So, it was time to pack up and head out from the Red River Gorge and the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. Why? Because I realized that I wasn't very far from one of my favorite places: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sure, it was another 3-1/2 hours in the Smart car, but I love the Smokies. Road Trip, part deux.
I rolled into Townsend, TN around 3:00 p.m. and promptly grabbed a hotel room, then got back in the car and headed for Cades Cove to try to catch some wildlife in the late afternoon/evening hours. I reached the Cove around 3:45 p.m. and started down the Loop Road to see what I could see. There were several groups of wild turkeys almost immediately after I enter the Cove and I got a few shots, but for the most part they were just strutting around and feeding. No displays; no real activity at all. Bummer.
As I moved through the the Cove, I began to see several white-tail deer grazing in the meadows, mostly does. In one spot, though, there were a few late-summer fawns eating alongside the does. I pulled off to the side of the road and grabbed a few shots of the group. Luckily, a doe and a fawn moved off by themselves and after a while, lay down to rest.
[caption id="attachment_51" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="A white-tailed deer doe and fawn rest in a meadow in Cades Cove"][/caption]
I headed back out along the Loop Road, passing several groups of white-tail does in the meadows, when I came to a bend in the road and saw several cars pulled off to the side. Wondering what they had seen (a bear?), I pulled over as well and got out. Several does were grazing in a small meadow by the road, but that wasn't where everyone was looking. An eight-point buck had come out of the woods and was grazing in the same meadow. He moved around quite a bit and I wasn't able to get anything worthwhile. so I began to think about moving on. Then he decided to cross the road to the meadow on the other side.
Now he was all by himself with the majesty of Cades Cove and the Smoky Mountains all around him. This was looking good! I grabbed my tripod from the car, anchored the camera and the longest lens I had on it and started after him—as did a couple of other photographers who had been shooting him on the other side of the road, too.
Except he didn't really cooperate. When there was a good background, he steadily moved until he was away from it. When the mountains and trees behind him were nicely lit by the setting sun, he moved into the shadows. I followed him for a good 150 yards away from the road, pausing occasionally to take a few shots. I got what I thought were a few decent shots (turned out later in editing that they weren't, really) and began to think about packing it in. The sun was setting, it was getting fairly dark, and the other guys had moved off upon hearing of another, bigger buck on the other side of the meadow. I had the camera and tripod on my shoulder and turned to walk away.
Then he just laid down. Right in front of me.
I was about 40 feet away when he did this. I slowly put the tripod back on the ground and began to shoot, not believing my luck. The two photographers that had gone in search of the other buck appeared over a rise in the meadow and immediately began to make their way back to us. But for a little while, he was all mine.
[caption id="attachment_54" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="A white-tailed buck lies in the meadow in Cades Cove"][/caption]
Sure, he's apparently not very afraid of me (and who would be, really?). He was comfortable enough to lie down in my presence, but part of that was because I always respected his comfort zone. The whole time I followed him after I crossed the road, I constantly watched his behavior to make sure I wasn't disturbing him. I would move as close as possible until he seemed bothered by it—pausing and looking directly at me—and I would freeze where I was until he was comfortable again.
In the end, it turned out that this was the best and the easiest shot I got all day, but I worked pretty hard for it. I would never have gotten it had I given up after the first few underwhelming attempts. Persistence certainly paid off.
At this point, it was getting dark quickly, so I did shoulder the tripod and walked back to the car. I drove the rest of the Loop Road, but only to get out of the Cove, and I returned to Townsend to get a bite to eat. So far, it was gonna be tough to top this first day.
But I did.