Updated: Mar 17, 2021
Several hunting shows of the 1990s and 2000s propelled their hosts into mega hunting stardom. Many folks like myself couldn't wait for the summer video release by Realtree, Drury Outdoors, Hunter's Specialties, Primos and others. Untold amounts of second hand experience, knowledge and entertainment were spread to the hunting community as their shows grew and main stream exposure blossomed.
As the old saying goes, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". The success of these shows, the excitement portrayed by the filmed hunters, along with the accessibility of affordable filming equipment and an online platform led to the boom of filmed hunts in the late 2000s to current day. My brother and I joined in on this boom in the late 90's with a vhs Panasonic camcorder, crudely dubbed music and an overtly clever name for our show, "Shooting Stuff". As expected "Shooting Stuff" never quite took off as the demand for house sparrow harvest was none too high. Eventually, my brother ended up retiring from his hunting entertainment career. However, 20 years later I am once again self filming my own hunts, filming my friends and posting our content on YouTube. The quality and knowledge has gone up. The target animals have gotten more interesting, and while we still may not be drawing millions of viewers, the reason for the videos have stayed the same. We love to stockpile the memories and moments as we participate in our favorite hobbies... hunting and the outdoors. So, is it worth it? Well that depends on your goals. Do you want to make a career out of filming your hunts or are you simply looking to preserve the memories made with friends and family? I'll break down both based on my experience and hopefully give you more to consider before investing in filming your hunts.
Outdoor Media Career
If the reason for filming your hunts is based solely on creating income and a career in the outdoors, you must approach it as such. As mentioned earlier, the availability to equipment and a platform is very high so you will have a lot of competition for viewers and sponsors. This does not mean you cannot make it, many new online shows produce income every year. However, you must bring something new to the table. Well executed content and a unique approach could set you apart. This is where the question of, "is it worth it?", comes in. If you are planning to create a business based on filming your hunts you must approach it as one. Set a business plan, a mission statement. Figure out the expense associated and verify your approach to creating income. Set a specific time for you to reach particular benchmarks and go from there. If you are hitting those benchmarks and the revenue created by a well executed plan, is profitable, then at that point I believe you could consider your time worth it! If you are not reaching benchmarks it may be time to adjust and attack in another way, or you may realize that the business opportunity is not as expected and filming your hunts may be better suited as a hobby while you pursue other, more profitable business.
Remember the first big buck you ever watched cruise by grunting? How about your child's first hunt or your own first bow kill? Those are the types of memories that last a lifetime. Many folks, including myself, started filming hunts and outdoor related content to simply preserve those moments. Maybe it has grown to the point that you love the process so much that you want to create a related career. Maybe you are content on cataloging the moment, rather than turning your passion into your work. That is a very common thought process and a decision you will have to make for yourself.
No matter which path you decide to take, successfully capturing a hunt does require a good deal of effort. The scale of that effort depends on the quality you wish to produce. You can simply capture the shot with a weapon mounted camera or you can capture the entire day with lots of b-roll footage and stable 4k shots. The more you are willing to film, the more gear you are willing to drag into the timber, the more post production editing, and the more you commit to filming every single time will dictate the quality of your final product. Luckily, it's easy to start and you can decide fairly quickly if it is worth it to you. Hunting is a sacred and silent moment for some and bringing a camera into the equation can lead to feelings of lost focus and a distraction from the moment. I've known several folks who want to capture their hunts but ultimately feel that the effort required to document it outweighs the value of the final product. I at one time felt that exact way. However, after realizing this and prioritizing the actual hunt over the video it has allowed me to relax and get what I can on film while maintaining the integrity of the moment. I do believe that you can accomplish both and the memory saved outweighs the initial "hassle". With that said, if you are interested in filming hunts and have read this far I do believe you would benefit from getting into videoing!
I touch on the effort and worthwhileness of filming at the end of this hunt.
As outdoorsmen/women we tend to love new gear. Filming hunts adds a few more pieces to the bag. An iPhone and free applications will suffice for a beginner looking to capture a moment and quickly splice together the footage. From there you can move up based on your expectations. If you want a more quality camera there are many hd camcorders on the market that are relatively inexpensive and will allow decent audio, zoom and image quality. You can start slow and later move up to full 4k camcorders that allow high frame rates for good slomo as well as large image sizes for cropping down to allow post shot zoom. With better cameras you will want better stabilization. Tree arms and tripods are a must in my mind as they take all of the shakiness out of your moment of truth and if you are self filming they provide the only option to allow a camera to capture the whole thing. Don't be overwhelmed! I'll break down the gear tiers below.
Basic HD Recording - Entry Level Camcorder - $200-$500
I've always liked the simplicity of a handycam. Sony branded the name but many other companies offer similar units/prices. These units have decent optical zoom and a digital zoom that is more than sufficient for a beginner looking to be able to film animals at a distance. Battery life, durability and size are also major pros for these units. Here is a link to page results for the handycam I find best for outdoor videography at this price point, some listings even bundle in sd cards, spare batteries, lights and cases for less than $300.
4K Recording - Mid/High Level Camcorder - $800-$2000
4k footage is a nice step up for an outdoor videographer, specifically if you self film. With 4k your image is four times larger than standard hd, allowing you to zoom into your footage and maintain hd quality. This makes it easier for someone self filming to remain panned out on a shot and still blow the image up larger in editing, without losing quality. This level of camera also generally includes a better optical zoom, meaning the image is not digitally enhanced at max zoom. They also generally allow you to shoot higher frame rates making for that all important slow motion footage. Another big step up is the option to wire in external audio allowing for lav mics or shotgun mics that pick up sound from the hunter or the animal much better while cutting out unwanted ambient noise. All of these things are a major step up in quality over the entry level camera. My main personal camera and the one I strongly recommend for a mid/high level camcorder is listed below. Again, some decent bundles can be found here with spare batteries and cases. Keep in mind, to film high frame rates at 4k you will want to make sure you have a class 10 SD card so it can keep up with the data that your camera produces.
DSLR Camera - $500-$$$
While I don't personally recommend this style of camera for self filming, some use it without a hitch. However, if you have a filming partner the quality is second to none. These cameras are extremely customizable with lens options and a huge amount of image adjustments. Telephoto lenses can be used for great quality at extreme distances and just like the higher end camcorders they allow for external mics. Again, these cameras can create some extremely nice looking footage and photos but do require more skill to use to their full potential. My personal DSLR is listed below as well as a nice intermediate range lens that I use 95% of the time.
Action Camera - $100-$300
These can be used as the sole camera for someone simply wanting a point of view video documenting their adventure or as a B-roll camera to catch a second angle on their shot. I personally use a GoPro on a head strap during my self filmed hunts. If I can't get the main camera on the animal in time I can relax knowing that with limited movement and a quick push of the button, everything that transpires will be recorded. The image quality at a distance more than a few feet isn't great but is still reasonable. Tactacam, GoPro and Garmin make some of the best action cameras.
The buck on this hunt didn't afford me time to get the main camera on, so the shot is filmed with a GoPro hero 5.
Stabilization - Tree Arms and Tripods
This is not required if you have a filming partner, especially with some of the anti shake mechanisms built into the higher end camcorders. However, I would still highly recommend them as the nerves associated with filming a hunt will show up in your footage. Tree arms and tripods eliminate that completely and also reduce movement when attempting to remain concealed. Self filming pretty much requires these options as they act as a spare set of hands while you take the shot. I generally set the tree arm so that the camera remains on my right side so I can hold my bow in my left hand (right handed shooter) while watching an animal make it's way in. A tall extending tripod is better than the cheap short tripods you can find. The taller extensions make it possible to have the camera at chest level if standing and can be shortened to the perfect height in any ground blind. I recommend a 60 inch tripod and most mid level brands will suffice. I personally use a Targus 60 inch. The Muddy Outfitter arm isn't the smallest or lightest but it's adjustment and leveling capability are great. I've also abused it heavily with no concerns of damage. The Muddy doesn't come with a fluid head but we will address that next.
Fluid Head and Remote
Most people skimp on their fluid head. I mean after all it's only job is to hold a camera to the arm or tripod and give you a handle to move said camera, right? Well that is true but the cheap head that comes with most tripods is simply plastic on plastic with a squeeze from a wing nut to tighten it when you want to lock it in place. Don't get me wrong they will do the job but if you plan on filming much at all you will thank me later if you buy a good fluid head. A proper head gives truly fluid motion and allows for very nice looking pans and movements. They also lock and release much easier helping someone who is self filming avoid panic as the moment of truth arises. I wasn't sold on this expense at first either, but experience proved me wrong. Here's the one I use and swap back and forth from tree arm to tripod.
Tied in with a fluid head is a remote. I use a Varizoom variable rocker and it makes life much easier. This again is not absolutely necessary but I know I wouldn't want to go without again. It is wired to my Sony with a LANC jack and allows for very smooth zoom control along with power, focus control, and record buttons. It mounts to the tripod handle so that while you pan the camera, the controls are at your fingertips allowing for one hand operation. Again very useful for a filming partner but nearly essential for someone self filming.
Lights, Mics and Accessories
I promise we are almost finished with the shopping list! These are the final touches to add some quality and convenience to your filming operation. I will list them in order by my perception of importance.
An external mic is not a requirement but it is a game changer as far as the quality of audio from both hunter and prey. I use a Rode Videomic Go. It is directional so wherever the camera is pointed the audio is crisp. The reason I like the Go is because of it's light weight, lack of batteries and lack of a power switch. Simply mount and plug in the mic, power on the camera and your audio is enhanced. Your camera must be outfitted with a shoe mount to hold this mic (most midrange camcorders and dslr cameras are).
Speaking of shoe mounts, the next two go hand in hand. A light of some kind makes night time recovery footage much easier. Led lights with a cold shoe mount are rather inexpensive and very bright. I pair mine with a dual shoe mount so that I can run both my mic and light at the same time. The staggered one I have linked allows room for the mic to fit under the rectangular light I use. Of course there are several options but this is what I've found to work well for me.
Amazon Basics makes a very decent backpack case that I use to store all of my camera gear while it bounces around in the truck.
This is another area for you to explore. As I mentioned earlier, for the very basics you can skip this whole list and use an iPhone and the built in software. If you've decided to proceed with a better camera and gear there are several editing programs out there that rank from basic to advanced with prices that correlate. There are a few free versions online that can be found with a google search. For the paid options, Mac users seem to love Final Cut Pro. I have no experience with this program but it seems to be very usable from the hobbyist to the professional. Along those same lines are programs for PC such as Vegas Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. I personally use the Adobe programs as it was the first program I tinkered with years ago and grew comfortable with. I recommend downloading free trials of several programs and deciding what best serves your needs and is the easiest for you to use.
At the end of the day, there are so many ways to accomplish your filming goals, from the most basic to the most advanced. I have given you my basic layout as an example of what I would consider slightly above the middle of the road. After laying out the questions of what filming hunts would do to serve me I decided that a split between simply preserving a memory and creating a career would be the way to go. I can make decent quality videos that can aid in my dreams of an outdoor industry career while still avoiding extremely high priced gear weighing over me. I suggest taking all of this info in and then deciding whether it is worth it to you. I know you'll be happy either way you go. After all, getting out and experiencing nature has always been what it is all about.