I walked gingerly down the two-track towards the old faithful “Wood Stand’ to sit a spot that was absolute money during the rut year after year. In the past, I have shot several bucks from this stand and the cool November morning beckoned me to the woods. I reached my perch, hoisted my bow up, knocked an arrow and waited for the heavenly anticipated sunrise. The sunlight hit the leaves of the cornstalks in the field I looked over. The woods started to brighten and I could see all the deer sign around me. I noticed a new scrape on the field line and a few freshened rubs were illuminated in the adjacent thicket. The shine of frost covered leaves forced me to squint, but I couldn’t help admiring the spectacle I was witnessing. I could see my breath and feel the thermals rising, but there wasn’t even a slight breeze that morning. No wind at all. You could hear a pin drop. It was turning out to be a morning to remember; a type of morning I like to call a “hunter’s morning”. I remember thinking to myself, “God…you’re really showing off.”
I soaked in the next few hours as this was my weekend cleansing ritual. Nine o’clock hit and I could hear the bells of the local church I attended. I was in my own pew this morning, but worshiping God and his creation through hunting. The bells echoed through the woods and a mystic feeling overcame me. I envisioned the moment of truth over and over as I do each hunt. At 9:15 I could hear corn stalks break in the middle of the field. Every snap of a stalk worsened the soreness in my throat and my heart began to race. “Here we go”, I said. The deer made his way right towards my stand and displayed its eight-point rack as it immerged out of the corn. The buck made a hard turn away from me with his nose to the ground as he searched for an entrance into the woodlot. I waited anxiously for him to pick a trail and inevitably close the distance for a shot opportunity. I vividly remember the buck turning hard and jumping a vine and as soon as he landed I made a loud bleat -“Mahh!” Nothing can compare to the feeling of watching an arrow fly true to its destination.
You should have been there. I wish you could have seen that hunt unfold. For this reason, I have obligated myself to carry a camera with intentions of capturing these precious moments on film. I can recollect that story pretty well, but if I could go back in time, I would have brought a camera with me. I have the proof of my hunt. The eight point rack sits on a shelf in my pole barn, but I wish I could relive that hunt in another way. Filming my own hunts helps me do that. Not only is it great to go back and rekindle the memories, but harvesting an animal on film all on your own is more than gratifying. Stories around the campfire are great, but having a story that can outlast your time here on earth is priceless.
With all of that said, I want to share a few tips with you that will help when filming your hunts. Successfully self-filming a deer hunt is much easier said than done. As hunters, we know the difficulties of harvesting a whitetail let alone throwing a camera in the mix. Which is why in this article I aim to provide a few ideas or thoughts that you should take into consideration when filming your next deer hunt.
Getting the Deer in Frame
Framing up the deer seems simple, however if you have ever been behind the lens, there are certain situations that have proven this task to be difficult. Especially if you are hunting in a thick bedding area in November where the entire woods is brown. Any seasoned deer hunter knows how easily deer can disappear out of sight or blend in perfectly with their surroundings. One minute that buck can be running right at you down the trail, and when you look down to find the buck in your viewfinder, he has disappeared like a ghost; and you begin to questio
n your sanity. I know the feeling. Keeping your eye on the deer is very important in this situation, but if we want to get him in frame, it will take even more concentration. The key is to try and pick the deer up when he is moving slow or completely stopped. When the deer are at a walking pace or not moving at all, look down in your viewfinder and find their antlers, tail or throat patch. If you are struggling to find the deer in your viewfinder, zoom out completely and concentrate on making actual visual contact with the deer. Once you pinpoint its location, pick out a plainly noticeable object that is near or within your line of sight. This may be a dark dangling branch or a moss covered stump. Register in your mind the location of the deer in relation to where the object is that you chose and start zooming in. Once you have the object in frame, you can move the camera to get the deer in frame based on its position near your chosen object. To simplify, find something near the deer that is easy to see in your viewfinder and zoom in on it to help you get the deer in frame. This tactic can be especially helpful when you are hunting in dense cover.
Camera Arm Position
To cover the basics, be sure to position the base of the camera on the side of your release aid so you can easily reach the camera arm while holding your bow. Lefties keep the camera arm on the left and righties keep it on the right. Camera position awareness is important, so when you get settled in you need to ensure your bow and camera arm are in close reach. You need to limit your movements while on stand and by keeping you camera and camera arm near your “reach” hand will help you accomplish this. This may seem rudimentary to some, however knowing your camera arm position is so important, and if it is not taken seriously, it can cost you shot opportunities. I can tell you from experience that there is much more concentration involved when self-filming. To prevent from having issues with your camera arm positioning I recommend practicing and becoming while acquainted with your camera set up. Just like a hockey player gets to explore the capabilities of his stick, you must acclimate yourself with your camera arm. Many camera arms are adjustable so the user can level the camera. Know what your camera arm can do and practice getting set up. Start your practice session from the very beginning of climbing your tree to the very end when you mount your camera. The more practice reps you get in before the season, the more efficient you are going to be getting setup and you will know your equipment well. Like I said, this may sound very simplistic but if you blunder while filming a monster buck you’ll be wishing you had given this bit of advice more acknowledgment.
Speaking of blunders, if you self-film enough you will eventually make mistakes. It is inevitable and the name of the game is to limit the frequency and severity of the errors. One of the most costly mistakes of self-filming is jamming yourself with the camera arm while attempting a shot at an animal. How does this happen? Often we are so focused on getting the deer on film and the process of executing a shot takes a back seat. So subconsciously we center the camera and camera arm between our body and the deer to more easily get the deer into frame. It is natural and sensible, however, this causes the camera arm to obstruct our ability to make a shot. Can you tell that I have had this happen to me before? The key to prevent yourself from jamming is to keep your camera one foot off your reach hand hip. I am left handed, so I will position my camera one foot off my left hip and I find it easier to reach if it is higher on my hip. This makes it easy for me to reach, and by maintaining the same distance from my hip on each hunt, I am fully aware of my camera’s position. Muscle memory will kick in if I have to make any sort of adjustment. In addition, this keeps the camera arm out of the shooting lane and preventing the bow from hitting the camera or camera arm. Once again, this is definitely something you will need to practice along with getting your camera arm setup. One cannot simply walk into the woods with a camera, camera arm and bow and expect to operate perfectly. When the moment of truth comes you need to be prepared. Repetition is going to create muscle memory, so when that buck does make an appearance, you are going to act fluently and proficiently.
When it comes to self-filming, one of the best tips that I can provide is to make sure you have some sort of wrist strap for your release. If you shoot a thumb release you need to invest in getting a wrist strap for it. This is so important simply because it allows you to adjust your camera during crucial times. Imagine being at full draw and you look down in your viewfinder to watch your target deer walk just out of frame. What do you do? I can tell you that many situations like this won’t allow you to let your bow down, adjust your camera and then draw back again. That is just too much movement and it takes up too much precious time during an event where seconds can decision an outcome. With a wrist strap you will be able to sustain your draw, reach down, adjust the camera to frame up the deer and execute a shot even under the copious amounts of stress that the harvest moment brings. Keep in mind less movement is more when it comes to deer hunting. The aforementioned method of adjusting your camera while at full draw beats the “re-draw” method 9.9 times out of 10. Lastly, have you ever had to make adjustments while at full draw? If you haven’t then I strongly suggest practicing and practicing a lot. Like I said before, get to know your gear and familiarize yourself with difficult, yet often much-needed maneuvers to help you get the deer in frame. If you haven’t noticed a theme here I’ll just tell you flat out- practice, practice, practice. Great athletes practice meticulously even the smaller components of their game to be successful. Why would practice to self-film a buck of a lifetime be treated any differently?
Bringing a camera to the woods is cumbersome and self-filming is a lot of hard work. It’s easy to say that lugging all the extra gear around is too much and not worth the effort. Many people decide not to self-film for that reason alone. But there is something very different about going down the road less traveled and reaching your destination. Keep some of these tips in mind while on your self-filming journey and expand on them. There is always something to learn and discover when you are challenging yourself.