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Deer Hunting

The Learning Curve

For many people hunting is life. Well, in my household it was more of a hobby that we would do every now and then. Growing up my stepfather taught me how to hunt and fish, but we would only hunt and fish for things that he thought were worthwhile. We would dove hunt maybe 3-4 times every fall and occasionally hunt rabbit or squirrel when he had the time.

My dad did not actually realize how much I enjoyed hunting and fishing. Therefore, he skipped teaching me the details behind certain animals… Details like tracks, vocalizations, fecal matter, and other things.

This post is not supposed to be a knock against my dad. He is a good man and he did teach me lessons that I plan to pass down to my children someday. But when it came to the outdoors, it was his way or the highway and no questions asked. Therefore, the lessons I learned were minimal since I could not be forward with him.

Once a year, specifically the third week of October, we would take a week out of our lives to go down south to North Carolina to go deer hunting with my grandfather and my uncle. This would be the only time of year we would actually deer hunt. We never bought deer tags in PA (where we were located) growing up because my dad would usually bag a buck in NC. In the Tarheel State baiting is the bread and butter to deer hunting. My grandfather had four separate food plots that we would use to hunt. Typically everyone would bag a deer in the first 2-3 days and the rest of week would be used for processing the deer and having cookouts along the Yadkin river.

Well, nowadays, it is quite different for me. I took a break from hunting while I was in college and during that time my grandfather hung up his boots from hunting and both my uncle and stepfather physically cannot hunt anymore. Meaning my grandfather’s food plots and our week long trips are a thing of the past. But after my graduation from school and when I started dating the daughter of probably the most outstanding outdoorsman that I have ever met,  I was finally convinced to get back into hunting. Specifically deer hunting. Thinking it would be easy but sure enough I was very wrong to think that.

One thing I learned right away is that deer hunting in North Carolina versus deer hunting in Pennsylvania is a completely different ball game. I am not dissing North Carolina hunters, not everyone baits down south and if they do bait… well if they do bait I know how painful of a preparation process it is to set up a food plot and how difficult it can be to maintain, especially in southern heat. But in Pennsylvania, baiting is a big “no no”. Well actually, a hunter may lay out bait during the pre-season months but the bait has to be removed 30 days prior to the season.

Growing up and learning to hunt on baited ground kind of put me at a disadvantage. My dad did teach me some tricks behind still hunting (which is what I primarily still do) but for the most part, I was used to hunting from a raised platform over a food plot. Not being taught how to properly stalk hunt as a kid and never once installed a tree stand, you can imagine it was probably a comedy show watching me operate in the woods last year.

To give you a more clear picture of the situation that I was in last fall, imagine this. I started hunting again when I was 23. The last time I went hunting before that was when I was 17, and the last time I harvested an animal of any sorts was when I was 16. On top of this I was used to seeing deer frequently over baited ground. Basically my knowledge behind hunting at the time was equivalent to a kid half-way through high school and had minimal experience tracking anything since as a kid I was taught to “sit and wait” over a corn field.

Last year was a frustrating year for me getting back into hunting. I probably went out hunting on 30-40 different occasions, saw deer maybe a total of 4-5 times. But I did shoot a nice little 6 point and a doe in the late season thankfully. But recently I learned a tough lesson during this past rifle season…

PA Rifle season is huge. I swear you would think half of the state shuts down for it, even the school districts give students a day or two off for the start of the season. Anyways, my rifle season was interesting. Out of the two week period I was only able to hunt 6 days periodically because of work purposes. I was able to hunt opening day (which was brutal), the first Saturday, and the last four days of the season. Everytime I went out I saw deer which was very reassuring, unlike last year where I could go day after day and not see deer. But the second to last day was the most exciting day of the season for me.

I was hunting in Southwest PA on some property that I was invited to by my friend Josh. It was the second to last day of rifle season and I have yet to tag anything for the year. We got into the woods around 2:00 pm and to our stands at 2:30 pm. When I finally got settled in the ladder stand that I was in, I broke out my primos buck roar call. I wheezed then followed it with a couple fairly loud grunts. Within about 10 minutes a brave 3 point trotted up behind the stand that I was in. Believe it or not he actually had a nice spread on him to. He walked around my stand for about 5 minutes then walked away about 25 yards to the right of my stand. Now some readers may ask why didn’t you shoot the 3 point if he was right there? In PA we have antler restrictions that prohibit us from shooting bucks like him.

After about 20 minutes of watching the 3 point feed and do his thing I decided to call again. Soon after the call I saw two doe making their way to me. They were about 70 yards out behind my stand. I was waiting to get a clear shot on one of the doe but then I heard something moving in the brush about 40 yards in front of my stand. At this point in time it was 4 o’clock. Actually it was even a little past 4. Everything was darker but I could still see movement. I waited another 5-10 minutes to try and see if I could get a clear sight of vision of what was moving in the brush. Then a deer appeared out of the brush. I immediately thought that it was a hefty doe. Make it worse I do not have a scope on my shotgun because I use it for waterfowl. Why was I using a shotgun? Well my .270 is out of commission and I had no choice but to use the shotgun! Anyways, in my mind and by the naked eye I confirmed that it was in fact a doe and that this was my chance to have meat in the freezer. I raised my shotgun and put her down.

Upon reaching my doe I realized something, my doe was actually a buck… I accidentally shot a spike buck! “How is this possible” went through my brain instantly and also “oh #@!$”… Without hesitation I measured the spikes and I was so relieved to find out that the spikes were 2” in length and I could tag it with my antlerless deer tag.

Though the kill was legal, I still couldn’t figure out how I could have missed it. Did I rush my shot? How did I not see it? Those questions kept going through my head but I learned the hard way that low light can cause hunters to make rash decisions. I am happy that it was a legal kill but it was way too close in my opinion and maybe I should have waited a little longer to take my shot.

Though I was not initially happy harvesting a spike buck this year, I am grateful for the meat and for the lessons I learned from this particular hunt. Hopefully next season will bring more deer and more lessons to learn!

 

Cheers,
Kyle Waldron

SPECIAL THANKS TO JOSH, ED, AND THE R.E.M. HUNTING CABIN

Hunting the Green Monster

How It Starts

There I was, opening day of Rifle season, sitting in a breakfast joint with my wife when I get a call from my best friend.

“ Dude! We just doubled up on four point Muleys! Can you come help us pack out, we are five miles from the truck.”  Instead of being excited for my two friends, I was instantly overcome by jealousy, the Green Monster.

You see, a few years back I decided to leave rifle hunting behind and pick up a bow and arrow. Early archery season had already come and gone without success for me, and I was upset that it wasn’t me out there. How could they go out there in one morning and double up, when I put in a full month of hard hunting without a notched tag. To add insult to injury, they wanted my help packing out! I wanted to do anything but go help. Them shooting two deer in the area I hunted so hard was a double lung to my pride. I felt deflated as a hunter. Like I was a failure.

The Problem

I believe that all hunters at one time of another find themselves feeling jealous of other hunter’s success. This day and age we are constantly subject to people’s success. Our social media feeds are swarmed with big deer, big bull, and any other trophy you can think of.  We see a far higher percentage of success than we do failure. This makes us start to feel that we are doing something wrong, or that we are missing something. What is it that I don’t know? How can everyone else harvest such monsters, but we haven’t notched a tag in two years?  We start to hope that it is our equipment, it must be my camos fault or maybe my scent control, so we spend money on gear we don’t need thinking it’s going to help us be more successful. What if you shoot a deer that isn’t big enough? So you pass on opportunity because you are worried about what everyone on Facebook is going to think of your “sub par” deer, even though five years ago, you would have considered it a trophy in your own books.  These are all natural feelings. So how do we overcome it?

The Solution

You have to ask yourself, “Why do I hunt?” As hunters we like to say it’s not all about the kill.It is about the experience, the family, the friendship, and the memories. It is the appreciation for this big wild world we live in and the opportunity to be a part of it. When I look back at my best hunting memories, it has never been pulling the trigger. It is always the packout, or the much needed beer after getting back to camp, or mutual misery of sleeping in a tent in sub-zero temps. I started bow hunting for the experience, and oh boy have I gotten it. I didn’t do it to increase my harvest rate or shoot bigger deer, I did it for the challenge and the sport. Whether I harvest a deer or not is never going to change the fact that I love hunting, and that is the answer to jealousy.

So, I drove the hour home, grabbed my pack, put on my boots and orange vest, then drove another hour to the trailhead and hiked in to help my best friends pack out their deer. And

I can tell you this, it was miserable, they shot the deer in a hole, and it was 5 miles out, all uphill. But, it was the highlight of this season, and a memory I will never forget. I hope they do the same thing next year.

Blood Trailing with a Bow

So you’re probably thinking, oh this just another article telling me to back out if I think I made a bad shot. Well… you’re wrong and right. This time you’re going to learn about the evidence your arrow leaves you, and how this is the most important information you have.

I had a personal problem with doe that I double lung shot earlier in the season. It happened like this; I shot the doe perfectly broadside at 24 yards. The shot felt great however, I went in much to fast, just thirty minutes or so after I shot her. I found blood very quickly and very plentifully, I had tracked about eighty yards and I heard a deer jump up and take off running. I figured this was just another deer bedded down. I soon came upon a massive pool of blood and the blood stopped after that. I marked my spot on my phone and picked up the trail the next morning. I did not find blood for another eighty yards, and when I did it was very spotty. I soon began to lose the blood trail and after about one hundred it ceased completely. I searched for another couple of hours but I was never able to recover the deer. I do not want this situation to happen to anyone else, so I made this four part guide on how to track a deer with a bow.

 

1 of 4: Gut Shots

Gut shots… everyone’s biggest fear. The best way to tell if the remnants on your arrow are gut remnants is by smell checking. Sometimes a deer can be shot in the gut but still make contact with the liver making it seem as though you made a good shoot because you have blood on your arrow. Always smell your arrow, you will know if it is a gut shot because it will have a distinct stench. When you have gut shot a deer always mark where the deer was standing and back out for at least six hours before taking up the trail.

2 of 4: Liver or Muscle

Liver and/or muscle shots can be tricky to identify. Usually the arrow will be covered in super dark red blood. When you identify this you should wait at least four to five hours before taking up the blood trail.

 

3 of 4: Oxygen rich Artery/Heart

These are the ideal shots and they get the job done quick. They are typically light to medium red in blood color. The animal expires very quickly and suffers little to none. It is a good idea to wait at least one to two hours to track these deer just to be safe.

 

4 of 4: Lung Shots

The ideal shot for a hunter other than a heart shot is a lung shot. Arrows will typically be light colored blood with bubbles in it.
[Image Source: Ryan Kirby (commissioned by Realtree)]

These bubbles indicate the oxygen from the lungs. When dealing with a lung shot deer, it is best to wait at least one to two hours to track them.

 

A personal preference in arrows is the Black Eagle Arrows’ Zombie Slayer.  I hope this guide helps you and any of your friends who need tips on tracking deer. Good luck hunting!

 

Walking with the Warlord

There’s a song by Rhett Akins I really love called “Granddaddy’s Gun.” It’s the ballad of a young man recalling the story of the shotgun his grandfather gifted him on his thirteenth birthday, and the deep meaning the gun holds for him. He reminisces about tales from yesteryear, and shares the hope he has to one day pass it on to his son. To him, no amount of money in the world could buy the memories and tradition that his granddaddy’s gun holds. If we’re lucky enough, I’m sure many of us can point to a certain gun or bow that can unlock the past and show us the treasures they possess for us, even though they may appear worthless to the untrained eye. This is the story of the gun that holds that prestige to me; my father’s rifle, the one he calls “The Warlord.”

Our story begins thirty-five years ago, when my father was just fifteen years old. Many early mornings in the milking parlor and long, hot days on the construction site had finally earned him enough money to buy a brand-new Ruger model 77 rifle, chambered in .300 Winchester mag. The sharp recoil landed hard against his small but wiry frame, but he was determined to conquer this rifle and that’s exactly what he did. His passion for this gun and shooting it well quickly turned into an obsession, which manifested itself in the proficiency and notoriety amongst my dad and the newly minted Warlord would soon gain.

Whitetails would be the first to feel the wrath of the Warlord. As a young man my father would roam the mountains and hills of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia in search of these beautiful deer each autumn, and felled many with quick and deadly precision. One such instance was in the crisp opening morning air early in the 1980s. After an unsuccessful hunt, my father and his companions had gathered around the truck to recount the morning’s misfortune. Suddenly, upon a distant ridge a ten point buck came bounding out of the wood line and began racing across the field. Dad smoothly leveled his rifle across the hood of that old Chevy Cheyenne, settled the crosshairs on the buck’s line of travel, and fired. To the amazement of the onlookers, the buck folded mid stride and crashed to the earth in a tumbling heap some four hundred yards away.

Eventually wanderlust overtook my dad and he, with the Warlord safely in tow, made the journey west to the Rockies and the vast wilderness of central Idaho. Deer and elk were to be his principle quarry, and he would get his first opportunity within days of arrival on the deer of a lifetime. Upon his trusty horse Blue he glassed as dawn broke over the valley below. The spruce and fir trees that lined the landscape created a seemingly endless ocean of green. As he glassed diligently, the familiar gleam of antler and tawny hide rose from the tide and into view. This buck was tall and heavy with split brow tines, exactly what he had traveled west for. As Dad settled behind the scope and prepared for the shot, the buck did an about face and began his ascent up a distant hill. As the buck quickly began to fade over the roll of hill, a shot rent the air and the Warlord claimed its next victim. Three hundred yards away, the split brow eleven point lay dead, having crumpled and succumbed to a perfectly executed “Texas heart shot”. As he held the magnificent antlers of his Idaho trophy, my father wore an unerasable smile, one that signified the fulfillment of a childhood dream, catalyzed by his beloved rifle.

A few years and a bull elk later (a story for another day because I surely can’t divulge everything), dad found himself back in Idaho, this time as a guide. One fateful morning he was accompanied by my grandfather, his client for the week. Pap had been intrigued by dad’s success and stories of the wilderness and the giants that it contained, and decided he wanted a piece of it. After making it to a good spot above the tree line to stop and glass, things took a turn. During the glassing a rock gave way beneath him, sending my father careening down the mountainside, finally coming to rest beneath a log. The log slowly began to crush him and the pain was excruciating. Pap rushed to his aid but was unable to free his son and panic had start to set in. However, in stroke of fate the Warlord had drifted to my father’s side during the fall and it proved to be an excellent lever. Dad let out a sigh as he pushed with all his power to relieve himself of the weight that held him captive, eventually freeing himself while the log disappeared over the edge of the mountain into the valley below. Just this once, the Warlord went from reaper to savior.

With the legend cemented and my mother waiting in the east, the Warlord returned home for the final time. My father continued to dazzle back home in the east, with many deer and a bear or two feeling the wrath of his rifle. One buck in particular fell victim to the Warlord’s kiss of death, even though his vitals were obstructed by the oak board of a split rail fence. This season, I will be carrying the Warlord with me into the woods. My father beamed with pride when I came to him with this proposition, saying only, “Treat her well, and she’ll take care of you just like she took care of me.” This season, I will feel every nick and scratch in the wood of the stock and feel the history come alive beneath my hands. This season, I will hopefully gaze into the scope and draw the crosshairs on the shoulder of a big whitetail buck, just as Dad did all those times. This season, I’ll be walking with the Warlord.                     

Traditions Remembered

It was a cool November evening, I was walking down an old dirt road through the Oklahoma pines. There wasn’t anything special about this Tuesday evening, no cold front was coming, and it was in the middle of rifle season. “Why even bother go hunting?”, I thought to myself, but little did I know I was on what would be the most exciting hunt of my life.

Twenty sits in a stand, no shooters in range all year. Well I’ve seen a few, but there’s something you should know about me, I’m weird, yeah, real weird. I’m one of those guys that shoots a longbow, and wood arrows. I’m stubborn too, so rifle season didn’t stop me from taking my favorite stick to the woods. It’s not just any bow though, it was handcrafted in Montana by Trent Wengerd and shipped to me, one of a kind made just for me. I promised him it was going to win some buckles and kill some deer, and I wasn’t going to let him down. So, after all these sits in various stands over acorns, I decided to try something dangerous, something risky. I was going to hunt the bedding area, yes, I said the bedding area.

 

I knew if I wasn’t careful I could pressure the deer off my family’s eighty-acre plot. So, I hunted the mouth of the bedding area on a trail going to some oak thickets (the major food source I had been hunting). This area of the property burned down in a major forest fire a few years earlier. There were a lot of young pines and oak scrubs, with pockets of head high grass scattered throughout. Because all the trees were young and short, a tree-stand wasn’t an option, so I put my ghillie suit on and squeezed between a cluster of pines. I was only about ten yards from a fresh rub, which was on a heavily used trail. I trimmed some branches for a shooting lane, and had just begun to set my camera up on the tripod when I heard “CRUNCH CRUNCH”.

I looked up and I saw a buck about twenty yards away, walking straight towards me. I turned on my camera on and grabbed my bow, no time to focus the camera, he kept coming. Fifteen yards now, there was no shot, he was quartering towards me too hard. As he was about ten yards away he reached a small pine, and I knew he was going to have to walk around it, forcing him to turn more broadside. By the time he got around the tree he was only about eight yards away (no range finder, I walked this off after the shot.) and he was still quartering towards me, making this a tough shot, but one I was confident I could make. I quickly started my shot process, drew back, hit anchor, picked a spot, let go, and said a prayer (this last step is by far the most important of all when shooting trad). I watched the arrow connect two inches forward of where I aimed, and I heard the solid crack of the shoulder. My arrow snapped in half and the deer jumped skyward running in the air. Not only am I using a longbow, but its only forty-two pounds at my draw length. Yeah, this isn’t good I thought.

I listened as the deer crashed through the forest full speed, till I couldn’t hear him anymore. After almost a minute of listening I realized I hadn’t been breathing I was so nervous. There was blood everywhere, I grabbed my arrow and backed out. The buck had snapped the arrow about 4 inches from the tip. After an hour I went back to start trailing the blood. I knew based off the angle, the arrow either got through to the lungs and he was dead by now, or it wasn’t a fatal hit, which gave me a little comfort. The deer had run through tall grass and it had already soaked up most of the blood, thirty yards later I was out of blood.

Fortunately, I knew of great a tracking team a few miles down the road. I gave my friend a call and he brought his dog (all state tracking laws were followed). The dog started at the beginning of the blood trail and followed the trail a good way with no blood. Then, she found new blood and yanked us through a couple brush piles, I was on my hands and knees thinking she found a rabbit trail. Then I saw him, my buck was piled up under some brush and tall grass. After looking at my GPS I saw he only went 120 yards. I know for a fact however I would have never found this deer if it wasn’t for the help of this smart pup, and if I can’t find a deer I will always call her, as I feel it is my duty to make every effort to recover any animal I’ve shot. When I got closer, I saw I had blown through the shoulder and hit the front of the lungs. I credit this to my efficient arrow setup and nothing else. I’ve heard of compound shooters with 70 pound bows not get through the shoulder. But luckily for me I was shooting a 617 grain arrow, which was tipped with 225 grain single bevel vandieman broadheads, made of solid steel.

After thanking the tracker and cleaning the deer, I was driving home. And I was reflecting on my hunt. The deer wouldn’t score close to my best mounts, and it didn’t have any special features about it. However, it will go down as my favorite hunt so far. You see, I chased a buck all last year with my longbow, and one day I decided to bring my rifle instead. The monster buck walked right under my longbow stand and I took him with a rifle. The whole year since I regretted not getting him with my bow. After this, I learned success to me wasn’t measured in the inches of antler on the buck (although that sure doesn’t hurt), but it’s measured in the hunt, and the effort I put into the hunt, as well as the experience as a whole.

Shooting a deer from the ground that close, with a weapon that requires dedication and skill, rewards a hunter with feeling of accomplishment like no other.  I can’t help but grin when I think about using two sticks to kill a deer, and better yet, getting to honor some of the traditions of bow hunting.

That Bow Season Feeling (in Upstate New York)

Non-stop action

Early bow season 2018 – a true season to remember. The bow swinging in the breeze and the deer on the move. With new spots scouted out and some old ‘tried-true’; successful harvests have found me over the course of the whole early bow season.

Meat in the Freezer

The first came from a stand I had never been in. I had asked permission last spring to hunt gobblers with no success, but I knew it would be a nice spot to check up on deer later in the
year. With work being busy, I got up the courage to ask the owner if I could bowhunt the
property knowing there was another person set to gun hunt it.

Permission granted, I made a quick set after work and like clockwork the deer started filtering
into the corner I had chosen. A big doe and two little ones came first at 50 yards, then some 300
yards out. As I watched and contemplated a shot, biding my time, another nice doe made an
appearance at 25 yards. The bow drawn and tactacam rolling, I sent the carnivore and jak knife
clean through. It was the second week in October and the weather was cool, just about how you
would dream it.

More!

I spent the next couple weeks hunting when I could, mostly afternoons, as I did not take any full days off to hunt in the week. Seeing deer pretty much every day; I was loving every minute of just being in the woods.
I made weekends about spending time on a small postage stamp of WNY land I hunt with a good friend and my girlfriend. We had a tough first weekend – with lots of deer coming in to only taunt our intentions of putting carbon airborne.

With a few weeks rest, the weather cooler yet we met back up and managed to nearly each harvest an antlerless deer. I was able to bring a mature doe in on a string to a mock Evercalm scrape and my buddy met success in his ‘five finger’ stand just riding the breeze. It was a proud weekend as I recorded his first bow kill on camera. The emotion and spirits were real; the kind that truly make for life-long memories.

Success – Hunting the Rut

The hunt is always on for me, pretty much year round I’m thinking, prepping, and dreaming of
November days just like these. A brisk 30 degrees, barely frozen, the is air wafting fresh, wet
snow. I picked up some tarsal scent from buck camp the weekend before. I set up in a stand I
had not hunted since opening week. I stamped that stranger buck scent in a few strategic locations, making it the first thing any wandering buck would wind. It worked flawlessly, so much so, that the deer were all over within 40 yards.
Now into full blown rut, it is the second week in November. No amount of self filming could have prepared me for the onslaught of activity. Camera set, the deer started and didn’t stop coming. When that 200 pound 8 stepped on the scene it was like magic. With 15 seconds to manage time, I opted to forego trying for the camera and steady the bow. He spotted me almost as soon as he stepped in, blew right by at 10 yards and made that classic stop at 25 to make sure his eyes weren’t deceived. I had branches but quickly drew and looked for an opening. It came fast,
between the hardwood canopy and overgrown saplings, he made one last glance and caught the green streak of the Nock Out contender 6 ribs back. The air escaped his side in a hiss, he disappeared down the hill – crash.

Celebrating, but still unsure; I waited to check my arrow, shining green, in a stained blanket of white. It looked great… but feeling just off about the shot, I gave it time, and after 4 hours I made the trip back out. I geared up my novice blood tracker pup and my friend and we set off. The blood was visible in the snow, then washed and pink from rain. The dog accepted my guidance as we followed.

 

 

Heavy prints and wet displaced snow told a story. Then sideways slipping hooves and eventually a landing strip, there he was.

 

Fall Decisions

Fall Decisions in the Midwest

Fall is a magical time throughout the Midwest. The warm summer days have slowly faded to cool crisp mornings. The colors are emerging and leaves are starting to fall. Bucks have shed their velvet and deer movement is picking up. I have always looked forward to this time of year. However, I find it challenging due the numerous activities available. And when I say challenging, the challenge is trying to make a decision on what to invest my time in.

I spend the summer months chasing the elusive muskellunge, which really isn’t very elusive here in Wisconsin. No matter how great the fishing is over the summer months, it’s always a better bite come fall. Typically I would fish for muskies through the month of September, occasionally sitting in a tree trying to get a doe in the freezer. The bucks around my property (a mere 4 acres) don’t move much until mid to late October. This year, instead of fishing through September, I had to put in the time to check baits every few days. I drew a bear tag for this year, which really adds to my indecisions on what to do on a daily basis. The bear activity came to a halt when the acorns dropped, but the deer movement increased with the cooler temps. The archery season for deer opened September 15th this year, so I’ve been ready with my bow in case that Pope & Young buck steps out. Even when I’m sitting over bear bait, a larger part of me is hoping some deer will walk through just to get some action.

On top of all of these decisions, small game season is open too! I just spent a week in Colorado chasing elk for my dad’s archery tag, and we saw dozens of grouse! It made my itch to grab a shotgun and hit the woods back home even harder to ignore. I know I can’t waste time on small game right now, not when there’s bigger fish to fry. A bear tag only comes around every few years, and it’s a big commitment. My wife could attest to that. I’m lucky enough to have a wife that will stay home with our son while I chase my dream, even when we both know I probably won’t see a bear each night I go out. That’s why fall is a magical time. You just never know. You never know what you will see. You never know what opportunities you are missing if you stay in for a night.

It’s easy to choose the day’s outing if you know you will be successful. Success is defined differently to each person, however. I could hit the river three times in a week and come away with three or more muskies, and call that a success. I could come away each of those times with no fish, and still call it a successful outing. The hardest part is deciding to hunt or fish for something that may not yield success by a harvest. The success is in the hunt itself; the preparation, the terrain, the weather, the calming sensation of Mother Nature. My indecisions of the fall season will never change, and neither will my success rate.

Trevor Wittwer
Fall Creek, WI

 

Photography Basics: Capturing Captivating Pictures

I recently published a blog on our sister company angler-pros.com about taking cinematic photos. In the age of digital where there are so many things shared, it’s nice to have content that you are proud of. There is no excuse for grainy, out-of-focus, boring photos as the technology we have at our fingertips makes it so easy to look professional. With applications like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and text messaging, it’s likely the average person sends upwards of a dozen pictures a day, and that equates to thousands of photos a year!

While I want to dive into some of the topics that I did in my fishing photography blog, I want to leave my Cervicide family with a piece of advice: Perfect practice makes perfect. If the photos you are already taking throughout the day (Snapchat, texting, social media) are done haphazardly, then you’re likely never going to be a great photographer. There is so much to process all at one time when taking a cinematic photo that in real world situations, like when you’re celebrating a downed animal, you’re getting a candid action shot in the field, or you’re taking a group photo at camp, sometimes there are only seconds to get the shot just right. This is why perfect practice makes perfect – you shouldn’t have to think twice about taking the right shot.

There’s a couple things that you need to process immediately in a seamless fashion to get a great action photo that doesn’t look staged. Photography is a dance and you need:

  1. The subject
  2. Capturing emotion
  3. Proper lighting
  4. Depth of field

Wow, sounds easy, right?

The Subject

So why is it that something so simple, that I can break down into only 4 categories can yield so many different outcomes? I conducted an experiment on our private Cervicide FieldStaff page where I asked our staff to upload a pic of their favorite Cervicide hat. I received a bunch of responses where the subject is nearly the same, but there were no rules. I’ll post some of the pictures below so you can see the difference of a cinematic photo vs. one that didn’t have much thought. Now stop and think about the 4 categories that I explained and you’ll have a better understanding that for a photo to truly look good, you need all parts to the equation.

Capturing Emotion

Why did I choose a hat? Well there was a reason behind it – it’s an inanimate object. Essentially it’s up to the photographer how to add emotion to an inanimate object. Place that same hat on someones head and now you just brought it to life. Is that hat drying out in the sun after being wet? Perhaps it was being tossed midair; there are all sorts of ways to add emotion to an inert object.

A great photographer lets the end viewers mind wander so the photo tells a story to them. The viewer’s mind should fill in the blanks. This is why there needs to be a sense of emotion in a photo. Even if the subject you’re photographing doesn’t have emotions, you can position the subject where emotion will bring it to life.

The next important thing I see a lot of hunters doing wrong with photos is not paying attention to the background. In order to nail this down, it is so crucial to practice this anytime you’re taking photos. Even when you’re using Snapchat you can practice this. The background is a perfect opportunity to tell more of the story without words. Put it this way, whitetail deer are huntable in almost every state. When a hunter takes a picture of their harvest, the backdrop can give the viewer a lot of information right off the bat. You get an idea for the terrain it was harvested in: farm country, mountains, maybe there was snow on the ground, or palmetto trees signifying southern heat.Was this in a remote destination or in a city? The background tells a lot of the story and it also adds depth to the picture which makes it more cinematic.

Take this photo for example. The lighting isn’t ideal and there are a lot of shadows being cast on the subject. Additionally, it doesn’t add much emotion or tell a story. As a viewer, this photo is not very captivating.

This photo has better lighting  and the background gives viewers an idea of where the subject is. It also tells a story and is captivating – what exactly is he doing? Where is he going? The viewers’ mind can wander and create a story all their own.

Lighting

The next thing to help with a photo being more cinematic is the lighting. Lighting is such an important thing, and really comes into play for whitetail hunters as there are a lot of instances where harvest pictures are taken at dark. Before the harvest pictures, there’s an elephant in the room I need to address and thats the tree stand selfies. First off, one of the things I see a lot of guys do is snap a bunch of pictures from their tree stand. They are stuck in one position, usually their back to the tree and it almost never fails these pictures are taken about an hour after sunrise. To the hunter it’s bright daylight, they are bored, and they start snapping pictures. This makes for some really grainy pictures, poor usage of the rule of thirds, and angles where the backdrop just looks silly, and is very unflattering for the hunter. There are a few ways to make treestand selfies better (I personally think they are played out) and the first way to up the tree stand selfie game is to wait until there is adequate light!

Here I’ll post one of my all time favorite treestand selfies which has amazing lighting, background, and emotion by Brendan Kelley of Ohio. To get a shot like this you’ll need a DSLR camera with an f stop below 4. I would suggest that you manually focus the lens so it will stay focused on whatever you want (in this case your face). Sometimes the auto focus will jump around so much you’ll never get the shot. A fourth arrow camera arm to hold the camera and a timer are helpful tools, too. Brendan’s emotion in this photo is awesome. He’s focused and it looks like he’s ready to cut the arrow loose!

Cervicide Fieldstaff Bow & Arrow

I don’t want to offend anyone here so just go ahead and open up Instagram and search #treestandselfie and you’ll see for yourself exactly what I’m talking about NOT TO DO.

Depth of Field

Ok – Rule of thirds, I briefly mentioned this before, but let me dive into this one real quick. The idea of the rule of thirds is to divide your photo in 3rds from top to bottom and side to side. You either want your subject to be focused in the dead center of your picture, like Brendan’s above or you want to have the subject offset so you can add some depth of field in the picture. Just go on Google and type in ‘rule of thirds’ for some examples. If you begin applying this rule to your photos, you’ll instantly become more cinematic.

I intentionally didn’t get into harvest pictures with this blog as I’m going to leave that for another blog. I want you to take some of my advice that I talked bout and begin applying it to your pictures. Most importantly, start applying it to the pictures you already take every day. When you go to take a photo that you want to last a lifetime, you’re going to be so much quicker to do the right things automatically that you’ll be able to get more creative with your shots and move to the next level with your photography skills. Check out the blog post I did on Angler Pros as I dove into some of the concepts we just talked about and applied it to fishing.

Filming On a Budget, Part Two

Filming on a Budget, Part Two

Today, we’re sharing the second installation of our Filming on a Budget series. If you missed Part One, you can read it here.

Remotes

A LANC controller* is a great accessory to have when self-film your hunts. With one hand, you can run all the necessary functions on your camera to record your hunts. Before I had a LANC controller I needed both hands to run the camera, which was not user friendly at all for the self filmer. With the LANC, I can run the camera with one hand and use a call or get my weapon into position for the shot with the other. If you do not have the budget for this and are on the fence between making this purchase or a shotgun microphone, get the shotgun microphone, having quality audio is crucial. The LANC I recommend is the Varizoom VZ-Stealth-LX Zoom Controller. This controller will provide you with some key functions such as zoom, focus and record and makes them easily accessible with one hand. You can get this controller for around $100.

Camera Arms and Tripods 

Another item you will want to purchase is a good tree arm and tripod. For tree arms, I use Fourth Arrow Camera Arms, I like Fourth Arrow due to their quick setup, stability and are not as bulky as some other arms. They will cost you $150 and up. You can also look at the Hawk Arms for a less expensive option. A great tripod to begin with is the Neewer 62″ Tripod, this is one I use and have been impressed with. It sets up quick and is study enough for my equipment.

Fluid Heads

Having a sturdy tree arm or tripod means nothing if you do not have a good fluid head to mount on it. I recommend the Manfrotto 128RC fluid head; you can get these used for around $100. This head will be more than enough to support your gear and provide you with smooth pans.

Editing Software

You are going to need some editing software for all that sick footage you got last fall. I use Final Cut Pro X, Premiere Pro CC and Lightworks, but for a beginner who wants to throw together a nice video, I would not recommend these programs. These are powerful programs with professional tools; from experience, this can be very frustrating for someone new to editing film. I have been testing PowerDirector 16 Ultimate and have found it to be a very powerful editor capable of producing some very professional video, and it is easy to use. Moreover, there are hours of great support videos online for PowerDirector. To continue my testing, I am going to be using PowerDirector 16 this winter to edit all my video. I would try PowerDirector 16 Ultimate ($65). Additionally, there are many free options online for editing software such as Davinci Resolve.

Accessories

These are not necessity, just some nice equipment to add to your gear list.

  • A fur windscreen is great for cutting down wind noise; you can get one for $20.
  • Gear bags are also a nice accessory, Campbell Camera’s has some nice options starting at $50. Otherwise, many other companies like AlpsOutdoorz sell gear bags.
  • For audio, a nice pair of headphones allow you to hear what your recording sounds like in case you need to make adjustments (this can be crucial and play a hue role in recording quality audio. I would recommend purchasing a pair). Additionally, they can function as a game ear.
  • A lapel microphone, wireless or wired to a digital recorder can provide some great audio if you are filming another hunter from a distance. The mic will record what they are saying from their location, and allow you to use it when putting together your film.
  • Cell phone, we all have them and they work great for a second angle camera and for B-Roll footage. My phone shoots 4k with 240fps slow motion video with a slew of other special effects. Not good for a main camera, but hard to beat for B-Roll.
  • POV camera, Tactacam makes a great POV camera as well as a number of other manufacturers. Set these cameras in your decoy spread, on the ground by your turkey decoy, on your shotgun or bow, or mount it to your head for some sick shots.

Putting it Together

I hope this makes it easier for purchasing your first filming setup. All in you are looking at spending around $900. Keep in mind that all the equipment you purchase now, can be used with your next camcorder or camera if you choose to upgrade in the future. Also, the camcorder you buy now can be used in the future as a sweet second angle. Some things I have learned along the way. You are representing our sport, so stay humble and use this as an opportunity to teach others about conservation and management. It is not about trophies or the kill, tell the true story of the hunt, the successes, failures and what you learned from each hunt. Remember to look up, it is easy to be consumed with filming, get your eyes off the screen and look around, enjoy the hunt. Follow the law always. Keep your films clean. Be creative with your B-Roll. Good luck all of you on your future outdoor adventures and God Bless.

(Special thanks to Codi Makin for supplying the Canon Vixia HF R800 picture.)

*Note: The LANC Controller that I mentioned does not work in that particular camera, it does work in all the other Canon cameras, but not that particular one. They took that function out of that model unfortunately.

Filming on a Budget, Part One

Why Film?

My filming endeavours started back in high school, I wanted to be able to look back through the years and relive all my hunting seasons, my successes, failures, learning opportunities and those times where I found myself thinking, “if only I had a camera to get that on film.” I also wanted to use my film as a way to teach others about hunting by providing tips and tricks in my videos. It can also be a tool to help change hunters mindsets to one focused more on conservation and the story of the hunt, rather than the kill. I started filming with a cheap camcorder, a tripod that I strapped to my deer stand with a ratchet, and absolutely no clue what I was doing. Twelve years has taught me a lot about filming my outdoor adventures, and I am still learning new things every season. This is a short article to provide some recommendations on equipment for those wanting to start filming hunts on a budget.

The Recording Device

DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras are great, they are versatile and provide you with some amazing film and photography, however, for a hunter on a budget, they are expensive and not as friendly as a camcorder for those who self-film their hunts. Camcorders are less expensive, have awesome optical zoom built in, and are made for video. That is why I recommend the Canon Vixia HF R800 or R700 to start out filming your outdoor adventures. Both camcorders record in Full HD 1080p and are capable of recording 60fps. The cameras or camcorders I usually purchase are used and I have never has issues with them at all. Buy The HF R800 or R700 at the Canon Store for around $200. You can also try the Sony HandyCam line of camcorders.

 

Memory and Batteries

Having extra batteries and memory cards are a necessity when filming hunts. Nothing is worse than running out of battery or memory during a hunt. I always carry two spare batteries and enough memory to film my entire day and then some. For SD cards make sure you get a card that will record at a fast enough rate for your video. 64GB SDXC Class 10 Speed memory cards work well. Two batteries and memory will run you around $125 +/- depending on the brands you get.

 

 

Audio

Having quality audio is crucial to creating quality video. I have gone back to watch some of the first movies I filmed without a shotgun mic and the wind noise and hollow tone of the audio were distracting enough to make the film nearly unusable. I primarily use the Rode Videomic ($150) or the Videomic Pro ($230). Both microphones will give you excellent audio and cut down on many of the distracting ambient noises. Be extremely cautious of purchasing shotgun microphones on Ebay or Amazon, a lot of them are knock-offs and it is easy to get burned unless you can spot their very subtle differences. (For Rode, the gold dot on the battery cover is shinier on the legit ones and the legit ones have smoother edges). If you do get a knock-off you will definitely be able to hear it in you recordings, the audio will sound worse that the microphone built into the camcorder. You can purchase these used, just make sure they are from a reputable source such as Adorama or B&H. Other good brands are Azden and Sennheiser. You will also need a microphone mount to go on your Vixia HF R800 camcorder; these can be purchased at Campbell Cameras for a reasonable price. There are cheaper options for Rode Microphones such as the Rode Go. Unfortunately, many camcorders and cameras do not supply power to the microphone, so you will need to get a microphone that is self-powered, usually by a 9v battery; the Rode Videomic and Videomic Pro are both self-powered.

Remotes

A LANC controller is a great accessory to have when self-film your hunts. With one hand, you can run all the necessary functions on your camera to record your hunts. Before I had a LANC controller I needed to have both hands to run the camera, which was not user friendly at all for the self filmer. With the LANC, I can run the camera with one hand and use a call or get my weapon into position for the shot with the other. If you do not have the budget for this and are on the fence between making this purchase or a shotgun microphone, get the shotgun microphone, having quality audio is crucial. The LANC I recommend is the Varizoom VZ-Stealth-LX Zoom Controller. This controller will provide you with some key functions such as zoom, focus and record and makes them easily accessible with one hand. You can get this controller for around $100.

 

Stay tuned for part two of this series featuring accessories, editing software, and tips on how to put it all together!

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