Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Whitetails

Whitetail Buck Feeding in Oats Field: Panasonic GH 3-Canon 500mm F4 I-ISO 400 1/80 sec. f?
 I have frequently expounded on the subject of bull elk and whitetail bucks spending most of the year either alone or in bachelor groups, with mid to late-summer being the time when these groups seem to be the most visible. Whitetail bucks are especially difficult to see in summer if they remain in the woodlands, but as summer gets underway and small grains ripen,  the bucks become much more easily visible as they visit fields in early morning and evening to feed.  Corn attracts them as well, but the deer are not easily visible in the tall corn. Quality grasses such as alfalfa and clover may provide sustained whitetail sightings throughout the summer, but it seems the best opportunity for seeing a lot of bucks is when the animals concentrate at a grain field.

Barley is the first to ripen in late June to early July, while wheat comes a bit later, and oats peak by late July and early August.  If these grains are in food plots devoted to wildlife where they are left stand, then viewing can be excellent for an extended period, but in the case of grains planted in commercial farming operations, there is a short window of peak opportunity.  There is little use of the grain while it is still green, but grazing increases as the grain gets that "golden" look and peaks about the time it is ready for harvest.  Any delay in harvesting means a monetary loss to the farmer so the grain is cut as soon as possible after it is ripe.  Animals may continue to graze on forbs and grasses, in the stubble ground unless the farmer immediately plows this down, but if other grains that mature later are in the area, the animals will concentrate on each variety as it reaches its' peak period of attractiveness as a food source.

One farm that I watch provided good whitetail video opportunities at a wheat field, but the farmer had planted bearded wheat to lessen its' attractiveness to deer and it worked to a certain extent.  I still saw some good bucks, but they were always at long range.  Soon that field was harvested and activity plummeted, so I shifted my attention to a nearby field that was divided between grass and a strip of oats.  Several whitetails were using this, but most of the bucks were small and they were quite spooky. There was one nice eight-point and I watched for a few mornings and evenings before I  got a fairly close shot at him with the 500mm F4 on the evening of July 24th, but he was still far enough away that I cropped the image significantly to get the composition I wanted.

Eight-Point In Oats: Panasonic GH 3-Canon 500mm F4 I-ISO 400 1/60 sec. f?
Soon the oats were at their peak, and whitetail sightings increased dramatically, but this was not to last, as the farmer finished cutting the barley and wheat in the area and it seemed likely this field was  next on the agenda when I arrived before dawn one morning to find the combine and baling equipment parked in a staging area convenient to the field.  That morning yielded some good video clips, but no good still opportunities.

I was certain the oats would be cut on the next morning, but decided to go there anyway as deer would still likely be found in the stubble at dawn. I parked my Bronco and walked through the staging area on the way to my stand at the edge of the oats field. The large tractors and combine looked like  prehistoric monsters as I passed by them in the faint light of early dawn.   To my amazement they had not been moved since my last trip and it turned out that the field was not yet cut. This morning was simply amazing.  I am not sure how many bucks I saw, as some moved across the field rapidly and at a distance, but there were several rack bucks.  Counting spikes and four points there had to be 10-12 bucks in the field that morning.  Soon most of the deer had left the field, and the first rays of the sun were touching the highest part of the field when a nice buck walked into the field almost 400 yards away, soon to be followed by another.  The action broke my way this time and the bucks came across the grass to the oats strip and  began feeding.  The only problem was that they were still 200 yards away.  This is great for video, but is a bit far for good still photos.  I already had the 1.4X extender mounted on the 500mm, so I shifted the GH3 to still mode, and took several frames of each buck.

Wide 7 Point: Panasonic GH 3-Canon 500mm F4 I-ISO 200 1/60 sec. f ?

High-Narrow 7 Point: Panasonic GH 3-Canon 500mm F4 I-ISO 200 1/60 sec. f ?
As it turned out, the combination of the 500mmf4 and 1.4x extender on the GH3 did a very creditable job of capturing the bucks, This was the last morning to film and photograph the bucks before the oats was cut.  On the following morning it was a stubble field with windrows of straw running through it. There were still a lot of deer  for a short time after day break, but the light was flat as the sky was milky from an approaching front, and none of the bucks got in position for still photographs, although I did a lot of video filming.

These bucks were not as large as the best Shenandoah National Park has to offer but they were 148 miles closer to home and best of all they did not have the horrible collars that have been inflicted on many of the Shenandoah deer since last summer.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.