My hunt days were washing away fast, and my tag was still tucked away in my pack -- unused. I was trying to arrow a woodland caribou while Bowhunter Publisher Jeff Waring played cameraman. I had already videotaped him ambushing a stag, so we had a kill shot in the can for Bowhunter Magazine TV. We were hunting in Newfoundland with Tony Tuck, owner of Grey River Lodge, but at the moment we were waiting for a break in the weather, because rain was pouring down outside the lodge.
As you watch Bowhunter Magazine TV, you may not realize the complications and commitment required to capture the footage for that program. I'd estimate that hunting successfully with a camera is 10 times harder than without. Sometimes you KNOW you could get an animal if you could just get away from that infernal camera and cameraman. Sometimes you just want to escape. Sometimes you hate that camera.
That's why I love it. I've always been challenge oriented, and overcoming obstacles gives me great satisfaction. Whether behind or in front of a camera, the goal of gathering good hunting footage only heightens the challenge of hunting for me; gives me great sense of accomplishment; and forces me to be a better hunter. However, to master the challenge and stay sane, I have had to grow and change. Here are some of the areas in which I have grown to maintain my love for the challenge.
The simple act of moving camera gear around can be cumbersome and noisy. Thus, a hunter simply cannot move as quickly with a camera in tow as he could without. In short, I've learned to slow down. To be patient!
Not all cameramen are skilled hunters. When I'm with someone with little hunting experience, I take time to coach him on where and how to place his feet; how to avoid overhanging limbs, loose rocks, brittle twigs; how to move silently in a stand. During a stalk, a cameraman must maneuver microphone, tripod, and other gear, so I slow down to his pace rather than trying to make him keep up with mine. And I often carry the tripod and other gear and help the cameraman set up so we can prepare as quietly and as quickly as possible.
Patience paid off as cameraman Jeff Tusing and I stalked caribou in Canada. We spotted a caribou from our boat and circled a mile to intercept him. However, the bull bedded, and with little wind to cover our stalking sounds, we hunkered down and waited. By myself I might have made the stalk. With a cameraman? No. Patience!
The bull eventually got up and walked into tall willows. While he was out of sight, Jeff and I circled across the marsh, removed our packs, and hurried down as the bull stripped leaves from the willows. Unable to get within range, we quietly found an ambush point and waited. At long last, the bull fed within bow range, we got great footage, and his antlers now decorate my office wall. Patience helped us to get good footage -- and bolster my love for the camera.
Fooling an animal's nose is always the major challenge in hunting, and adding a cameraman only doubles the challenge. For Bowhunter Magazine TV, we rely on ScentBlocker clothing and Scent Shield products for cameraman and hunter, but to double our defense, I constantly monitor wind direction with a puff bottle.
In 2004, my son, Steve, was running camera while I hunted Roosevelt elk near the Oregon coast. As we crawled toward a bedded herd, I checked the wind every 10 yards. Finally we crouched behind a fir tree, 50 yards from the herd, where we waited patiently for the herd bull to wander our way. For 20 minutes I monitored the wind every few seconds with my puff bottle and suddenly detected a slight shift in the breeze. We had to make something happen or those elk might smell us.
I bugled, and three bugles later, the big herd bull stopped 22 yards from me. Steve caught the action as my arrow smacked the bull, and we had a program. Obeying the wind religiously can double your success -- and appreciation for your job.
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Running out of battery power or tape at critical moments is the biggest disaster in video hunts. That's why both hunter and cameraman have to anticipate these problems. In cold temperatures, batteries drain quickly, so you must keep spare batteries readily available and, when you aren't shooting, keep them warm in your pockets. You also should recharge them as often as possible. And prior to critical action, always check tape. If you're getting close to the end of a tape, put in a new one. To keep loving this job, never take a chance on running low on power or tape at critical moments.
Bad weather can foil any video hunt, but, with preparation, you can salvage even the worst days. A tree umbrella will keep you and your camera reasonably dry on rainy days. And an inexpensive plastic bag can serve as an effective rain cover for your camera. Also, always carry a rain cover for your pack to keep all items dry. If you carry your camera in your pack, moisture in the pack will shut down the camera in a hurry.
While hunting Sitka blacktails on Kodiak Island, Editor Dwight Schuh and I placed our Summit Treestands in a big cottonwood near a well-used trail. With a treestand umbrella overhead and a plastic bag over my camera, I was able to capture footage of Dwight hunting, even during rain and snowstorms. Too bad Dwight didn't have an umbrella over his stand. I got good footage of him getting soaked.
Sometimes when shooting video, you need to take opportunities when they come your way. After Jeff Waring killed his stag and took over on the camera in Newfoundland, I became the hunter. Having killed an average stag some years before, I decided to hold out for a big one -- you know, be the hero on camera. Well, it didn't happen, and I ended up without a caribou -- and without footage of my shooting a caribou.
That's one aspect I'm still learning -- you can't always set the same standards as you might when hunting alone. But that's part of the business, and failure at times only makes you grow. No, I haven't always been successful in front of or behind the camera. I still love a challenge, however, and that's why I wouldn't trade my job for any other in this world.
Author's Note: To book a woodland caribou hunt at Grey River Lodge with Tony Tuck, contact him at 1-877-466-2440 or (709) 427-3494 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org (E-mail), or online at www.greyltd.com.