It seems after every photo shoot for an outdoor client or for a magazine chasing elk and the like around North America, I find myself spending more time deleting those pictures I’ve taken that I dislike than time spent editing and saving those pictures I do like. Outside of the initial cost of a camera’s memory card, “Film is free,” right, so I figure … click away.
Which leads to the topic: Can you, the hunter, learn something from me, the photographer, that will help you become a better hunter? My answer is a resounding yes!
I’ve hunted all my life thanks to my late father, who introduced me to the sport decades ago. And, perhaps, like some of you, I love to photograph critters in the outdoors. Luckily, I contrived a way to turn my passion of hunting and passion of photography into a vocation. With more than 40 years behind a shotgun, rifle and a camera lens, here are a few things I’ve learned while photographing that have helped me up my hunting game.
“Showing up” means so much more than just “Being there.” And, “Being there” means having a plan B and a plan C in your pocket if plan A doesn’t work. Strategy along with patience and persistence are virtues both hunters and photographers need.
I once sat on a mule deer for eight days to get a shot at him. A couple years ago I sat on a particular elk for a week to capture him.
Last spring, I chased a tom (I knew who he was and where he was hanging out) for six days. I pre-scouted each critter before I got hot and heavy pursuing it, with camera in-hand, and I had a strategy for each. I stuck to plan A until a certain time of the day and then moved along to plan B and C if and when I had to.
Perhaps “Showing up” is the most critical thing a hunter should do to put himself or herself in the very finest position to up the odds of success. And remember — animals are on their own time-table. Be it hunting or photography, you have to put in the time. As much as we all would like that immediate “now” of a perfect shot, patience typically pays off.
KNOW THY GEAR
I presume some of you have taken a nice mule deer with grandad’s classic Winchester Model 1894. Perhaps just as many have dropped a trophy elk with a new Browning X-Bolt .270 WSM toppedoff with a light-gathering Swarovski Z8i scope. Regardless of what you use, know your equipment both inside and outside.
A time-tested practice that I engage in before photo shoots is to first roll through all my dials, settings and gadgets on my camera to visualize where they are and then do so in the dark or blindfolded. Think about it – you’re stalking an elk up a steep incline, then you run to get into position while the wind is gusting at 25 mph and you’re at an elevation of 7,000 feet. Now, you have about two seconds to obtain a stable and comfortable shooting position whether it’s prone, kneeling, standing or sitting, dial in your scope, manage your breathing and flip off your safety. Plus, you’re toast if you don’t instantly and intuitively know where your safety is, where the magnification adjustment ring is and where the windage adjustment knob is and where your scope’s elevation adjustment knob is.
However, if you’re able to go to those critical settings quickly with pure intuition, you’ll be surprised how much more fluid and confident you’ll become in your movements and ability to get on target with speed and precision. Any trophy or meat-for-the-freezer animal deserves your best and most accurate kill-shot. Take it from me and all the missed photo-opportunities I’ve had thorough the years. Some animals will give you time while others spin and hightail in the blink of an eye. Enjoy the former when it happens, but be prepared for the latter … your success or failure may depend on it.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
A fellow photographer and I have a saying: “Get as close to the subject as possible so that it won’t kill you!” One way I incorporate this is to fill the view finder of my camera as much as possible with the species I’m photographing. I’ve experienced three close calls with elk, a handful of inmy-face mule and whitetail deer encounters and two super-aggressive tom turkey.
The moral of the story for you, the hunter, is to get as close as you possibly can to the species you’re pursuing. I get it … longdistance shooting of the Precisions Rifle Series ilk is fun, but don’t risk wounding an animal at a distance beyond what you’re supercomfortable and superconfident at. If you’ve only zeroed-in at 100 yards and practiced out to 200, don’t take a flyer on an animal beyond that. The animal deserves better. I can’t sell a photograph of a species taken at long distances. Magazines like shots that are “up close and personal.” We hunters should embrace this same mindset.
And when getting as close as you can, use wind, terrain and even time to your advantage—as well as the habits and movements of the species you’re hunting. We turkey hunters have a saying that goes, “A turkey has no time clock.” Same goes with big game species. Don’t rush, don’t press. Be patient and do all that you can to get as close as possible to your intended target.
We hunters and photographers live and learn. If you’re anything like me, you always want to become better. Both activities take an inordinate amount of skill to get good. Mastery of anything takes time and dedication. The 10,000- hour rule suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become the best at something. While time is precious, any time you can invest in scouting, understanding the species, shooting at the range, and learning your equipment will make you a more skilled and polished hunter.