I’m reminded of the story of the bank robber, Willie Sutton in the 1920’s and 30’s. When asked why he robbed banks, as he was usually caught and spent half his adult life in prison, supposedly said, “because that’s where the money is.” He also said that he robbed banks because he enjoyed it. He loved it. He was more alive when he was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in his life. Likewise, I drive this short road at the base of Casper Mountain because that’s were the Mule Deer are. I enjoy photographing them, and I feel very alive at photography moments. I’m hopeful for pictures of large bucks just waiting to be on the cover of Field Stream magazine portrayed as Superman type bucks.
Early February is a great time to be on this “road to somewhere” (see previous story). There were several inches of fresh bluish-tinged snow from the day before. The tint came from clouds casting their color. I knew I would need to overexpose by a stop or two or fix the photos in Photoshop if I expected the snow to appear white like most think it should look. I wish I had a dollar for every bluish-tinged snow picture I have taken before I learned this little lesson. I could probably buy myself a new lens.
The pavement was a dark grey almost black asphalt with a white dashed line dividing it and a yellow no passing line on my side. The snowplow had been by and shoved snow high along the periphery of the road. The cold, wet stuff was mounded deep enough that I didn’t want to drive into it for fear I’d find myself stuck. After all, I wasn’t driving a snowmobile. even though I sometimes drove like that’s what I had.
Sometimes my brain digresses and wanders off imagining “what if’s”. Right now a “what if” crossed my mind of pulling into a pile of snow so I’d be out of the roadway. What if I found myself high centered and the SUV’s wheels spinning and going nowhere? I think this was actually a vision from past times of really being stuck in the snow. As in the past I remembered digging myself out and being cold and miserable doing that. If I found myself stuck, I had a short, red handled shovel which I carried to dig out…. Ummmm, my shovel is still in the back of the SUV where I stored it, isn’t it? I don’t recall seeing it for some time. I tell myself, “stay out of that fresh plowed snow. You don’t want to crawl around digging through that frigid, wet stuff.” I pull off where the plow had pushed the snow a little further back.
It was probably in the 30’s, warmish for this time of year, which caused the plowed part of the road to be mostly clear with patches of slushy ice and steam rising from it. At least it wasn’t 20 below and the tires hadn’t frozen square this morning. I felt a slight breeze and there was some chill but not cold enough to freeze snot to my upper lip from my runny nose. I mention this slight breeze with trepidation because we Wyomingites know that if you say out loud that the wind isn’t blowing badly, it hears you and starts roaring. If you’ve ever felt the bite of Wyoming’s hurricane like, bone-chilling, Arctic wind, you’ll understand why we don’t speak of it when it’s not blowing. No reason to tempt a torrid, hypothermic, cyclonic, speedy gale to come up and ruin the day.
Winter had been progressing for several months in this high plains area of central Wyoming, and it still had a few months to go. The vegetation was bare. Dead looking scrubs clustered together in bunches against the snow. They were waiting for a distant Spring but now each created their own wind chiseled drift. The snows had come. The wind had blown. Snow drifts had been sculpted. They really can be beautiful if a person isn’t trudging through them on foot. They were especially pretty today. Each little drift piled deeply next to dried stalks of last Summer’s grass, other bare brush, and fence posts or trees. Each drift’s tail stringing away and becoming narrower. The light dancing off every undulating drift showing different contours and colors.
Deer were standing and feeding in the snow off in the distance finding what shrubs and burnished gold grasses protruded. I could see a lighter sky towards town but still mostly cloud covered with just a hint of blue trying to appear. A reddish splash of color was appearing on the snow covered distant hills as the sun was moving lower and some rays of light were barely peeping through.
Not far from the edge of the pavement where I had pulled over, I checked out a couple of Mule Deer. I could see why they were called Mule Deer with those giant muley ears which constantly moved independently. They had a dark V-shaped mark extending from between the eyes upward and laterally which is more conspicuous in males. Their white muzzles accenting their dark mostly black, shiny noses. I jumped out of my vehicle as my camera, hanging from its strap around my neck, banged against my chest. Fortunately, my heavy coat protected me from camera bruises. I began taking my usual not so good pictures but still visualizing magazine covers portraying Superman bucks.
Suddenly a dog spooked the deer from up above. Several bucks, many with large pointy antlers, started quickly streaming down out of a copse of dark green pines where they had been leisurely keeping out of site and spending their time. There were more large bucks than I had ever seen before at one time. Surprisingly, as I rarely get lucky with picture opportunities, many of the bucks came my way, one following the other, their super-sized antlers silhouetted against the snow, each with all four legs hitting the ground together. They bounced and lifted themselves high as they churned through the icy white stuff in my direction.
My thought was, “hey, this is me. Nothing this neat happens to me. Better take advantage of it, but, then again, this is me, so I’ll probably mess it up”.
Those bucks continued flying down the hill, hooves whipping and throwing white snow as they glided my way. Their muscular legs propelled them at incredible speed. Maybe they weren’t traveling as fast as a speeding bullet but their powerful legs, like a locomotive, would not be stopped. They leaped over a log rail fence that wasn’t as tall as a building but was as least as tall as they were. Some would squat bending their hind legs down and launch up and over the fence in one giant Superman leap. I had the the camera on continuous shoot and just let it fire. Some bucks I caught in flight over the fence, most I did not.
After crossing the rail fence, some milled around seemingly ready to settle down. Some bucks even used their hoofs to paw the snow in search of a morsel of food. The air was distinctly scented with the odor of deer as the breeze carried that smell to my olfactory nerves. This was only the calm before the storm.
The dogs from further up the hill by the red-roofed barn began running around the singular human in the corral. They were in a frenzy and barked and played. The bucks, with extremely acute hearing, quickly raised their mighty antlered heads to determine the direction of the playing pups.
Those magnificent deer, faster than a speeding bullet, were off a second time and raced toward the road and the barbed wire fence. Would that string of steel barbs stop them? No! They leaped and flew over the jagged strands with ease in continuous motion as if the three strings of wire weren’t there, more graceful than Superman running hurdles. Pure beauty of flying and none of them needed a cape as they soared. A site to behold.
I had no time to focus and shoot each individual. Fortunately, my camera was still set on the continuous shutter setter. Watching and anticipating the area they were going to jump, I prefocused and used auto exposure. As the first buck came into my viewfinder, I released the shutter button and held it down enjoying not only the bucks but the beautiful sound of the camera shutter firing. I missed a lot those critters as so many were vaulting the fence. I did manage to bumble and stumble my way to a few good pictures but only because the camera kept shooting as long as I held the shutter release. This day I really appreciated camera technology.
I kept shooting until the grand animals had all leaped the fences bordering each side of the road and had run off into the distant pines at the base of Casper Mountain, their white rumps with black, tipped tails waving at me as they disappeared from site leaving only tracks and a faint musky scent.
I stood transfixed in total awe at what I had witnessed. My breath showing as a white fog tasting like clean, clear, ice as the temperature had begun to drop. Never in a million years did I expect to witness such a parade of bucks. But I did!! Willie Sutton might have been right about banks being where the money is. I was right about where the deer are. To say I felt exuberant and excited was belittling those words. Photography in central Wyoming is alive and well. Probably none of the pictures from today will appear on Field and Stream magazine but all to remain in my and my computer’s memory.
Superman be jealous of these bucks running as fast as a speeding camera, being more powerful like a locomotive, able to leap tall fences at a single bound.
Please visit my web site at http://samsherman.imagekind.com/store/Images.aspx/b172e61a-f5e0-48b8-bc34-01507ac764d5/Wildlife for these and other wildlife photographs. Please skip back through the other galleries also.