Virginia Wildlife Behind the Scenes
It would be difficult to overstate how much this means to me.
Virginia Wildlife Magazine, published by the DGIF, is a magazine with a reputation of engaging stories and very high standards when it comes to photography. It took me years to break through and last year I did finally have a photo essay published inside its pages. But the cover, well, the cover seemed out of reach.
Then one early morning in January of this year, my friends Matt and Shawn took me goose hunting. We were joined by a few other great guys I was meeting for the first time, and Matt’s Drahthaar, Dixie, and Shawn’s German Wirehaired Pointer, Preacher rounded out the hunting party.
I had never been waterfowl hunting before, but always loved the idea of it. I brought a shotgun and my camera, and hoped to use at least one of them effectively. We arrived in darkness and hauled gear through thick mud to set up the blind, then finally settled in.
Dawn arrived and weak, blue-grey light pushed through the cold drizzle, spilling over our decoys and onto a red, rusted old International truck in the field I hadn’t noticed in the dark. It called to me. It oozed character. That was a truck with stories to tell.
I told Shawn if we got any geese that morning, I wanted to put them on the hood of the truck and get some photos. Although I never got to take a shot at a goose, a handful of birds were downed by the group. After a mostly unproductive morning, decoys were collected and wet gear was stowed. I asked if anyone minded if we went back through the mud to do a quick photo shoot with the truck, but I was not hopeful. My lens kept fogging up, and foul weather photography is not something I practice.
But Matt and Shawn carried the geese to the truck and we tried a few different arrangements, none of which really got the birds and dogs and truck together very well. Almost as an afterthought someone had the idea to see if the dogs would actually get up onto the truck. It was a bit of a fiasco directing dogs — whose focus had gotten packed up along with the decoys — onto a very slippery truck with no flat surfaces, and trying to capture a workable composition using a fogged up prime lens with no zoom. With fewer than fifteen total photos on the memory card I was about to call it a day.
Then Preacher jumped up on the truck and steadied. You can see his toes splayed here, gripping the slick fender. The scene was fragile. I swung around in front of him and thought/said/prayed, “please stay. I just need a second.” He looked straight at me, gave me the second I needed, and I clicked the shutter on my all-time favorite photograph.
I will cherish this image, this cover, and the wonderful friends, dogs and memories it evokes, for the rest of my life.
Article and photo © Ed Felker. You can follow Ed on Instagram @ed_felker.