Those who spend time in the outdoors have the amazing ability to forge a strong connection with nature. We all have a favorite animal moment. This is mine.
As an outdoor writer and wildlife photographer, I log a lot of miles in the outdoors each season.
My true passion is that of whitetail deer, and documenting the fall rut – through images, film, and trail camera footage – is both a labor of love as well as one of work.
I am fortunate to reside close to a network of green space, all of which are accessible to the public, yet off-limits to hunting. For a wildlife photographer, this is the ultimate, as being able to interact with whitetail deer in their natural and wild environment, without the pressure of hunting to make them skittish, will often allow a more up-close and personal experience.
I first crossed paths with ‘Old Buck’ on November 12, 2013. The rut was in full swing that day, and as I hiked through one of my favorite areas, there he was – rubbing up a storm on a downed tree.
A doe was bedded down approximately 40 feet to his right, and I was fairly certain this smart fella was simply showing off. I quickly switched over to video to capture this behavior.
His ‘feat of strength’ at the 2:18 mark gives some insight into how powerful the swollen necks of these bucks are during the height of the rut.
This buck was definitely the king of the woods. He had some years behind him, and I am sure the experiences to go with them. His rack was one to marvel at – more upwards as opposed to wide – with thick main beams and impressive brow tines.
One unique identifier I noticed was the chunk missing out of his right ear. An old battle scar perhaps? It has always left me wondering.
‘Old Buck’ was a gentle and curious soul. Although I have been fortunate over the years to get very close to whitetail deer while photographing them, this was the first buck that seemed to actually encourage it. He would often bed down, allowing me to sit less than twenty feet from him. The minutes would pass as we would both eat our lunch – him his cud and myself a sandwich.
One of his favorite spots to bed was near an old shell of an antique car, left to lay in the middle of the woods more than half a century ago.
That week I spent most days with ‘Old Buck.’ I would watch him chase down does, work his rub and scrape line, and feed and bed. He would actually work two separate areas – which were divided by a busy road – and I would often wonder if that would be how he would meet his demise.
November 21, 2013 would be the last day I would see him. I searched high and low over the next few weeks, but he was nowhere to be found. This is the last image I shot of what had now become my new favorite buck.
The following year was a productive one for finding and photographing whitetail deer. But, for the hundreds of miles I covered on foot, I never did see ‘Old Buck’ again. A few scenarios I considered were that he had moved on to a new location, met an untimely death by vehicle, or had simply passed away from old age. I was confident I would never know the true answer.
We are now at the tail end of the 2015 season. I have been fortunate to cross paths with many new bucks, and a handful from last year. Of course, my hope was I would see my old friend once again.
And then it happened. While reviewing trail camera footage from December 13, a mature buck entered the frame and I instantly knew. There was the tell-tale chunk of ear missing; that impressive rack still reaching sky high.
And what a grand entrance he made.
Whitetail bucks get me excited. This took the cake. He definitely appears a little past his prime now – his gait slower, his body more frail. But he is a survivor and he has most certainly earned it.
I have spent the days since searching for him but have come up empty handed. Sure enough, however, he showed up on the trail camera four days later.
It actually looks like he added some weight in that one, which is great news.
Here’s to you, ‘Old Buck.’ Thanks for all the great memories.
Photos by Justin Hoffman