January 12, 2011
You wonder why you see so little backcountry bowhunting on TV? Here's why.
Cameraman Adam Moffat and I are all smiles at the end of a successful backcountry hunt.
RECORDING HUNTING TV SHOWS is hard. Recording bowhunting TV shows is harder yet. Recording bowhunting TV shows in the remote backcountry of the West€¦ Well, many times that turns into a self-inflicted torture test. This is one reason you seldom see backcountry bowhunting on your favorite TV hunting network.
However, when you do, it is usually something special. If you're like me, many times during the telecast you'll be thinking, Now, THIS is a good show!
Yes, big whitetails catch my attention -- for a few seconds -- but nothing holds it like footage of a screaming bull elk coming through the dark timber or the vivid imagery of a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat stalk on a trophy mule deer above timberline.
Over the last 22 years, backcountry bowhunting has had a deep impact on my life, so I might be a little biased. But as the self-proclaimed "#1 fan of bowhunting," I watch pretty much every show on TV and correspond nonstop with others who share my love of an arcing arrow. And while I don't recall ever hearing anyone say to me, "You know what, Cam, we need another good whitetail hunting show," many people have said something like, "Man, are you going to be shooting another show in the backcountry this year? That's what I enjoy watching most."
SUCCESS IN ANY BUSINESS requires a demand -- and, yes, TV hunting shows are a business. And a demand for backcountry bowhunting TV shows does exist. Well, you might ask, if the demand is so high, why are good backcountry shows so few and far between? Here's your answer.
When you're hunting on foot in the mountains, the line between success and failure is razor thin. That's why adding a cameraman with his heavy camera, tripod, batteries, and other accessories -- not to mention that the camera lens can reflect light like a signal mirror -- often pushes you across the line to failure. Two guys and all the equipment create more than twice the scent, twice the movement, and twice the noise as one guy, which leaves a detail-driven, obsessive psycho like me near the tipping point 24/7. Hunting the mountains with a bow allows NO room for error, and adding a cameraman and his gear creates plenty of opportunity for error.
That's not the worst of it. After years of longing to make killer backcountry bowhunting TV, I can tell you with conviction that the biggest hurdle is finding a cameraman as passionate as the hunter. Even without the camera, you have to really, really want to hunt the mountains to be successful. With a cameraman in tow, your commitment has to be ramped up even more.
And the cameramen must share your passion. Some do, but a lion's share of them are freelancers who get paid by the day, whether they are sitting in a treestand for a few hours or humping the mountains with 50 pounds of gear all day every day for a week or more.
Just like hunting, videotaping in the mountains is a physical and mental test, and most cameramen I have worked with simply cannot pass the test. From experience, I know that most guys assigned to shoot camera in the backcountry don't know what they are getting into. Because it is never easy, a cameraman, just like a hunter, must be motivated by something other than money. Just like the hunter, the cameraman has to conceive and believe to achieve.
Let me give you some examples. On one trip, my cameraman lay beside the pack trail in a fetal position saying he couldn't go anymore. How could that possibly lead to success?
Another cameraman made it about 1.5 miles up the trail when he said, "I can't go any farther." Granted, we started our pack-in well after sunset, so all our hiking would be by the beams of our headlamps, and the hike was all uphill, if only 3.5 miles.
"Okay," I said. "But I have to go on up to meet our other guys at camp in the saddle. I'll meet you there in the morning. Get some rest here tonight, and we'll hit it hard after that.
"Oh, Big Roy Roth will be coming up the trail in the morning," I added. "If you need any help, just throw whatever you want to on Roy's back. He'll carry it."
After the morning hunt, I headed back to camp expecting to find the cameraman rested and ready to go. Just Big Roy was waiting for me there.
"Where's the cameraman?" I asked. "Have you seen him?"
Roy shook his head and said, "Yeah, I saw him and talked to him. He's headed back to the trailhead. He's done."
Keep in mind, this was the first day of what was to be an eight-day hunt. Later, the cameraman told the TV production company that I had abandoned him in bear country and that he could have died.
Another time, a cameraman asked me to carry his sleeping bag, bivy sack, and tripod. "I'll have a better chance of keeping up if you do," he said. So I did. Knowing it'd be pretty tough to make backcountry bowhunting TV without a cameraman, I was willing to do about anything to keep him on the mountain.
THOSE ARE SOME of the highlights -- or lowlights? -- of my backcountry TV experience, and they should make it fairly clear why getting this style of hunting to your television set is so tough.
Of course, I'll admit, part of the problem is me. Fact of the matter is, I don't want to hunt with anyone, period, ever, because I am at my best, most efficient and deadly, when hunting solo. By myself, I don't have to worry about anyone else or hear their various complaints.
On the other hand, if they'll bleed for success, like me, then we're a team. Some guys will -- Nate Simmons, Shay Mann, Roy Roth, Bill Owen, and Jody Cyr are some who fall into this category.
Adam Moffat (www.adammoffat.com), my cameraman in the Wyoming backcountry in 2010, is another. This was Adam's first time shooting camera for me. Of course, I was skeptical. I had heard he was from Salt Lake and grew up in the mountains and that he runs a little and mountain bikes a lot. That sounds good, I thought, but I still wondered how he would like being beat down from living in the elk mountains for more than a week while trying to record red zone bowhunting with someone who expects cat-like stealth and wolf-like endurance.
Thank the Good Lord I was pleasantly surprised. And, while there were some highs and lows, in the end, Adam recorded some amazing footage while we
hunted deep in Wyoming and then headed straight to Colorado for another week of high-country hunting where he took his game to the next level to capture some of the best elk hunting footage I have ever seen. You'll be able to see it, too, on RMEF's "Elk Chronicles" and on Under Armour's website www.underarmour.com.
When it all comes together like it did this year with Adam, I can't help but think that sharing my overwhelming passion for backcountry bowhunting with TV viewers will inspire others to chase their bowhunting dreams. Seeing the beauty of unforgiving country, and watching men survive and succeed with stick and string was powerful medicine for me as a young bowhunter. Over and over I watched old Fred Bear footage from the wild country of Alaska and Canada, then Larry D. Jones and Dwight Schuh from the elk mountains of the West, and I was mesmerized. Mountain bowhunting changed my life, which is why I'll tell you, if loving the backcountry is wrong, I don't wanna be right.