Lessons in Patience


Well I finally made the move out to Jackson Hole Wyoming for the summer. Ill be out here most likely until the end of September from which I will return back to the Outer Banks for a month, and if everything goes acording to plan, I will then head up to Churchill for 5 weeks to work with polar bears. Should be an interesting few months ahead to say the least.

Jackson Hole, as most folks know, is a photographers dream – thus is why I chose to live here for the next 4 months. Grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, all the big ungulates… you name it, its here. The best part about this place is that not only is it one of the only fully functioning ecosystems left in the lower 48 states, it is also the only ecosystem that has all of the original species prior to European colonization. For this reason, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which Jackson Hole and the Tetons are apart of, is like a giant biological labratory.

For the last couple of weeks I decided to focus primarily on photographing the big horn sheep of the region. I made this decision because the sheep will soon become inaccesible as they begin to make their way up into the alpine areas. These animals are still relatively common on top of some of the buttes and up in the Gros Ventre range (if you know where to look) but as the tempatures climb and the snow begins to melt up top, they will be migrating up to sheep mountain.

I located these sheep up ontop of a ridge line near the hwy and proceeded to make the ardious climb up the side of a slope. Keeping my eye on the rams for any sign of agitation or nervousness I ascended slowly.

Once I was about 100 yards off, I simply set down. The sheep were all very much aware of me by this point as they have eye site that is roughly 5 times as good as humans. After about 10 mins of sitting there, I decided that I would push my luck and move in a bit closer on them and so I moved in another 20 yards at an angle to them. Keep in mind that when you are aproaching wildlife like this, you do not want to make eye contact, nor do you want to aproach them directly. If i were to have just slung my tripod over my shoulder and made a b-line right for them, most likely they would have ran.

From my new vantage point, I sat back against a tree, both because I was exhausted but also so that I could try and put the sheep back at ease. It only took about 5 mins before life returned to normal and the sheep continued on about their day and I was able to begin making photographs.

After another 30 mins or so had gone by, one of the larger rams in the group stood up and started to aproach me. Adrenaline started pumping threw my arteries, and I’m sure my heart must of skipped a few beats. I had already scouted out and escape route in case something like this happened, however the ram was not showing any signs of agression.

At about 20 feet away the ram just simply plopped down on the grown and went right to sleep! This is the ultimate compliment that an animal can show a photographer as it means that the animal is completely comfortable with your presence. This is exactly as it should be – let the animals aproach you.

Well as luck would have it, someone down below had spotted me. Anytime someone sees a tripod and a big lens around here, the tourists imeadiately begin to pile up. Glancing over my shoulder, I noted that there were already at least 10 other photographers who were setting up along the road side, and by now my ram was alerted as well.

A couple of photographers decided that they were going to try and climb up to my vantage point and began to scramble over the sagebrush and rocks. Imediately the ram jumped to his feet as he watched the people below. Yet another surge of adrenaline.

The ram looked back toward me for a moment and then back down the slope at the other photographers. Without any warning at all, he suddenly charged straight down the hill after the other people. Tripods were flying and people were tumbling down the hill to get out of his way. Once at the bottom, he honed in on individuals and charged them right back out onto the road.

By now, the onlookers had all either dove into their cars or were hiding behind other peoples cars to get out of this guys way. Once the ram was content that he had put everyone in his place, he climbed right back up the hill within a few feet of where I was still sitting and went on about his day. The photographs here are of this and other rams that were with him.

By taking my time, staying low, going slow, avoiding eye contact, and not walking right at the rams, I managed to enter into the sheep’s buffer zone. Sitting down as I did the first time and waiting a while helped to put the sheep to ease and let them know that I was not a threat. This allowed me to move in closer still, where again I sat down and held off for a while before I started moving about making photos.

I have to say though, watching the other photographers below me diving out of this guys way definatly made my day, and me and my companion who was waiting in the truck below had a good laugh over beers that night at the expense of everyone else!


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