November 12, 2013

Ethical Hunting & Tips for Taking a Respectful Photo of Your Harvest

Minnesota firearm (whitetail deer) season began in our area this past weekend.  We mainly have archers in our household, (Mitch has hunted solely with a bow for 15+ years now) so rifle season is more of an inconvenience to them than anything - interrupting the many months & work they put into bow season, their surroundings & routine. 

Mason & Eric have been in the bow stand with their dad since they were four years old.  They weren't yet five when they held still enough one evening for a young buck to come within the short distance of bow range, and they participated in their first harvest. 
When it comes to hunting, it's very much their thing with their dad.  So it's special to me that being the family photographer has become my small contribution to the family hunting. 
That small contribution has preserved good memories, and also won them a fair amount in prize money toward archery equipment over the past few years.

After months of time & observation over the summer, heading out into the woods every day after football practice, after school, & weekends all fall, Mason harvested a beautiful buck late Saturday morning.
It was very special to go into the woods with him to capture a photo he can keep forever.
Mason, 15-almost-16 years old, with his 2013 buck, harvested on our own property.
A beauty.  A lot of protein for our family.

It's important to r
emember that hunting is a tradition that has provided food & survival since the beginning of mankind.  And that
hunting is also a right that there are groups fighting to take away from us every day.  It's important to show that it's still being done respectfully, responsibly & with purpose.
Last year during the hunting season, I put my heart into the following post in which I shared candidly about eating wild, ethical hunting, respect for wildlife, and taking respectful photos.  I did so hoping to inspire a deeper thinking that may lead to more respect for wildlife and hunters alike.

(Original Post: 11/4/12)
Hunting season has been in full swing at our house for a couple of months now.  As noted about our family, we have a household of archers, hunters, & gatherers.  We eat wild game almost exclusively as our meat source.  Our children love it & have grown well on it.  There are, on occasion, hunting & fishing photos on this site.

This weekend began northern Minnesota's firearm season on whitetail deer. I have a complicated mix of feelings about this time of year. Growing up in a very rural area & being property owners in one of the most hunted areas in the state, the season has affected me all my life.
As children, my siblings & I had to keep blaze orange in our backpacks so we could wear it up our long driveway when we got off the school bus.  My dad did a good job of putting fear into us as kids.. a respectful fear of the Mississippi water we grew up on, a cautionary fear of falling in ice fishing holes, and a very rational fear of being safe out in the open during hunting season.
Every hunting season there are reports of reckless behavior & trespassing in our part of the state.  The main thing that would prevent those things, the main thing I wish for each hunting season is RESPECT.
Respect for the woods. Respect for property owners & boundaries. And above all - respect for the wildlife that is hunted.

The point in harvesting an animal, in my moral value, is to harvest food for nourishment & sustenance for our family. I don't believe in killing for sport.
I think if you hunt venison, it should be mandatory that you eat venison.
Using the animal for sustenance in the circle of life is the greatest respect you can offer for taking it's life. Wasting it is senseless.
Respect is the key characteristic of a good & ethical hunter.
If you respect the animal you hunt, you will care about treading lightly on it's habitat.  If you have respect for it, you will take responsible, clean shots, as not to wound or cause suffering. (This level of respect & responsibility would also prevent many senseless accidents involving pets, humans, livestock, & property.  Knowing you are making a clean shot would mean knowing what you are shooting at.)
Furthermore, something that I feel strongly about is showing respect for the body of the animal you harvest.  Whitetail deer are beautiful animals.  Be thankful for that creature, and treat it honorably.
In a time of social media, photo texting & endless visual communication.. I shudder at the photos I see during hunting season each year.  They do not give hunting & hunters a good reputation. 
You don't have to be a professional photographer to take a respectful picture.
In hopes to see more respectful photos, and since I live with hunters & have a fair amount of experience in this department, I decided to share some tips. 
These are simple steps that anyone can follow.

1.  Consider the surroundings.  Take a photo in the location the animal was harvested, if possible.  If your deer is recovered after dusk, take a few moments the following day to position it's body in an area free of buildings & obstruction.  We have done this on multiple occasions.  Keep the surroundings as natural as possible. 
We have the fortune of hunting on the property we live, so deer are brought in from the woods by hand or ATV.  I'm aware that in many/most cases, people hunt in locations other than their homes, and vehicles are used to transport animals.  But vehicles are not (should not be) used in the hunting of big game.  Period.  Tailgate photos give off a number of very bad vibes of stereotypes in which I'll refrain from mentioning.  Take the time to remove your deer from any motorized vehicle for a photo.

2.  Position the animal respectfully.
Once your deer is in a nice spot, not on a tailgate, take time to position it naturally.  It feels odd to say, but you want your deer to look as life-like as possible.  I have seen photos of huge, majestic bucks on the ground in a pool of blood doing the splits - all four legs splayed out.  It's completely dishonorable & I find it awful to look at.  That is not a photo worth framing (or sharing.)

3.  Camouflage the chest cavity.  In most, if not all, of the hunting photos I've taken (including the photos of my husband & son in this post), the deer has already been field dressed.  
Position the animal with the cavity tilted down & camouflaged by vegetation or snow. 

4.  Put it's tongue in it's mouth.  If you do no other thing on the list but this, it will still improve your photo's respectability drastically.

5.  Make them look their best.  Use a rag to clean up visible blood, especially around the face.
Yesterday I saw a photo posted to facebook of a hunter with a small deer on a tailgate, who's head looked as if it had been entirely dunked in blood.  I found it repulsive. 
I can easily see how viewing an image like this can taint the view of hunting & "hunters as a whole."
If you're going to take a photo, have the decency to clean it up.
If you made a terrible shot - it may be tasteful not to share a photo.
By simply cleaning up & smoothing the coat, you're able to give a few moment's respect & have time to appreciate the magnificence of these animals. 

6.  Include your bow or gun in the photo.  It helps to tell the story of your hunt. 

7.  Position yourself respectfully.  Never sit on the animal.   

8.  Don't use your camera's flash unless you absolutely have to.  This relates to Tip #2,  making the deer look as natural as possible.  Flash makes deer eyes glow.  Glowing eyes are not natural or flattering. 
This also coincides with Tip #1.  Sometimes you only have the opportunity to take a photo after dark.  If so, then flash will have to do.  But if you can, invest the time to wait for a daylight picture. 

Yesterday morning, after many hours a day spent in the woods over the past months, Mason (14) brought home this beautiful buck.  I was humbled by it's awesomeness.  With a few minutes time & consideration, Mason has a frame-worthy photo to look back on this day and this buck forever.

I have to say, that after sharing this last year & this year, I have noticed at an increase in hunters I know who've shared much more respectful photos of their deer on social media sites.
And I'm glad.  

Sharing with Our World Tuesday


  1. very good advice. i have no issue with hunting - as long as you eat the meat AND don't trespass or take unsafe risks. if you have permission to hunt on someone's property CLEAN UP YOUR TRASH and don't damage their property, their fences, their animals, etc. respect goes a long way and you stressed that perfectly.

  2. I have to say, I agree with you 100%. I really admire the fact that you take photos that honor the animal and show your respect for it. I have seen my fair share of photos that make me sick to my stomach. My husband went through a hunter's education class a few years back and said they really stressed ethical hunting and making sure you have a good shot before attempting to kill. I think it is so important that you respect the animal and actually use it if you are going to harvest it. I don't believe in hunting purely for sport. You probably know that I am a vegetarian, but I do support ethical hunting like this and think if you are going to eat meat, this is the best way to do it.

  3. I like sour post Amanda. I believer hunting for sport is purely a lust for killing, not sport at all. My hunting preference is still the bow and arrow and taking only what you need for your family as well as using the whole animal not just taking the best cuts. It is the effort of attacking to hunt a deer with bow and arrow that engenders the respect as well.
    When we spent a glorious autumn in Vermont, so much of our tie there was wasted as, being in a valley, it was too dangerous for the children to play in the yard as the shooters indiscriminately shot across our hart to the hill on the other side. Cattle and stud bulls were 'mistaken' for deer and many other shooting related 'accidents' happened. All life needs to be respected.

    1. With our first three sons born during the rifle season, it has always been a concern, planning to have extra kids around during hunting season. They have always built forts & played in the woods & tree fort.. but we have to be so careful during hunting season. Even though we *should* know where there are hunters, and certainly where they should NOT be, we can never trust in it. We've had incidents on more than one occasion of people not being where they should be, trespassing, and even shooting up our driveway. It's very discouraging. Not all hunters are this way, but it doesn't take many to spoil things.

  4. The deer looks calm and beautiful..!

  5. That is a big beautiful buck that Mason harvested. And you did a beautiful job of photographing him with it. I have 3 grandson's who hunt deer and they do eat it. Evan have given some to me. My youngest grandson got a big buck last year. One grandson got one with a bow and arrow this year.
    You are doing a great job of promoting respect!

    1. Johnathan, who turned 11 last week, asked for venison jerky for his birthday. :)
      The DNR changed the rules so that 10 year olds can now hunt, but we don't think it's smart. You can't take firearms safety training until age 12.. it doesn't make sense. Johnathan has been surrounded with hunting all his life, but we think it's best that he waits.
      Congrats to you grandsons, Barb!

  6. Well said, Amanda! I like your list of tips too.

    My Husband is a hunter and would fit right in with your post. I agree that hunters need to respect land, land owners and animals. I think the majority of hunters are good people that are respectful. Like many things the few bad ones make a stereotype for the good ones to overcome.

    I am not a hunter and didn't grow up with hunting. I do like to see the beautiful animals.

  7. Thank you for the respect you show for the animal who has been harvested for meat. It's much more humane than what happens to the animals in our slaughterhouses and inhumane processing plants.

  8. Amanda,
    My Father, husband and two of my son-laws are hunters and they have always treated the animals with respect and honor. The men in our family do not shoot an animal unless we can eat it. These bucks are gorgeous animals-how exciting for the family-beautiful photos to treasure.

  9. Your son got a nice buck. Congrats to him! My husband just returned from a week of elk hunting in Central Oregon, but sadly, no one in his hunting party got one. Yes, I agree, hunters should always eat the meat that they take, and be respectful of the land.

  10. I grew up with respectful hunters, my cousins are still hunters as are most of their sons..they go a long way from home to hunt in the surrounding forest.
    Here I find it difficult to accept the fact that they hunt so close to our village and walking in some of our local areas I won't take a chance on... good post Amanda .

  11. Your first photo is a beauty, one Mason will treasure for years. Your article is well written. Hunting is something we really don't do here in Australia, but then we don't have deer either.

  12. Both of the articles contained in this post are well thought out and well written. The pictures of Mason are very good, and I'm sure he'll cherish them and the memories they provide.

  13. Interesting post - I wish more people thought this much about the animals they eat (I eat them too!) and the picture they took.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

    PS: todays winds have been gentle and the rain light!

  14. Great post, Amanda. I've got some great stories of my three years of bow hunting. The gist of which is how utterly inept I was at it. I gave it up after my hunting colleagues moved on to other towns and schools. After that it was all upland game birds and waterfowl... And most important my Chesapeake Bay Labs...:)

  15. Hunting with Arches and bows sounds so special! It's lovely to read about your and your family's respect to the wildlife ... It must be also special and meaningful to be able to be almost self suplied with the meat for food. My uncle hunts in Finland as well,

  16. Interesting blog. This is one of my favorite blog about hunting and I also want you to update more post like this. Thanks for sharing this article.
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