Like an old man lifting from a recliner, potato chip crumbs falling to the carpet for the dog to inhale, making changes happens slowly and painfully. A snap decision this past winter was the catalyst, prompted (like many snap decisions) by an evening scroll through Twitter. The offering of a film school promoted by the Heartland Bowhunter television show caught my eye, two words jumping out at me, peaking my interest like a dog catching a whiff of bacon . Film. School.
Ask any female her interests, and I will guarantee “photography” will appear on the top ten list. Yes, I have a camera. Yes, I took a photography class in college, spending countless hours in a darkroom, fingers pruny from chemicals that will probably cause my unborn children to grow third eyes and second belly buttons. Yes, I enjoy black and white photography. Yes, I appreciate abstract shots and overly dramatic portrait work. All of the above stereotypes are true. Now that we are on the same page, let’s move on.
What you don’t understand is how photography makes me a better hunter, a better fisher(wo)man, a better outdoorsman. Learning to view the world through an eyepiece gives you focus, causes small details to pop and grab your eye. Learning to look for the proverbial “cat” in a photo helped me hone my hunter’s eye for movement in the field, the rustle of brush at 200 yards that can’t possibly be the wind, the flicker of a tail in the distance that to the unobservant eye would be easily missed. And above all, a photography background taught me patience, the reward of waiting for long periods of time, just to capture the exact image at the precise moment in the perfect window of light. Just as a hunter knows in the split second before the trigger is pulled or the arrow is released that the shot will be perfect, a photographer has that moment of clarity before releasing the shutter that yes, this is it. This is what have I waited for, and it will be wonderful.
To this point, photography has played a sidecar role in my hunting and fishing adventures. A battered cell phone is my constant companion, shoved deeply in the back pocket of my jeans at all times, as vital to a day outdoors as my knife and hat, for as a friend once said, “if there’s no proof, it didn’t happen.” This is the same friend that constantly gives me grief for repeatedly pausing to capture images during every outing, but I suppose you can’t have your cake and eat it too with some people. These images are hasty and often ill-composed, far from worthy of hanging on the refrigerator, let alone the wall. But that is not their purpose; their true purpose is to allow me to remember this moment, this day, this exact detail that struck me, made an impression, and illustrated the story of hunting, fishing, and loving life outdoors. For this purpose, my Motorola will suffice, but like Ariel, I found myself wanting more (cue impassioned musical transition here).
Walking in the door to the HB Film Academy was nerve-wracking, to say the least. I knew I would be in the minority from the get-go, a doe among a sea of bucks, but the added weight of being an amateur hunter and photographer stressed me out to no end. It’s hard to explain how much more difficult it is to be a woman in the testosterone-soaked world of outdoor life, and I’m not just talking about physically challenging. Although the number of women engaging in the industry continues to increase in recent years, females still play a very small role in the land of hunting and fishing, and are frequently seen by our male counterparts as pretty accessories that are as interchangeable as a new stabilizer or sling. I am not pointing fingers or calling foul, just simply stating the fact that things like #fishbra illustrate how seriously people really take outdoorsy women. Look it up.
I have no intention of allowing my “wits” to earn my place as an equal, so improving my skill and craft in the field is vital. That’s why I traded to a more competitive bow, practicing from 50 yards regularly, focusing on accuracy as well as increasing my strength and draw weight. That’s why I read incessantly about food plots, deer genetics, stand placement, and movement, for I lack the institutional knowledge most of my male friends take for granted, and it’s an arms race to catch up. And that’s why I chose to throw myself in the deep end at film school, to select yet another skill to master, one that will help document my story and illustrate what the hunting world looks like when you are 5’2”.
That mindset, coupled with a few stiff drinks and a solid Jack Handy speech before the mirror, helped me power through the nerves, and I am so glad I did. The entire HB team was on deck for the two-day training; it is almost surreal to be in a room with Really Famous People Who Are On Television, and yet are the real deal when it comes to not only hunting, but filming and post-production editing as well. From the basics of good photography to tips on the best websites to order lenses and even drone photography lessons, the team covered it all. I furiously took notes, partially because I am that kind of person and also because I knew I could only absorb a fraction of what was happening in front of me, and I had to record it for posterity and later reference.
However, two sessions stuck with me, and the lid remained down on my computer, an uncharacteristic move. The first was more of an informal time-killer, viewing unreleased episodes of the Heartland Bowhunter show, meant to entertain the group as we had lunch. The quality of the video, the cinematographic style, the attention to detail and the world around the hunter was simply breathtaking in every single shot. While the hunting was excellent, I was captivated by the visuals, partly because each image resonated within my soul, bringing up vignettes of personal experiences and leaving a clanging “that’s how I see the world as well!” in my brain. Right in that moment, I drank the filming Kool-Aid.
If that is the “why” to my filming epiphany, the “how” came at the end of the course. I am a nuts-and-bolts person, needing concrete, tactile evidence of how things work. The cameras and equipment they brought presented a veritable orgy of touching, and I was able to see what filming could possibly look like for me in real life. Owning a $30,000 camera will never be in my future, but DSLR filming is completely doable, particularly for my purposes. However, all the moving parts of what outdoor filming looks like snapped into place when we took the class outside, hanging stands and climbing sticks and modeling how a filming setup looks in the tree. I could see where the tree arm would sit, feel it glide as it extended to the correct position, waist high on the cameraman (or woman, in this instance). Watching all the pieces of the puzzle come together made the picture much clearer, less abstract, more doable.
Just as valuable as the technical presentation was the unwritten curriculum of camaraderie and community. Hunters from across the country – literally – gathered in one place, for one purpose. A couple from Oregon was toying with the idea of filming as a way to strengthen their bond in the field. A father-son team from Georgia, travelling the world in pursuit of completing the Grand Slam challenge, wanted to learn how to assemble their existing footage for posterity (and hilarity. They were my seatmates, and made the experience even better with their laughter and warm-hearted Southern charm). Men and boys gathered, sharing stories and asking questions one after the other, assembling in groups in the evening to compare stories and photos over brews. The other lone female hugged me as we departed, a sweet gesture from a woman who knew nothing more about me than I love to hunt, and a person who hunts can’t be all bad. Seeing people with the same passion, same vision, connecting and growing – that was truly beautiful.
Driving home, my brain felt fat and sluggish, as if it needed to put on stretchy pants after a Thanksgiving dinner of information. The wheels are turning upstairs on how to incorporate film into my hunts, but I know this experiment not be without strife. I asked several of the HB team about how filming has changed them as hunters, and the answers I received were both honest and heavy. Filming will cost me shots, they promised. It will take longer to pack in, set up, pack out. I will drop and break very expensive equipment. I will make mistakes, losing an entire hunt to a full SD card or dead camera battery. I will delete clips accidentally, and perseverate over editing to an unhealthy level. However, one statement struck home, and it is one I hope to cling to as I begin this part of my adventure; bowhunting is a feeling, and words simply can’t do it justice. As fall approaches, I plan on marching to the stand, bow in one hand and camera in the other, moving forward and gaining momentum as I climb into position.