It would be difficult to overstate how much this means to me.

Virginia Wildlife Magazine, published by the VDGIF, is a magazine with a reputation of 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, Matt Moseley and Shawn Story took me goose hunting with their dogs, Dixie and Preacher, and some other great guys I was meeting for the first time. I had never been waterfowl hunting before, but always loved the idea of it. I brought a shotgun and my camera.

Dawn arrived and weak, blue-grey light pushed through the cold drizzle, spilling over our decoys and onto a red, rusted old International Harvester truck in the field. It called to me. It oozed character. It had stories.

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 shot by the group. Decoys were collected and wet gear was stowed. I asked if anyone minded if we could 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 shitshow directing dogs whose focus had gotten packed up 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 that doesn't 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. 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 wanted, and I clicked the shutter on my all-time favorite photograph.

I will cherish this image, this cover, and the memories of the wonderful friends, dogs and times it evokes, as long as I live.

Originally published in The Virginia Wildlife Blog, February, 2018.


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