Darwin Award Candidate of the Year

Watching this video makes my skin crawl.  I thought about this once a few years ago and after a little rough math in my head I realized that yes, this was physically possible.  Not once did it cross my mind to try it.  This guy was a mouse fart away from disaster.

GoPro Gun Mount

I’ve messed around with GoPro cameras since the Hero 2 version and for all their shortcomings, they’re a pretty neat camera.  Not essential by any means, but fun, and every now and then you get something good. Using what I had on my work bench, I cobbled together pretty simple mount for my shotgun that gives a little perspective too.  shotgun gopro [Read more…]

Pennsylvania Turkey Season Wrap Up

Alright, enough with the excuses, here’s how my season ended.  Dave Poteat from Inside Outdoors TV and his camera man, Dusty came to my (adopted)  home turf to turkey hunt.  Accompanying them was Jennifer Lambert from Crosman Airguns.  I met Dave on a hunting trip several years ago and since, have shared camp with him on a number of occasions.  Last spring, he and his co-host Tim Anello came to southern WV to turkey hunt at my Mom and Dad’s.  This year he was with me in Southwestern Pennsylvania on the last 4 days of season.  Although he was aware of how hard it would be to get one shot, I was confident we could get one within range and let Jennifer take his head off.

The cool part about this hunt was that the owner of the company I work for was gracious enough to let us use his personal cabin as a turkey camp, although camp is a pretty loose definition of what this place is.  As far as the turkeys, I hadn’t heard a bird gobble in almost a week.  We were hunting on a good friend and coworker’s farm that is loaded with birds.  I set up a blind in a place birds cross by every day.  They’re done with spring breeding behavior and at this point its a straight up ambush.  No problem.

Not too shabby for a turkey camp.

Not too shabby for a turkey camp.

The first morning they actually heard birds gobble!  Shocking.  They saw lots of birds including one longbeard that just stayed a little out of range.  They sat it out but unfortunately didn’t connect.  We took the afternoon off due to rain and caught up on some much needed rest.  The next day they were covered up with jakes but the longbeard again stayed just out of shotgun range when he followed some hens off in the distance.  A few passing hens that evening sealed up their second day.  Their third and final day started slow.  No gobbling and no birds, but around 9, they started to appear.  A group of shootable turkeys zigged and zagged around the blind and finally offered Jennifer a shot.  What happened?  I can’t tell you.  You’ll have to watch IOTV to find out.

Dave, Jennifer, and Dusty size up the situation.

Dave, Jennifer, and Dusty size up the situation.

Although I knew it would be a tough hunt, I was really happy they were able to come and have their first hunt in Pennsylvania with me.  They’re great company and I think they had a pretty good time.  I was happy to show them where I work and they even came over and shot some sporting clays at our clays course.  It was refreshing to see someone like Jennifer, who is new to hunting, show such enthusiasm for a sport I’m really passionate about.  She really had a baptism by fire.  Hunting late season in Pennsylvania is not easy and it’s not always fun.  She hunted her ass off and came back for more.  Good job, girl!  She’s truly a great lady and hopefully I’ll get another chance to hunt with her again.

Can't wait to put these bad boys to use.

Can’t wait to put these bad boys to use.

One of the most unexpected parts of the trip was when we parting ways Jennifer gave me two new Crosman rifles.  I had a chance to shoot these things in camp and couldn’t get over how cool they were.  Incredibly accurate and hard shooting, these things are the real deal.  On the left is the Benjamin Trail which just started shipping and the Marauder on the right which has a self contained air tank and a rotary magazine.  Very, very cool.  Thank you Jennifer!  I’ll do my best to burn the barrels out of these things.  I hope this is the start of a long partnership.  It is kind of cool because a few weeks before these folks showed up, I saw my Benjamin Sherridan .177 pellet rifle propped up in the corner of my parent’s garage.  I had some epic squirrel hunts with this thing in the woods surrounding my childhood home and that Benjamin rifle made me the marksman I am.  Looks like things have come full circle.

What not to do…

Just a little followup from my post the other day.  Here is a perfect example of what not to do.  Nothing about our setup was conducive to videoing.  Killing turkeys, yes, but filming it, not so much.  There were three of us and camera equipment in a blind that comfortably held two people with no camera equipment.  My dad and I had each shot a bird about an hour before and we were kicked back having a chew and telling lies when a gobbler appeared out of nowhere and cut across in front of the blind.  I got on the gun and our buddy Jim got the camera turned on and maneuvered it into position and got the kill shot.

Here’s where the problems start.  From Jim’s seat in the cramped blind, he had to kick the tripod up on two legs so he could see out the window.  Shaky shaky shaky.   The second problem was overexposure.  See how washed out it looks?  That’s because the last time the camera was rolling, it was over an hour previous just after it got light enough to shoot.  I had the iris set almost wide open, letting in as much light as possible in the dim early morning conditions.   In the rush, Jim never adjusted the iris to account for the bright sunlight and it let too much light in, overexposing the footage. Always check your exposure and make sure it’s not too bright.  Even if it is too dark, you can lighten it when you edit.  You can’t, however, darken it.  Lesson learned.

I suck at shooting video

561765_351316744991544_1715610368_nI’m not a very good videographer.  In fact, to call myself a videographer is an insult to videographers.  Hobbyist?  Close.  Rank amateur?  Now we’re talking.  I’m not alone.  With the advent of Youtube, every asshole with a Sony Hanycam has a hunting show.  There’s good and bad out there.  Mostly bad.  You’ve seen the videos.  Animal out of focus while the tree branches three feet in front of the lens are crystal clear.  Audio so hot you can hear the camera man’s heart beat.  And my personal favorite move, a frame so shaky you need dramamine to watch the footage.

Last year was the first full season I messed with videoing hunts and I had mixed results.  It was a learning experience.  I didn’t really care and while I still don’t, I’m going to try to apply the things I learned and get a little more serious.  While I am in no way an expert on the subject, here’s what I learned from what I did right got close to right and what I did wrong (which was mostly everything).

Getting close enough to an animal to kill it is hard enough as it is.  Add a camera to the mix and you’re really handicapping yourself.  If you’ve ever tried to film a hunt, you know what I’m talking about.  It made me step back and prioritize.  Am I doing this insane amount of leg work scouting and putting in countless hours on a stand to get video of a hunt or kill the animal?  I choose the latter.  If those two things overlap, cool, but if not, I’m not losing sleep over it.  This is my biggest obstacle to obtaining quality footage.  I’d rather drop the hammer than roll tape.  For those of you who don’t have this problem, keep reading.  

Camera/audio:  If you want to do this right, you’re going to have to spend some money. The sad truth is a cheap point and shoot camera like a Sony Handycam is not going to cut it for most hunting applications.  The biggest reason is there’s no manual mode.   You’ve seen the videos on Youtube where the guy is videoing a turkey or deer and all of a sudden, the subject goes out of focus and a big cluster of tree branches in the foreground becomes crystal clear.  That’s autofocus at work and it is not your friend.  Using a premise similar to sonar, autofocus works by bouncing an infared beam off of whatever is in front of the lens.  The camera judges distance by how long the beam takes to return.  Once the distance is determined, the camera focuses to that distance in a fraction of a second.  In non-geek this means that whatever the infared beam hits first is what the camera focuses on.  It isn’t a smart bomb.  The camera doesn’t know you’re trying to video a Booner walking toward your tree stand and not the tree limb five feet in front of it.  Ditch your point and shoot and get a camera that has a manual mode.

The Sony NX70U

The Sony NX70U

I use a Sony NX70U.  It isn’t overly complicated and offers good video and audio quality and a manual mode that allows you to change the focus, zoom, and iris from the same ring behind the lens.  You just select which variable you are changing and then adjust the ring.  The camera is water and dust resistant which is nice because most cameras aren’t.  Most importantly beside the manual mode, the NX70U offers 2 channel audio which brings me to my next point.

Audio controls on the NX70U

Audio controls on the NX70U

Most people don’t realize how important quality audio is.  Bad audio can distract from good video.  It’s pretty simple to do correctly with the right equipment.   Having a camera with 2 audio channels allows you to use a camera mounted microphone to cover most of the sounds of the hunt and a lapel mic for recording any talking you might have to do such as an interview or giving the play by play of an approaching animal.  The shotgun mic mounted on the camera allows you to use a windscreen (the big furry thing) to cut down on wind noise.  Integrated camera microphones don’t have these and the make a slight breeze sound like a hurricane.  Experiment with your audio settings to come up with a good baseline that you can make slight adjustments to depending on your situation.

Set Up:  One thing that separates good video from bad video is stability. Unless you’re videoing bigfoot, shaky video is not acceptable.  Most entry level professional cameras (sometimes called prosumer grade) have a pretty good image stabilizer.  The Canon XA10 is exceptional in this respect.  It helps smooth things out when you have to shoot off hand.  If you’re set up videoing a hunt, use a tripod on the ground or a camera arm when you’re in a tree.  The footage is still and won’t make you motion sick when you watch it.  Also, the camera won’t jump when the gun goes bang.

A quality fluid head that connects your camera to the tripod is actually more important than the tripod itself.  They allow you to pan the camera in all directions smoothly.  I use one from Manfrotto that can be picked up for 150 bucks online.  Although not absolutely necessary, adding a wired remote to the handle on the head allows you to pan the camera and zoom and focus with one hand.  Pretty invaluable if you’re self filming.

Editing and other odds and ends:  Now you have hours of amazing raw footage, what do you do with it?  The coolest video in the world is worthless if it stays on your SD card.  There are a lot of editing programs available and the good ones are expensive.  Final Cut Pro is a very robust and you could make a feature film with it.  It is also expensive and it takes a lot of time to learn to use it correctly.

Mixing magic with GoPro Studio

Mixing magic with GoPro Studio

There is, however, a simpler solution in GoPro Studio.  Developed by the makers of the popular point of view camera, it was designed so people with no experience could share their GoPro videos.  It’s very simple to learn and allows for multiple file types.  It has just about everything you’d need for mixing a hunting video.  Oh yeah, its free and you can download it here.  There might come a time where you need something as strong as Final Cut Pro but for most people, there’s no need to pay for a bunch of features you’ll never learn how to use.  GoPro Studio is one of the easiest ways to get your footage off your camera and on the internet while not looking like it was made by a 4th grader.

If you want to get quality shots consistently, get yourself a camera man.  Self filming sucks and is incredibly hard.  Trade places behind the camera with your hunting partner if you have one.  If you don’t, make a friend and go hunt together.  You might even get lucky and find someone who doesn’t want to pull the trigger but likes to shoot video.  No matter how you do it, having a dedicated camera operator will increase your chances of getting some top notch footage.

I stumbled around in the dark by myself for almost year before I even got close to doing anything correctly and hopefully this will help shorten your learning curve.   And if your video still sucks,  just take a couple pictures and write about your hunt instead.  I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are things called books and magazines and it seems to work for them.