Keeping it Real with Hunting Films

The author on a solo Dall Sheep hunt in Alaska. There's no great film from this hunt, just good memories.
The author on a solo Dall Sheep hunt in Alaska. There's no great film from this hunt, just good memories. (Tyler Freel/)

Most of us get a kick out of reading, hearing, or watching accounts of other hunters’ experiences and stories. Hunting media is entertaining, but the source of that entertainment is a connection to the things that stir our own hearts. We get to share our experiences with a virtual stranger, but also reflect on our own time in the woods. But media can also easily side-track us from what we’re really out there to do.

Go to a concert these days and you’ll see people holding up their phones, recording each song. Sure, those folks can later watch the performance at their leisure, but looking back on the show, in that moment they were just staring at a live concert through a screen. Similarly, as a content producer, I often find there is a very fine line between hunting and capturing the entirety of the experience. I am out there in pursuit of wild game, but also trying to catalog it for consumption. It’s challenging at times, especially when you shoot an animal. It can be hard to appreciate the moment fully, because you’re also working.

I love consuming all hunting content, and I think that everyone has a story to tell and experiences to share. Sharing our hunting experiences in a positive, but real and genuine way, benefits the sport, and I don’t want to discourage anyone who wants to share their experiences and story. However, don’t forget what brings you out there in the first place.

From the consumer standpoint, creativity and production quality of hunting “films” is at an all-time high. The equipment, cinematography, and time put in are more on-par with Hollywood movies than the stale outdoor TV shows many of us have drifted away from. The entertainment and captivation power of many of these films are incredible. But often, I have my doubts about how much of the real experience is being captured. I’ve spent enough time on Alaska reality TV show sets (believe it or not I made an appperance on a reality show here in Alaska back in the day) to have a feel for what has to go on behind the scenes to provide that kind of cinematic experience. Most of the time, effort, and in-person experience is weighted much more heavily towards the movie making than the actual hunting.

With hunts that are in your wheelhouse, you can probably pick up on things that don’t seem quite right. You’ll notice things that stick out as obviously manufactured situations and not the actual experience. One of my biggest complaints with outdoor TV over the years has been the silly re-creates. Once you understand that much of the experience is manufactured, it really kills the feeling. And in some ways, top-end production just gives you a more palatable version of that.

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From the content creator side of things, I hate having to film hunts. It sucks. Now, I very much enjoy sharing my hunting experience with those who care to watch, read, and listen, but I can’t stand the process. Hell, it’s like pulling teeth for me to even take pictures while I’m out hunting, especially solo. I guess that’s why I prefer the grittier films than ones that are choreographed. I’d rather see a real hunting moment, even if the footage is a little shaky or slightly out of focus than a contrived moment that’s beautifully shot.

For the pros who truly enjoy making hunting films, more power to you. Pulling together a film of any quality without a whole dedicated camera crew and a ton of time is a pile of work. And for the amateurs, if you want to set out this year with the intention of capturing your hunts to share with others, I applaud and encourage that, just remember what keeps you out there, what you really love about it, and keep that at the forefront of your motivations. Remember, we love hunting because it’s real, visceral, imperfect. If you share those real experiences that satisfy your soul, there’s a good chance it will resonate with viewers, too.

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