Filming A New Mexico Elk Hunt


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It’s a mid September morning and the air is crisp at 9000 feet.

The air is cool and feels great as you quickly become overheated and sweaty, hiking straight up in the moon lit trail. You find yourself stopping often to catch your breath in the low oxygenated air, and to adjust the 40 plus pound pack on your back. The heavy pack always seemed to find itself in an uncomfortable position. The rocks slipping out from under your feet and crashing down the mountain is one of the only sounds filling the air. The absence of car doors slamming, dogs barking, people talking and traffic is replaced by the sound of light wind hitting the trees. Upon reaching the peak and gasping for air, a sound rings out that sends a chill up your spine and makes the hair on your neck stand up. A sound like no other, the bugle of a bull elk in his annual search for a temporary girlfriend. The next 45 minutes, filled with anticipation of the sight that the sun will bring with it, felt twice as long as the 19 hour drive to get there. While I was going to be spending my time behind the camera on this hunt, my excitement for Will Downard, from KillerGear, was off the charts.

Encounter after encounter, I have to continue to remind myself to live through the camera screen. The echoing sound of bugles coupled with the amazing scenery makes it easy for your eyes to get distracted. Don’t be fooled by the beauty of these mountains though. As I was about to find out over the next few weeks, they are demanding and will make you earn your trophy. I was about to gain a whole new respect for the cameramen that videoed all of the elk hunts I have watched over the years on tv. My backpack loaded down with several cameras, batteries, mics, cables, brackets, tripods, and backups for everything not to mention my food and water, began to feel heavier every day. The main camera and tripod that rested on my right shoulder the whole first day, now could not find a comfortable spot to be carried. My hips felt like someone had hit them with a hammer from all of the weight and uneven terrain. Yards began to feel like miles, miles began to feel like endless journeys. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to be hiking around the mountains chasing these awesome animals. Point being while yes it’s physically challenging, the mental challenge is more than I had ever experienced before. At the end of it, all of the hard work, miles of boots to the ground, and pain makes victory so much sweeter.

Knowing how physically demanding this hunt would be, the preparation started in July. Now, looking back on it, a piece of advice to anyone going on an elk hunt…… Start the preparation more than 2 months in advance. I hit the gym almost every night, running on the treadmill, walking on incline with 50 pound weight on me as well as a lot of other cardio. After these few months of training, I was still not fully prepared. It didn’t take me long to start weeding out things in my pack to leave at camp. Every ounce seemed to help a lot. Perhaps it was just the mental aspect of knowing there’s less in your pack more than how much weight you actually took out. Occasionally we would do these predetermined hour or two hunts through smaller sections. The perk to those…. we got to leave the backpacks at the truck. The feeling of having nothing on your back weighing you down somewhat recharged the physical and mental battery.

While you can physically prepare your body to endure a hunt, you can never fully prepare your mind for the roller coaster ride that a hunt can bring. On a hunt like this, every heartbreak of a blown encounter hits the camera man as much as the hunter. Although we were seeing tons of elk, there was more heartbreak on this hunt than I care to admit. There were so many nights we went to bed absolutely exhausted and feeling defeated, but yet each morning brought newfound confidence. There’s something special about hunting and filming in the mountains. Around each corner is a beautiful backdrop, but at the same time, you can never seem to fully capture the size and seemingly endlessness of the landscape that your eyes can see. It’s this same landscape that can be so amazing at one point, and so frustrating at another. The abundance of evergreen trees and uneven terrain makes for a videographers nightmare so often. The darkness the trees provide with pockets of sunshine make it nearly impossible to have consistent lighting as you follow an animal. So often, even with elk within 40 yards, the big evergreens were constantly in the way of a clear sight for the camera. It’s purely amazing how such a big animal can move through these forests like ghosts. There were several times where I would be filming an elk walking through the timber and lose it behind just a little bit of trees or brush, and the next time you would see him he’s 40 yards from the last place. Along the same lines, it was tough to see the same things Will was seeing. Just a matter of a few feet away from each other in any direction always put an evergreen tree or some kind of land feature in the way for one of us.

Overall, this adventure taught me so much about filming in less than ideal situations or conditions. It showed me if you want to lay down some quality footage, you need to always be on your A game. Also, it showed me the importance of knowing the person you’re hunting with. I say that meaning, knowing the hand signals you’re getting, basically just being able to read that persons mind. When your 20 yards apart with limited communication, knowing what the hunter is thinking or why he’s doing what he’s doing can often make the difference between a successful videoed hunt and just a kill. Granted, with that being said, there’s always that different view from a hunter and a cameraman. Plain and simple you’re not always going to be able to see what the hunter sees. I think this boils down to how much time you have spent in the woods with this other person. While Will and I are still learning, we have spent many hours in the field together, but none taught us as much about communicating during the hunt as this one.

As the trip came to a close and we were packing the last bit of meat out from the last day kill, the pride factor was like no other hunt I have been on. While the weight of the 120-pound packs of meat was physically heavy on us, the mental weight had been lifted off our shoulders. That’s what makes this videoing so appealing. You’re in the hunt. When I first started filming, I knew I would enjoy it but I was shocked to get the same excitement out of it as having a bow in my hand. I never would have imagined I would have been so crushed by a miss or blown encounter while I was filming. I’m happy to say that we enjoyed our 19 hour drive home, sore, hurting, exhausted and proud…. Not to mention, a few hundred pounds of meat and antlers heavier.

Last modified: July 15, 2020

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