If there is one thing that outdoorsmen have in common, it’s the love of sharing the stories of our time spent in the outdoors. Whether its standing around the campfire describing the monster buck that was just out of range or gathering at the water cooler talking about how the trout bite was on fire this weekend, we love sharing our experiences in the outdoors which is what lead me to begin filming my hunts. I wanted to have footage to go along with the story. One positive side effect that has come out of a society that loves to see ourselves captured through a lens is endless options of how to get yourself started filming your hunts. In this article, I will discuss the ones that I find to be the best combination of useful, cost effective, and user friendly.
The first thing you should do before jumping into the world of filming is decide just what you want to get out of it. Is your goal to win an Emmy award for cinematography? If so, this probably isn’t the article for you. Would you like to capture the kill shot of that nanny that’s been hanging around your stand every afternoon so you can show your friends? If so, continue reading. For our purposes, I’ll focus on filming your bow hunts.
Like any outdoor hobby, this is a subset that can get just as expensive and involved as hunting itself. One option that has become very popular is the use of action cameras. The upside of these cameras is that they are durable, easy to use, versatile, and they have a wide assortment of mounting options that allow you to film many activities and varying angles on those activities. Some of my first steps into filming were mounting my GoPro to my bow or gun and heading to the woods. I’ve dropped it, crashed it, thrown it, sunk it, and attached it to various moving objects including trucks, ATV’s, boats, and dogs. Some of the down sides of these cameras are the lack of zoom (although some companies are starting to combat that) the lack of camera settings, the generally terrible audio, and they usually lack a view finder. The majority of these cameras offer you a great option for filming wide panning shots of scenery or skyline, but leave something to be desired when trying to film tighter impact shots in thick woods. I still carry my GoPro with me every time I step in the woods to film and it has become a great option for capturing a second angle of close activity.Another popular option for filming your hunts are handy cam style camcorders. I personally have a Canon Vixia RF700, but there are many great options out there. This style of camera offers you a step up in many of the areas where an action camera may fall short. You will have a drastic increase in zoom and camera settings as well as a view finder that will make it considerably easier to line up your shots. While the audio on these cameras is nothing incredible, you will have a noticeable advantage over an action camera and you can easily take an even greater step up with the addition of an external microphone. Camcorders are also known to be simple to use. For most people filming their hunts, the most difficult part of using one is remembering to turn it on when the pressure is on; which I know from experience. These cameras are also fairly cost effective and can be found for just a few hundred dollars.
The latest option I have started to use is my DSLR camera. I use a Cannon Rebel T5I with a Canon 18-55mm lens. As a beginner myself, this is overkill. The options and settings available to me are beyond where my talents lie, but I like having them. Positives of filming with a DSLR are the availability of lens options, the quality of footage that can be obtained, the low light filming capability, and the fact that you now have the ability to take high quality photos with the same camera. The combination of settings and lenses available make the footage quality far beyond what can be expected from a camcorder. On top of that, the low light capability of DSLR is simply unattainable with a handy cam style camcorder. If you’ve ever tried to film a deer slowly approaching just before day break or right at dusk, you know that low light filming can be a nightmare with the wrong gear. Lastly, don’t forget that you now have a high quality still image camera to capture all your trophy photos. All that being said, filming your hunts with a DSLR has its drawbacks. These cameras are slightly more difficult to use, they generally don’t have the zoom that’s available on a camcorder, and they are more expensive. A DSLR camera can give you incredible footage and range in the field, but you won’t be able to do that with a single lens. Lenses are more expensive than camera bodies and can get into the thousands of dollars. For the average hunter, that’s out of the question. Another drawback of these is that they are slightly more difficult to use. The whole point of stepping up your camera game is to get better footage, but if you don’t know how to use it, the footage will be the same or worse than your camcorder. The last thing you want when the pressure it on is to be fumbling with a difficult to use camera in the stand.
Assuming you chose one of the two latter options and you don’t have a permanent cameraman, you’ll likely need a camera arm to free up your hands while hunting. This is yet another subset of a hobby that can cost you lots of time researching the best options and lots of money if you choose the newest and best set up. I have tried several different camera arms and mounting set ups and have narrowed down a few key features that you need to consider before purchasing. I want a camera arm that is light, easy to set up, quiet, smooth, and stable. Anyone that packs hunting gear in and out of the woods during the early season in the south knows that every ounce of weight you can save is a few less beads of sweat rolling down your face. Being easy to set up and quiet are features that should be obvious. The last thing you want to happen after you sneak into the woods before daylight is to start fumbling with a difficult to setup piece of equipment that makes lots of noise in the process. I prefer a ratchet strap method of attaching my camera arms. This provides me a simple to set up and very stable filming base. While a ratchet strap isn’t the quietest system, its noise can be combated with a few simple steps. If you wrap your strap around the tree, connect to the other side of the arm, and pull out all the slack, you will be able to sufficiently tighten it down with just a click or two or the ratchet. While there are quieter methods of attaching an arm, the strength you gain from a ratchet strap is worth the small sound it makes. Camera arms can vary in price range just like the cameras themselves. The very first arm I used was only $40 and did everything I needed. I still have these cheap camera arms set up in a few of my permanent stand locations. I have since upgraded to Fourth Arrow camera arm. This set up is certainly superior to my cheap starter set up, but it is definitely not necessary for most.
Whichever of these options you choose to go with, make sure you remember that you are out here to enjoy hunting first. I am a bow hunter before I am a self-filming bow hunter. I have made certain promises to myself when it comes to capturing kills on video, but If that target buck that I’ve been chasing steps out and I can’t get the camera on him, his last moments won’t be captured on video. Get the kill first. If you don’t get the kill on video, you can always exaggerate the story around the campfire later.
Louisiana Bowhunter Contributor