Anyone who has ever climbed into a tree stand during the fall knows there are a million things that can go wrong while hunting a trophy whitetail. Sometimes the subtlest movement, the slightest sound or the least switch in wind direction at the wrong time can be all it takes to eliminate a possible shot opportunity at an absolute wallhanger.
And if that's not hard enough, try to imagine closing the deal with a monster buck while contending with double the scent, double the noise and double the movement. Throw in trying to get the right camera angle or proper lighting to capture professional-grade video footage, and you've got yourself some major challenges to deal with!
These are just some of the obstacles that today's leading television hosts and cameramen deal with on a daily basis throughout the course of a typical deer season. Somehow these guys always seem to find a way to make things happen and capture hunting footage that is so good it's almost like you're in the stand with them, getting ready to drop the hammer on that buck with intimidating headgear walking by. Without question, successfully videotaping a trophy whitetail hunt can be very difficult and demanding to say the least, yet more and more avid hunters are doing it every year.
If you've never tried it, wouldn't it be nice to have your own hunts on video to share with all your family members and hunting buddies? Being able to relive the hunt and feel that sudden surge of adrenaline just before the shot would be the ultimate hunting achievement. The good news is that with today's equipment and the following advice, you, too, can successfully video your own hunts like a professional. With that being said, let's take an inside look at how some of the best hunters and cameramen in the industry capture amazing whitetail footage and what gear they depend on to get the job done and how maybe you can get on your way to taping your hunts.
MAKING IT HAPPEN WITH MICHAEL WADDELL
It's hard to watch any outdoor television without seeing Michael Waddell in a tree stand somewhere "laying the smack down" on a bruiser buck. Michael may be young compared to other hunters in the field of television, but he is wise beyond his years when it comes to taping hunts from the perspective of both a hunter and a cameraman. Working at Realtree has enabled him to gain experience as both cameraman and hunter. According to Michael, in order to pull off a quality hunt on video, it takes a team effort from both ends of the camera.
"In the past, I've learned that you have to establish a strong partnership between hunter and cameraman," Michael says. "This means working together with a common goal of capturing the best footage possible. For things to run smoothly, communication in the stand is critical so that you don't spook the deer or take a shot when the camera has a bad angle or bad view of the target.
"Basically, I want to be on the same page with my cameraman at all times during the hunt. I like to go over hand signals and other subtle forms of communication prior to entering the stand to prevent possible confusion when the moment of truth arrives."
Another integral step in the filming process involves properly setting up to create both a shot opportunity and a video opportunity. Michael prefers to hang stands around the 20-foot range to eliminate issues relating to scent and movement during the hunt. He also takes extreme measures to eliminate scent by insisting that both he and his cameraman wear carbon clothing like a Scent-Blocker suit and spray down with a scent-eliminating spray like Hunter's Specialties Scent-A-Way. Michael feels that these extra steps can save you in a pinch when the wind swirls or changes direction.
In addition, he also likes to target open areas that will allow his cameraman to gather maximum footage of the deer approaching the stand. The general rule of thumb is to burn as much tape as possible during the hunt. Another piece of advice from Michael is to try to be natural on tape and don't be afraid to talk openly or show emotion, especially after you've dropped a nice buck. Lastly, it is very important to have a cameraman who has hunting experience and woodsmanship skills that go beyond the scope of running the camera.
"This will dramatically increase your success in the field and the quality of your hunting footage," Michael explains.
HIGH-TECH WITH PHILLIP VANDERPOOL
Phillip Vanderpool of Hunter's Specialties can be summarized as a man who wears two hats. He's a phenomenal hunter as well as an excellent cameraman who has accumulated a vast amount of knowledge relating to videotaping hunts professionally. If you've watched any of the "Primetime Bucks" footage from Hunter's Specialties, more than likely you've already seen Phillip smoking a monster buck or filming one of the other pro staff members in the stand. Listen closely to what he has to say, and you'll be laying down professional-grade footage this season.
"As a cameraman, the two most important pieces of advice I can give to someone just getting into videotaping hunts is to remember to hit the record button and to always use manual focus," Phillip begins. "It sounds simple, but a lot of times when a big buck suddenly appears it can be real easy to get caught up in the moment and forget to hit 'record.'
"Second, stay away from the auto-focus feature on your camera. When you're using auto-focus, the camera will be focusing on things that may be close to you -- like trees and other objects -- instead of the deer. On many cameras, you'll need to adjust the focus knob clockwise as the deer walks toward you and counterclockwise as it walks away."
Furthermore, Phillip strongly recommends shooting from a tripod when hunting from the ground. The most important feature of the tripod is that it should have a fluid head that is smooth and can rotate. A high-quality tripod is essential for videoing hunts on ground level and will allow you to capture steady footage, along with fluent pans of the area. Phillip also emphasized the importance of always using a tree arm or base when filming from a tree stand position.
How can everyday hunters get access to high-tech gear that will enhance the quality of their video footage? Well, thanks an explosion in the popularity of videotaping hunts in recent years, many companies are currently providing the consumer with professional-grade video equipment. The folks at the Campbell Outdoor Challenge hit the market with an exclusive fluid-head tripod that is custom made for videoing hunts on ground level. In addition, Lone Wolf Tree Stand Company is making an adjustable camera mount called the Strong Arm that is perfect for filming from a tree stand.
You can also check out Heartland Bowhunter's HB Sniper Pro, an excellent tree arm used by many of today's professionals. Heartland is also coming out with a new camera bag that will organize and hold all of your video equipment.
JUDGING CAMERA QUALITY
Several different camera options are currently available, depending on just how serious you want to get with videotaping your own hunts, according to Phillip.
"Your basic consumer-level cameras are usually 1-Chip or 1-CCD models that are great for getting started," Phillip notes. "However, the higher-end cameras that most professionals use for today's television hunting shows are 3-CCD Chips and are more expensive. Basically, CCD stands for 'charged couple device,' and the three chips will separate the reds, greens and blues that make up your color. When you have a 3-Chip, your color reproduction and quality will be much better than with a 1-Chip."
In many cases when you're deer hunting, the shot is going to come right at daylight or during those remaining minutes just before dark. Unfortunately, low-light conditions can be a major problem for both cameramen and hunters.
"When buying a camera, it's important to be able to film during lowlight conditions," Phillip says. "You need to have a low-LUX camera to get the job done when you have minimal light. The lower the LUX, the better the camera will perform under these conditions. For example, a 1-LUX camera will gain you 15 minutes of filming over a 4-LUX model."
Philip feels that including good sound (audio) is a taping tip that can have an enormous impact on the quality of the footage. He believes that audio essentially creates the emotion of the hunt.
"The viewer needs to be able to hear the rustling of the leaves as a buck approaches or a faint grunt from the distance and the hunter breathing hard from the excitement of the hunt," he says. "Audio simply helps place the viewer in the stand with you to share the experience. I highly recommend using both a wireless microphone and a shotgun mike at the same time to enhance your audio capability."
As a pro cameraman and hunter, Phillip stresses the importance of making a cutaway list that will help set up the hunt. A cutaway is simply footage of the hunter talking to the viewer, walking to the stand, calling, drawing a bow back or aiming a gun. This will allow you to set up the hunt and create a complete storyline. However, you will want to shoot your cutaways on the same axis and under the same lighting conditions to match the hunt.
Phillip strongly recommends popping the tab on the tape upon completion of videotaping to prevent the possibility of erasing the hunt. It is also a good idea to set the tape out at room temperature before viewing to prevent potentially damaging the footage (especially if you've been out in extremely hot or cold temperatures). These tips can save you a lot of grief and problems in the long run.
VIDEOTAPING WITH JOHN TATE OF REALTREE
John Tate is a producer for "Realtree Outdoors" and is unbelievable behind the camera. He knows how to capture footage that will make your heart skip a beat. John is the guy you need to listen to if you want advice on how to video hunts like a pro.
"Filming for the past nine years with Realtree has taught me a lot," John says. "It's funny to look back and see how green I was when I started out. However, everybody begins that way. You can't jump right into something like this and expect to be great from the get-go. I still have to work hard to get the job done."
John says one of the first steps in filming whitetail hunts successfully is to be prepared for anything and have the right equipment.
"There are days when I feel like I am carrying an anvil on my back!" he says. "The usual gear I throw in my pack includes extra camera batteries, plenty of tapes, 9-volt batteries for the wireless mics, some lens cloth and a trash bag to cover up the camera during dusty, rainy or snowy conditions. I also never leave camp without a small camo umbrella, an extra set of headphones, a pull-up rope, a limb saw, clippers, small bungee cords, a multi-tool and a pocket-size flashlight with a green LED bulb. These essential items will allow you to handle just about anything that can be thrown at you while filming."
John also believes that one of the biggest challenges in videotaping a deer hunt is for the cameraman to always be on his toes.
"Anticipation is a key element in this business!" he stresses. "A good cameramen needs to be ready to turn that camera on and get as much footage as he can before the hunter takes the shot. Tree stands are set up to intercept bucks on trails, but any hunter can tell you that bucks don't always follow the script. This is why you need to have the camera pointed in the direction you anticipate the buck to come from. However, you need to have a plan worked out in your mind if the buck comes from another direction so you're ready to adapt and set up quickly."
THE CAMPBELL OUTDOOR CHALLENGE
Currently, the ability to videotape your own whitetail hunts can produce much more than a mere keepsake or hunting memory. In fact, there are many shows popping up on the outdoor networks that are based on amateur hunting videos, and there are even competitions involving cameraman/hunter teams.
For example, theCampbell Outdoor Challenge features team competitions engaged in filming hunts, and it's open to anyone wanting to participate regardless of age or experience level. The challenge is set up to award each team points based on the quality of video footage and the maturity of the animal filmed during the hunt. All of the outdoor challenge events are geared toward hunting free-ranging game, and all state regulations are strictly followed.
In addition, teams that enter compete for cash and prizes while enjoying the sport of filming hunts. The Campbell Outdoor Challenge allows you to take hunting to another level by putting your hunting skills and those of your partner to the ultimate test. Filming whitetail hunts can be extremely tough and demanding. However, the art of filming hunts can be very enjoyable and addictive to say the least. The Campbell Outdoor Challenge also runs an online store that provides hunters with complete camera packages that include everything you need to get started videotaping hunts. These packages are very reasonably priced and are great for hunters looking to film hunts for personal use or professional broadcast.
The online store also carries just about every videotaping accessory you can think of or will ever need. The folks at Campbell Outdoor Challenge are also offering a new Canon XHA1 HD (High Definition) Camera that has superior low-light capability at 0.4 LUX and a 3-CCD chip for amazing color quality.
So what are you waiting for? Now is the perfect time to start filming your hunts and putting your individual hunting skills to the ultimate test. One thing is for sure: The high-impact videoing strategies, tactics and equipment covered here by today's leading professionals will give you a jumpstart to videoing and enable you to capture hunting footage that will last a lifetime. This season, hit the woods hard, make sure you keep your camera rolling, and add some extra excitement to your hunting memories!