A while back, a significant portion of my time in the woods was spent creating video content. It was a full-scale endeavor, complete with a traveling cameraman and all the assorted accouterments that go along with it. I won’t say I hated it, but I can’t honestly say that I loved it either. The experience did, however, teach me a thing or two about what it takes to capture solid footage and tell a story about hunting that someone may actually enjoy watching.
I still like to capture video while afield, but my filming exploits these days are solo affairs that are done with no other motive than I enjoy doing it. Whether it’s YouTube or social media, there are more readily available outlets for sharing self-filmed videos today than ever before, and it seems the interest in self-filming hunts is higher than ever as well. But what does it take to pull off a self-filmed hunt? Well, it’s probably a bit more than you might think. Here are four realities of self-filming.
This is probably the biggest annoyance of any in-hunt video project: The amount of crap you have to take to the woods. Even if you are self-filming, there’s still a certain amount of gear required, and hauling that stuff to the woods can be a chore, so I keep my self-filming setup as basic and simple as possible.
I use a palm-style Sony camcorder as my main rig. Lots of Instagram influencers will tout the merits of a mirrorless camera, and I’d wager it’s because they’ve not spent a whole lot of time in the woods using one in comparison to a small video camera. Make no mistake, a mirrorless camera with swappable lenses can capture superior video and produces a unique look, but, to me, they’re harder to use in a hunting situation. While the ability to use different lenses for different situations can certainly make some great shots, the lack of versatility and extra gear ends up being a hindrance in the woods.
In addition to a camera, you’ll need some method of keeping the camera steady and operating hands-free. I hunt from treestands or saddles most of the time, so I use a camera arm mounted to a tree. I made my own camera arm, it weighs just a couple of pounds and packs pretty well. But it still takes up space in my pack and adds some weight.
I’ll also run a GoPro or two on occasion. Those are small and light but, again, they need a method for operating hands-free, so I use a couple of clamp-on, flexible mounts.
One of my favorite feelings is the one that happens when I climb into a stand location well before daylight and know that I made a quiet approach and daylight brings plenty of promise.
But you know what really sucks? Knowing that after climbing into that stand setup, I still have another 15 minutes or so of jacking around with camera gear.
The quality of your self-filmed footage is heavily dependent on the quality of your setup. You need a stable camera arm and careful consideration of where that arm is placed so you have the space needed to maneuver it. And perhaps most important, you need the ability to operate your bow or gun and the camera at essentially the same time.
All of this takes time. Keep in mind that it also adds movement and noise to your setup.
This is something that many seem to struggle with—you aren’t just pointing the video camera at a deer and making a shot. I suppose you can do that, but that’s not a storyline that tells anyone much of anything. The key to a great video is the story it tells, and those details are captured by recording everything you can.
And that can be a real chore.
I always find myself getting caught up in the act of the outing. I’m hunting. I’m scouting on my way to the stand. I’m monitoring the wind. I’m looking for indications of hunting pressure. I’m planning and plotting my next moves. And, in the process, it’s so very easy to forget to tell that story as it unfolds and it's so easy to just leave the video camera in my pack.
If I do happen to tag a good buck, even if I get the shot on camera, I’ve missed the opportunity to tell the full story. The bottom line is truly successful self-filming effort is about much more than just getting a kill shot on video.
I’ve never killed a 200-inch whitetail. But I had one standing broadside at 14 yards with a bow in my hand and a legal tag in my pocket.
I didn’t kill that buck, and I place the blame squarely on the video camera I had with me. I won’t go into the painful details, but I blew the opportunity and the video camera played a big role in the mishap.
Sure, it’s true I may still have found a way to flub the shot. But I know what happened, and had I not been trying to get the encounter on video, there would have been far less movement in the stand, less coordination needed to execute a shot, and less overall chaos introduced into what was an already intense moment.
When you add a video setup and the desire to use that setup to capture footage of your hunts, there is a given that must be accepted—it will cost you opportunities. Sooner or later, you’ll get caught by a buck as you mess with the camera, or you’ll miss a shot window as you try to get the shot positioned correctly.
To me, it’s just part of it. I still love to create video and, because I hunt alone almost exclusively, the camera sort of becomes a way for me to share the experiences I’m having even though no one is there with me at the time.
Self-filming isn’t easy, but it can be super rewarding and a ton of fun.