7 Pro Tips for a Better Self-Filmed Hunt

With today’s cameras and accessories, filming your own hunt has never been easier

Hunter setting up a camera for a hunt
The author sets up on a self-filmed hunt.Tony Hansen

The camera never lies. Unless you really know how to edit...then, well, it can.

I’ve spent my fair share of time in the woods with a video camera. Sometimes, I was there to lay down footage of someone else trying to fill a tag on whatever critter was in season. Other times, I was the one in front of the lens, working in tandem with a cameraman to deliver something folks would want to watch.

But, lately, it’s been a solo show. Just me, the camera and whatever happens to saunter by. While the end goal of capturing whatever transpires on video is the same, the two methods for getting there could hardly be more different.

Most hunters aren’t going to have a dedicated cameraman on the majority of outings. Sure, you may team up with a buddy from time to time. But, for the most part, the everyday hunter is going to self-film. If you’re new to the self-filming game, pause for a minute and thank those lucky stars overhead. You’ve got it damned good.

Today’s technology and equipment make it infinitely easier to capture your hunt on video. I’ve been around just long enough to know what it was like before the advent of micro-sized cameras and specialized self-filming tools. Which means I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that might help you out. Here’s seven to get you started.

1. Steady Does It

I don’t care if you’re hunting from a ground blind, a treestand, a tree saddle, or sitting on a bucket by the side of a fence post, if you’re going to try and video your hunt, you will need some sort of stabilization device. Camera arms do the job in a treestand and can serve double duty when hunting from the ground without a blind. In a blind, you’ll need a tripod. Now, if you intend to only use a palm-sized action camera like a GoPro, you have an entirely different slew of stabilizing devices. We’ll cover those more when discussing these micro-cams a bit later.

Regardless of what camera you use or how you hunt, you must have something to hold the camera for you.

Camera arms are probably the most popular setup, if for no other reason than most deer hunters are going to hunt from a treestand. Generally speaking, the heavier an arm is, the more stable it’s going to be. Stable video is better video. That said, I’m completely over hauling a big, bulky camera arm around. My current option is a DIY model made from aluminum tubing. Your hunting style should dictate the type of camera arm you use. If you don’t need to pack gear in for miles, a heavier arm could work. If you’re a mobile hunter who covers ground, take that into account.

For tripods, much of the same considerations apply. Heavier tripods are more stable. Lighter tripods are less stable. I like a tripod that’s compact enough to fit into a pack. You can find tons of options on Amazon and a huge price range as well.

Muddy Outfitter camera arm
Muddy Outfitter camera arm.Muddy Outfitter

2. Choose a Camera

My personal camera is a Canon XA10 that I’ve used since they were first released about 10 years ago. It’s small, light, and feature-rich. If I were to upgrade, I’d simply move to the XA20 which as a 20-power optical zoom versus the 10-power optical zoom. Can you get bigger cameras? Absolutely. For most situations, they’re simply not necessary.

Small action cams, like GoPros, have really changed the self-filming game. A GoPro weighs almost nothing and can be stashed just about anywhere. A pair of GoPro cameras — one setup over your shoulder and one mounted on your hat — can capture a lot of cool and interesting footage. What you lose with these cameras, of course, is the ability to zoom in on an animal and deliver that full-frame view that is so desirable. But for simply capturing your experience, GoPro-style cameras do a great job.

Another benefit of the GoPro is the fact they can be mounted and stabilized with very small, lighweight accessories. Screw-in mounts, Gorilla-pods, hat clips, chest straps...the list is long and varied.

A lot of professional outlets will utilize DSLR or mirrorless cameras for their video work. These systems use interchangeable lenses and offer a huge array of adjustments and settings...they can produce incredible images and give total control over the look of your video. For now, we’ll leave those for the pros.

3. Focus... and Focus Again

If you’re using a GoPro, you can skip this section. Those cameras are 100 percent autofocus and you’ll have minimal control over the focal point.

But if you’re using a camera that offers manual focus—and if you want to produce the best video, you should—you’ll need to pay plenty of attention to the focus. Here’s one of the easiest ways to do it and not have to worry as much in the heat of the moment.

We’ll assume you’re hunting from a fixed position such as a treestand or a ground setup. Zoom in on the area you expect to see deer. Choose a leaf, a tree, anything that won’t move. With the camera fully zoomed in on that spot, set your focus. Now, when you pull back and widen the view, everything from that point towards you will be in focus. This makes it simple when a deer approaches quickly. Just leave the focus set where it is, and hit record.

If your camera has a manual focus setting, use it. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve missed great footage because I had the camera on auto-focus. As the deer or turkey closed the distance, the auto-focus system latched onto a branch or a tree and the shot was ruined.

The best advice I can give with manual focus is to use it and practice often. Over time, it sort of becomes second nature to spin the focus wheel and get the shot. If your camera only has autofocus, be intentional with your setups. Field or food plot situations are ideal because you’ll have minimal background and brush to compete with.

4. Move It

One of the most difficult aspects of filming your own hunts is camera management when game is near. Sure, you can put your camera in one spot, zoom out for a wide field of view and call it good. But I’m betting, the more you video, the less you’ll like that look. Great video happens when you track the animal, fill the frame, and keep things smooth and in focus. But how do you do that when a buck you want to shoot is fast approaching? You need to get your bow ready. You have to adjust your feet. And you have to get the camera in position and lay down some footage. Sound tough? It is. But, again, with practice and forethought, it’s very doable.

The key is to position the camera where you can move it easily and keep an eye on the viewfinder. I’m a right-handed shooter. That means I’m going to have my bow in my left hand and I’ll control the camera in my right. This means I set the camera up on my right side. I like to mount the camera slightly higher than my waist. This is a personal thing but I like to look slightly down at the camera. My XA10 has an LCD screen that can be flipped around and laid flat against the camera with the screen facing out. This means I can see the screen without having to lean over.

My camera arm operates pretty smoothly and I use the arm to maneuver the camera rather than trying to use the camera head. There is no secret to this, it’s something you just have to spend time doing and you’ll develop your own rhythm and feel.

a camera in a tree stand
Use a camera arm in a treestand to keep your footage smooth and steady.Tony Hansen

6. Record Everything

Here’s some truth from Captain Obvious: You won’t kill a big buck every time you hunt. If you expect your videos will be filled with kill shots and close encounters with giant deer, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Does that mean you can’t still produce interesting and entertaining videos? Of course not. Be a story-teller. Tell the tale of the hunt, even if that tale ends with you seeing nothing more than a couple of does. Record the entire hunt. Record the walk to your stand site. Record your preparation. Record the wildlife you see. Talk to the camera and have fun with it. You hunt because you enjoy it, right? Well, show others what it is that you enjoy.

7. Be Creative

I knew almost nothing about video when I first started to produce video content. I learned by watching the work of others. Their style, their focus, their creativity.

There isn’t any real “magic” in getting super video. Keep it in sharp focus. Be smooth and steady with your movements. And, above all, present the story in a unique light. That can be as simple as getting a different angle or perspective. Shoot high, shoot low. Go from behind the tree. Or beside it. Work on effects like “rack focusing” where you start with something in the foreground in focus and then shift focus to the background.

Your best video will come from angles and lighting situations that are unique or unexpected. Again, like so many things in video, your eye will develop with practice. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to have complex or overly dynamic shots. Simple can be great.