So, You Want to Film Hunts for a Living?
The number one most common question I get when I tell people about my career is “do you ever actually get to hunt yourself?” I always talk about the fact that I enjoy the challenge that filming hunts brings to me, but the reality is no I do not get to hunt for myself very often. I’ve hunted less than five times in the last 4 years now that I think about it.
The reality of being a photographer/videographer in the hunting industry is during the hunting season, you get to spend more days in the woods than you ever thought you would. In fact, I'll admit that the final few hunts of the season can be utterly exhausting, and that first day after the season that you get to sleep in, is almost as sweet as opening morning.
Filming someone else's hunting adventure becomes very stressful. The first and most obvious reason is that I'm not filming myself hunting. If I make mistakes, or if I get busted by the animal we are hunting, I didn't screw up my own hunt, I screwed up someone else's. Not only does that negatively affect everyone's attitude in camp, it also has negative effects on my career.
Personally, I think that people don't see the amount of hard work that goes into making a production of any kind, whether it be making a film or television episode. In most cases, the camera crew are the first awake and the last to go to sleep each night after hunting. They alsocarry the heaviest packs during the day. Organizing footage can take up to an hour each day after a hunt, and that process starts as soon as you are done filming. Depending on the hunt, you might be up until midnight or longer while everyone else is sleeping, only to be the first one to wake up in the morning to start organizing gear and preparing for the next hunt.
The “off season” consists of running your business. Accounting, advertising, sending contracts or invoices, and proposals are all part of the process. During the spring and summer months, you might be able to pick up some international hunts such as in New Zealand or Africa, but in general, this time of year is spent mostly behind the computer. There are certain days in the field where we shoot upwards close to 1,000 photos on a single day. Depending on your arrangements this might be the time of year when you must sort through all these images and edit them, and then deliver the content to the corresponding companies.
You might be surprised to learn that this time of year is the most stressful as you’re long spending days behind the computer and setting yourself up for work in the coming season. This also means that you likely won’t see much income this time of year despite the long work weeks you spend preparing for various projects. I must accept that despite the lack of income, this time of year is when I work the hardest. Sending contracts and lining up work can be unbelievably stressful and unpredictable. If I don't put in the long days, I might find myself not filling my schedule. This is a scary thought because I depend on that money to help sustain me for the rest of the year, and to buy any gear that I need.
When I started out, I spent about a year and a half of working for free. That's right, free. In my first two years of filming I made less than $5,000. My camera gear costs much more than that so it's safe to say it was a struggle. Working 12-hour days for so long without seeing much return can be very frustrating. Constantly having people remind you about how easy your job is doesn't help. The hunting industry can be very niche and making a name for yourself and finding clients requires lots of time spent proving yourself and working for next to nothing to build relationships. As my third hunting season rolls around, I’m finally at a place financially where I can breathe and enjoy my job. By no means am I making great money or even good money in a lot of people's eyes. That said, things are finally moving in the right direction. Like trying to build any business, it doesn’t happen overnight, regardless of how bad you want it to.
Ultimately a big portion of my job is being able to spend most of the hunting season chasing people and animals around with a camera. Photography and hunting are my two biggest passions, so I consider myself blessed to be able to do this for a living. I want people to understand that although that is essentially a requirement of this job, it's not as simple as just going hunting all the time. In all reality I spend 70% of my time behind the computer stressing out about the 30% of the time I spend in the field.
When people ask me if I ever get to hunt myself, I simply respond that I don't need to be the one pulling the trigger or releasing an arrow. To me, hunting is so much more than the actual harvest of an animal. Believe it or not, I could never harvest another animal in my life and be perfectly fine with that. Being able to have experiences behind my camera lens that I would never be able to afford to do on my own is a big part of why I love my job. I wouldn't change a thing about my career, and I can't wait to see where my camera takes me in the years to come.
If you’re considering a career in outdoor videography and photography, my best advice is to make sure your goals align with the requirements of the career and be realistic about whether or not it’s a fit. It can be an incredibly rewarding career in terms of relationships built, time in the field, and adventures experienced, but only if you’re the right person for the job.
Guest writer Justin Mueller is a freelance outdoors vidographer and photographer in the hunting industry. He enjoys filming other people’s hunts, because it gives him the opportunity to see their true love and passion of the outdoors, and then express it as creatively as he can. A Minnesota native, he is in his first year of business producing outdoor content for TV on Sportsman/Outdoor Channel, as well as several hunting product brands.