Deer Inspiration

As normally (and unfortunately) happens at Great Sand Dunes National Park, the mule deer meander through the campground looking for sloppy campers who’ve left food out that they can steal.  While it’s cool to see these creatures wandering through each day, it’s sad because they have gotten so used to people that some are a little too tame.  All that said, it doesn’t stop me from carefully taking advantage of the situation for photography reasons.

Every day during our stay, the deer came through the camp around dinner time like clockwork.  I’m not sure what the various campsite “neighbors” had left in their fire ring, but the deer loved it for some reason and kept coming back.  And they didn’t just wander through – they hung out for 30-60 minutes each night until they naturally strolled off or something scared them.

The lighting conditions that time of day were mixed, but I did have enough low-hanging tree branches to act as a blind so I was able to get some shots as they came through the campsite next door and wound their way through the grassy fields on their way to start their evening of grazing and bouncing through the sand.  (Look closely each morning when you walk on the Dunes and you’ll see their tracks all over the place, especially down by the water.)

Of the 800+ images I took during our trip, probably 500 were rapid-fire shots of these deer to see if I could get anything good.  I ditched he vast majority of those deer shots during post-processing because, really, how many shots of mule deer can one girl keep?!  But there were a couple that stood out and caught my eye as I flipped through them for a very particular reason.

Because my first pass at picture sorting is done so quickly to weed out the good & decent from the bad & horrible shots, it can be like watching a stop-action movie when I get to sequences of high-speed shooting.  When I reached the various series of deer pictures, I stumbled on a few shots that I thought would make amusing GIFs.  I’d never made a GIF before from scratch, so I tried my hand at it and I think I came up with a couple of short & cute ones…

Mule Deer Attitude

Mule Deer Flirt

For whatever reason, I always like to think that animals are smarter and have more attitude than most would give them credit for.  I think these 2 GIFs capture that sentiment perfectly!

– JC

He Who Is Amused By Humans

About 10 years ago on a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park, I finally had my first “big girl” camera with a long zoom lens.  Each morning of that trip, I kept trying desperately to get some shots of the mule deer as they moved from the grasses up to the hills to hang for the day.  I got pretty crazed with it (but never to the point of truly harassing and worrying the deer like so many visitors do – I made sure to keep a very respectable distance).  It was during that trip that my husband jokingly “christened” me with my Native American name:  She Who Pesters Mule Deer.

The years have passed and the urge to catch shots of deer as they graze has subsided, probably because now we live in Colorado and mule deer have replaced white-tailed deer as the ones we just see while we’re out and about town each day.  During this last trip to the Dunes tough, the urge to take deer pictures was rekindled by an unexpected and highly cooperative visitor to our campsite one afternoon.

After a day of hiking, we were relaxing at our campsite catching up on some reading when we looked up from our books and bam!  A young buck was grazing nonchalantly 20 feet from us!  I wanted pictures so badly, but the camera wasn’t within reach and I didn’t want to spook the guy.  So instead I just sat back and watched as he munched his way past our campsite, hopped a section of split rail fence with ease, and bedded down in the shade just across from our home base.

Now was my chance… grab the camera!!  I slowly and carefully freed my camera from the car and got my long lens on so I could fill the frame as much as possible even though he was close by.  I checked back to our new friend and yup – he’s still there.  I crept over, maintaining a healthy buffer, got in position, and started firing off shots.  Of course, nature doesn’t always cooperate, and this afternoon was no different. The buck bedded down square in the shade (I can’t really blame him for that!), but I did squeeze off a few good shots in spite of that.  This one is my favorite of that series:


This deer was particularly chill.  Maybe he was too young to know any better or he’s just gotten that used to campers already.  He hung out for at least an hour in that shady patch, hidden among the bushes, munching on grass as he felt like it.  Seemed like a good time to let him be and tend to my own dinner.

I went back across to our campsite, made dinner, ate dinner, and by the time we were done, he was still there hanging out.  Not one to let this opportunity go by, I went back and started shooting again and he decided he needed to stretch his legs.  Even better for me was that he meandered over into to some of the golden sunlight of the late afternoon hour.  The cherry on top was that he started getting sassy and posing for me.

Sassy Diner

Finally it was time for him to move on with his night, and me with mine.  With one last glance in the brilliant sunlight, we said our goodbyes until next time.



– JC