The Hunter: swapping lead for light

This article originally appeared in issue 233 of PC Gamer UK.

It was around a fortnight ago that I realised something had changed. Kills in online deer-stalking sim The Hunter that had once made my heart sing and my breast swell had begun to feel flat, pointless, cruel even. I was enjoying strolling through the dappled glades and searching for the skittish stags as much as ever, but the actual act of slaying – the moment of squeezing – the trigger and watching the quarry crumple - had lost its magic.

The solution came to me during a stroll through a real dappled glade: I'd put my guns in the ground. I'd trade my Remington for a Nikon!

The switch worked a treat. My low-key love affair with The Hunter is rekindled, I find shooting deer with a camera more satisfying, more challenging and much easier on the conscience.

In the old days located prey was usually dead prey. Because my lead emissions were as effective at 220 metres as 20, I didn't need to get close. Now, as I'm not interested in images that are mostly swaying grass or shadow-striped forest floor, I must sneak to within spitting distance of restless ungulates. I've become a puma.

Of course, proximity is only half the challenge. Getting close enough to a deer to see the (metaphorical) teasels caught in its fur, or the (metaphorical) flies buzzing round its cartilaginous crown, is no good if that deer is deep in shade or pointing its posterior at the lens. The would-be wildlife photographer must consider light, pose, and composition. He must search for vantage points that are free from tall grass and unsightly deer dung. Even then a single unanticipated hoofstep or cloud shadow can screw up an otherwise perfect shot.

What is a perfect shot? For me it's Sir Edwin Landseer's 'Monarch of the Glen' executed with pixels rather than paint. For the last couple of weeks I've been rambling around the stunningly pretty Logger's Point trying to find truly majestic stags. Once found I attempt to manoeuvre myself so that these beasts stand against spectacular backgrounds: mountains, cloudscapes, wild flower meadows.

I haven't had much luck so far. I've got decent pics of does and fawns. I've even snatched some acceptable images of wild pigs and pheasants, but for some reason my portraits of bucks tend to be gloomy, awkward, or dominated by retreating rumps. Maybe I can learn something from Landseer's technique.

Ah. It seems he shot his stag before painting it.