Since my first deer hunt with my father in the hills of southern Ohio some 28 years ago, my passion for chasing whitetails has grown every year. I can't get enough! And I've chased these amazing creatures from the Midwest to the Edmonton Bow Zone and everywhere in between. It doesn't seem to matter where I hang my stand, it's always exciting to match wits with a cagey old buck and try to beat the master at his own game!
I've heard it said more than once that a mature whitetail buck is the most challenging big game animal in North America, and I agree. I've hunted other species that have been more physically demanding, but none of them came close to being a true "survival expert" like a whitetail buck that has lived through five or six hunting seasons. I'm out every chance I get, scouting, shed hunting or patterning that next big buck. And I always do my best to capture it on video!
I've been packing a camera with me on my hunts for close to 20 years, and filming my own hunts for the last 10. In that time I've taken some giant bucks on film and had the biggest buck I've ever seen slip right through my hands. It's all right there on film. I guarantee you that at the moment of truth, when a monster buck is in close, when every move you make counts, when you get one opportunity to make a perfect shot before he knows you're there, when you can do all this without melting down from buck fever and capture it all on video, by yourself, this is the ultimate challenge!
GEAR YOU NEED
It can be done, and my self-filming career has earned me a position working for one of the biggest names in the hunting industry! If you're interested in trying to film your own hunts, the information in this article along with the years of practice and mistakes I've made should help you find the gear you need and give you some tips on capturing some great footage.
Many people don't have the resources to hire a cameraman to follow them around during the season. Besides, it's hard enough getting close to a big buck on your own, let alone doubling your noise, scent and movement by having two people in the tree. A camera arm is an essential tool for self-filming.
The Strong Arm from Lone Wolf is a great choice. It's compact, lightweight and very quiet to set up and use. The 3rd Arm Elite, made by 3rd Arm, is also a great camera arm. It's a little bigger, a little heavier, and it ratchets to the tree for a very solid and steady base for your camera, and this is vitally important for good footage! Both are great choices. You should also invest in a quality fluid head to mount to either arm -- it's a must! The Bogen 501 and 701 are great heads and fairly inexpensive.
If you want to self-film, it's a must to have a camera with an LCD screen. It's next to impossible to film your hunt if you have to try to look through a small viewfinder to follow the action. These days, there's really no reason to be filming with anything other than an HD camera. You can buy a palm-sized HD camera for under $1,000 at the local electronics store. The difference in the footage from these mini HD cameras compared to a standard definition camera is like night and day.
GOOD AUDIO IS A MUST
If your budget allows, I recommend stepping up to a pro-consumer camera. It'll cost you a few thousand dollars and has a lot of bells and whistles, but the biggest difference is the size of the lens. The larger the lens on your camera, the more light it will gather. Compared to smaller cameras, this model can buy you an extra 15 to 20 minutes of camera light which can be the difference in getting that big buck on film or not.
One thing I've learned over the years is how tough it is to get good sound. Most cameras just can't pick up your voice when you're in a tree stand whispering, unless you are very close to the microphone. Unless its dead quiet in the woods and the leaves are very dry, it'll be tough to hear a deer approaching as well. Get a decent breeze blowing, and the wind noise your camera records will ruin good footage.
So, if you can afford it, it's a good idea to invest in a shotgun microphone to pick up distant sounds and a wireless microphone for recording your voice. Make sure you use windsocks on both. No matter what you use to record your audio, buy a set of headphones to monitor what you are recording! What you hear and what the camera hears are almost always two different things. Headphones will save your audio!
Trust me when I say this -- if you are going to attempt to film your own hunts, a varizoom remote is worth its weight in gold! This remote will allow you to operate all the major controls for your camera with just your thumb. You can start or stop recording, zoom in and out, and even focus your camera with just the push of a button. This one tool will help eliminate the majority of movement needed to run your camera! I wouldn't want to attempt filming my own hunts without one.
There are a few extra items that you need to have stowed away in your daypack also.
Most cameras only come with a single 2-to-3-hour battery. It's a good idea to invest in an extra one or two or purchase a longer life battery if available (8 hours). The cold will cut your battery life in half. And don't forget extra batteries for wireless and shotgun microphones.
Always have a head cleaner handy and use it daily. By the time your camera says the heads are dirty, it's too late. If you wait too long you could lose your once-in-a-lifetime footage. Keep a lens cloth handy or purchase lens wipes. They are packaged individually and they're very inexpensive. Direct sunlight will show every little piece of dust on your lens, so keep it clean.
It's a good idea to purchase a rain cover for your camera also; moisture will shut your camera down immediately and possible ruin your investment. For those low light conditions or nighttime recoveries, there are some good lights available that mount directly to your camera. Some lights will operate using your camera's power supply and will drain your battery very quickly. I recommend a light that has its own power source like the Litepanel Micro, from www.litepanel.com.
Speaking of recoveries, carry a towel along to clean up the blood and a set of glass eyes from your taxidermist. Both can make a world of difference for your recovery footage and pictures. A good-size daypack is essential to carry all this plus your hunting gear. It's a good idea to get one that will protect your camera. It will help if you can find a pack that has features that allow you to attach your camera arm to the outside of the pack for easy, quiet access as soon as you get in a tree.
TIPS FOR SETTING UP AND SHOOTING GOOD VIDEO
When setting up my camera arm, I've found that attaching it to the tree at waist level is best. At this height I have the least amount of movement when I need to reach for my camera, whether I'm standing or seated. I've also found that being a right-handed shooter, my camera needs to be on my right side when I'm facing away from the tree.
This accomplishes two key things. First, it puts the camera's LCD screen on my side of the camera so I can easily see what I'm filming. Second, since I hold my bow with my left hand when I'm ready to shoot, my right hand is free to make any last-second adjustments to the camera before making my shot.
Concentrate on getting the steadiest footage you possibly can. Jerky footage will make you want to scratch out your eyeballs, and nobody wants to get motion sickness watching your hunt. Also, most cameras should have the zoom button removed. Just because it's there doesn't mean you should zoom in and out constantly! Get a nice frame around the deer and leave the zoom button alone! It will help to keep some extra room in front of the animal. In filming situations deer normally move forward, so anticipate that movement before half of your deer is off the screen. At the shot, anticipate where the deer will run so you don't lose him.
One thing you should be using constantly is the manual focus. No exceptions! Finally, I love using Lumenok arrow nocks when I'm filming. A lighted nock helps you see the impact of the shot, and the "mystical flight of the arrow" looks even cooler when it's glowing! Check your state's regulations to make sure they are legal.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Filming your own hunt is easiest when deer are on a strict feeding pattern, like in early or late season. At this time, deer are more apt to be using trails and moving at a slower pace, compared to the rut. November can be a challenge when trying to self-film. It's very difficult trying to keep a big buck in the frame while he's chasing a doe, let alone trying to get an arrow in him at the same time.
Decoys can help tremendously at this time of the year. They also help keep a buck's attention off you while you're moving around in the tree like a one-man production team. Mock scrapes and strategically placed lures can also help to slow down a deer sometimes. However, my best advice during the rut is to hire a cameraman!
Make sure to get out before the season and get to know your gear and how it works.
Running your camera has to be second nature just like shooting your bow! Spend time in the off season filming shed hunts, scouting, filming bucks in velvet, preparing food plots, checking trail cameras, etc.
Remember, if you want to try to get your footage on TV, you need more than just a kill shot. You have to tell a story, and all of the various elements properly filmed will help put your story together. Once the season opens, be sure to film all of your encounters. Its good practice and it will be great support footage. Plus, if you've been using your camera while on stand, there's a good chance all your camera settings are where they need to be when Mr. Big shows up. You won't have to fool with changing anything. Instead, you can concentrate on making your shot count!