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8 MINUTES

5.04.2022


25 °C  |   2 m/s  |   cloudy

May has just given way to June. Nature is bursting with vitality. Plants bask in the fresh air, the
animals are changing their coats. It is the peak of the mating season for bears and the deer bristle
with newly grown antlers… It is, in other words, a time when immersing yourself in nature is
especially worthwhile.

The second day of the sixth month started out in a very May-like fashion, with capricious, stormy
weather. On my way home from work, I was watching the lively show taking place over the Snežnik
plateau. The presence of storm clouds (cumulonimbi) in the early afternoon gave me hope that by
the evening, the rain would have already abated, drawing animals from shelter and ensuring
excellent conditions for a photo hunt.

By 4 pm, the rain down in the valley had already stopped, while the Snežnik plateau was still
shrouded in dark-grey clouds. There, the sky still hadn’t let go of its wrath.
I set off early to escape the sweltering humidity at home. I was feeling very optimistic as I headed for
my destination – the 1000 m MSL mark.
I’m chasing the tail end of the storm that’s sweeping over Snežnik. Steam is rising from the asphalt,
the beeches are drenched and shedding droplets, and the storm is slowly abating.

As I drive deeper into the woods, I notice a hairy mass just beyond a curve in the road. Hiding behind
the roadside barrier is a bear; my approach disturbed him just as he was about to cross the road. I
have a script I always follow in situations like this – I slow down and drive past, as if ignoring the
animal.

Photo hunting is often easier if you try to adopt the animal’s perspective, to think about what you
would do in a given situation yourself. Suppose you’re heading to the seaside, and you find that a
certain border crossing is super busy – you either wait or go back to try your luck at a different one.
It’s the same if you’re an animal. If an animal wants to cross the road and finds one section too busy,
it will either wait for a lull in the traffic or attempt to cross the road at a different spot.
If you stop when you notice an animal about to cross the road, you disturb its daily routine. Animals
are used to the cars driving past, it’s something that happens every day. Since they usually remain
unnoticed, this is not a major concern for them, they are only alarmed if they sense a change. It
would astonish you – believe me – to know how many times you are being observed by wild animals
as you unsuspectingly drive past them. This is why so many of my photos are taken along forest
roads.

 

I continue driving for several tens of metres until I turn a sharp bend. Then I stop. I hear another
vehicle approaching in the distance. Another opportunity for a change in tactics. With the vehicle
approaching, I quickly exit my car and use the noise as a cover. In the few seconds of commotion, I
manage to get into position at the edge of the road, ready for action…

 

19:17:46

When things die down, I put my hands behind my ears to aid my hearing and listen intently. About
20 m away I hear a twig snap right next to the road; sweet, I think to myself; there’s something going
on. Sure enough, there’s the bear, under the barrier.

 

19:17:51

The animal clambers through the barrier awkwardly and steps onto the asphalt. The camera shutter
rattles – the bear turns to look in my direction and takes several fearful steps across the road.

 

19:18:00

I’ve been completely motionless, but the shutter noise has left the animal apprehensive. He suspects
there’s something odd happening in my direction but can’t tell what it is. Curiosity gets the best of
him, and he begins approaching me, step by cautious step.

 

19:18:09

He’s within 10 m of me when he spots me. He tilts his head to the left as he looks at me, adorably,
like a dog. A few seconds later he calmly turns around and continues on his way.

 

19:18:27

 

The conditions were fantastic – the wonderful lighting, the wetness, the contrast. I had reasons to
suspect I’d managed to get some great shots, so I could hardly wait to open the camera’s gallery.
Looking over the photos brought a grin to my face – there were loads of great shots in there. In a
couple of minutes, I’d managed to take at least three superb shots… Sometimes it takes months to
get there.

And now, a dilemma…

I had almost two more hours until sunset. I wondered whether to return home or head to the spot
that had been my initial destination. I’d certainly “achieved the norm” for the day, to put it that way,
but the conditions were just too perfect. It would be a shame not to make the best of them. I decide
to carry to on.

The drive continues…

When I arrive at the location I’d originally intended to be my destination, I gear up and head into the
forest. “Something’s off,” I think to myself. The thrill of what I’d just experienced has left me too
excited. I can’t go on like this. I sit down and take a couple of minutes to compose myself. I close my
eyes and just breathe. I feel uncomfortable when I find myself so distracted in bear country. When I
feel I’ve regained my mental focus, I collect my gear and continue.

I’ve still got plenty of time before sunset. Just enough to reach my destination at a leisurely pace,
unpack the equipment and settle down.

The heavy shower has left the ground saturated with water and the tall grass is still dripping. I’m
drenched up to my knees. I’m slowly coming closer to the site I had in mind. I like coming there after
storms; there’s a nice view of the horizon and if everything comes together just right, with the
setting sun infusing the spent clouds with vivid glow, the colours are just magical.

When I arrive at the location, the first thing I do is stop and look around. I’ve been coming here
regularly this last week, and based on my experience so far, I’m mainly expecting deer. I decide to
set up among some rocks overgrown with low bushes. Even if i have to shift a bit to one side or the
other, my camo outfit will blend in nicely with the three-dimensional shape of the rocks. If you find
yourself on a level grass surface, the camouflage tends to be less effective, since an observer will
have more of a planar, two-dimensional view of you. I nestle down into my cover and begin
surveying the surroundings. It’s now calm. A few minutes ago, the wind would still pick up
occasionally, but now it has died down completely.

I listen… A twig snaps a few tens of metres beyond me. “There we go,” I think to myself. Deer have
begun emerging from the woods. I slowly stand up from a crouch; immediately above me, just
beyond the edge of the slope, I spot the top of a crown of antlers. Judging by the position of the
antlers, the deer have not detected my presence. It looks as if they are continuing to graze while
getting ever closer to me. If a deer comes out of the woods and doesn’t notice you when it first
scans its surroundings, that’s great news.

Whenever I find myself at a promising location in favourable conditions, I imagine “the perfect shot”.
“What would it look like”, I think to myself. I snap a photo of the empty background, check the
camera settings and visualise where I would frame an animal to get the best possible composition.

I inspect the test shot. The conditions are already excellent and in 10 to 15 minutes, as the sun
descends even lower, they will only get better. In my mind, I direct the animals to that exact spot.
Expecting this to work consistently is utopic… but on some rare occasions it “clicks”.

I’m still waiting under the cover of rocks and shrubbery. All of a sudden, I hear a huff somewhere
above me. I immediately think of a bear (if I were to compare this sound to something more familiar,
I would say it sounds like a small steam locomotive). Well, well! I turn around at once and see a black
hairy mass on the edge of the hill… just the back. Yup… It’s a bear alright. I quickly grab the camera,
adjust the focus and press the trigger.

20:26:13

In the meantime, he disappeared behind the rocks, running off towards the group of deer I’ve been
waiting for.

Suddenly, a scene begins unfolding before me, the likes of which I have never witnessed before. A
small bear running, in panic, from behind a stand of trees… followed by another… and another!
“What is this now!?” I think to myself. “What am I looking at?” And as this stream of confusion
rushes through my mind, one of the animals changes direction and begins running straight towards
me.

 

20:26:31

When he comes within ten metres of me, he stops, looking around nervously. He turns towards me,
but not with that surprised expression – “Wow! A human!?” More like a fearful uncertainty as to
whether he has managed to escape something.

20:26:36

He looks towards the woods for a few more times and begins running back the way he came.

20:27:07

20:27:10

All of this felt very odd to me. In moments like this, a myriad of thoughts run through your head in a
single second. It occurred to me right away that it was mating season for the bears – a time when
old, strong males hound the younger bears and sometimes even end up killing some of them. By
killing a cub, they “relieve” the female bear of her parental duties, so she ends up in heat again – an
opportunity for strong genes to spread.

20:29:21

Okay. No time to think now. The deer I’ve been waiting for are already coming from the direction
the bear ran off to.

The setting sun has just begun working its magic, bathing the horizon in gorgeous colours. The
clouds are glowing in blue, violet, orange, yellow… It’s a spectacle. And then, right at the spot where
the colours are most radiant, two magnificent stags enter the scene in a slow, cautious jog.

20:29:24

They were exquisite – huge velvet antlers, beautiful coat, upright posture… The camera rattled off
volley after volley, as you might imagine. Even though I’d previously taken a test shot and adjusted
the settings, I felt some apprehension when pressing the key to review the photos. It was the focus
that worried me – there were branches and rocks in front of me, a tree in the background, the
ground in front was dark, the backdrop bright, the protagonists were moving… Exactly the sort of
conditions where focus tends to drift off from the target – the deer.

When I checked the photos, I was relieved. In those few seconds, I managed to capture some
extraordinary scenes. In the meantime, two more deer – younger ones – arrived on the scene.

It was incredibly intense. In that single minute there were so many things going on that I didn’t know
where to point my camera. Just when I set the focal length to 200 mm to take some shots with a
wider field of view, an opportunity arose for a tighter shot, so I extended the lens back to 500 mm. It
was just photo after photo… The camera was going nuts.

20:29:56

While the youngsters who had just arrived at the scene looked confused, the two older animals were
alert and focused. They were in control of the situation and for a few moments, they split off from
the group.

20:30:18

One was surveying the situation down in the valley, the other was looking higher up the slope. They
ended up directly on the horizon line. I immediately decided to take a “silhouette” shot. I adjusted
the settings for underexposure and took a burst of photos. On one of them, a lucky coincidence
made for a wonderful composition – I captured the moment when the deer’s antlers were nearly
touching while their bodies overlapped. It looked as if they shared a trunk, so I named the photo
simply “hybrid”.

Just as I thought the craziness was over and that I was going to just hang out with the deer until the
sun finally set, the thriller entered a new chapter.

Suddenly, all four deer turn their heads towards the forest. Silence. Concentration. All of us are
straining our ears. The moment that follows makes me think I’m losing my mind. The bears – one,
two, three of them – are once again on the run… They are running past the deer, directly towards
me. Even the deer are frozen in place, dumbfounded: “What in the world is going on?”

I just can’t believe this. Three bears running frantically to and fro, like young chickens. One veers off,
the other two head towards me. They don’t realise I’m still there, hiding in the rocks and bushes. The
second one stops for a bit, the third is coming straight at me.

20:30:24

I didn’t know what to do. Should I alert them of my presence? Okay, I’ll do that. Wait, no, I won’t.
Too late. He’s already here. He’s running, 5 metres from me. Should I take a photo? No. Yes? He’s
too close, I can’t even get him into the field of view. All I see through the lens is a mass of hair.

20:30:52

20:30:57

20:30:59

20:31:14

He passes me, and when he is about 15 metres away, he stops and looks for his comrade. He still
can’t see me. Okay, now he has spotted me. He sniffs a little, looks around and continues at a slightly
slower pace.

Let me help you visualise the situation: Bear No. 1 —— me —– Bear No. 2. For a few seconds, I was
sandwiched between them. Thank goodness they were small ones. Am I afraid? I don’t know. I don’t
even know what I’m feeling. Adrenaline? Excitement? Astonishment? I’d rather just say I have no
idea what’s going on.

In the meantime, Bear No. 2 has vanished. Don’t ask me where he’s gone. I’ve lost sight of him while
I was photographing No. 1.

The interesting thing about the situation was this: in close encounters with smaller bears, their eyes
typically betray a bit of panic, the fear that they have of humans. This was not the case this time. The
impression I got was that they just don’t care about me, that there’s something else going on that
merits a lot more attention… Interesting.

 

Okay, the bears are gone. The deer are still there… They seem to be on edge. Watching. During the
commotion, the deer spotted me. Judging by their body language, they still feel there’s something
not quite right. Their eyes dart around, alternately looking at me and at the forest. Me… forest…
me… forest. Their heads bounce to and fro as if watching a tennis match.

All of a sudden, I appear to lose any relevance I might have had. All four deer bolt, but not into the
woods. No – as if in pursuit of the bears, they run past me, past the stand of trees, and soon, they
are gone.

20:31:31

Everything falls silent. Is this it? It’s about time this crazy day drew to a close, I think to myself. I
check how much space remains on the memory card… I have a feeling it, too, is just about done for
today.
Barely half a minute passes before I spot a movement on the horizon. I hear heavy breathing. I look
towards the light. At first, all I see is a movement. It’s as if an enormous rock shifted.

20:31:51

And then he emerges… in all his majesty. Radiating effortless self-confidence, strength and pride. I
was wondering what could have instilled the fear I saw in the eyes of the younger bears… It is now
obvious. In front of me is the largest animal I’ve ever seen in the forest.

Leaving the cover of shadow, a colossal bear is moving towards me. A male. His every step is a
testament to his enormous weight and size. A tremendous mass of fat, muscle and thick hair that
wobbles with every movement.

He pants heavily, exhausted. No wonder – just a few moments before he was racing across steep
slopes and through the woods, chasing young bears full of youthful vitality.

20:32:09

He was tracking the scent of the youngsters that had been running past me. So, where’s he heading?

That’s right – directly towards me. He was so absorbed in his pursuit that he failed to notice me. I
can’t let a behemoth like this get as close as the guys from before, I think to myself. Okay. I need to
react.

I rise into a crouch. He continues toward me. I wait for a few seconds. I stand up. No change… He’s
staying the course. Throughout these maneuvers, I’m taking burst after burst of photos. Even the
rattle of the shutter doesn’t faze him. He waddles onward, ever closer. Okay, it’s high time I do
something. He’s barely 50 metres away. Just as I’m about to utter the standard line I have at the
ready for close encounters like this – “Hey, bear” – the giant stops. He freezes.

20:32:13

I didn’t startle him. Okay, I think to myself. That’s good.

We’re watching each other. I’m looking at him through the viewfinder, but I’ve stopped taking
photos. I’m waiting to see what happens. Complete focus, vigilance, and utmost respect – that’s all
I’m feeling in this moment.

A few seconds pass. He turns his head to the left and sniffs. Everything is calm and still. Finally, he
turns around and heads slowly, very much bear-like, down into the valley. Without the slightest sign

of panic. Not once during his walk down did he turn back towards me to check where I was and what
I was doing. Animals tend to do that when nervous… But no. It was as if he wanted to show me that
he was so big, so powerful, that feeling any sort of respect or awe towards me was far beneath him.
Not that I felt I deserved any, far from it. Once again, however, the saying was confirmed that bears
are, in a sense, very much like people. Every bear has its own character. A character that is reflected
in its eyes, its facial expression, gait, etc. In the eyes of some bears, you can see playfulness,
lightheartedness, mischievousness… Other times you come face to face with a giant like this, whose
face says: “What’s your problem? You gonna f*** with me? I could eat a guy like you for
breakfast…”

As I’m taking photos of his backside – to say it’s the size of a small car is only a slight exaggeration –
a grin comes to my face. I think about all the material I’ve just produced. Since he was moving
slowly, I expect the results to be good. Sure enough, when I quickly browse through the gallery, my
joy is indescribable. The magnificent light, the ambience… Not to mention the protagonist. I really
shouldn’t shout for joy in the forest, so I just take a deep breath and say some thanks. What I’ve
experienced in just over an hour defies belief. The last 8 minutes sounded like something from the
“hunters’ yarns” section. It’s a good thing I have proof 🙂

20:32:29

People who follow my work often ask how much time it takes to get a photo. Actually, it’s a question
nearly everyone asks. My answer is always the same. “It depends.”

You might wait for hours, days, months… Sometimes, rarely, you “hit the jackpot”. Once in a blue
moon. Sometimes you manage to snap a good photo out of the window of your car or room,
sometimes you catch something on your way to work… Nature is unpredictable and constantly in
motion. For a bear to come to me at the ideal location, in perfect conditions, at the exact hour and
on the exact date, is not something I can arrange. And that is how it should be. This is what makes
photo-hunting exciting and interesting. This is how we learn and gain experience, and that, I think, is
the most important thing in this field.

As proof, you can find the photos below with Exif information visible, where you can see the exact
metadata. Note the timestamps. Everything happened in the space of just over an hour, and the last
8 minutes are definitely fit for the “This can’t be true, can it?” segment.

If you spend lots of time in nature, you see and experience many things. I guess it’s not always just
“hunters’ yarns” …

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Rok Mikuletič

2 Comments

  1. Sonja

    Oj! Super se bere v anglescini! Bravo!

    Reply

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