Dave, the deerhunter

Updated: Nov 5, 2018

I have many ambitions in life.

To learn to salsa. To play a Bach prelude on the piano mistake-free. To print just one sodding sheet of paper on my Canon Pixma printer without it spending ten minutes wasting ludicrously expensive ink cleaning itself, only to flash up the message ‘you have loaded the wrong paper’. No I bloody didn’t. I know what paper I loaded. I was there when I put it in the printer.

Currently, my number one aspiration is to take the ultimate picture of a deer. You know the sort of thing, an adorable doe backlit by a halo of glorious golden light. Or a magnificent stag with its breath frozen in the cold winter air.

Fortunately living as I do in south west London I have Richmond Park on my doorstep, a glorious National Nature Reserve that's home to herds of free-roaming deer. With the added lure of a riot of autumnal colour I've been dragging my weary body out of bed at 5.30am in pursuit of my goal.

The first thing you should know is that at that ungodly hour the park is cold, dark and seriously spooky. Often the fields and woods are shrouded in a sea of white mist and the only thing puncturing the silence is the hoot of an owl or the grunt of an angry deer. Occasionally you sense a presence and you turn unnervingly to see a pair of Bambi eyes staring mournfully out the fog. It’s enough to scare the bejesus out of you.

As the sun begins to slowly rise, sun-rays filter through the forest canopy, illuminating the forest glades in dramatic pools of amber light. You could be in a David Attenborough documentary.

In an ideal world a deer would wander into the spotlight, you’d press the shutter and you'd be home for breakfast before you can say National Geographic. But sadly that's yet to happen. Because deer, it turns out, are unpredictable in their movements, extremely twitchy and don’t take too kindly to overweight men in grubby parkas and bobble hats pointing big lenses at them.

So you have to try and outsmart them. You have to make your approach by moving in a zig zag and avoiding eye contact while trying not to walk into a tree. You then have to fall to the ground, stay silent and somehow get their trust. All with the clock ticking as the sun gets ever higher in the sky robbing you of that magical light.

It’s a game of cat and mouse. Or at least man and moose. And more often than not you are the loser.

Either the deer is so intent on foraging for food, its head is buried in foliage. Or a cloud hovers over the sun, effectively switching off the light. Worse, you arrive at the park, as I did the other day, only to find no deer at all. Perhaps they had pulled a sickie. Or gone off on a stag do.

All you can do is return day after day, hoping that by serendipity all the stars will eventually align for that elusive perfect picture.

But with dogged determination I’ll pull it off. Like Liam Neeson in Taken, I will hunt them down. I will find them. And I will shoot them.

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