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Predators of Montana


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Animals of Montana

With a three day college fall break and no big trips possible for the near or even distant future Caroline and I looked at a wild animal game farm set up and in business specifically for photographers and film makers. And when none of their sessions fit our needs Animals of Montana suggested that we come out for a private session at the same price as the group session. We jumped on it.

 

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The session that we did was the Montana Menagerie Fall Tour and included four sessions/animals a day for three days. The fourth day is a weather makeup day and/or extra sessions for a fee. Hotel accommodations were included.

 

We flew to Bozeman, Montana and checked into the Best Western hotel, touched base with Meghan at A of M and went into the quaint town for a little shopping and dinner. At 7:00 am the next morning we set off for the 35 minute drive to the farm.

 

 

The first thing we saw was a bison calf and a lion cub that was romping with a golden retriever. Adorable. Caroline was in heaven. Some may remember that she’s the “Ellie Mae Clampett” of the family and can’t keep her hands off anything with fur….or even snakes and lizards.

 

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After the calf and lion cub were bottle fed we met with Demetrie, the head trainer, about our first animal and photography session of the day. He quizzed us but I deferred to his experience and we went with the cougar.

 

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Next up was a wolf pack of four. A of M has about 24 wolves and throughout the day they would as a group start to howl…oh my word, such a thrilling sound.

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For the cougar, wolf pack and tiger we used an area that had three strands of electric fencing but the down side was that the grass had been mowed and didn’t have a natural look to it. I’m not sure why I didn’t think to ask about taking one of the wolves over to the rocky outcrop that we used for the cougar or get a profile of one howling.

 

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I wasn’t aware of which wolf was the pack leader until I got home and started to review my images. I have so many of this main man with one or two of the others licking his mouth and acting submissive trying to curry his favor. The juvenile in this photo was the biggest brown noser of all.

 

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I debated about a tripod and in the end took my Lenseon attached to my tripod and I used it probably 30% of the time. But it was well worth taking……cameras and lenses get heavy. Our deltoids were sore after the first day. In fact I was tired all over after that day. We had stooped, been on the ground, kneeling and clamored up steep slopes to stand at awkward angles. I guess I needed to be in better shape or just get younger.

 

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Why she still has her nose and fingers is beyond me.

 

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Cougars and wolves, 2 of my favourite animals.

I love the photos.

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Beautiful.........

Cougars are awesome!!! Never seen one!

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We wrapped up our hour with the pack by watching Dave, Demetrie’s assistant, try his hand at catching the last wolf who wasn’t ready to go home and was playing tag. In the end Demetrie had to work his magic to get the job done.

 

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Many of their animals have been used in various movies and commercials. The wolf pack was used in this commercial for Blue Wilderness Dog food.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOjcrwWAsxE

 

I get the controversy over photographing at these game farms but since I’m not selling or misrepresenting my photos I’m not concerned with that argument. I’m was there for the sheer pleasure of being near these predators and for practice.

 

Sessions usually run about one hour for each animal and for a pro I can imagine that photographing these animals is like shooting fish in a barrel….so easy to get great images. However I made many, many mistakes but the beauty is that you have many chances to correct your mistakes….if only you knew how…….

 

I had planned to try to come out during a session that is led by a pro photographer but the timing just wasn’t right. I definitely want to come back with a pro led group to work on several things and improve my skills.

 

Like a safari after the two morning sessions we headed back into town for some lunch, down time and a little photo reviewing. About 3:30 we would head back to the farm when the light would be getting better. Next up was the bobcat named….yes, Bob.

 

 

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For Bob Demetrie had suggested a place up a hill and so “over the river and through the woods” we climbed to a place that had lichen growing on some rocks. This bobcat was beautiful but he blended into his environment and needed some help from the colorful lichen.

 

Having hauled my flash to Africa several times this was the first time that I actually used it for fill light for wildlife photography. The afternoon was overcast so it helped. I have many images with green eyes that could have been avoided with an off camera flash bracket. And I believe the current Lightroom edition has a remedy for pet green eyes.

 

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Our fourth and last animal of day one was a black bear named Awly who was more brown than black. And like all of the dark animals I had some trouble with the correct exposure but with low light and my flash he was easier than say the black leopard which I totally bombed photographing.

 

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Demetrie used marshmallows, honey buns and chicken wings as his treats and had asked if we wanted Awly cleaned up a little by pulling the last of his fuzzy summer coat out but I wanted him as he was naturally.

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A great weekend adventure for you and Caroline. She should be a model for a shampoo company :D

 

but back to your report:

 

 

The cougar..oh I'd love to see one. We saw bobcats in Montana, and of course bears here in VA; but never close enough to photograph.

 

Great shots, Patsy; I don't really understand the concept of A&M, but if you can go practice your photography, why not :rolleyes:

 

Is this a refuge for the animals? How do they find/obtain them? And are funded by running photography workshops? Just wondering how it all comes together.

Thanks!

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@@graceland they are not a rescue facility or a sanctuary, they raise animals to be used in film, movies, commercials and for photography…it’s a business. The animals are captive and live in cages, another issue that can easily be argued against as we’d all like to see them living free. And I don’t deny that I’m guilty of supporting it by participating. But I will say that the animals seemed to be well cared for and appear to be genuinely loved.

 

A lot of film is shot at facilities like this. I was at the alligator farm in St. Augustine while Nat Geo was there for three days trying to get the gator growl on film. This is the sort of thing that A of M does.

 

Some of the films that their animals have been used are Wolf Summer, The Yetti cooler commercials and most of Animal Planet’s reenactments with Dave Salmoni…After the Attack apparently was a big one. They’ve also done IMAX Wolves and Bears, the series Mountain Men and the Alaska reality show.

 

Troy, the owner, was known long ago for his work with wolverines and a film called The Last Phantom.

 

I don’t know where they get their animals, I suspect in a variety of ways. The bison was an orphan acquired from a bison farm and will possibly be used in the remake of Dances with Wolves that is being considered. The bear cub was being kept as a someone’s pet until the cub learned aggressive behavior would get him his way and was too much to handle.

Edited by PCNW
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On our 2nd morning Demetrie asked if we would like to shoot the tiger and we were all over that idea. Troy Hyde, the owner of A of M, has hand raised all/most of the predators at the farm and Texaco, the tiger, responds best to Troy so he came out for this and the black leopard shoot.

 

Troy would throw chicken wings in our direction as we sat on the other side of the now electrified fence while Demetrie and Dave stood on either side of us. Demetrie packs a gun and a knife but at no time did we ever feel like we were in any danger.

 

I had a lot of trouble with the white balance in these photos and spent a lot of time tweeking back and forth.

 

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The black leopard was old and I suspect cranky on a good day and this wasn’t his good day. After about 25 minutes he called it quits and headed back to the truck and I wasn't going to argue with him.

 

This is the animal that I had the most trouble with…center weight metering, spot metering, auto ISO, front lit, back lit….nothing worked well and I couldn’t get a good exposure that didn’t need a lot of work in post.

 

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This little lady, the honey badger, was also old and in no mood to play. Because she has cataracts I’ve helped her out by cloning some pupils into her eyes….she would thank me I believe. One of the things that I regret is not taking more photos of the animals in their environment. I'm so stuck on portraits.

 

I didn’t realize that badgers have so much skin around their neck and shoulders that they can pull their head into the folds for defense. I had not seen or heard about this in any documentary. Also I didn't realize that badgers have such long claws. It's amazing that they can create so much havoc in the camps with nails like that. When my claws are out much past the tips of my fingers I become all thumbs.

 

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The black faced red fox was another difficult varmint. Not only was he black and difficult to expose (for me) correctly but also he was never still. Always on the go and with his nose to the ground. I thought it was interesting that his pupils were more like a cat than a dog.

 

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This little black cub was so gosh darn cute that Caroline wanted to cuddle with this tyke. But having learned aggressive behavior from a home that was trying to raise him as a pet he was more of a brat they told us and couldn't be trusted.

 

 

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Earlier I had heard what sounded like an engine running and wondered what it was only to find out it was coming from the cub and is similar to a cats purr. It’s the sound they make while nursing and is called nooking.

 

Here Demetrie is letting the cub suckle his hand so we could hear the sound up close but he said it makes him nervous because the babe will frequently take a bite out of your hand without any warning. His bite, even at this age, was like a German Shepard’s.

 

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Was not aware of anything akin to this photo op animal "actors - commercial stars" center. Thanks for sharing it.

 

Your pics are great; I love seeing a tiger as well as all the others. Been to Montana several times with glimpses on horseback of wildlife but nothing like this - up close and so personal. Everything we saw just ran like the wind.

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I don't want to get involved in discussing the ethics of something like this, except to say that in my view it's probably far better than any zoo, and certainly much better than several so-called re-abilitation centres I have visited.

 

Your photos are, as always, magnificent. Too many to mention are truly wonderful, but I think the ones I like most are the two where the bear cub holds up his paws. Despite your complaints, you also did a magnificent job of the black leopard, the standouts there being the jawn in profile with the steam of his breath and the first photo.

 

I also think you are selling yourself short, photographing animals under these conditions is no easier than anywhere else, the only difference is that you are effectively gauranteed the opportunity, whereas you might spend weeks in the bush without seeing anything.

 

Love your work Patsy.

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What fabulous images and what a great experience! Somewhere else to add to my already very long travel bucket list!

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Thank you @@JulieM for the kind words. And, @@Peter Connan as always thank you for your encouragement, support and advice, very much appreciated.

 

Driving back and forth from town through the rural countryside was so gorgeous. Farms, streams, snow capped mountains, mule deer everywhere……. I can almost see why people would put up with the winters to live out here. Coming from flat Florida you can imagine how we truly appreciated the landscape.

 

I thought the raccoon would have some interesting possibilities but I just didn’t capture any.

 

Oddly Troy who handles the tiger, the grizzly and carried that cranky leopard in his arms doesn’t work with raccoons……doesn’t get along with them. We had been set up by Demetrie to ask Troy to help us with the raccoon but he saw it coming and declined before we could even get the request out.

 

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This lynx was such a beautiful cat and her paws were so big she looked like she was maybe wearing her grandfathers old bedroom slippers.

 

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Demetrie had suggested that we take Adam, the grizzly, to a 20,000 acre angus cattle ranch to try and capture some silhouettes and the pink sunset so with permits in hand we headed out.

 

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We climbed to the top of the ridge and while working on the silhouettes we nearly missed the pink sky that had developed behind us.

 

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This was one of the more fun trips that we’ve taken. Going privately was the icing since without others around we were able to visit with and enjoy the animals and I doubt we would have been able to with a group.

 

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http://www.animalsofmontana.com

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Oh wow! Keeping the best for last I see! That bear silhouette is absolutely stunning!

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  • 3 weeks later...

It seemed like the animals were curious and enjoying their day. I think you got some very interesting raccoon shots! A good time was had by all. No wonder the pros are customers. So many unique opportunities with this setup. You definitely took advantage.

 

Thanks for sharing this!

Edited by Atravelynn
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