Winter in Montana: Part 3

» Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in Featured, Montana

Here is how we got to get all these pictures: Triple D Game Farm

Stephen Oachs (link), Scott Bourne, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, they all know about Triple D Game Farm. Scott Bourne wrote in his book that he discovered Triple D Game Farm in the mid-80s!

Part 1 and part 2 showed you some of the animals and the great pictures you can take at Triple D, but this post will explain how it works.

Each day starts the same way, you meet at the Triple D ranch, you have coffee and pastry and look at the board. Depending of the weather, lights and the animals, Triple D lists what species you will be able to photograph that day. They choose the location, based on the size of the animals (a mountain lion needs a bigger space than a fox).
Triple D rents sites around Kalispell where they have created fenced areas and where they keep the snow neat and clean (quite a work actually). Generally, we all carpool as much as possible to the location. Some locations have no facilities (i.e no bathroom, no protection against the cold), other have a rudimentary bathroom and sometimes even a heated tent. Lunch breaks are pretty short too, so you got to be prepared to have a light lunch. The only nice thing in the schedule is that the sun rises pretty late in Montana in Winter, so we did not have to get up that early to catch the nice light.

At each location, there are several fenced areas where we can do the photo shoot. Depending of the light, the background you want for the animals or the snow conditions, we (meaning Triple D crew and in our case Jeff Wendorff) choose the area. One crew member of Triple D walks with us inside the fenced area while the other brings the animal(s). After some safety recommendations (they are predators after all), we get in position and they let the animal loose.

Yes that means that you get in a fenced area with several wolves (for the wolf pack shoot) or foxes or an Amur leopard. The first time it’s intimidating but then Heather Keepers (the trainer) makes it very safe. The animals love her, each cat is literally purring when she scratches it. It’s quite amazing to see an Amur leopard or a mountain lion purring (well some of these cats are not literally purring but roaring and if you want to learn more about the difference, here is an interesting article about it on Wikipedia, but frankly, even not really purring, this is still a pretty irresistible sound).

Heather and her Amur leopard Kupalo

Heather and her Amur leopard Kupalo

Heather is very attached to each animal. I believe Triple D ranch has over 150 animals.

heather and her coyote

Heather and her coyote

Now you know about it, and if you are about photographing Felidae and Canidae, this is really one of the best places to do so. That will allow you to work your technique in a less stressful environment than being in the wild and trying to track these animals. One bit of advise: get big and fast compact flash cards and a camera that has a high speed shooting mode. My wife filled her 8GB (250 pictures) after the second session…. Another attendee was asking why at some point her camera will stop shooting. Jeff and I told her that her camera’s buffer was full and she just had to wait for it to empty some to be able to shoot again.

There are also some challenges shooting in the cold (it was around 20F/-6C) and you got to have warmers for your hands and a tripod to set the camera on it to warm your hands. My wife let her water bottle hanging outside of her camera bag and the water froze.

The final question is “Was it worth it?” It’s simple: what are your chances to photograph an Amur leopard (a critically endangered animal) or a snow leopard (that is also endangered) or even a bobcat or a mountain lion, close enough to get a nice picture, but safe enough to be able to talk about it after? Close to none is probably the answer. In 3 to 4 days at Triple D, you will get amazing images you will cherish for the rest of your life.
If you feel that your photographic technique is not good enough to follow and focus fast moving animals (they do run fast), consider going with Jeff. He runs workshops regularly and he has been to Triple D more than 20 times. He will help you with your technique and also will give you pointers about what makes a good picture. I can still hear him say “ears!”. If you want to know why, sign up with him. Plus he knows all the very good restaurants around there. After a light lunch, the nice dinners with our fellow attendees were welcome.

We will try to make it to more workshops. Triple D takes the animals to other states. And back in Montana during the summer, they’ll have the babies. Hopefully we will be able to make it there.

All the images presented here are available for licensing or as fine art prints.