Almost every hunter I know has asked me for tips from time to time on filming their own hunts, so here are a few pieces of advice I can give from my experience producing outdoor TV shows.
FILMING WITH A PARTNER
First, try to get someone to film you if possible. This could mean trading off with your buddies, asking your spouse to join you, or as a last resort, bribery never hurts.
Once you find someone to help film, decide if you need to go over a few hunting basics. It’s easy to forget to explain the simplest things to non-hunters, but when that big buck comes strolling through you’ll be glad you took the time!
Next, you need to start setting your double tree stands early in the year. This is one of the most important parts to a good filming setup. You need to spend more time picking out the perfect tree that will not only hold one person’s stand, but now two stands. A common misconception is that the camera stand needs to be much higher than the hunter and this is not true. I like to have my camera stand slightly above the hunter’s at a 90-degree angle over their right shoulder. A good rule of thumb is to place the platform of the camera stand at the same height as the hunter’s seat. This will allow for that great over the shoulder shot yet stay out of the hunter’s way. Also decide whether the hunter will shoot sitting or standing and make sure they won’t be right in the way of the camera should they decide to stand.
Now it’s time to cut shooting lanes. Just like everything else, it’s double the work but you need to make sure both the hunter and the camera have clear lanes to shoot and film. If you are situated in thick cover with low visibility cut a few extra lanes to give yourself a heads up that a deer is on the way. If the first time you see a deer is when he steps into your shooting lane, it is highly unlikely that you will get any footage.
One more reason to clear lanes for the camera is because many people will be shooting on auto focus. This can be ok but it’s imperative to have clear lanes! Your camera will focus on the closest object to the lens, and you want to make sure it’s the deer. Nobody wants to see a branch in crisp focus as their buck, blurred out in the background runs off with a perfectly placed shot.
Now that your lanes are cleared, remember this very important rule. No one should need Dramamine before watching your footage to ward off motion sickness. Regardless of how steady you think you are, a tree arm is the only way to go. They come in tons of shapes and sizes, so find one that will comfortably support the weight your camera. Tree arms make a sit more comfortable because your camera is out of your hands yet still always at attention and ready to go. Once a deer comes into range your tree arm will give you smooth video and allow you to pan, tilt and hold your shot completely steady.
Bring this tree arm with you when setting your stands early in the year to make sure it will fit around the tree and also to ensure that there are no limbs that need to be cut so your arm can move freely. I like to place the base of the tree arm on my right side about hip high. This allows you to see the viewfinder on the camera and will work regardless if you’re sitting or standing. Another tip when it comes to tree arms is buy a few bases. Buying several tree arms can get expensive but most manufactures will sell extra bases so you can have them already setup in a few trees making you more versatile.
Now that you have all the preparation done and you’re finally sitting on stand communication is key. As the hunter you need to go over all your shooting lanes with the person filming you and ensure they can video all your key spots. I even take it a step further and place a little scent in the lanes where both the camera and I have a clear shot. This will help increase your odds that the buck will stop when needed, you will have a clear shot and your cameraman will have fabulous footage!
FILMING YOUR HUNT SOLO
I like to think positive, so even though it may be difficult to film your own hunt, there are also a few advantages. Now you’ll have half the movement, half the scent, but twice the work. I generally prefer hunting from tree stands but if there is an evening where I will be filming myself I usually rack my brain for a good ground blind setup. Blinds allow you to use a tripod rather than a tree arm, give you a little extra movement to situate the camera, and make for a quicker setup and takedown.
If you’re out of luck on both a cameraman and a ground blind then it looks like you will be going to plan C. First, make sure you have a good setup to pack your gear into the tree stand location. I keep my camera arm in a duffle bag slung over my shoulder, carry a backpack with all my gear, put my bow in a carrying sling and carry my camera in the free hand. Once I get to the stand I place my bags under the tree and pull out my two long ropes. I tie all the gear up and crawl up my stand without any gear weighing me down. Once I get strapped into the stand I start pulling up one item at a time, starting with my tree arm.
When filming on your own you want to place your tree arm on your right side between waist and chest high. This way you can see your viewfinder and move the camera around as needed regardless of whether you are sitting or standing.
Next, think about mounting a small camera to your bow such as a GO Pro camera to capture all your true reactions and emotions as your hunt unfolds. You will have your camera on the tree arm to capture the deer, but your real reactions are just as priceless!
As you sit on stand mentally go through your routine if a buck comes in and practice on other deer. Get the camera situated, pick a spot to draw, and be aware of where your screen ends. For example I like to have my camera positioned on a specific shooting lane, so you are always completely prepared for at least one situation. Look in your viewfinder and pick out objects that give you a cutoff to the furthest right and left your camera can see. This way if a buck comes in and you are rolling you can mentally know if that deer is on camera or not without having to move or look down at your viewfinder. Lastly, try your best to push in and get some tight shots of the deer. This can be very difficult and does add extra movement but it makes for much better video!
Here is a clip of two hunts that I filmed on my own. The first is a hunt in Montana where I was sitting in a treestand, and the second was my IL 174-inch buck I shot with my muzzleloader out of a ground blind.