I think we all have our own idea of a perfect shot, perfect angle, perfect lighting and just an overall perfect scenario. These situations are few and far between but they do happen, and usually in short order with things happening quickly. In 2014 I was able to get myself in one of these situations. With my camera set up and rolling behind me I pulled the trigger on my biggest whitetail to date, on my family ranch in Nebraska. While it was fairly textbook, I did come across a couple snags that took some on the fly adjustments. In this article I’m going to tell the story, while explaining camera set-ups and tactics I used.
I had just finished up filming a whitetail hunt in Iowa for the show, Best of the West, and then drove back home to spend Christmas with the family. I drove through a bad winter storm on the way back, dropping almost 6” of fresh snow on the ground. While it made for unfortunate driving conditions I knew the deer would probably be on the move and should make for a great morning hunt. Weather for the next day was looking fairly hopeful with a slight southwest breeze and clear skies, however I was a little shocked to see -10 degrees for the predicted temperature. I charged up my batteries, cleared the memory cards off and headed for bed.
At 4am the next morning I was up and getting ready to roll out. To say I never thought about going back to bed after stepping outside to start my vehicle would be a lie, but I sucked it up knowing I was going to see a lot of deer moving. With the temperature reading -8 at the house, I threw my bag in the pickup and drove out of the yard. When I got to my parking spot it was still dark as planned and I started making final organizational adjustments to all of my stuff. I clipped my Canon 60D DSLR with a 70-200mm lens onto the tripod, slung it over my shoulder, grabbed the muzzleloader and took off walking.
I arrived at my glassing point right as it was getting light enough to see little deer figures moving about the fields in front of me. I was going to hunt this the same way I’d been hunting it since I was little… glass up a good deer moving from the fields to the river bottom, determine which route I thought he’d take then grab all my stuff and do a sneak run to get in front of him. With a couple nice young deer coming right to me I fired up the camera and started filming, with the fresh snow on the ground it was looking awesome. After filming them, I threw up the binoculars and started scanning in front of me. Sure enough here comes a shooter, which was a deer we had been watching for the previous 3 years. Obviously wanting footage of him I flipped on the power switch to my camera… and nothing, black screen. After some choice words for the situation I determined that my batteries did not like the below freezing temperatures and weren’t actually dead but just too cold to function. Needing to move about 400 yards across a deep little canyon like right now, I threw the batteries inside my shirt closest to my body hoping they would heat up by the time I needed the camera, and took off towards the trail I thought he’d use. After reaching a point I thought I would be in range for, I peeked over the hill and sure enough he was slowly feeding right down the trail that would put him right below me.
I pulled the batteries out, threw them in the camera, said a little prayer and hit the power button… boom, bright screen showing almost full battery and I was back rolling. By this time he was down the trail a little ways about to cross a fence, ironically enough right where I had gotten my first picture of him 3 years prior. If he continued down the trail I was afraid it would put him at an awkward angle from me down the hill that would be close and hard to film and shoot, so I decided to set up and shoot him at the fence. I set the camera up and took mental note of how I had framed the shot, hit the record button, prayed the camera function Gods were on my side, and started crawling out in front of the camera to get a better angle for shooting prone. When I found a good angle, he was just getting to the fence that I had ranged at about 80 yards. I settled my crosshairs right on his front shoulder, exhaled and squeezed the trigger. With the large cloud of smoke I didn’t see the impact but I sure heard it. After the smoke cleared up I could see he was lying right where he was when I pulled the trigger. After a victory air punch I hurried back to the camera and was ecstatic to see it was still recording, which honestly I couldn’t believe after it had been running continuously for about 10 minutes in the freezing cold. Looking back briefly on the footage in the field I could see I got him in the frame for the shot. After about 3 years of solo filming my deer hunts and this was the first time I’d been able to bring it all together. Walking up to a deer like that on a place that means so much to me, with film in hand to share was one of the most accomplished feelings I’ve ever had.
Hunting any animal is tough, and then adding a camera into the mix brings a whole new world of challenges. It’s easy to get discouraged and want to leave the camera at home after failed attempts but as we say in the film industry, “if you don’t hit record, you don’t have it”. Stay determined with your filming and eventually you too will have a moment like I did.