Kansas killin’

Kansas opener 2012

Flashback to the Kansas opener 2012. Hoping for a repeat.

I just arrived at Gene Pearcy’s of Kansas Whitetail Adventures in Southeast Kansas.  The birds are gobbling and Gene’s hunters have already killed several last week with a bow.  My dad just made it up from  Oklahoma where he killed two nice longbeards .  I’ll get his writeup and video posted when I get back.  The shotgun season here in Kansas starts in the morning and everyone is chomping at the bit.  We’ve got good weather and hopefully we’ll be able to get some birds killed.  Check back tomorrow.  I’ll be posting every day until Saturday and hopefully will have some good footage of some gobblers getting their heads shot off.

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.

WV Legislature calls for DNR Chief’s head.

 

Gilmer Free Press

Gilmer Free Press

 

From the rumblings I’ve heard, this has been a long time coming.  

CHARLESTON, W.Va.– The head of West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources is under fire.Lawmakers in the state Senate and House of Delegates have asked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to fire DNR director Frank Jezioro.

LINK (Via: Charleston Gazette)

 

Bomb Proof: The Pelican 1750

I’ve always been a firm believer that nothing is ever truly tested until it’s had the hell beaten out of it.  Consider this case tested.  Several seasons ago, I was in the market for a new travel gun case.  My dad had the SKB double rifle case and was pretty pleased with it.  It is one of the more popular cases on the market and  I almost got the same thing before I stumbled on the Pelican 1750.

Pelican1750_3

I’ve used Pelican boxes for years for keeping my camera and phone dry in my kayak.  I had never had issues with them and  figured if I could trust them to keep my expensive electronics safe, I could trust them with my guns.

The 1750 comes with three pieces of foam.  The lid is lined with a 1.5″ thick piece and the bottom is lined with two pieces also, 1.5″ thick.

At 50.50″ x 13.50″ x 5.25″ it can hold two guns or a bow with one layer of bottom foam removed.  The charging handles on my shotguns and the sight and rest on my bow are pressed into the upper layer of foam just enough to keep stuff from moving.

Although not necessary for most shotgun applications, you can lock your payload down pretty easily by carving out the top layer of foam.  Use a grease pencil to trace the outline of the shotgun or rifle and cut it out using the long blade out of a carpenters knife.  Just for grins, I did this with my turkey gun.

After tracing the outline with a grease pencil, cut it out.

After tracing the outline with a grease pencil, cut it out.

Nice and snug.

Nice and snug.

You can get replacement foam on the internet for about 20 bucks a sheet so you can do multiple guns for the same case. I’ve got one cut for my muzzleoader as well as my deer rifle and every time, they’ve held their zero after multiple flights.  After using the 1750 for about 3 years, I can think of no negatives other than there not being an integral locking system.  I solved the problem using some TSA approved locks from Wal Mart that were around $15.

3 seasons of hard travel and she's still ticking.

3 seasons of hard travel and she’s still ticking.

Pelican has been in the protective case market for a long time.  They know their stuff.  While this isn’t meant to be a comparison between the SKB case and the Pelican, I’ve been able to see how they’ve held up head to head.  My dads case feels a little more flimsy on the lid, the hinges are kinda floppy, and his case is missing both it’s wheels.  The Pelican, however, is unscathed.  Anecodotal evidence, yeah, but I think I made the better choice.

Enjoy dragging that through the airport.

Enjoy dragging that through the airport.

 

 

 

Turkey Season Rev Up

In some places in the country, spring turkey season has already begun.  For most of us in the northern part of the Appalachian chain, however, we still have a little bit to wait.  Mother Nature still has an icy grip on us here in Pennsylvania but the turkeys are starting to strut and gobble and do what turkeys do, cold weather be damned.  May 3rd can’t come fast enough.  Luckily I’m going to get to exorcise the demons a little early when I head to Kansas April 8th to hunt with my good friend Gene Pearcy at Kansas Whitetail Adventures.

Going through some of my video from last year, I came across the following footage of my dad dropping the hammer on a nice West Virginia longbeard.

These birds were cutting across a little piece of ground we had permission to hunt.  The problem was they stayed on our permitted land for only about 20 minutes every morning.  Our solution was to set up a blind and ambush them when they came across the small field at the edge of the property.  As I was getting the camera set up, they appeared and I had to shoot it off hand.  It’s a little shaky, but my dad threaded the needle and while he didn’t kill the biggest bird in the bunch, he took what he could get when he could get it.  Watching this got me pumped up for a good spring.  Hopefully it did for you too.