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Adventures -and some misadventures- of Filming in the Great Outdoors
Tue, 21 Mar 2017 14:30:15 EDT
click on the picture to enlarge
Good folks and good hunting dogs and wonderful cover make for a great day
of hunting wild pheasants in the Thumb.
Adventures (and some misadventures) of Filming in the Great Outdoors
By Tom Lounsbury
Filming in the great outdoors has become quite a popular and fast growing industry today, and the very compact digital cameras and audio equipment now available offer stellar performance (my small digital camera I use these days for still photography can also record in-action scenes and do so even underwater). It is truly amazing what is available, even for sportsfolks wanting to record their own adventures. (The digital recorder I use to record my weekly radio shows easily fits in my shirt pocket).
I will never forget the first time I had an opportunity to be in an outdoor show for television. I had been contacted because the show host had heard I was one of the few hunters who still pursued wild pheasants in Michigan’s Thumb area. This occurred over 30 years ago and the camera being used in those days to film our hunt wasn’t small by any means and had to be held continually on the shoulder and came with a battery pack hanging from the cameraman’s belt. It was quite a load to cart around through chest-high grass and brush covering some hilly terrain. The cameraman/show host however was well up to the task and really impressed me with his ability and attitude in the field and we have been good friends ever since.
The hunt occurred on an opening morning of pheasant season in the Thumb and we experienced one of those rare October snowstorms that blanketed the terrain with several inches of the heavy wet stuff. As soon as shooting light arrived I turned my dogs and hunting guests loose in an organized line across the cover. However it wasn’t “filming-light” as yet and I promised the cameraman/show host that he would have plenty of filming opportunities and at that moment my main goal was to move our group to the east side of the field and turn back with the west wind working in favor of my hunting dogs.
I also assured him that the only pheasants we would put up while crossing to the east side were ones we literally stepped on because all the birds were totally covered up with snow in their roosting spots in the tall grass. They were quite cozy and pretty scent-free at that point, and knowing wild pheasants, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be in a rush that morning to greet a new day.
I was in the center of the line to work my dogs for the group and the cameraman was slightly behind me and keeping pace while hoping for better light in order to begin filming. To this day, I have mixed emotions about the camera not rolling during what suddenly transpired. A part of me is somewhat relieved, but yet it would have been a very unique situation to have recorded on film.
The rooster was facing due west under the snow (and had probably enjoyed watching a setting sun the night before), and I was wading away due east through the snowy cover when my right foot coming up to pass my left foot rudely swept the rooster out of his comfortable bed, and he came cackling straight up in an explosion of snow and hit me square in the undercarriage (trust me folks, that will really wake you up in the gray light of a stormy dawn). This (quite naturally of course) doubled me right over, which in turn blocked the bird’s upward avenue of escape and the panicked rooster’s loud cackling had turned into chicken-like squawks, and as I straightened back up the bird began to wing-flap and claw his way up the front of my canvas coat.
When this occurred I was holding my single-shot H&R 12 ga shotgun in my right hand and I had a buckskin mitten on my left hand, and I did try to grab the rooster, but mittens (especially one-handed) don’t offer much traction in holding onto snow covered and wing-flapping pheasants (I had the perfect opportunity to show the outdoor TV show host that I not only could find wild roosters, but I could also catch them with my bare hands). When that failed I tried to hug the squirming bird into my chest with my left arm, but he clawed, squawked and pecked his way right through and we were suddenly beak to nose and I will always remember his wide and fierce amber eyes glaring at me out of the bright red wattles on his head. That is when he wing-flapped each side of my face while showering my eyeglasses with wet snow and shoved off, performed an aerobatic barrel-roll and flew straight away.
It was an easy shot (despite snow-debris on my eyeglass lenses) and I automatically shouldered my H&R single-shot shotgun and drew a bead on the fast departing rooster. Needless to say the entire episode must have rattled me a bit, because instead of cocking my shotgun, I pressed down on the ejector button located next to the hammer. I will never forget hearing the click of my shotgun breaking open (instead of a discharging blast) and the bright red unfired 12 ga Winchester shell being ejected and sailing past my right ear. The rooster flew away totally unscathed with no shots being fired, because the other hunters closest to me who could have taken a shot were laughing too hard to shoulder their shotguns.
Yep. That sure could have been some interesting footage if the light had been right for filming. It is probably why I stick to radio for recording outdoor adventures (and I’ve been told I have the perfect face for radio).
Some years later the same cameraman/outdoor show host joined me for another opening morning Thumb wild pheasant hunt. This time it was a beautiful and sunny autumn sunrise and the cameraman had good filming light in no time as we ventured into the field. He also had a smaller camera and had pinned a remote microphone to my coat collar to receive firsthand audio whenever I talked. I was in for an education that being tied in tight, so to speak, with audio can be a usually good and sometimes bad thing.
The action that morning was actually quite fast and furious. My two dogs, a yellow lab and a Brittany, had the perfect scenting conditions and were making me, the so-called “pheasant hunting expert” look good on camera. The real fact is that my dogs were the true pheasant experts and any skill I was offering during the entire process was the fact that I knew how to “read” my dogs.
There was a point in the hunt when I knew we were on to at least a couple of roosters, because hens won’t take the “heat” (aka fast and hard pursuit) my dogs were performing, and I knew by the dogs’ actions of veering this way and that in opposite directions and then coming back together again, meant more than a rooster or two was in the mix. We were all headed directly toward a plowed field which provided a sudden “break” in the cover and would force the fast fleeing roosters into flight when they “ran out of road”. Of course I was talking during the chase which is something I naturally always do anyway to clue in the other hunters to keep them on their toes and into the action (I absolutely love seeing other folks shoot birds over my dogs and my favorite part of the hunt is working with my dogs).
I had also completely forgotten during all the excitement that I was wired for sound per an action-filming process.
Due to my verbal direction, our line of hunters was in the perfect position (with the cameraman right behind us) when my dogs forced the roosters into flight, and there were eight roosters in all. The roosters came cackling up in a left to right sequence, almost as if by script, and shotguns were booming and roosters were tumbling down with my dogs already on the move to make multiple retrieves (I don’t train my dogs to hold to the shot because some wild roosters which appear seriously hit, tumble right down, and land running).
I was in the center of the line and had fired at the fourth rooster going up just to my left and I was in the process of racking my pump-action shotgun when the fifth rooster went up directly in front of me, and my gun jammed (this can happen when an empty shell case doesn’t fully eject as a live round is feeding in). This was followed by three more roosters going up in quick sequence to my right.
Well folks, I’m not much into cussing, but neither am I a saint, especially when sudden matters catch me by surprise. Admittedly I was only cussing under my breath, one of those just to yourself matters, but with a (remote) microphone pinned to my upraised collar a couple inches from my mouth, I might as well of have been shouting. Needless to say the only suitable part for public viewing of that filming process was of the first four roosters going up (and tumbling down).
What I learned from that action-packed experience is to never, ever forget my “game face” when on camera, especially when I’m wired for sound.