Sponsored by: Dead Down Wind & The Archery Hall of Fame

By: M.R.James

HOW MANY DEER LIVE IN GARAGES or the back of pickup trucks? Ever seen just one? I sure haven’t! But if I had a dollar for every photo I’ve viewed of hunters posing with a big buck strung up from garage rafters or sprawled across a truck’s tailgate, I’d have enough cash to go on an all-expense-paid Alaskan Dall’s sheep hunt and treat my favorite hunting buddies to that once-in-a-lifetime shared adventure.

Remembering when I sat behind the Bowhunter magazine editor’s desk for 30-plus years, I can’t count the times I’d cringe seeing such field photos crop up in my daily mail. And it was sad, really. Here was a proud bowhunter, hoping to share his success by having a
picture printed in my magazine and I had to reject the photo as unpublishable. It had to sting!

This sunny day P&Y Saskatchewan bruin was posed along a shaded river bank not far from where he fell. Tight cropping puts the spotlight on the author and his bear, while showing typical far northern Canada terrain including woods and water.

Compounding the problem were thoughtless hunters who sat astraddle of their buck or stood beside a field dressed deer split from throat to tail with the gaping red incision in full view. A few mindless clods even held a celebratory beer can in one hand and had a cigarette dangling from grinning lips. Nice! Just the kind of image we want to present to the nonhunting public and antihunting critics on the lookout for ways to paint us as bloodthirsty slobs who don’t care about the animals we hunt and tag.

Big animals are usually photographed where they fall. Regardless, a bit of preparation and planning can result in a memorable field photo that any hunter would be proud to share.

Take it from me, guys and gals, there’s a better way to preserve your hunting memories. Here are a few tips to help anyone capture memorable images sure to please cranky editors and anyone else who sees your photographs. Remember, today’s compact digital cameras make it easy to quickly click a series of posed pictures and instantly see the results. Whether you plan to add a photo to the family album, share it with hunting pals or a nationwide on-line or print medium audience, there’s no excuse for not getting high quality photos.

My teenage hunting partner, Cody Van Winkle, arrowed his first whitetail buck on our Indiana farm in November of 2010. This field photo appeared in Bowhunter magazine and will document the special occasion for the young hunter's lifetime.

  • First and foremost, never pose your animal hanging from its neck or propped up in the back of a pickup. At the very least, find a bit of grass with a bush or trees and use this natural setting as a backdrop to your trophy. Eliminate all houses, buildings, and vehicles whenever possible. Treat that trophy with the respect it deserves!
  • Clean all blood from the animal’s mouth and nose (water or a soda works well). Be sure the tongue is not dangling from the animal’s mouth (cut and discard or push it back between the lips). Roll the deer onto its stomach and fold the front legs under. Clear away any distracting weeds or small limbs. Kneel beside or behind the shoulder. Prop your bow in view, preferably with the bright-colored fletching showing. If necessary, use the bow to cover any gaping entrance or exit wound.
  • Tell the photographer to get down and get close, holding a camera lens level with an animal’s eyes or nose. Use the viewfinder or through-the-lens image to crop tightly, showing just the scene you want displayed. Shoot multiple photos, turning the animal’s head slightly to show off the antlers. Snap several shots of the skylined rack, if the terrain permits. Check the images to be sure the tines are clearly evident and not lost within any background clutter. If you have a camera with a self-timer, you can pose and take the photos yourself. Some savvy hunters always carry a small, folding tripod in their daypack for just such occasions.
  • Bright sunlight creates harsh shadows. Always use a fill-flash to erase shadows on a hunter’s eyes and face. If possible, drag the carcass into a shady area before your photo session. Avoid sun-splotched, partly shaded areas. Cloudy and overcast days are great for capturing good pictures.
  • Take more photos than you believe is necessary … and then snap a few more. No one who cares about getting good photographic results ever complains about having too many pictures from which to choose. And even if you don’t really care about ever having a photo published or posted, be sure to preserve the moment. Someday one or more family members will wish they had a picture of ol’ dad or mom or a grandparent with that buck they tagged way back in 2011.  Guaranteed!

This wide-racked Texas whitetail was posed to show some typical brush country, big deer habitat. It illustrated one of the author's features in Bowhunter.

Nope, I’m not a professional photographer. But I’ve had hundreds of field photos published in books and magazines since the 1960s. Additionally, I’ve rendered editorial judgment on thousands of other photos published in Bowhunter magazine. So I know the difference between a photo to be proud of and one that should be dropped in the circular file. With practice and a bit of common sense, you will too.

Good hunting and good shooting!