Mule Deer Fawns

I barely believed my luck when this scene unfolded in plain view! What a vacation, relaxing, breathing fresh mountain air surrounded by nature and wildlife. Camping offers many benefits, and two of my favourites are enjoying wildlife in their natural surroundings and taking photos.

Mule deer frequented this area, and what a joy to watch the adults going about their day. Aware of calving season, this always meant being on the lookout, staying a respectful distance away as both visitors and wildlife share the park.

On this day, I wasn't thinking about a photo opportunity. Having witnessed stressed out mule deer charging at people passing only a few feet away with their dogs, I wanted no part of it. Warning signs and closed walking trail signs did little to deter some folks. It was frustrating to see and just as frustrating for the park staff who patrolled regularly.

I decided a better idea is to chill with a cup of tea and be entertained by the Columbian ground squirrels munching on dandelions and chasing each other around the campsites. Shortly afterward, I noticed a mule deer meandering across a nearby green space, checking the surroundings.

Deciding it was safe, the deer stopped, and quite unexpectedly, a beautiful little fawn emerged from the long grass. I held my breath. What a moment, but wait, there's more! A few minutes later, the grass parted again, and a second fawn appears, oh my!

What to do?! Do I sit still or give in to the photographer in me, yelling, "hurry, get your camera? What a once in a lifetime moment!" I discover it is possible to "hurry slowly" as I head for my gear. Now it's decision time. How to do this and where to position me to ensure the family feels unthreatened.

I've already decided to leave the tripod inside, choosing to "compact" myself as much as possible. Posing no threat is the top priority. The weight of my camera with a 150-600mm lens is challenging, but a big beautiful tree helps in more ways than one. Bracing myself and the camera against the trunk to hold things steady, I can also partially hide behind it while seeing well enough for photos.

Watching the fawns nurse, play, and explore their surroundings was incredibly special. Throughout the photo-shoot, I remained over 30 metres away, the recommended minimum distance, which is why a telephoto lens is so critical.

For other wildlife, the minimum recommended distance is:

  • One hundred metres from bears always.
  • Two hundred metres from dens of coyote, fox, wolf, etc.

Thirty metres is generally felt to be a safe distance from other animals but watch out as mothers especially can charge you at any time! For elk in rut, make sure you are far away and in a safe space. They stop at nothing if they feel threatened.

Finally, if you cause an animal to move, you are too close.

Note: Why did I set my ISO to 3200 when the higher the ISO, the more picture quality is affected? The higher ISO increases the light sensitivity on the image sensor, allowing for faster shutter speed. Because I'm hand-holding approximately six pounds of weight, with a fully extended lens is, it's challenging to hold steady. The faster I can make my shutter speed, the better my chances of taking good pictures without the blur caused by camera shake.

For this photo, I would have preferred closer to 1/500 to 1/2000 because of hand-holding. However, increasing my ISO to obtain this speed would cause too much digital noise (grainy looking) for my liking.

  • Nikon D750: f/6.3 1/640 ISO 3200
  • Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens
  • Hand-held