Catching movement out of the corner of my eye, I turned to see the mature 10-pointer trotting my way. I hit “record” and shifted the camera to center the oncoming buck. Steadily following his approach, I got in position for the impending shot.
With the buck stopped behind a tree, I shifted the camera two steps forward and attached the release to my string loop. When he moved, I came to full draw. The deer’s step brought him into the frame, and I sent the arrow slicing through his vitals. A donkey kick and a streak of brown later, all that was left was to shoot the filler footage and document the hero shot.
Today, many hunters dream of becoming the next Jackie Bushman. Nowadays, it’s hard to enter camp without meeting someone who is either intent on selling his footage to a show or has grand plans of beginning his own. Unfortunately, few newcomers understand how to set themselves up for success. Tragically, the end result is often wasted money and shattered dreams.
Attempting to capture quality footage significantly complicates the hunt. This is true whether a cameraman is used or, as this piece focuses on, when performing both the filming and hunting yourself. To successfully accomplish this feat, many issues must be addressed. Failure to do so typically results in ruined hunts and/or lousy footage.
Setting Up For the Feature
The first step in getting quality footage comes with finding the right setup. Of course, the setup must possess all the normal traits of stand sites conducive to taking trophy bucks. However, it also needs to address factors specific to filming.
To begin, the setting must allow for a reasonable amount of footage of your quarry. Not being able to see the huge buck until a split second before he enters a shooting lane might be acceptable on a normal hunt, but it makes for bad TV. Viewers want to see the star of the show. That translates into capturing ample footage of the deer. Two seconds worth doesn’t allow for a buildup of excitement. Set up in areas where you’ll have the opportunity to capture lead footage of the animal before the shot occurs. Typically, locations that provide this either involve open food sources, mature woods or superior vantage points.
Furthermore, do-it-yourselfers often must rely on autofocus. Unless you are confident that all the filming will occur at relatively the same distance and the zoom setting will remain stable, setting the manual focus and forgetting it commonly results in blurry images.
Complicating matters is that it’s rarely practical to run both the focus and zoom while simultaneously tracking the animal with the camera and still being able to pull off the shot. Using autofocus is a much easier and effective alternative.
However, autofocus doesn’t perform well in thick cover. Instead of locking onto the buck that’s slipping through the growth, it locks onto the brush. For autofocus to perform well, the woods have to be fairly open. All of these factors mean the thickets bucks love so much don’t create a good setting.
Treestand hunters must have ample cover since filming requires extra movement. Trees that provide a good view of the buck’s approach, as well as provide ample cover, are best.
Finally, the camera setup must be perfect. While there are some great hat- and bow-mounted cameras, the best way to film yourself from treestands still involves portable camera arms that attach to the tree.
To understand how these work, hold your right arm out at a 90-degree angle from your body. Visualize your body as a tree, your arm as the camera arm and your hand as the head to which the camera mounts. Quality camera arms can simulate all the horizontal movements of your arm, with the head being able to swivel independently and tilt up and down.
I’ve found that mounting the arm to the tree at hip to chest level is the most effective placement for minimizing movement. When filming myself, I always rely on the view screen. With the screen on the left side of the video camera, placing the camera to my right side provides an unobstructed view of the screen. Furthermore, that placement allows me to hold the bow in my left hand while controlling the camera with my right.
Getting the Shot on Film
Now let’s address filming the animal. The first step is to imagine the most likely paths the buck will take. As you do, go through the motions of filming the event and identify potential problems. This might involve pivoting the camera around the tree, positioning adjustments that produce better views or a host of other actions.
Practice runs also enable the videographer to preset the zoom to the most likely setting. Each scenario allows you to anticipate and plan your actions.
Anticipating where the shot will occur is even more critical. If you have good stand placement, picking up the animal at a distance shouldn’t be a problem. However, when doing it yourself, stopping the deer at the right spot isn’t easy.
A buck I took for Scent-Lok’s Wildlife Point Blank program illustrates how many hunts typically come down, as well as the advantages to stopping a buck at a predetermined location.
I spotted the buck coming in on a trot. Having already anticipated his route, I hit the record button and easily centered him in the frame. While tracking his progress, I snatched my bow and positioned my feet for the shot. As he entered the shooting lane, I shifted the camera to the scent wick and got ready to shoot.
Hitting the odor stream, the fine 10-pointer put on the brakes and turned his body to the odor source. With his nose glued to the scent of active scrape, I calmly came to full draw, settled the pin and sent the arrow. Several crashes later, the buck was mine.
As that hunt showed, there are huge advantages to stopping and holding the star’s attention at a prescribed location. While grunting will bring him to a stop, it creates the problem of focusing his attention on you. This makes coming to full draw almost impossible.
Using scent is far more effective. When placed under a buck’s nose, a quality scent will almost always stop him. The keys are to place it just upwind of where the buck will be passing and in somewhere within your weapon’s range that will produce an unobstructed view.
Taking the Final Step
One of the biggest mistakes many newcomers make is believing the kill is all that’s needed. With so many hunting shows today, viewers demand more than a bunch of kill scenes thrown together. They demand seeing the shots, but they also want a story – to be entertained or to learn something. Frankly, I believe Jackie Bushman was way ahead of the curve on that, which can be seen in both his longevity and popularity.
This is a concept that Marc Baird, producer of Scent-Lok’s “Gettin’ Close with Lee and Tiffany Lakosky” also understands better than most. “Harvest sequences are great, but most kills make up 30 seconds or less of airtime,” Marc said. “For a show to be really popular, it must have an identity. That comes from a consistent, entertaining format. The format can be deviated from a little, but it should always be an underlying current.
“Specifically, each show should have a theme, and each hunt should tell a story,” continued Baird. “To accomplish that, the show needs more than harvest footage alone. To have a fantastic meal, you need to serve the appetizer and entrée first. In a general sense, footage telling the story of the hunt – what you are after, where the hunt is taking place, why you are there – is the appetizer. The footage explaining the hunting tactics and specific location the hunter has selected to employ them in is the entrée. Finally, the harvest and retrieval footage is served as dessert.
“Most of the time, hunters just send in the harvest footage. The only time top-end shows can use it is when they have viewer segments. Most good shows would rather accept footage that tells a great story and has a pretty good harvest scene than a great harvest scene without the supporting footage,” Baird concluded.
There’s no way I could cover how to tell a story with video in one article. My best suggestion is to study your favorite shows and note the types of shots they include and the stories they tell.
Contact the shows directly and ask if they accept freelance footage before you film your hunt. If yes, inquire as to what style they need and write down any suggestions they might have.
One thing that almost all shows need is footage of the hunter. Shots of them walking through the woods, entering the stand, close-ups of the hunter scanning for game, aiming and taking the shot all are good support material.
Because you are just one hunter with one camera, much of that is impossible to capture live. Take heart: Most professional crews don’t capture it live, either. After the real shot is when much of this footage is taken. By adjusting the camera arm position and reversing the view screen, you can get good footage of this yourself. After the shot, simply retrace the action, as closely to what just happened as possible, while capturing your actions on tape. The production studio will cut and paste it into a final product.
So, whether you are filming for family and friends or to become the next hunter to make it on TV, filming your own hunts is a challenge. However, if you follow these tips it certainly can be accomplished.
This article was published in the July 2006 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.