The Internet has created a new world of opportunities. In the hunting world in particular, the internet has made it possible for anyone to capture, share, and promote their hunts. There used to be a relatively small number of hunting videos on television networks and VHS/DVDs. Now, anyone can film and share their hunts.
Because I have filmed and shared some of my hunts, I often receive questions from regular hunters that are looking to film their hunts... How do you do it? What gear is needed? Is the cost and commitment even worth it?
SHOULD YOU FILM YOUR HUNTS?
Hunting is a challenge all on its own. With a camera, you'll quickly realize that hunting AND filming is even more of a challenge. So should you add a massive extra task to the already daunting list of things you’re trying to manage in the field? It’s a fair question, and one I believe any hunter considering filming should stop and answer for themselves. Ultimately, it will come down to why you want to film in the first place. (Your "why" for filming will also answer a lot of the gear questions that we will discuss shortly).
Whether your goals in filming your hunts are to simply preserve the memories for you and your friends or family — which is a great goal! Or, if you’re hoping to be the next big YouTube sensation, here are a few of the upsides and downsides to consider when it comes to filming your hunts.
As hunters, we get to spend a whole lot of time in the most beautiful places on earth. We also get to experience those places in all sorts of weather, seasons, times of day, and conditions. This means that if you have a camera and know how to use it, you’re in a position to get some incredible footage that city-bound cinematographers could only dream of. Most of the time, immense beauty is in view, ready to be captured.
And since this is a hunt, we are (hopefully) spending time near wild animals in their natural habitat, observing their natural behavior. You’d be hard-pressed to find more compelling footage than crisp, clear, close-up film of animals doing their thing in the wild. And when the hunting doesn't end in a notched tag, you could still have footage to remember "the one that got away."
Most hunters that start working with a camera also begin to love their work with the lens. So while you’re out in the field doing one of your favorite things in the world (hunting), you now have a second hobby (photography/videography) that you get to enjoy simultaneously. The work of capturing content can also be a great distraction when the days get long and your eyes need a break from your binos. You can hop up from your glassing position, grab some footage of the scenery or other creative nature shots, and when you sit back down 10 minutes later you’re refreshed and ready to settle back into the glass.
I don’t want to be negative or discourage a budding content creator, but there are definitely downsides to filming your hunts. For one thing, you’re immediately adding more gear. In addition to the added weight to your pack, this technical gear is particularly sensitive to weather and dirt, so you have to be extra careful with it. There's already a lot to take care of (particularly on backcountry hunts) and now you're adding the burden of more complexity.
Further complicating the hunt-film relationship is the fact that the best lighting for filming is the first and last hour of sunlight. You may be thinking, “hold on, those are the best hours for hunting most animals too.” Correct. This is the dilemma of the filming hunter: should I be glassing for critters in those prime dawn or twilight hours, or should I be getting incredible, perfectly lit footage? Most of us who do this regularly just try incredibly hard to do both.
The part of filming a hunt that gets most people hung up is capturing the crucial moment of the shot on film. If you don’t have someone to film for you, how do you manage to get such an intense and often fast-evolving experience on film? It’s not easy and there are various ways to approach it, but it can be the difference between a film festival entry or a film that you always feel could have been so much more. I will say from experience that as hard as it is to stalk an animal, adding a tripod, a camera, and a bunch of buttons to push to the mix only makes it more difficult.
You'll have to ask yourself — are you so committed to filming that you won’t take a shot on an animal if the moment won't be captured? Or at the end of the day are you a hunter first and you’ll ditch the cameras in a second if they might cause you to miss a shot opportunity? There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, but it’s good to answer that question for yourself before you’re in that situation.
WHAT GEAR WILL GET YOU STARTED?
Most hunters are gear junkies, and by incorporating cinematography into your hunt, you’ve now opened a new door to a never-ending gear rabbit hole — if you choose to dive in. The answer to what gear you need will vary wildly based on your plans for the film, and one section of one article certainly can’t go through every option on the market. That being said, I think we can break this into three categories of filmmakers and cover the basics.
"I JUST WANT TO PRESERVE THE MEMORY."
If you want to film your hunts to have a video-diary of the experience, and perhaps to share your experience with friends and family, then you don’t need much gear. To be honest, with the capabilities of modern cell phones, you could pair your phone camera with some sort of digiscoping adapter and probably capture everything you need. Just make sure you turn the phone to landscape mode (sideways) when capturing the footage.
Use your phone to get far-off shots of animals through your optics, talk to the camera about what’s going on, and even have a buddy (or a small portable tripod) capture the action unfolding as you take your shot. If you are on the fence about filming your hunts, just use your phone to capture one hunt and see if you even enjoy the process. You can start buying gear after you’ve dipped your toe in the water and decided that you do enjoy documenting your hunts.
"I’M GONNA BE A YOUTUBER."
If you’re already certain you want to film and your initial goal is to create some hunting content to share with the world on YouTube or somewhere similar, you can do it without a heavy investment in gear. Especially if you’re new to the world of photography, I would recommend picking up some sort of a point-and-shoot camcorder that films in 4K (more on why that’s important in a second). The beauty of camcorders is that they’re generally designed to be as user-friendly as humanly possible. Point the camera, zoom to your desired level, hit record, and it does the rest.
A couple of things to look for in a camera of this type: as I mentioned, 4K capability increases your options wildly. Keep in mind that as of right now, most TVs and online streaming services haven’t begun displaying in 4K resolution. Without getting too technical, standard HD is only 1080 (that’s the vertical number of pixels on the screen), while 4K is twice that at 2160. When you film in 4K, this allows you the ability to "zoom in" while editing your footage to get a tighter shot than you got with your camera, while still maintaining crisp HD resolution. If you combine that with the second thing I would recommend — a zoom capability of around 20x — you can get surprisingly good results at pretty long distances. I’ve personally filmed my friend arrowing a Coues buck clear across a canyon (at least 600 yards away), and he was able to punch in on that buck while editing, and the shot is still crystal clear.
Speaking of editing, you will need a decent computer if you plan on working with 4K footage. It doesn't have to be a pro-level powerhouse of a machine, but you also don't want to try editing video footage from a modern camera if you're on an aging computer.
One other piece of gear I would highly recommend is a better microphone. Technically, the best audio (especially for speaking) will come from a lapel mic — which is a microphone, separate from the camera, that someone wears to capture audio. This type of setup introduces a whole other pile of gear and added complexity, which is probably not worth the moderate quality gains for your goals at this point. That said, audio quality is the aspect of filming that no one notices when it’s good, but that will absolutely ruin a film when it’s bad. Make sure you’re buying a camera that can accept an external mic, and then buy a quality shotgun microphone that can mount on top of the camera. Add a windscreen (often referred to as a "dead cat") since you will be filming outside, often in the wind. With a good camcorder outfitted with a quality microphone, you can get a pretty awesome film put together for minimal cost and effort.
"I’M AN ARTIST. FILM TOURS AND FAME ARE MY FUTURE."
If your goal is to make films to enter into festivals, win awards, and include artistic slow-mo shots that make grown men instantly weep for reasons unknown, then it’s going to require an investment of both time and money. The knowledge, skills, and equipment needed to get to this professional level are vast. That being said, it is the information age, and anyone can learn anything with enough YouTube tutorials and some trial and error.
As far as gear, I would still recommend a camera that shoots 4K and a quality microphone setup. When it comes to the camera, however, I would have to point you to the wonderful world of DSLR or mirrorless cameras. These are what you picture (no pun intended) as your standard, professional camera with interchangeable lenses and a screen on the back. Now, there are so many details to professional-level cinematography that it could be a series of articles all on its own. For our purposes here, I’ll just say to buy the best camera that fits your budget, and if it comes with a "kit lens", then replace that lens. Similar to hunting optics, if you get a middle-of-the-road camera but put a great lens on it, you’ll be amazed at the results you can get. Once you have that, the absolute best thing you can do is spend time with it, learn how to run the camera in manual mode (where you control what it’s doing rather than letting the camera guess at what you’re looking for), and practice every chance you get.
What else do you need?
While they certainly have their limitations, a GoPro is an insanely versatile tool in the cameraman’s arsenal. They have an extremely wide angle lens, which makes them incredibly forgiving and very useful for capturing close and quick action. I always carry my GoPro on a small bendy tripod, which I can set up in seconds in almost any scenario. I also use my GoPro on a head mount, which is a great way to capture the first-person perspective as I am stalking an animal and want to make sure I have at least one angle of the shot if my main camera doesn’t work out for some reason. I have also used the GoPro as a secondary angle by clamping it to the tripod of my main camera — where the main camera's focus is on the animal, but the GoPro is pointed at me to get the shot in action. For a few hundred bucks, it’s hard to go wrong adding a GoPro to your camera mix.
Outside of that, there are hundreds of things you could add to your setup (drones, gimbals, dozens of lenses), but if you have a good main camera, decent audio, and at least some way of grabbing a second angle for those key moments, you can make some pretty amazing films. You may also consider your digiscoping set up with your phone a viable part of your film kit, and it’s honestly how I get most of my wildlife footage these days. You could add a massive telephoto lens for your main camera to accomplish this, but now you’re talking about a lot of extra weight, swapping lenses in a dirty environment (a risky move, for sure), and for me, it’s often not worth it when I can get perfectly useable footage through my spotter using my phone.
YOU RECORDED SOMETHING...NOW WHAT?
Whether you’re just trying to record the hunt for your memories or you’re planning to enter it into film festivals, at some point you’re going to have to combine all that footage into one film. This is an aspect of filming that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, but the editing of your footage can make or break your film. If you’re just trying to share it with your buddies that were on the trip with you, you could always drop all the clips into an editing program, smash them together, hit export, and there you go. Of course, taking just a little time to trim the excess and the long sections where nothing much was happening will make it more enjoyable for everyone. And if you’re doing that already, why not spend a little more time and try to tell the story in a compelling way?
The most common editing mistakes don't have to do with technical know-how, but failure to tell a story in a clear and engaging way. Not to give you flashbacks to freshman English class, but a story in its essence has three parts:
- The exposition: Where are we? Who is involved? What are they doing?
- The conflict: What is the struggle? What do the characters have to overcome?
- The resolution: What happened? What did the characters learn? How were they changed?
If you sit at your computer with all your footage and have this story arc in mind, it will help you tell a compelling story that people want to keep watching. Whether that’s just your hunting buddies, your YouTube subscribers, or the crowd at a festival, trimming the fat and taking the audience on the adventure with you will separate the mediocre films from the great ones.
On the technical side, there are dozens of editing programs out there for all experience levels. Something like iMovie is designed to be quick, easy, and extremely user-friendly, but it lacks a few of the bells and whistles and capabilities of the bigger programs. The industry standard is Adobe Premiere. Using Premiere will take some learning and isn’t the cheapest, but it can do virtually anything you can imagine with your film. If you’ve never used any of these before, YouTube tutorials are your best friend.
THAT’S A WRAP
Whether or not you decide to film your hunts comes down to deciding if the tradeoffs are worth it for you. Having been at this for five years now (and mostly filming solo), there are certain hunts that I intentionally decide not to film, and just enjoy the hunt itself. Sometimes I just want the pure, simple feeling of unplugging and hunting simply because I love it. Of course, when I return from a hunt with hundreds of gigabytes of footage and start putting that story together, I get excited to relive the moments and share the story with anyone willing to watch. Yes, it’s tough, but in my humble opinion, it’s worth it.
Eric Voris is a passionate adult-onset hunter, the author of How to Hunt: A Total Beginner's Guide to Hunting Big Game, and the creator behind Late to the Game Outdoors. He is an accomplished writer, filmmaker, and content creator in the outdoors space, and spends his time chasing animals across the West. Eric lives in Arizona with his wife and three kids, dodging rattlesnakes and hunting together whenever possible.