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Thirteen point trophy buck
Thirteen point trophy buck

A trophy buck ~ through the years

The beauty of an Autumn snow
The beauty of an Autumn snow

While hunting with my son Scott, on his first hunt, upon returning to the car after a fruitless walk in the woods during a beautiful snow, I asked Scott, did you notice how beautiful it was up there today? Scott replied yes. I went on to explain that one of the great things about hunting is how it takes to all kinds of beautiful but obscure places that you wouldn’t have any reason to see unless you were hunting.  I went on and elaborated “Even without killing anything hunting can bring a lot of beauty into your life”.   Scott replied, “That was an interesting way to put it Dad!”

Thirty+ years ago I traded the security of metropolis for the ambience of the wilderness when I transplanted myself from California to Jackson Hole Wyoming, a stunning landscape to pursue photography.

Although I was thirty-three years old I had never hunted as I had grown up without a dad and to a mother who abhorred guns, gun rights, hunting etc.  Regardless I still gravitated to the outdoors and wilderness on my own.

Daryl Hunter in hunting camp 1987
Me in hunting camp 1987

Coming out of high school during the waning days of the flower power movement the hippy movement had an impact on me although I didn’t want to be one of them.  At twenty-one, I moved to the wilderness of Alaska and got in the pipeline heyday and it was a blast and although I was surrounded by hunters and had nothing against hunting I never took it up. I figured as long as I could afford store bought meat, I’d rather photograph wildlife than shoot it.

Upon moving to Jackson Hole my first rental was a cabin on a guest ranch, the owners were also were hunting outfitters. Hunting was both the hobby and vocation of my new friends on the ranch. I learned that by me not hunting didn’t save an animal's life because the herds of elk, deer, and moose were managed to stay at a sustainable level so if I don’t shoot one someone else will.  I reasoned the meat just as well ought to be in my freezer as someone else’s.

Daryl Hunter in hunting camp 1987
Me in hunting camp 1987

I became an avid hunter although a crappy one.  I was really surprised to see something come alive in me that I didn’t know was there. As I moved through the woods being as quite as I could be, watching with more intent than I ever had, listening closer than my teachers from school ever thought possible, I had done my best to become part of the woods – a predator.  Surprise, surprise I found out I had a latent instinct lying dormant in my soul and I was thrilled it had awakened I was amazed that someone like me with no exposure to hunting could so easily have the primeval extinct so thoroughly come to the fore. I had also become a fly-fishing guide, we practice catch and release, this keeps our fishery one of the best trout fisheries in the United States. I prefer the thrill of catching the trout and keeping the fishery good than eating a trout I could buy for five dollars at the store.

As mentioned earlier, although I liked hunting, I wasn’t very good at it, I stuck to elk hunting as they were abundant and an elk hunt got my hunting itch scratched and filled the freezer. I still was first and foremost a photographer that loved wildlife photography.

My Cover on Mule Deer Foundation Mag
My Cover on Mule Deer Foundation Mag

A hunt is a hunt whether you will hunt an animal for harvest or photograph it, or to catch it only to release into the river. You seek it out, stalk it, and either shoot it, catch it, or click the shutter. Either way you hope to get either food for your freezer, the thrill of the catch, or a cover of a magazine.

Fall in Jackson Hole and Yellowstone is a goldmine for hunting no mater the apparatus of choice. The region is resplendent with many regal antlered creatures, elk are the obvious but Mule Deer are my favorite to photograph.

My skill with a camera exceeding my skill with a rifle had me scouring the National Parks and forests for these elusive trophies. Trophy mule deer are as rare in national parks as they are in the national forests, but they can be found. When lucky enough to find them though they don’t flee over the mountain or into the woods with the enthusiasm they do when they are outside a park. Living on the ranch I learned how difficult it is to bag a trophy mule deer and how much they are prized. I understand because some of my favorite trophies are in my Mule Deer photo portfolio.

In October and November, it isn’t difficult to find nice bucks to photograph and even a big four point makes a nice photograph and now and then I find a big one.

Wyoming Trophy Buck
Trophy buck year one.

In 2010 I had the opportunity to photograph an impressive buck and was quite happy with myself upon making his acquaintance. Although he was an excellent buck with an impressive non-typical rack, he wasn’t the one I was trying to find. The previous year I had photographed an impressive buck with a wide rack and a cool looking drop tine. In August I again saw him sporting a velvety rack of impressive proportions, he had turned into a monster and he truly was my goal but no mater how much I hunted for him it wasn’t to be. I spent days searching a twenty-mile stretch of his migration path hoping to turn him, but I struck out.

In October of 2011 I was revisiting my mule deer haunts hoping to turn up either of the bucks from the previous year as I figured either one would be good photo fodder this year. I found the nice non-typical buck from the previous year, but he wouldn't put up with my presence on this encounter. He was no longer just a nice buck, he was now a trophy buck.  This wet my appetite for more. I doubled up on my camo outfit adding a face mask and a head net so I could be readier for a stalk if I got lucky again.

Trophy Mule Deer Buck
Year two

After repeated reconnaissances I jumped him again, slowly, ever so slowly I approached, the buck was curious but not alarmed about the moving realtree and open country camo ensemble I was sporting and I was hoping I appeared to be a sagebrush poking along like a slow motion tumbleweed, the buck was unconcerned. I got to within about forty yards and called it good, it was a good range for my 500mm so I worked him till he decided it was time for a nap. I stuck with him for another three hours hoping he would stand as I had repositioned for some perfect mid morning back lighting, but evidently he had had enough photography for one day. I never found him again that year. A photographer friend of mine named this beautiful buck the Baron, It sounded good to me.

In July of 2012 I got some great news when I heard the Baron had made it through another winter, I knew where I would be as soon as late September arrived. With the arrival of Autumn my priorities were divided between the elk rut, the moose rut, and fall colors but I was still checking often for the Baron. After multiple strikeouts I finally found him.

Nap time, it takes a lot of rest to hole that trophy head high
Nap time, it takes a lot of rest to hole that trophy head high.

Bigger and grander than the previous year just as I had hoped his rack seemed to be an additional four inches wider, his drop tines and kicker points, were both longer and more numerous, a huge smile grew upon my face that must have extended beyond my ears. Like before, I put on the sneak, I ran into a creek that required a better crossing so I had to make a small detour. After circumventing the creek I lost track of the buck but it was open country and I was sure he was there somewhere.  After much poking around and searching the sage I spied what was either a very large dead sage bush or a snoozing buck, it was the buck.  I approached to where I was likely to watch him cutting zzzs for several hours then waited, damn it, I again I forgot my ultra light three legged stool. After a couple of hours he got up turned around, then laid back down to finish his midday snooze. Well I got a good shot I figured I’d let him nap then return in the late afternoon, and hopefully he would still be there.

Upon my return he was up and grazing, he saw me but let me approach, I got a few shots when he laid down for another snooze. This time he wasn’t down for long as it was time to eat but every 20 or thirty minutes he would lie down again. I had to believe that his neck would tire from holding up the huge rack which also leads me to believe that this will be as big as he gets.

Huge Mule Deer Buck
Year three

Three seasons having the opportunity to photograph an animal as grand as the Baron made me a very lucky hunter/photographer.  It was wonderful finding this big buck, finding him again the following year seeing how he had grown into a trophy, then again as a massive monster buck.

With the advent of digital photography I no longer have to ration my film budget and all photography costs me is gasoline, so I do exponentially more of it.  I hunt photos of trophy game solid year around. My instinct to hunt gets satiated regularly without even picking up a rifle. Except for when I take the kids out to hunt most of my hunting is done today with a camera.

As a hunter I would have loved to have the Baron’s head on my wall at any of the stages I had photographed him. Now that I am older and the meat cart is heavier I prefer the capture and release method of hunting Mule Deer Bucks with the camera. My three years of photographing the Baron certainly has provided me with more trophies than had I hung him upon the wall as a taxidermy mount in 2010.

I know, I know, hunting has an important roll in game management, habitat protection, and the hunting community is a powerful advocacy for our second amendment and my work purchased by the Mule Deer Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other hunting magazines and organizations have facilitated that. That said I hope the Baron keeps his head this year so I can again photograph this magnificent animal again as I have become quite attached to him, we need tremendous living bucks for magazine covers also. My environmentalist friends; like it or not, hunters are tremendous advocates and funders of habitat preservation.

Addendum: After writing this the Baron died from a broken leg and Grand Teton Park has him on display somewhere.



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