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Spot-and-surprise photography
– Hunting Experiences

Spot and stalk is Poronui’s most common hunting tactic. Once an undisturbed trophy animal is spotted, a well-thought-out stalk is planned that gets hunters in close. Final evaluation and successful harvesting can then occur. A calm quarry is preferable throughout the hunt.

Big game photographers play exactly the same spot-and-stalk game, but the end result is different. The best photographs are those of surprised, not calm, animals, hence photographers, like me, often carry out what I call spot-and-surprise operations.

The ultimate goal for a big game photographer is a photograph of a special, mature trophy animal in his natural habitat, posturing to rivals, females, or the photographer, looking super alert and at his best, with good lighting, exposure, and focus. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does — wow.

When photographing wildlife, I try to get real close, as a close shot’s resolution is usually better than one acquired using a super-zoom lens. I camouflage well — especially the face — move in slow motion, place my feet softly, get the wind perfectly in the face, and observe the body language of the quarry before advancing. When I feel I am close enough, I park up and watch and wait for a special moment to appear. Often, you have to help create the opportunity using the following techniques. They help make game lift their head and be alert not wary:

  • Imitate a call of a female or young animal
  • Make a low moan, squeal, or roar
  • Crack a small branch or twig
  • Rattle or rustle a bush
  • Make a slight body movement, then pause
  • Wave a hand slowly
  • Make a low wolf whistle or yell out

Photographs of grazing animals don’t win many awards, so photographers often prefer a situation that is more sketchy and unpredictable. Wary and alert animals seeking danger or rival confirmation are better photographs than placid animals eating grass. Heads up and eyeballs popping are the moments I hope to photograph. An alert animal will look directly at you and try to ascertain what you are. A top photograph will show that interaction between you and the target animal through his eyes, his pose, and his responses.

The photographs supporting this article show what I mean. The males are alert, not scared, and, in the case of the rusa stag, he looked like he wanted a piece of me for disturbing his tryst with his girlfriend. The growling sika just wanted me gone, and the annoyed black boar was grinding his tusks as he headed in my direction. Alpha males are natural models.

Majestic red stags, like the ones Poronui guide Mark McGlashan has photographed for the Poronui Hunting Facebook page don’t have to do anything but lift their head and show off their antlers to impress. Same thing with super-sized sika, fallow, rusa, swaggering bull tahr, and nimble chamois bucks in winter coats.

Hopefully the result of surprise will be capturing ‘that photo’ you were after.


Greg Morton
One of New Zealand’s longest hunting/fishing profile journalists. Outdoors writer since 1987. Past positions include New Zealand correspondent for The Hunting Report; The Bird Hunting Report, and The Angling Report, and writing a regular hunting article for New Zealand Outdoor for 30 years. Presently writes a monthly article named Fair Chase for New Zealand Fishing News and a hunting blog for Poronui, while continuing his passion for hunting, fishing, and wildlife photography. Lives in Alexandra, Central Otago.
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