Two and a half years ago the thought of filming my own hunt, or any hunt for that matter, had never crossed my mind. I just never imagined myself as the type of guy to follow a friend or family member around to capture a hunt on film. Even further from my mind was being the one in front of the camera while on a hunt for a buck or bull. That is until I met Jeff Coxen of Heavy Hitters Outdoors, through a mutual friend. After a few discussions with Jeff about his philosophy behind hunting and how he imagined a true outdoors film or show should be portrayed. Shortly after meeting Jeff, he offered me a spot as a member of his Field Staff.
In February of 2014, I attended my first Heavy Hitters Outdoors film school. To say I was overwhelmed with all of the information that I received over the 4 day trip is an understatement. I got the opportunity to learn from some guys who had been in the industry for a lot of years. By the end of those 4 days I was exhausted and my brain was fried. But I was ready to go all in.
Within 2 months of returning home I purchased my own camera to start learning the art of outdoor filming, hands on. It started out by filming my two daughters running around the back yard or the park. Then progressed to filming scouting trips with a few buddies. But nothing prepared me for opening day of big game season.
I went into opening day knowing it would be a challenge. But in the back of my mind I thought, “How hard can this really be?”. Well, that question was answered quickly. I had to know where my hunting partner was headed at any given moment, and I had to be there before he got there so I could setup and frame the shot. I always had to be 10 steps ahead. After each shot, I had to review the footage and if it wasn’t just right, we had to do it again and again until it was perfect. Each day that I spent filming, I noticed that I was the last one to bed and the first one to rise. During those hours I was planning the next day’s shot list as well as b-roll footage. I would review each scene multiple times and if they weren’t to my liking we would shoot it again the next day.
At times I found myself getting very frustrated while filming because things weren’t “perfect”. Why was I so worried about perfect focus, or framing the shot perfectly or perfect lighting? The answer is because I strive to be a better outdoor cameraman and filmmaker every time I put the camera in my hand. Because that’s the kind of person I am and that’s what we, at Heavy Hitters Outdoors, want to show our family, friends and fans every time one of our films hit your T.V. or computer screens.
Mediocrity in this industry leaves you in the middle of the pack. We strive to separate ourselves from the rest of the hunting shows out there. Are we always perfect? No. But we push each other to get ourselves and each other as close to “perfect” as humanly possible. This line of work is not for everybody. At times I second guessed if it was for me. But in the end, after the endless hours in the field and the many hours of editing footage and putting together timelines, the finished product is in front of you. At that point I knew it was for me. It’s what I want to continue to do for many years to come.
As amazing as it was to see my hunt on our cable TV show this year, the thought of having these memories on film, forever, is even better. I can watch my successes and failures as a hunter as well as a cameraman at anytime. I can use it as a learning tool as well as share these special memories with my wife and kids for years to come.
So in the end, outdoor filming is no joke. It will push your mind and body to the edge. It will break you down. But if you take it seriously and push through the extreme exhaustion and hours, days or weeks away from your family. It will pay off in more ways than one. I am extremely happy that I took this opportunity to work with some of the greatest guys I know that I also consider family.
Do you think you have what it takes? There’s only one way to find out.
There are a number of ways to define yourself as a hunter, or breed of hunter if you will. There are exclusively bow hunters, or exclusively rifle hunters, trophy hunters and freezer fillers. There are the DIY hunters, weekend warriors, backcountry mountain beasts… The list could go on for pages. My point is that everyone hunts for different reasons, and has different experiences.
For me, hunting has been something that I’ve been exposed to for longer than I can remember. Hunting is not a hobby for me, it runs deep in my veins. It is something that I literally MUST do. I have grown up hunting the hills of the Central Oregon Coast in pursuit of Roosevelt’s elk, black-tailed deer, and anything else I could buy a tag for. If I remember right, my first hunt took place when I was about 4, a coastal black-tail hunt. My dad carried me on his shoulders when the brush got too thick, and I made due on my own when I could. My first hunting trip was an Antelope hunt when I was 6, and by the age of 8 I was fluent in the common hunting language of “BS”.
I am now 22 years old, and have had my fair share of hunting success. Although defining myself as a hunter has proven to be a more daunting task. Because my dad always hunted with a rifle, that’s how I got started. He bought me my first rifle as a Christmas gift when I was 11, a Browning A-bolt .30-06. When I was 18 I made the switch to a bow, an old hand me down Martin that belonged to my uncle. As of now, I split my seasons and bow hunt for elk, then pick up that same .30-06 a week later and rifle hunt black-tails (which is arguably what I am most passionate about). I have never passed on a legal animal, so I am by no means a trophy hunter. I guess that means I am a bow/rifle DIY weekend freezer filling warrior… Not the most attractive title.
Whatever I am, there are certain aspects of the way I, and others who grew up or live in the same region as me, hunt that define who I am. Firstly, the weather during our hunting seasons can be brutal! I’ve hunted in everything from torrential down pours to 70 plus mile per hour winds, and oddly enough I enjoyed every second of it. There is not a pair of camouflage rain gear on the market waterproof enough for some of the storms I have hunted in. Secondly, while other places may be steeper, and other places may be brushier, I am convinced there is no place in the US that is as steep AND brushy as the temperate rainforests of the coast range. Lastly, hunting on the Oregon coast is no easy task, which may be why you don’t see too many episodes of coastal black-tail hunts on the Sportsmans channel. It is flat out hard! There are no tree stands in this part of the country, because you might sit in that stand all season and never see a deer, let alone a buck. I’ve hunted days on end without spotting a single antler, and I guess that’s why harvesting a forked-horn that somebodies grandma in Kansas wouldn’t be proud of is so rewarding to me.
When the air begins to change, and the leaves start to drop there is a certain sense of purpose that completely overwhelms me. I thrive on hunting deep behind a locked gate when the rain seems like its coming down, up, and sideways, and the wind is pounding on your chest. I feel at home is the darkest hole of the deepest canyon, surrounded by towering Douglas-fir trees and head high salmonberry. These things are what define me. This is the way of the west.
~ Chase Kinion
It was opening day for archery deer season, and I was in Eastern Washington on the hunt for a big whitetail buck. I was hunting some CRP land near my brother in-laws house that I had been scouting for almost a week prior. I had seen lots of movement early in the morning. Of course everything was at least 600 yards away. The deer seemed extra jumpy and more aware than most days. Almost like they knew it was opening day.
About 2 hours into the hunt, I jumped two small 3×3 whitetail bucks who were bedded down in some tall grass. The thought of drawing back on those bucks ran through my mind. But the thought vanished as quickly as it arrived. They stopped and turned broadside about 150 yards away. It was almost like they were laughing at me because they knew I wasn’t going to take that far of a shot. As the hours wore on that morning and the temperatures grew near 90 degrees, I decided to head back to the house about 11am and get some lunch and rehydrate because it was only going to get hotter.
About 4pm I geared up and headed back out. It was 104 degrees out, but with a decent west wind I knew it would be cooling off enough that the deer would be on the move. I decided to walk in on a maintenance road on the south end of the property, a route I had yet to take in my days of scouting the area. The bordering piece of private property was divided by a ravine with a creek running through the bottom. I was about 2 miles in and came to the bottom of a draw. I could see an overgrown brush patch that sloped down towards the ravine. I could see lots of sign that a lot of deer had been bedding in that area. I decided to hold in this area. I had a feeling that once it cooled down, there would be plenty of deer.
After almost 2 hours of waiting for the sun to crest over the west hills, I decided to get back to my feet and see if the deer were moving yet. As I rose to my feet, to see over the tall grass, I saw a 3×3 buck and two does walking my way. Just as I thought, they came out of the brush patch that I figured they had bedded down in. As I watched the deer file out of the brush patch my brother-in-law, who decided to come out with me as a second set of eyes, grabbed me by my belt and pulled me to the ground. I was irate! He told me to posture back up and look back to the hillside to the west. At first I didn’t see what he saw, but then out of nowhere appeared the biggest Whitetail buck I have ever seen in person. A 5×5 monster was headed my way…..
As he came within 100 yards I noticed that he had 4 does hot on his trail. I prayed that they didn’t bust me. I ranged a spot on the hillside where I figured he would cross the my path. 49 yards is what the readout read. I was sitting flat on the ground with my legs straight out in front of me. A shot that I had practiced a few times leading up to hunting season. When he came into view, I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. The buck I had been dreaming of for the last 2 years, since I had switched to archery, was at reach. I came to full draw, he was just a few yards uphill from the spot I ranged earlier. He showed no sign of slowing down. I led him by just a few inches. Suddenly, he came to a stop. I came back to him and let my arrow fly. It was like time had slowed to a crawl. I watched my arrow fly like a rocket right at the kill zone. Just before impact he took a step forward. Then…..THWACK!!!! He buckled and took off over the hill. I saw my arrow stuck in the hillside. I could see the blood drip from the nock of my arrow. But I had this sinking feeling in my gut that it wasn’t a perfect shot…..
I watched as he skylighted himself. Then he went down. Finally, time came back into full speed again. I confirmed with my brother-in-law that from our point of view, the buck went down. We gave it nearly 30 minutes before we went after him. When we approached my arrow, it was covered in blood….DARK blood. My suspicion had been confirmed….liver shot. We headed in the direction we last saw him. Just after dark we found a large pool of blood where he had gone down. However, the buck was nowhere to be found. We searched with flashlights until nearly midnight. With no other sign of blood, we decided to call it a night and continue the search at daylight.
After a near sleepless night, we headed out at 5am. My hopes weren’t very high on recovering much of the animal, if any. The temperatures stayed in the high 60’s overnight. Not to mention all the coyotes that ran that area. We searched for another 8 hours that day, and when all was said and done…..the day ended the same way it had began. I felt defeated.
Unfortunately, we had to load up and head home. With a 6 hour drive ahead of us, I had a lot of time to replay my hunt. No matter how many times I replayed it, I couldn’t pinpoint anything I would have or could have done differently. Nonetheless, it didn’t make it any easier to accept the results.
There is always that one minor thing, no matter what it is, that can happen out in the field that you may have no control over. It is that one minor thing that constantly drives me to be a better hunter today, than I was yesterday. Unfortunately, not every hunt will end with an animal on the ground. Every hunter has had and/or will have that hunt that ends with a “tag sandwich”.
So as I bring this to a close, I share with you this…..
I still to this day, have that very arrow, hanging above my work bench. Yes, it’s still covered in dry blood. People always ask me why I haven’t cleaned it off or taken it down. My answer is the same every time…..”It reminds me to never be satisfied with my skills as a hunter.” No matter how physically and mentally prepared you are for a hunt, it’s never enough.
~ Sean Schulz
So as the teams finalized their commercial drafts to the Full Draw Film School staff, we all waited to be critiqued and see where we stood. As our team’s (Team 1) commercial was finished, we could feel the tension in the house. You could cut it with a spoon. Guys were running around getting last minute footage, audio voice-overs, and whatever else they needed. Was good to see smiles every once in a while but these guys were focused. Full Draw guys were also working on their commercial and their film school edit for the evening award event. This was the last night before guys headed home the next morning. It was go time.
As I sat down to reflect on what all went down, it occurred to me that Josh and I had some extra time to do a few short films for Realtree and some diary clips. We were tired of all the seriousness and wanted to lightened everyone’s moods and do a parody or spoof. What we thought would take us about a half hour ended up taking about 2 hours because we couldn’t stop laughing. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation or the lack of real human interaction besides filming but we were losing our mind from the hilariousness of the situation. The editing was even harder to get through. Josh was a real trooper for being my test subject. I put him into some situations even I wouldn’t do and he did them without question and had a blast doing it. I’ve filmed a lot of stuff and edited a lot of shorts and this was one of the funnest I’ve ever done and I don’t care how cheesy it is.
As the afternoon dwindled down and the films were all turned in we sat down to enjoy everyone’s thirty second commercials, product short films and give out some prizes and awards. Each commercial was shown and we were all impressed with every bit of cinematic and creative thought put into each one. Was a humbling experience for everyone to see what each team was able to create from scratch. For myself, it was a sigh of relief. For the last two years, I have been fighting tooth and nail to create a cohesive unit of allstars that can perform in every aspect of filming hunts. This industry turns out a lot of people that think they have what it takes and only a few shine through and prove they have what it takes to create a real, cinematic film. I am glad and proud to know that we can now do that very same thing. We have raised the bar for ourselves and those around us to create better, more enjoyable films for the Northwest community. I cannot wait to see what this year has in store for us. The work has only just begun.
Thank you for taking this journey with us and sticking through thick and thin. From the bottom of our hearts, we are truly grateful! Without our fans and sponsors, there is no Heavy Hitters Outdoors. We look forward to bringing you the best we have to offer and hope you stick around. Thank you! And enjoy these commercials! ~H2O