By: M.R. James

Carrying a camera on my bowhunting adventures is almost as important as toting extra broadheads and my skinning knife. Here’s why you shouldn’t leave home without one!

           I KILLED MY FIRST WHITETAIL BUCK on the final day of the 1963 Indiana archery season. Hunting alone on rugged, reclaimed, and overgrown strip mine land located between the small Hoosier communities of Lynnville and Spurgeon, I stumbled onto a rutting buck and his lady love more by blind luck than stalking skill. The fact is he was so focused on his winsome girlfriend, he let me ease within 20 yards, overcome the shakes all greenhorn deer hunters know, and shoot him though the lungs.

          Though I didn’t know it at the time, that milestone moment from 55 years ago would forever change my life. The magazine article I later wrote about the unforgettable experience launched my career as an outdoor writer, thanks to Roy Hoff and his Archery Magazine. It also educated me, because when Roy asked for a field photo of me and my buck to include with my published feature, I had to admit I only had a couple and only one picture that showed me with the buck. To make a bad situation worse, that hastily posed black and white image was pretty poor quality.

            Live and learn!

HOW BIG WAS HE? Here’s one reason I always keep a camera handy while hunting. A photo shows more than all your words describing him ever can.

            By the end of the 2018-19 deer season in January, I’ll have taken a total of between 12,000-13,000 photographs during the past year. When I recently bought a new laptop, the transferred photo files amounted to well over 100,000 photos. And that doesn’t count the tens of thousands of photographic prints, negatives, and color slides stored in a fireproof file and dozens of huge boxes in a home storage area.

            SO, AM I SUGGESTING YOU DO THE SAME? No way! I need to have a large photo inventory because I have to illustrate my books, magazine features, and columns. The more photos I can offer to an editor, the better. It’s part of what I do to make a living. But what I am strongly suggesting is that you carry a camera with you on all your hunting excursions, whether in some nearby Back 40 treestand or that bucket list bowhunt in a Rocky Mountain elk camp or on a fly-in moose and bear adventure in wild Alaska or some roadless northern Canada wilderness.

FIND A FRESH RUB OR HOT SCRAPE? Taking a photo or two records the moment and lets a hunting buddy or family member know exactly what you’re talking about. 

            While I-Phone cameras will do the job, are better than nothing, and may produce excellent results, I still prefer cameras. To me and my generation, cameras are for taking pictures and phones for calling others. Besides, modern cams are increasingly amazing tools. Honestly, you don’t need to know much about photography to take professional quality photographs. And even better, they’re affordable, easy-to-use, no-fuss recording devices that preserve moments in time you want for yourself, your family, friends, and hunting buddies.

Do you see what I see? The young deer is obvious. But I’m talking  about the buck watching from its bed behind the deer. Photos like this are fun to take and share.

            Although I own and use SLR cameras with a variety of lenses from wide angle to telephoto and several in between for my wildlife photography, I prefer the smaller cameras with built-in zooms and even the capability to shoot video footage. My current “hunting cameras” are a Nikon Coolpix and a Canon Power Shot. Add a 64GB photo disk and I’m ready to take several thousand photos by simply recharging the camera’s battery between hunts.

            My computer allows me to review and edit photos, then send them to my office printer if I need a photo. Most often I simply attach the edited photos to my manuscript package and send everything to an editor once I’ve completed my work. In return, I receive a check that helps pay the bills. However, since few of my readers will routinely write books or magazine articles, they frequently share online photos and emails with buddies and hunting websites.

GET DOWN AND GET CLOSE to the subject when snapping Grip and Grin field photos of a hunter and the animal. This “rule” clearly shows the hunter/deer and eliminates the need to crop out any distracting objects in a photograph.

            Whether you elect to use a standard camera or your phone’s camera, the message I have is to take pictures. Lots of pictures. Regardless of their ultimate use, you’ll have them on file to complement your memory of a specific hunt, a camp, a buddy or guide, the scenery, and – with luck — your trophy game animal.

            In past columns I’ve offered solid step-by-step advice on how to get the best possible hunting photos. Space limitations preclude repeating such advice here. The idea is to convince you to augment your personal recollections with photographic proof of an adventure. Telling others about your hunt is a given, and certainly words inspire interested listeners; however, showing pictures gives others concrete images and adds meat to the bones of your story.

            Speaking generally, I repeat the suggestion to take plenty of pictures and I urge taking more than you believe is necessary – than snap a few more. Get close to your trophy when possible and fill the frame with the subject (cropping the photos as you take them, rather than afterwards). Here are a few more tips:

* Avoid shooting down at subjects; take a knee and get on the same level if you can.

*Be aware of the background. Use a natural setting, not the back of a pickup truck or inside some garage. Grass, shrubs, and trees are ideal; concrete, vehicles, and buildings are not the natural habitat of wildlife.

*Use a fill-flash or ask hunters to raise cap bills and hat brims to eliminate shadows cast by these sun-blockers. Never shoot into direct sunlight. Shady areas are better than harsh sunlight.

*Move the animal’s head slightly with each photo snapped. This helps find the best, most impressive view of horns or antlers. When possible take a few photos of sky-lined headgear; avoid cluttered background which can detract from the subject.

*Take time to clean blood from the nose and mouth of animals. Make sure there are no lolling tongues or gaping, bloody wounds visible in at least some of the photos. Such sights spoil good field photos and may offend non-hunters who see the pictures.

This is the 10-point buck I’ve hunted on our Indiana farm for the past two seasons. I’m using a recurve bow that was a gift from the family of my late friend, Dr. Chuck Williams of Kalispell, Montana. I’ve been asked to take a deer in Chuck’s memory, and I’m wanting it to be a special buck. The fact I’ve limited my effective shooting range to no more than 20 yards adds to the challenge. 

A final thought: Practice indeed makes perfect. So, start shooting. Someday you or your family will be glad you did.

For more please go to: Thoughts and Tips with M.R. James