Guide Mike Jennings, cameraman Jeff Tusing, and I had been watching a high-racked caribou for a half hour. The bull was bedded in an open meadow, and because the day was so calm and quiet, we could not approach any closer.
Finally the bull stood and walked across the meadow into some willows on the other side. As he began to feed, we could see only his antlers dipping up and down as he stripped leaves from branches.
"Lets take a chance and quickly cross the marsh while he is in the thick willows," Mike suggested, and away we went.
As we hurried across the meadow, the bull continued to feed, oblivious to his pursuers, and we were able to climb unnoticed above the bull onto a rocky ridge.
The bull was now feeding up the edge of the willows toward us. If Jeff and I moved quickly above him and let him feed to us, we might have a chance.
"Let's move fast!" I hissed.
Jeff checked his camera settings, stuffed an extra camera battery into his pocket, and whispered, "I'm ready."
Leading the way, I hustled into a shallow draw and followed the edge of the willows toward the caribou. Once within 60 yards, we could see his antlers over a rise. Monitoring his antlers, we slithered forward when he was intent on eating and stood stone still whenever he raised his head.
At 40 yards, Jeff melted behind me next to a spruce tree, and I crouched in the willows and nocked an arrow. We'd waited about a minute when the bull walked up out of the hollow and into the open. Waiting for him to give me a broadside shot, I glanced at Jeff. He had the camera rolling, capturing some great footage of the feeding bull.
Slowly coming to full draw, I picked a spot and released. A puff of hair exploded into the air as my arrow shaved the bull's brisket. The bull lurched forward but went only 20 yards before stopping and looking around. He had no idea what had happened.
As he began feeding again, straight away, I crouched and quickly closed the gap, making sure Jeff still had me in view. Then, to my good fortune, the bull rounded a hill where I could see only the tops of his antlers. And to make the situation more perfect, a large boulder sat on the hilltop between me and the bull.
Lining up the boulder between me and the caribou, I scurried ahead. At the boulder I had to stop or risk going out of sight of the camera, so I squared around, held my bow upright, and waited for the bull to move into full view. As he came out from behind the boulder, I drew and shot. Sprinting away, the mortally wounded bull circled to my right, running within 10 yards of Jeff and the rolling camera to conclude the stalking -- and video -- sequence.
I WAS ABLE TO BAG a caribou and capture the event on video for Bowhunter Magazine TV because experience has taught me to anticipate the action and to always give first consideration to the camera and cameraman. Here are some ideas I've learned from experience for successfully stalking and videotaping game.
At the most basic level, do you shoot with a tripod or without? For professional videotaping, I insist on keeping the camera on a tripod for virtually all scenes. For stalking, however, I make an exception, because the cameraman must re-main mobile. If he tries to shoot the stalk and kill shot off a tripod, he most likely will find himself stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thus, for this critical stage of the hunt, he needs to hand-hold the camera.
That still doesn't excuse jiggly, blurred video. Whenever possible, he must brace the camera against a tree or rock for stability. He also should use a monopod or a shoulder pod to help hold the camera steady. Many modern cameras have some means of internal image stabilization, and this feature should be employed any time the camera is used off a tripod.
Obviously two people -- hunter and cameraman -- cannot stalk as quietly and stealthily as a lone hunter. And they must coordinate their movements. To make a successful video stalk, they must study body language and behavior of the animal they're stalking as signals for when to move fast or slow, or when to do nothing at all.
For example, when that caribou was bedded in the open, Mike, Jeff, and I knew we had little chance of getting within bow/video range. So we did nothing. We simply watched.
But as soon as the bull moved into the willows and started feeding, we moved fast, literally running at times. We wanted to take advantage of that moment when the bull could not see us, and when he was making noise, stripping leaves off the willows.
And we felt it was crucial to get into position quickly. Caribou tend to move constantly, and if we had tried sneaking slowly and quietly the entire distance to the bull, we probably would have missed the opportunity entirely. The bull would have moved out of that willow draw onto the open tundra, where we would have had little chance of getting within bow/
When we got close, of course, we slowed down. During the final stages of the stalk, I had Jeff place his feet right in my footsteps, and we moved far more slowly than I would when stalking by myself. The hunter must remember that the cameraman has to operate his camera and audio gear. For the cameraman to do his job, the hunter must give him time to get the camera ready and to get into position for the shot.
Both cameraman and hunter must anticipate the shot. The hunter must have an arrow on the string and his bow in shooting position, ready to draw, as he waits for the animal to look away or walk past and offer a shot. And he must limit his movement at this point, because the cameraman is less mobile than the shooter and will not be able to keep the shot framed well if the shooter suddenly moves.
The camera operator must remain to the side of the shooter so that the shooter's body or bow doesn't block the camera's view of the animal. If the target animal is moving from left to right, the cameraman should stay to the right of the shooter so the animal moves into the frame, and vice versa.
Also, make sure the cameraman does not zoom in too tightly on the animal. This gives him no leeway for framing if the animal makes a quick movement or the shooter moves in front of the lens. And, of course, when the arrow strikes home, the animal will bolt forward. If the camera is zoomed in too tightly, the animal will instantly disappear from the frame. To get the animal running away and expiring, the cameraman must maintain a medium wide-angle shot and anticipate the animal's reaction.
When you're stalking game for the camera, it makes no difference whether you're in front of the camera or behind it. You must learn to work as a
team and anticipate the action. The results will be rewarding -- and professional.
Author's Notes: Bowhunter Magazine TV will begin airing in July 2005 on The Outdoor Channel. This caribou hunt with me and Editor Dwight Schuh will be featured on the program. For information on this excellent hunt in the Northwest Territories for central barren ground caribou, contact: Greg Robertson, Aurora Caribou Camp, Box 1266, Yellowknife, NWT, Canada, X1A2N9; (867) 873-4818; fax (867) 873-2901; firstname.lastname@example.org.
My equipment included clothing from
Whitewater Outdoors (1-800-666-2674, www.whitewateroutdoors.com);
BugLite suit from Robinson Outdoors (507/263-2885, www.robinsonoutdoors.com);
Martin takedown recurve at 60 pounds (509/529-2554, www.martinarchery.com);
Easton Legacy 2020 arrows (801/539-1400, www.eastonarchery.com); and
Rocky Mountain Iron-head broadheads (507/835-3859, www.RockyMtBroadheads.com).