What started as a crusade two years ago to protect white deer from hunters turned into a pastime for an amateur Leland photographer.
Perhaps the term amateur no longer applies to Mike Richard’s photography work.
Photos from Forest and Flight nature photography — as Richard calls his new venture — now nearly sells out when he rents space at local festivals and craft shows.
Richard, 54, a native of Plain and a life-long hunter, has worked in the construction industry for the last 20 years.
But when he and his partner Amy Sprecher discovered white deer on their property a few years ago, they were enthralled by the beauty of the creatures.
Richard put his gun down, pulled out a camera and began a different kind of shooting that led him to sights he’d never seen until it was through a 300mm F2.8 extended lens.
He received a high-powered digital Canon as a gift in February 2013.
Since then, he’s expanded his range of wildlife images he’s found, in some cases, right in his backyard.
Those include eagles landing in a nest with their fresh prey to feed their young, a mother fox and her playful kits, sandhill crane parents and their chicks, humming birds on a blossom, seagulls in flight and one in the midst of catching a fish.
“I’ve got my golden triangle that goes from Plain to Reedsburg, east to Baraboo, east of the Dells, back around Portage, either side of Lake Wisconsin and Fish Lake, Spring Green, Lone Rock and back home,” Richard said. “I very rarely go beyond 60 miles away and most of the shots are within 15 to 20 miles of my home.”
He’s never taken a photography class or read a book about the art other than a camera owner’s manual.
He often finds surprises when he views his completed shots.
He recently aimed at a white fawn drinking from a pond just before dark. When he looked at the frame, it showed her brown twin drinking with her.
“I never even knew the brown deer was there until I saw the image,” Richard said. “She was there by herself and a split second later her twin showed up. I saw it and said, Wow, there’s another one there.’”
Richard said he follows the motto of “camera, camo, a Coke and patience” when it comes to getting the shots he seeks.
“People ask me, ‘how do you get these?’” Richard said. “I just say, ‘with a camera.’ It’s just like any kind of hunting — you sit and wait. You have to be patient.”
Add quiet to that. Wild animals, especially deer, are easily spooked.
That also is true for Richard’s trademark photos of the ghostly looking white deer, some of which can be found on the Protect the White Deer website at www.protectthewhitedeer.com.
He said visitors to his booths at craft shows who see his white deer images often talk about the deer shot in the fall of 2012 when a white buck known to many in the area was killed by an out-of-town hunter, sparking local and national media attention.
The event sparked Sprecher to begin an online petition seeking legislation to protect albino and white deer.
For this hunting season, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s Conservation Congress approved a rule change barring hunters from killing the rare animals.
Deer aren’t the only targets of Richard’s camera.
“We sell a ton of photos of song birds,” Sprecher said. “They’re really popular. Butterflies are big sellers. I had never seen a baby sandhill crane until Mike caught one on camera.”
Even so, the white deer always draw Richard’s lens.
“When I started getting these great eagle shots, I knew I had something pretty special,” Richard said. “But when I’ve got white deer on the property, that’s the priority.”