Bowhunting is a sport that graciously gifts it’s hunters with a wide range of emotions. Many hunters describe a bow season as a rollercoaster ride. With as many ups and downs every bowhunter is sure to experience; I’d say that’s a fair assessment. When we’re finally blessed with a shot opportunity, some hunters are calm, cool, and collected while others nearly fall out of the tree from shaking so much. Those who have never experienced it wouldn’t understand.
There is a lot more to taking a quality picture of your trophy than you might think.
However, recovering a downed deer simply creates a feeling that cannot be described with words.
As hunters, we wish we could get that feeling back. I know I’d personally give up a lot to be able to revisit how I feel when I first spot antlers sticking up through the grass, or see a white belly contrasted against a brown forest floor. Unfortunately, though, we cannot. We can, however, preserve those memories through harvest pictures; and I’m talking about just a couple lazily snapped shots before you throw the buck in the back of your truck. I’m talking about the kind of images that stir the emotions of the hunt and immediately take you back to that fateful day. Here’s a “how to” guide to taking the perfect harvest photo once you’ve recovered your deer.
Respect the Animal
Chances are you worked incredibly hard to harvest that deer with your bow. Chances are, you want to share this deer with your buddies on Facebook, twitter, or maybe just a 4×6 printed copy; (yes, people still do that believe it or not). Before taking any trophy shots with you and your deer, do your best to clean up the animal. It makes for a better photo, and gives the animal the respect it deserves having given its life for the moment.
Bowhunters like blood, and lots of it. We rely on our broadheads to deliver devastating blood trails that help us recover our game more quickly. However, a bloodied deer makes for a tasteless harvest photo.
To remedy this problem, I always carry a bottle of water and some old rags. A properly shot deer will usually bleed from the mouth and nose, sometimes profusely. No rocket science here, just use your water and rags to remove the blood and restore the bright whiteness of a deer’s chin. Also, if your deer died with its tongue exposed, put it back in. If it doesn’t want to go back in, or its jaw is locked shut, then you may have to cut the tongue out. It will make for a much better picture in the long run. Once your deer has been cleaned and prepped for the photo, it’s time to position it for the shot. My personal favorite position is what I call the “bedded position.” Simply tuck the deer’s legs up under its body to give it a more natural look.
Cleaning your trophy PRIOR to taking pictures makes for a better photo and shows respect for the animal. Remember, not everyone who looks at your photo may enjoy seeing blood despite the fact that it is part of the hunting process.
Further, I like to have the hunter positioned as far behind the deer as possible and, if it’s a buck, have the hunter hold the buck’s rack as far away from their own body as possible. It’s not secret as to why hunters do this. This really accentuates the buck’s size and it makes the deer look bigger. Also, I think the deer should be the focal point of the photo anyway.Finally, position the camera / cameraman at eye level with the deer or slightly below if possible. Again, this increases the deer’s size, is more natural looking, and just makes for an overall better photograph.
Tell a Better Story
Nothing infuriates me more than seeing a mature buck thrown up in the bed of a pickup truck with the successful hunter straddling over the deer with a cheesy grin and thumbs up. Sure, I am happy for the hunter, but such pictures reflect poorly on the hunting community, and I believe it’s disrespectful to the animal.
When positioning your deer for the photo, using the foreground and background to help share with other’s the story you and your harvested deer shared. I’m usually not a big fan of props in harvest photos, but if you have sheds of the buck from previous years, include them in the picture. It gives the photo depth. If you hunted out of a climber when you arrowed your trophy, leave it strapped on your back or tastefully position it in the photo.
Also, let Mother Nature do her part as well. You and your buck shared the same woods when you harvested him, so if possible, position your deer in an area that lets viewers know where you shot the buck, without knowing where you shot it. For example, if you arrowed a giant corn-fed buck in the Midwest, a harvest photo in a corn field might be a good idea. If you shot him deep in the mountains, let the intimidating hills and ravines do their part in the photo if possible.
Try to take a picture of your trophy in the conditions it was killed. A photo in the back yard leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the location of the hunt and all the visual imagery that was experienced. The above photos are two perfect examples of capturing the conditions of the hunt.
One of the first photos that should be taken with a downed animal is one with the hunter smiling ear to ear. It’s the photos people look forward to the most and it reveals the hunters genuine excitement. However, once those shots have been captured, get creative with the hunter’s pose. You can have the hunter look down at the buck’s rack to depict a feeling of respect and admiration. The hunter kneeling over the buck shows thankfulness and an appreciative hunter. These aren’t rules, just ideas. Everyone’s got their own creative mindset; harvest photos are a great chance to express it!
Utilize Good Light
Unfortunately, most of the deer we harvest don’t coincide with ideal photo opportunities. If we shoot them early in the morning, we’re left to combat harsh, direct midday sunlight. If we shot them right before dark, then, well, it’s dark. To remedy this problem, you can use reflectors, an attachable flash, or your camera’s built in flash. However, my favorite tool is patience. Sometimes, you just have to wait until the right time of day for high quality photos. This is usually right at dusk.
Sunlight can be a curse or a blessing depending on how it is used in a photo. Be smart and use it to your advantage.
This past year my brother shot the biggest buck ever off of my family’s property; a beautiful 150” 15 point. He shot him early in the morning, but by the time we had recovered the buck, got him out of the woods (high quality shots in the woods during the day are difficult to achieve because of the long and harsh shadows) and cleaned up the sun was hot and high in the sky. Temperatures rose to the middle 60s that day. We decided to go ahead and field dress him to preserve the meat, and we spent the rest keeping him in the shade, and shoving bags of ice in his chest cavity to keep him cool so we could take photos at sunset. It made for a long, hot day, and we all sacrificed an afternoon of hunting, but it was worth it. We came away with beautiful shots of a great buck.
We as bowhunters put in a lot of time, effort, and energy trying to catch up with a mature deer, but when we do, boy, is it worth it. Coincidentally, it takes a little extra time, effort and energy to capture a beautiful harvest photo, but when you do, it is definitely worth it. I hope you consider some of the above tips and suggestions for taking your harvest photos this fall. These are by no means “rules and regulations”. Rather, they are just a little nudge in the right direction. Swallow your pride, be creative and I guarantee you’ll come away with some photos that will serve justice to the animal, and be the envy of all your hunting buddies!