A Rare Opportunity

M.R. James, outfitter Stan Parkerson, and I are pretty pleased with our moose. However, this photo doesn't reflect the churning in my guts over my failure to capture M.R.'s kill shot on video. (Photo by Larry D. Jones)

While frantically looking for a place to set up, I heard the bull moose grunt, and I looked up. "Holy Smoke!" I gasped. A bull bigger than a draft horse was heading straight at Bowhunter Founder M.R. James and his guide, Garry Thoms. The bull's massive antlers easily spanned over 60 inches. They were flat and wide, like the wings on a Boeing 737. And they looked about that big.

Dropping to one knee, I eased my pack to the ground, slipped off the rain cover, pulled out my Canon XL1 video camera and microphone, and instantly rolled the dial to turn on the camera. Nothing happened. I jiggled the battery to make sure it was in place and tight. No sign of life. I glanced toward M.R. He was nocking an arrow and lifting his bow into shooting position.

I panicked. First I turned the camera off and back on. Nothing! Again, I jiggled the battery. Still, no life. I pushed the standby button, which should not have worked -- the camera was dead -- but it lit up, and as M.R. drew his bow, I picked up the bull in the viewfinder and pushed record. M.R.'s arrow smacked the bull in the sweet spot, just behind the front shoulder. The moose galloped into a draw, started up the other side, and stopped. As his rear legs buckled, he lunged straight over backwards and hit the ground with an earth-shaking thud. What a rare opportunity!

M.R. was understandably elated, and I should have been equally elated. Instead, my guts were churning. In my frustration with the malfunctioning camera, I had pushed the record button twice. As the camera had begun working, I instantly pushed the button, which I thought put it into pause mode. Then, picking up the bull in the viewfinder, I pushed the button again to begin recording. In reality, pushing the button the first time had started the camera recording; the second time had put it on pause. Discovering my mistake, I was sick.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the first time I'd experienced such a feeling. I've had a similar nauseating reaction at missing easy shots with my bow. The truth is, whether you're behind a bow or camera, great opportunities are rare, and you'd better be ready when the moment of truth arrives.

THAT'S BECAUSE IN EITHER CASE, you probably will get only one shot, and you have to make that one shot count. Oh, if you're hunting pigs over bait, antelope at a waterhole, or caribou in a mass migration, you might get multiple opportunities. But most of the time, you know very well that opportunities to shoot or videotape quality animals -- P&Y whitetails, high-racked mule deer at the end of long stalks, bighorn sheep in the high mountains, giant bears -- are rare, and you had better perform the first try, because you won't get a second chance.

To perform well under pressure, you must prepare beforehand. For one thing, you normally have little time to act. On that moose with M.R., mere seconds elapsed between the time we heard the first grunt and the moment M.R. shot. Even more critical, under pressure you may not be thinking clearly. And the greater the pressure, the less clearly you will think. To ensure good performance under such pressure, with either bow or camera, your equipment must be in perfect order, and you must have enough practice under your belt that your movements are automatic. You can't expect to be thinking logically.

When shooting video, try to plan out your scene ahead of the action. Level and secure your tripod, make sure the battery is seated securely, pre-focus your camera on a spot where you think an animal will appear, check your microphone connections, and use headphones to test for sound.

Above all, begin critical scenes with a fully charged battery and a new tape. I dare say that the major reasons cameramen fail to capture critical video are dead batteries and lack of tape.

On my first-ever video elk hunt, I was the hunter, and a bull was coming straight to me when the cameraman hissed, "Psst! Pssst!" I turned to see him mouthing, "I'm out of tape." I mouthed back, "Put some in!" By the time he had changed tape, the bull was gone and we got no shot, no video, no elk. That's a painfully common scenario, yet it's inexcusable. Before the critical moment arrives, check the battery and the tape.

Of course, when you're both the hunter and cameraman, things get doubly confusing. One of the low points of my bowhunting life took place in Africa. Alone in the blind that morning, I set my camera on a tripod and focused on the waterhole. All I had to do was push the record button to capture a kill shot. Before long a kudu came in to drink. I knew he was big, and I was thrilled with the prospects of shooting such an animal -- and capturing it on video. I drew my recurve and made a good shot and the bull ran only a short distance. He was bigger than I thought -- he still stands as the SCI world record archery kudu. Only trouble was, I had forgot to push record on the camera. Again, my guts were churning.

If you're behind the camera, make sure your hunter is prepared to perform. Not long ago on a caribou hunt, I was videotaping a hunter who always carried his rangefinder on the belt of his daypack. When we spotted a bedded caribou and moved in for the stalk, he took off his daypack to shed the weight and stalk more quietly. Of course, when it came time to shoot, he had no rangefinder, because it was 50 yards behind us on his pack. So he eyeballed the range -- and shot over the caribou. No caribou, and no video. I should have reminded him to grab his rangefinder.

Last fall, in shooting a segment for Bowhunter Magazine TV, Editor Dwight Schuh and I were hunting mule deer with Full Draw Outfitters in southern Colorado when we discovered a buck bedded in a brushy wash. We circled downwind and carefully inched to the edge of the wash, coming in behind the buck. Standing 6'2" tall, Dwight could see the buck, but because I'm shorter and was behind him, I could not see the bedded deer. Cautiously I took a couple of more steps forward, and when we agreed -- with eye signals -- we were as close as we could safely get, I eased up, focused on the grass next to the buck, and zoomed back to Dwight, trying to do everything right. If we goofed this up, we would blow a rare opportunity for a good deer -- and for good video. Besides, we might get fired. We were feeling the pressure. We had to perform!

Dwight took a quick reading with his Nikon rangefinder, and as he laid the rangefinder on the ground, I slowly sucked in a big breath of air, nodded to Dwight, and pushed record (I think)...

Dwight told me not to tell the rest of the story, because he plans to write about this for an upcoming issue of Bowhunter. So read his story, and I'll make sure he tells the truth. Better yet, to judge our performan

ce in this pressure-packed moment, watch for it on Bowhunter Magazine TV on The Outdoor Channel (view show descriptions). Be there. It's a rare opportunity.

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