Imagine standing almost to face to face with the largest herd of Ezo Sika Deer on our planet, with camera in hand, on a Hokkaido photo tour. It’s pretty amazing, and the great part about this unique photo op is that the locations where the deer appear are only known by us Hokkaido locals, and fewer know the exact timing when the herd gathers. And I know the perfect timing when they are gathered and position, so the Ezo Deer will have no choice but to come straight at us. Behind the Ezo Sika Deer is the frozen pacific ocean, then open water; if they tried to go the way of the frozen ocean, they know it would lead to open water, and deers are no fools, so I know they will choose to pass by us. Once I stop our lead SUV about 100 yards (92 meters) from the deer, I make sure our other SUVs make a semi-circle to protect us just in case they do try and charge, but Ezo Sika Deer are not big enough to jump over Prado SUVs. The parcel of land is about 30 yards (28 meters) wide, and the deer always stampede, equal parts a show of strength and defense given by their numbers.
While taking the photos attached to this newsletter, I had plenty of time to set up our gear to get ready for the stampeding herd that would end up passing us by a distance of about 10 - 15 yards (9 - 14 meters). I had everyone ready with open doors just in case they decided to charge us, but wild deer will only charge in a herd toward people like bulls during fires or tsunamis. 99% of the time, they will move around a group of vehicles and people.
As soon as we got out of our vehicles and started setting up our gear, it was clear the Ezo Deer had picked up our scent because their demeanor had clearly changed toward something kinetic. But we were fortunate this day; they casually paused, and we had about 20 minutes before they charged. As they started moving at us, picking up speed, I had clearly calculated their path would be as I predicted, about 10-15 yards (9 - 14 meters) to our left with the sun to our backs, perfect photography conditions. If I had parked the vehicles to the left of the thin parcel of land, the sun would have been obtrusive for photography. As they passed us, we could hear them breathing and making grunting noises, and there is nothing like the sound of a thousand thundering hooves banging a few meters away. As they passed us, we got some beautiful video and shots of them running at full speed by us, with mud being flung up into the air, and we got the perfect farewell from them as they head into a beautiful mountain range. My years of experience on Hokkaido Photo Tours allowed everyone to take once in a lifetime photos.
During my annual Hokkaido Photo Tour in 2017, 2018, and 2019 private Hokkaido tour, participants and I had the good fortune of excellent conditions for taking photos of the Ezo Sika Deer during my Hokkaido Photo Workshop, but there are some conditions beyond my control. In 2020, the road into photograph the herd was blocked by a vehicle stuck squarely in the middle of the road; they had tried to ram through the snow in a station wagon 4x4, but, unfortunately for them, the snow was wet and heavy pack-snow and not powdery. As a result, the occupants of the station wagon needed to wait until Hokkaido’s capable volunteer road emergency response crew arrived to tow them to safety. Sadly for us, there was not enough room to pass them safely in our heavy-duty Prado 4x4. Also, I wanted to pull out the stuck vehicle with my Prado, but the undercarriage of their vehicle was stuck on ice, and if I pulled them out, I probably would have ripped the muffler off or worse. And by the time the tow truck showed up and removed the vehicle, it was too late in the day to risk a 5 km ride to the Ezo Sika Deer on a rough, technical drive on a thin parcel of land about 30 yards (28 meters) wide in spots right on the pacific coastline. I had already seen an object lesson/Omen about road conditions this day and what the 5km drive-in would be like on this snowy Hokkaido day, so I thought better of risking a late departure. Also, high tide was coming in, and there are a few locations where I have to drive on ice to reach the location where the Ezo Sika Deer herd was, so in 2020 my clients and I missed photographing and visiting with the herd, but I am looking forward to visiting them this winter, and I am hopeful and believe social distancing will be a thing of the past in a year or two. We have space available for my 2022 Hokkaido Photo Tour, which includes Mt. Fuji, Snow Monkeys, the Red-Crowned Cranes, the Steller’s Sea Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, the Shima Enaga, and the Ezo Red Fox, plus much more.