West Virginia Day 3


After 3 days I was able to put a tag on a great West Virginia bird.

After 3 days, I was able to put a tag on this West Virginia bird.

As it turned out, I wasn’t needed at work today so I stayed down south to try and kill that turkey one more time.  The weather called for thunderstorms starting around 10 so I figured I’d at least get to hunt until then.  It was windy this morning but I was close enough to where the turkey was roosted to be able to hear him if he gobbled.  The only problem was he didn’t.  Right after fly down though, a hen responded to my call right about where I figured they were.  She started out soft and progressively got louder.  I matched what she was doing and started cutting at her.  She got aggressive right back and for a second I thought I could bring her around.  Instead, she moved off to the east and that was that.  As the morning progressed, the rain never happened and the sun came out.  The wind died down and it was actually a really nice morning to be out.

I was in the same place I hunted Monday and Tuesday.  And this was the same turkey that gave me the slip two days in a row.  Although I didn’t hear him gobble, I knew that gobbler was with that hen.  I have hunted this spot for a lot of years and I’d seen this kind of stuff before here.  He had hens Monday and Tuesday and they stayed just out of range on their way back up the hollow.  I knew if he ever lost his hens, at some point in the day he would come looking for me.  Every 30 minutes or so I’d call really soft then progressively make each series louder.  At noon, I happened to catch movement out in the direction I got the hen to respond earlier in the morning.  There he stood at 40 yards.  He had lost his hen(s) and here he was.  He would take about 3 steps and stop to look around.  He would stand still as a statue for a minute or more.  Since he was coming close, I just let him keep sneaking.  When he got to twenty yards, I let him have it.

1 inchers

1 inchers

Can I definitively say this was the same bird I’d been trying to kill the past two days?  No.  He could have walked in from somewhere else but I highly doubt that.  He did roughly the same thing every day except today he just got a little to close with his investigation.  But who knows.  The point is patience kills turkeys.  Even if he walked in from somewhere else, he’s dead just the same.  It may not be as fast paced and wire to wire exciting as having one rattle his head off all the way in, but when they’re henned up and not talking, waiting them out produces results.  It’s not always fast, but its effective.  As far as the season goes, everything looks pretty early in my section of Fayette County, West by God.  Not much green in the woods and the birds are just getting in the swing of things.  It’s just going to get better.  I’ve got to work tomorrow so I reluctantly headed back to Pennsylvania.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get down at the beginning of next week to try and fill my second tag.  From the looks of things, I’ve got plenty of time.  

West Virginia Opening Day

This about sums up my morning.

This about sums up my morning.

Last night, I drove down to my parents’ house in southern West Virginia for the opener of spring gobbler season.  I’ve lived away from home for about 11 years but I always make it back for at least the first two days of season.  This one is slightly different than years past, however.  I arrived to an empty house.  My mom is in Alabama at my sister’s until tomorrow, and my dad is in southern Missouri chasing turkeys.  The house wasn’t stirring this morning like it has every other first day of turkey season and it was almost eerie.

I went to the same place on the rim of the New River Gorge that I killed a bird the first day last year.  Three birds were gobbling in their normal places with two close and one far off.  As soon as they flew down, it was pretty clear they had hens.  They gobbled on their own and would not respond to anything I had to say.  I got between one tom and his group of ladies but they skirted the flat I was set up on and made it by unscathed.  Another 10 yards and it would have been game time but it just didn’t work out.  By 8:00 the gobbling had stopped and the rain began.  These birds tend to do the same thing every year, so I covered their return route and stood my post until the 1:00pm quitting time but they never returned.  Guaranteed, they will be back on that ridge top in the morning and so will I.  He may have won the battle, but the war is still up for grabs.

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.