How to film your own hunt and look like a pro!
The buck responded to my grunt call like a box car freighting on a straight-line rail. He was on a hot trot, non-stop. Of course I panicked. I expected the 12-pointer to freeze, look in my direction, and then look off to the side — like every other buck I’d grunted at. “Handcuff” is the word that comes to mind, since my bow was still hanging on its hook and my camera wasn’t even rolling.
“I’ll be lucky to get a shot at this buck, much less get the shot on video,” I thought.
So I compromised. I settled on trying to get and make the shot, not capture the ordeal.
And herein lies the problem. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but so is the notion of videoing your own hunt. There’s a lot of talk but not a lot of action. Since that uneventful day, I’ve learned quite a bit about this hot new fad. I just wish I could go back in time and capture some of the hunts I missed filming. I’ve been privileged to get in on a lot of whitetail action over the years that would have provided hours of educational entertainment. Looking back, I broke just about every principle for bringing home the backstraps — and the footage.
Bryan Bychowski, 33, has filmed hunts professionally for more than a dozen years and helps develop and market gear for Pine Ridge Archery Products. “The first thing you need to decide — long before you head for the woods — is if you’re going to film or ‘just hunt’,” he said. Of course, when you film yourself you are actually doing both, but you need to know where your loyalties lie. In the heat of the battle, do you find yourself reaching for your bow or the camera?
Adam Hays III is a producer with Tom Miranda Outdoors. Hays has killed five whopper bucks while self-filming: a 145-incher, 169-incher, 179-incher, 181-incher, and a humdinger 208-incher. If that’s not enough, he hit the biggest buck he’ll probably ever see during a self-filming adventure last fall. “It grossed somewhere in the 240 inch range,” Hays lamented. “I filmed him from daylight until about 10:30 [in the morning] inside of about 50 yards. When I finally got the shot, I just blew it — right through the backstraps. I almost became the first guy to ever film himself doing a nosedive off a treestand. It still haunts me.”
“Filming is tough and can be twice as discouraging as the toughest bowhunt, but when you get the shot, it’s all worth it,” Bychowski continued. “Nowadays, though, there are lots of neat accessories that make it easier. In my opinion, the question isn’t “Should I film?” it’s “When can I get started?”
The first step is deciding on a camera format. Bychowski advises, “Mini-DV is standard, but tapeless [hard drive/SD memory card] cameras are gaining momentum. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Will I just share footage over the Internet or do I want to actually produce something?’ If it’s the former, going tapeless is probably easiest. Just make sure your computer is compatible.”
So what exactly should you do when you see a buck you want? The first step is framing,” Bychowski said. “If you’re on auto-focus — which I don’t recommend — you just have to frame up the deer and wait.” A trick pros use with manual focus is to zoom as far as you reasonably can (on a distant object), then adjust your focus there and zoom back out. Now you should be in focus for whatever shows up inside that distance.
“While filming yourself, you might not always be able to follow the buck,” Bychowski said. “If you can’t, frame the camera where you expect the deer to travel. This way you will at least get the shot if not much of the approach. It is a trade-off.” Go to www.pineridgearchery.com and view the Home Video page for examples.
Filming yourself is different from filming a hunting partner, but some rules apply to both. To begin with, don’t zoom in so much that you lose the deer when it moves. You need some space — extra in front of the animal’s nose, less behind its rump. Watching television can help with other rules, such as the Rule of Thirds: place the eyes of subjects about a third of the way down from the top, not in the middle.
As you watch TV (not hunting shows), analyze the lighting, camera angles, cut-a-ways and B-roll. Cut-a-ways are short segments used as a break so the audience doesn’t fall asleep (the average attention span of an adult is less than 8 seconds). A good example, according to Bychowski, is filming the hunter’s head, then filming a close-up such as his broadhead, then going back to the hunter’s head. B-roll is any segment that can be used to establish a setting or a time — a scenic or an establishing shot, such as distant rolling ridges or a winding river from a good vantage point. Finally, never zoom in and out or pan quickly.
GOING SOLO WITH ADAM HAYS
Hays, 42, has carried a camcorder since the 1980s. His first self-filmed bow kill was a monster 10-pointer that grossed just under 170 inches. To say he knows the ropes is to say that a sharp broadhead in the right place kills mercifully. His tips follow.
“There’s really no reason not to be filming with an HD [high-definition] camera these days. You can get one for under $1,000, and the footage is 10 times better than what we used to get from $5,000 standard definition units just a few years ago. A $1,000 model will not have all the bells and whistles of professional cameras, but it’s a good start. The main difference is the amount of light it can gather.”
CAMERA ARMS, PLUS
“I helped Andrae [D’Quisto] design the Lone Wolf Strongarm and will be using a 3rd Arm [model] this year (www.the3rdarm.com). It is more stable, heavier and more expensive, but that’s what I’ll need for ESPN. I also recommend, if you get serious about this game, a fluid tripod head for the camera arms. The quality of your footage will increase appreciably.
“It helps to use a shotgun microphone and wireless mikes for good audio, but they’re not necessary for beginners. If you use external mikes, invest in a set of headphones; what you hear and what the camera is recording are almost always two different things. You have to listen to what you are recording.
“Wide-angle lenses can help the self-filmer by delivering a better field-of-view. Don’t forget extra batteries in the field for the camera and wireless mikes plus a good rain cover. Finally, always have a head-cleaner handy and use it daily; by the time your camera says the heads are dirty it will be too late.
“A good-size daypack is essential to cart all this stuff plus your hunting gear. The pack must be silent, scent-free, be able to support 50 pounds and still allow you to climb trees. Its a good idea to get one that will protect your camera from bumps, rain, etc. It also helps if the camera arm can be attached to the outside for easy access when you get in [your] tree.”
“Almost all cameras have an LCD screen on the left side, which ideal for right-handers but not for lefties. You must have a camera with an LCD screen if you want to self-film. When I’m in a tree facing away, my bow is to my left and in front, hanging on bow-hanger, typically attached to the platform of my treestand. My pack is also to my left, out of the way. My camera goes to my right, hung at waist-level for optimum maneuverability while standing and sitting. My second camera is hung above my head and to my right. This is great for capturing cut-a-ways in real time.
“Steady, steady, steady! Footage is only as good as it is steady, hence the need for an arm and a fluid head. Most cameras shouldn’t provide easy access to the zoom button, in my opinion, because folks think they have to use it. Limit zooming to getting a nice frame around a deer and leave it at that.
“As for framing a buck, it shouldn’t look like an ant, but you also don’t want to see antlers and nothing else.
“Always use manual focus, no exceptions.
“Keep some extra room in front of the animal, normally forward, and anticipate this before it runs off-screen, especially at the shot. Anticipate where the deer will run so you don’t lose contact.
“And finally, use lighted nocks so you can see the mystical flight of the arrow. They’re great for video!”
Early and late season deer are pretty relaxed and easiest to film. My best advice for when you actually see a buck is to have everything pre-set. All you should to do is turn the camera on. The rut is a different story. Cavorting and chasing deer are tough to film and even harder to kill while filming yourself. Decoys help stop deer and distract them. Mock scrapes and some deer lures help, too. That all said, my advice for filming during the rut is to forget it unless you can afford to hire a cameraman.
THE BIG RED BUTTON
Finally, don’t forget that red button. It’s unbelievable how easy it is to forget to hit “record.” An ugly step-sister of this blunder is the frightful “double record.” This happens when you accidentally turn the camera on and off. The only antidote is looking for the word, “REC” in the viewfinder every time you film. Then and only then will you know your camera is rolling.
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This article was published in the September 2009 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.