Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Anatomy of the perfect sneak

The start of the game

Now it is seldom that you will see the words “anatomy”, “perfect” and “Frank Ritcey” in the same sentence but this is that rare occasion when they do actually belong together. Of course it is not my anatomy I am referring to but the anatomy of the sneak that I recently pulled on a small herd of normally pretty astute mule deer.

I was off on one of my hikes through Kenna Cartwright Park when I noticed what I took to be a doe and a fawn at some 400 meters distance. I didn’t think I could, or would even try to, get close to them. As I worked my way down the trail however, I spotted a third and then fourth and fifth deer and knew that this would be a good challenge for me.

When you’re out taking pictures it is a lot harder than just hunting. Even a poor shot like I can be relatively effective at distances out to 200 meters. But, even with a great big lens and a doubler, a photographer needs to be within fifty meters to start getting decent shots.

So I first assessed the situation and planned a route that would bring me within 50 meters of the deer and to do so in such a way as to not spook them. Pictures of deer bounding away I have enough of.

The deer were high on a knoll and could see me already and had pretty much 280 degrees of vision given their present position. The wind was blowing from the south and precluded a direct approach even if one could get under their line of sight.

I tried one of the oldest tricks in the book and that was to walk away from the deer, all who were watching me intently, and to then duck in behind a knoll and out of their sight. By walking away from the herd I was attempting to put them at ease and to lower their level of preparedness for flight. Sort of like getting your adversary to go to an orange alert from a red alert.

I then hiked a good distance to the east to insure that the wind that was blowing up towards the deer would not carry my scent towards them. After an hour of hiking, my scent can probably be picked up by most animals (and many plants) and extra caution is warranted.

Safely to the east I then picked my way up through a small draw and got directly behind where I thought the animals to be. Approaching the ridge I would pause every three or four steps. By pausing while you are walking, if the deer hear you, they may attribute the sound to just another deer approaching. Humans are one of the few animals that will walk without pausing and when an animal hears a steady footfall they vacate an area quickly.

After about thirty five minutes of this circuitous sneak I nervously poked my head over the ridge. There, about three meters away, was a wide eyed doe looking directly at me! She almost looked embarrassed for having such a large awkward beast get so close to her and her young. I quickly withdrew, gave a couple of reassuring bleats (like those of a lost fawn) and got my camera ready.

Poking my head back over the ridge I could see all five deer and managed to get some decent shots. As I was careful not to appear threatening in any way – slow deliberate movements and averted eyes – the deer continued to feed, albeit nervously, and then they eventually got wind of me and decided it was time to leave.

The resultant two and a half minutes of deer video was well worth the effort and was so much fun I think I’ll try it again. I'll post the deer video sometime in the next week, 'til then, keep your cinch tight.


  1. One of your best videos Frank. Would love to see more technique films like this one

  2. thanks Peter - the biggest technique is to make sure you have dumb deer! or at least deer that live close to a city.


Please feel free to leave a comment. Ever since old Rebel rolled on me and I've been strapped to this old hospital bed I've enjoyed whatever posts come my way.