some lovely color enhanced by the rising sun along the western shore of Snelling Lake.
Our primary purpose of this trip was to photograph Whitetail deer – specifically [& hopefully] big bucks. It is that time of the year when bucks break away from their traditional habits and venture out of the thick stuff in search of receptive does in the day light.
We found such activity quickly on Picnic Island. We noticed several scrapes and rubs. Pre-rut signs galore. There were no shortages of photographers on-hand to witness this spectacle. We spent a good amount of time watching a dandy 9-pointer pursue does all over Picnic Island. There were other smaller bucks darting about and avoiding direct contact with the bigger buck.
It is pretty remarkable to be in the presence of such magnificent creatures and such numbers of them. We had not had enough though. We decided to delve further in and explore another area of the park. Pike Island, a walk in only area, was just down the road. I am glad we opted to do this. The temperature was rising as was our excitement; we had buck fever. We walked around the perimeter of Pike Island (mostly; except the eastern third) without seeing so much as a yearling. We decided to walk a game trail up the center. There were brush piles everywhere – all kinds of places for deer to bed down for a mid-day rest. It wasn’t long and we located a small buck. As I began to photograph him I noticed there was another buck behind him – a much bigger one. I continued to shoot and eventually saw the doe that was hunkered down in the grass next to them. I think we spend the next hour hanging out with those three deer. At one point a dozen or so turkeys came wandering down the trail and just walked on by like we were not even there. That was fun. What a great day.
*Just a side note on gear, you regularly see photographers hauling out the big lenses for wildlife. Thousands of dollars of gear. With the exception of the first few landscape shot, the balance of these images were shot with a Tamron 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 – a $449.00 lens; not a $2500 or $10k lens. The 70-300 was attached to a Nikon D700 shooting at ISO 2000 between f/5.6 – f/7.1. I am not going to lie, I would gladly shoot with a $10k lens if I had it. I am simply demonstrating that you do not need all that if you want to get out there and have a great time – especially at this location. I will say that the high-ISO performance of a full-frame sensor was beneficial given the low light.