-By Brandon Wikman
The quest to find a good cameraman is like trying to find a matching set of shed antlers in the middle of a marsh. It requires an immense amount of one-on-one training, hands-on personal experience, and a thorough understanding of what needs to be filmed during the duration of a televised hunt.
When filming for a national television show, there’s more involved than the point-and-shoot method. Often times, there are strict scripts to shoot from, certain audio-bytes to capture, special formats to film in, and about a hundred other key aspects that are a must for quality footage. This past week, I stumbled upon that matching set of shed antlers and found somebody who has the potential to roam with the elite field producers of the outdoor industry.
The cameraman who always works with me had an out-of-state video shoot. I was forced to frantically search for someone to fill my cameraman’s shoes. I knew of several people who were willing to toss a camera on their shoulder and hit record, but that’s not what I wanted. I opted to ask a special friend of mine who watches outdoor TV programming as much as I do. He’s a stickler and professional critic when it comes to pointing out scenes within a show that don’t match, look fishy, and are completely staged. Dick Gunther, owner of Dick’s Whitetail Taxidermy in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin was the man for the job. I’ve been acquainted with Gunther for a few years now and have been fortunate enough to know him and his family quite well. He’s one of the keenest individuals I have ever known. His fine taxidermy work defines his personality and character. Like many great artists, Gunther carries with him a creative mind, meticulous skills for crafting, and he is always looking to improve. These are the key attributes found in a quality field producer.
Before our hunt, I jammed him with an extremely brief review of the basic filming guidelines. Gunther learned the fundamentals of shooting video, the mechanics of a camera, and the general concept of outdoor videoing. As the opening day of turkey season arrived, it was up to Gunther to prove himself behind the camera.
As the break of dawn’s sunlight torched the green pastures, we sat in wonder hoping our luck would prove worthy. Our setup was ideal for a teamwork effort to cast a lovesick gobbler into a movie star role. Gunther sat behind me hunkered into a grassy spot against a large oak to break up his outline. I sat close ahead, feet propped on my footrest, shotgun in hand, and anticipations high. It is always important to sit near your cameraman for two reasons. A cameraman will lose angles and the hunter’s point-of-view as the distance increases. It is essential that the camera is always recording over the shoulder of a hunter to give viewers that lifelike sense. As you move further away from each other, communication decreases. The most important aspect of filming hunts is communicating the scenario, situation at hand, and the actual kill shot. Everyone must be on the same page or else it becomes a producer’s worst nightmare.
The morning silence was broke when I busted a few crackling yelps toward the roosted birds. It was only seconds before we heard a response from an interested gobbler. Gunther flipped on the camera and started filming the scenario as the game of seduction unraveled. As he filmed, I pulled down my mask and whispered a basic checklist of mechanics for him to check; audio, adjusting the iris, turning on manual focus, fine-tuning the white balance and checking the gain were just some of the requirements.
The gobbler was in sight before I could finish with my verbal checklist. He pompously showboated across the entire pasture en route to my decoy. Beautiful colors splashed off his feathery body and the sun’s luminescence lit his tail fan with a glow. The strutter stood at a mere 20 yards. As any good cameraman would say at this point in time, Gunther told me he was focused on the bird and to make the kill. An explosion of bb’s roared from the end of my shotgun and splattered into the bird’s vitals, it was a knockout! Gunther was just as excited as I was. We savored the moment with high-fives and “man-hugs.”
We shot the cut-a-ways, recovered the bird, and wrapped up a successful video shoot. I left the field proud and eager to see the dynamic footage from a rookie’s first hunting experience behind a camera. Our teamwork effort proved triumphant as I later viewed the footage. I owe a big thanks to Gunther for his ability to capture a spectacular turkey hunt, but more importantly a greater memory for us to share for years to come.