Gary Peer, a local photographer, poses with a photo of a bald eagle Thursday at Loudy-Simpson Park. Bald eagles, such as Herman, the name he gave this bird, are one of many different types of animals Peer likes to shoot, but his focus is on birds.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Gary Peer, a local photographer, poses with a photo of a bald eagle Thursday at Loudy-Simpson Park. Bald eagles, such as Herman, the name he gave this bird, are one of many different types of animals Peer likes to shoot, but his focus is on birds.

Hunters give photography a shot

Residents draw from experience in field to hone their hobby

Nearly every morning, Gary Peer hunts in Loudy-Simpson Park.

His quarry, at the park and other locations across the state, includes osprey, eagles, bears and hawks.

But instead of hunting them with a bow or a gun, Peer pursues his game with a lens.

Peer has lived in Craig since 1965 and has been an avid hunter for about 30 years. That is, until recently.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Peer, a retired Moffat County High School biology teacher, started his own photography business, Gary Peer Photos. Now, after purchasing more than $2,000 of photography equipment, he's hooked.

"After you shoot everything, after a while you want to rather shoot it with a camera," he said.

On Thursday, evidence of Peer's commitment to his newfound pastime was clearly visible. His blue sweatshirt and camouflage baseball cap both bore his business' name.

Peer still hunts now and then. However, he spends most of the time stalking animals to get them on camera.

His new pastime has its perks. In addition to keeping him physically active, toting a camera has opened doors - or gates, rather - into territories where he's never been before.

"I really like it, because everybody seems to be pretty amiable," he said. "Most landowners will let you in with a camera, but they won't let you in with a gun."

And, unlike hunting, Peer's hobby is legal any time of the year.

Similar techniques, different hobbies

Still, some of the skills used by hunters and photographers can overlap.

"You have to really be able to study wildlife and know where they are and do a lot of research," said Dwight Siverson, former photography instructor at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

Asking other photographers where they've found wildlife also is a good idea, he added.

Craig Jensen, however, doesn't need to ask where the wild things are. He knows from experience.

Like Peer, Jensen was a hunter before he was a photographer. The time he spent tracking deer and elk taught him the animals' habits and habitats during different seasons - knowledge that pays off, regardless of whether he's shooting with a weapon or his Canon D400 and 10-megapixel lens.

Jensen, who lives west of Craig, has been an amateur wildlife photographer for about two years. His motivation?

"An opportunity to get away from work, the world," he said. "When I get into it, work is just completely gone (as are) whatever problems I'm having at home.

"It's just kind of an escape."

If Jensen had to choose between shooting animals with a camera and really shooting them, he'd chose the latter, he said, only because his family depends on the meat for food.

But if bringing home dinner weren't a main concern, he'd opt for photography, which allows him more than one shot at his quarry.

"It's a lot more satisfying, I think," he said. "(In) hunting, you go out and get one elk, and you're done."

'You never know what's here'

Peer has spotted the same animals numerous times - so many times, in fact, that he's named some of them.

As he flipped through a photo album of his shots, he names several of his favorite animals, including Tweety, the golden eagle, and Herman, the bald eagle. Peer's photo of the latter won grand champion at the Moffat County Fair this year.

Still, he's drawn to the art of wildlife photography for its variety.

For days at a stretch, he'll walk through Loudy-Simpson Park and not see a single wild animal.

But eventually, it happens.

"And I come out here and all of a sudden, there's a sparrow hawk or a kestrel sitting right over here in the these Russian olives," he said, motioning to a nearby stand of trees.

"You just never know what's here, and it's the same way everywhere you go."

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