I can remember the first hunt I brought my camera on. It was actually not my hunt at all. I was 18 years old and my buddy Jake invited me to accompany him on the first day of Michigan’s youth deer season. This was Jake’s last year to hunt the youth season and I was passed the legal age to hunt. Even though I wasn’t hunting, I was just happy to be in the woods and even happier to be in pursuit of whitetail deer with my long-time friend. And ever since I started my hunting and filming journey, I have always been more focused on capturing my experiences and memories that can only be made in the woods. There is a lot more to hunting than just the kill and bragging rights. Everything leading up to the moment of truth all the way to the end of the blood trail- these are the experiences worth documenting.
Jake and I sat at opposite ends of a giant hayfield on a frosty September morning. We were hunting an area deemed the “Coffin-Corner”, and this particular part of the woods had been laying many deer to rest- even several Pope and Young quality bucks. Fortunately, that morning God blessed us with the presence of six shooter bucks. Four of which I was able to get on film crossing the hayfield and working their way right towards Jake. To make a long story short, the “Coffin-Corner” didn’t fail us as it presented not one, not two but three opportunities at harvesting quality bucks. Let’s just say Jake learned the valuable lesson of checking to make sure his gun is sighted in before taking it to the field. To make things worse, I managed to document nearly everything that happened, and needless to say, Jake wanted to burn the DVD after watching it.
Despite our failures that morning, I managed to document an unforgettable morning of hunting. That particular hunt served as the catalyst for my passion for filming my own hunts. In my college English classes, I would write mainly about the outdoors or hunting whitetails. And I felt that most of my friends or colleagues couldn’t fully connect with me on why hunting is so involved in my life. The experiences are easy to talk about, but the feelings are difficult to explain. So instead of just trying to talk or write more about my experiences, I made the conscious decision to begin the journey of documenting my hunts on film. I knew it was going to be challenging and I was very much correct about the difficulties of filming. I understand the concept of seeing is believing, and I believe that providing a visual is a more effective way to communicate with others that don’t grasp the hunting lifestyle.
In addition to sharing my experiences, I find that filming my own hunts is an entirely different level of hunting altogether. Due to my competitive nature, I would say that this is the main reason why I carry a camera to the woods. Hunting has always challenged me and self-filming is most certainly pushed me to another level. I have a hard time with being content. I literally get antsy if I feel that I am not pushing myself. Documenting my hunts has not only challenged my hunting abilities, but it has brought me closer to the intricacies of the outdoors. Hunting is no longer just a walk to and from the tree stand with hopes of seeing an animal. Filming has pushed me to strive for success and to capture the details of the outdoors that I appreciate so much. If I am without a camera while hunting, I have a noticeable feeling of emptiness and complacency that I just don’t care for. Call me crazy but it’s the way I hunt and I love it.
Even with all of the challenges that come with filming my hunts- the end goal outweighs them all. I want people to see what the hunting heritage has to offer. People need to see the excitement and purpose of hunting. I hope to encourage others to try hunting or engage in conservation. If God blesses me with children, I hope to one day have documented experiences to show them and pass on the lifestyle that I love so much. Filming for TV, Youtube or whatever is great and all. But I find more value in preserving our heritage through the means of digital media so the generations to come have something tangible and authentic to refer to. If I am successful at documenting my hunts then maybe one day little Johnny will want to do the same for his children and our hunting traditions will continue to be passed on.
I prayed every 50 miles that my 2005 GMC Sierra with 212,000 miles on it would not give up on me. “Lord, please watch over me”, I prayed. As I was making the 8-hour trek across three states, I thought about what to expect at the 2016 Iowa Deer Classic. I had been eyeing up the exhibitors and seminar lists for the past few weeks and I had been looking forward to learning as much as I could this weekend. It isn’t too often you get Lee and Tiffany Lakosky, Tom Nelson, Bill Winke and many other hunting experts all under one roof. In addition, I wanted to be able to connect with a few exhibitors and talk to them a little about their product and hunting. Needless to say, I was amped up. I wanted to write this article for those who enjoy attending outdoor expos and shows. So here is a quick synopsis of my experience at the 2016 Iowa Deer Classic.
I was fortunate enough to arrive Friday afternoon just in time to attend Bill Winke’s seminar “Patterning Mature Bucks”. Additionally, I attended Tom Nelson’s seminar “10 Mistakes Deer Hunter’s Make”. I got to shake hands with Tom Nelson and found out he only lives a stone’s throw away from me. Both Tom and Bill covered a lot about hunting whitetails and I learned a few new tips and tricks. At these seminars, it is tough to not benefit from them in some way because of the amount of time that these guys spend hunting. Bill Winke talked about patterning bucks using trail cameras and noted that it’s usually on the second card pull when you will start seeing the bucks show up after you hang a camera over a fresh corn pile. He has found that on the first card pull there are typically not that many buck sightings. It is information like this that really gets me thinking about how I operate during and before the season. Attending seminars such as the Iowa Deer Classic gives the “student of the game” an opportunity to pick the brains of the world’s best hunters in person in efforts to better themselves.
In addition to the great seminars, there are a TON of exhibitors at the Iowa Deer Classic. I had a chance to talk with Cody D’Acquisto from XOP Treestands about their current line of stands and what is up and coming. Cody mentioned that XOP is going to release a mobile hang-on stand that only weighs 8 ounces! Also, a favorite company of mine, Wicked Tree Gear, was in attendance and I had the chance to talk with the President Todd Pringnitz. His story is amazing and I am truly jealous of his career and lifestyle. I spoke with several other exhibitors at the show and what was great is that everyone loves talking deer hunting. They may be there to sell their product (and that’s their primary purpose), but it seems like everyone truly enjoyed a good deer hunting conversation. I felt like I was right at home.
If you’re a student of the game and enjoy attending expos, I strongly recommend you make plans for the Iowa Deer Classic in 2017. The seminars and a wide variety of exhibitors alone made the entire trip for me. However, there was also a 3D archery competition and a turkey calling contest that I didn’t even get to see as much because I was so occupied with everything else. It is definitely an expo I plan on returning to in the future. But based on the deer mounts on the wall at the classic’s big buck contest, I hope the next time I return to Iowa is to fill a buck tag. Thanks for reading!
My passion for hunting has always been steadfast and invariable. I wanted to write this article about the “fire” I have always burning inside me because I feel that I owe it the recognition. I owe it the acknowledgement and accreditation for being my main drive and focus towards success. The “fire” has pushed me to not only improve myself as a hunter, but to also take my motivation, determination and ambition out of the woods and into other parts of my life. I have always been able to implement what I learn through hunting into other aspects of my life, and I know undoubtedly that this has helped me as a person and professional. The “fire” still burns strong to this day and it always will, but I would like to tell you how my passion got started. I am sure all of you at some point or another have been asked, “Why do you love to hunt?” The easy answer would be to say, “It’s in my blood”, but we all know of the one moment that had us hooked for life. I am sure most of us can remember our first hunt or our first time harvesting an animal. It is always great to rekindle these memories and I truthfully love hearing them from others. By sharing my story I hope you as a reader can relate to it and remember why you love to hunt. Keep the “fire” lit and let it burn.
Like many young boys I started learning how to hunt with my Dad simply by going with him. When I was 9 years old I remember going to the woods with him during the Michigan whitetail deer bowhunting season with no intentions to hunt myself (I was too young). I went because I wanted to see deer, preferably a buck. I had never seen a hard horned buck and I wanted that interaction. My Dad would come home from hunting and he often had stories of the bucks he would see. I was infatuated by his descriptions of the body size and antler characteristics of some of the bucks he had encounters with. I wanted to see these prestigious animals in their natural environment, and I wanted to know why my Dad loved to hunt them. At this point in my life I had only one close encounter with a spike horn buck in the woods during the summer and countless deer glassed from the passenger seat of my Dad’s truck. When my Dad asked me if I wanted to go hunting with him when October 1st rolled around I was elated.
The big day came for my Dad and I to go on our first hunt together. I felt like I played a significant role in the hunt because my stand location was in close proximity to his, which meant that if I saw any deer heading his way I was to alert him through our “walky-talkies”. Dressed in camo from head to toe and with my “walky-talky” in hand my Dad and I headed out to the woods. I remember climbing up into the tree and putting my safety belt on. When I got settled in I looked down to give my Dad the traditional “thumbs up”, which meant we were good to go and the hunt was on! I watched him walk slowly and carefully through the woods until he disappeared. This was it. I was officially on the hunt with my Dad and my senses were on full alert.
I was perched in a ladder stand strapped to a fairly old oak tree. I could see well into the woods and all the way across the bean field behind me. This particular stand was a great observation stand that I would later kill several deer out of. I can recall some of my thoughts and still-frames I had etched into my mind during this hunt. I remember noticing how quiet the woods became after sitting there for a while. I remember that it was a relatively warm day and that there was little to no wind at all. The sun was sinking down, but shining brightly through the orange leaves that nearly covered the forest canopy. I remember these things distinctly, but my memory renders them insignificant because what happened after only an hour of sitting in the woods was something that I would NEVER forget. I will ALWAYS remember the moment I heard the hard crunch of oak leaves and the unmistakable sound of a buck grunt. I had heard my Dad blow his grunt tube before and I had read about what a grunt sounded like in my obnoxious collection of North American Whitetail magazines time and time again. However, nothing could have prepared me for that exact moment. I turned slowly around to catch a flash of ivory through the brush and dangling limbs. It was a buck! He was walking right towards my stand along the edge of the bean field that I was overlooking. If he continued to walk along the field’s edge he would pass right under me. The buck did exactly that and the entire time my heart was racing. I was so nervous that my throat started to hurt and my body began to shake. He passed behind my tree and I slowly turned my head around to the other side. He stopped dead in his tracks. I was frozen and so was he. Fearful that he could hear me breathing and shaking I tightened my muscles and held my breath. He looked angry. He reminded me of “Old Mossy”, the antagonist buck in the animated movie “Bambi” (That’s at least what my Dad called him).
I remained motionless as “Old Mossy” scanned the field with his eyes and ears. His coat was dark, and from my young memory his body was big. Being only a 5 pointer, I couldn’t believe how big and mean this buck looked. He flicked his tail and continued his path down the field’s edge. I watched him walk off until he disappeared and I could no longer see him. I was ecstatic. I never pulled a trigger or released an arrow, but I celebrated like I just shot a Boone and Crockett trophy buck. The encounter itself meant so much to me. I was so close and I knew that moments like this were rare. I sat down after several fist pumps almost exhausted from the adrenaline and excitement. For a few seconds I sat and thought about what just happened. The buck came and went in a blink of an eye. I can remember looking back from where the buck came and I prayed that more deer would come. My hand brushed across my “walky-talky” and I suddenly remembered what I needed to do. The one job I had was to alert my Dad if any deer were coming! Hoping I was not too late I radioed my Dad with a strong whisper, “There is a buck coming your way!” I didn’t hear anything and I hit the button once more, repeating my message. My Dad’s voice scratched through the radio, “Okay”. Then it was silent.
The evening faded to night and I could see my Dad’s flashlight coming through the woods. This visual broke my intense focus and concentration on the general direction of my Dad’s stand. It had been a while since the buck passed and I was hoping to hear his shot or see the buck run by with signs of a fatal wound. But that did not happen. My Dad made it to the bottom of the stand and I asked him, “Well??? Did you see him?” Dad responded, “Yeah. He was 10 yards out of range.” I remember being disappointed and I wish this story had a better ending, but what stood out above the outcome was the encounter that set me on fire. It was not as flashy and exciting as some other stories I have heard, but that was the encounter that had me hooked for the rest of my life.