“Watching in Amazement”

When we sit quietly and watch the world around us, it’s difficult to feel like the world revolves around us anymore. We should revolve around it, and observe with a sense of childlike wonder at the possibilities right in front of us.
It’s a big world out there. Let’s all do our best to make the day count and do what’s right for Mother Earth and our fellow humans.

A Fly On The Wall

A Fly On The Wall

Fly fishing is unique in that we form a bond with others out on the water, usually without saying a word. It’s not at all unusual for a perfect stranger to hand over the fly that’s hatching at the moment, and even give you a spare for your box. It’s a community of men and women, young and old, who are content to stand in the water and toss flies to the fish. Waiting for the bite is only half the fun. We are one with nature when we have flies on our wall and string in the water.

7 Things I’ve Learned About Television Production

Most of the people who meet us have questions about the television show that we host and produce, and most of the questions are about hunting or our grueling travel schedule. What some people don’t consider is that the hunting or fishing part of our job is only a fragment of what we do. The work begins long before we ever pick up a weapon or purchase a tag. We tell stories. We study the process and never assume that we already know it all, we surround ourselves with brilliant people who know more than we do, and we constantly strive to be better at everything than we were yesterday. 

1. It Does Not Begin With The “Power On” Button. 

There are weeks, and sometimes months, of planning before we ever pick up the camera. Developing a storyline is just as crucial as having an SD card in the camera, and without that storyline you might as well just drop the whole creative process. What message are you trying to convey? What challenges will there be? Who is your audience? Pre-planning can be a tedious process. My personal process for pre-production involves lists, phone calls, paperwork, image release forms, budgets, and production meetings with our team. I create a production book that has every detail in it before we ever put batteries in the camera. 

2. Sometimes Natural Lighting Just Isn’t Enough. 

Remember when I said that we surround ourselves with brilliant people? One of our incredible team members taught me something early on about lighting. Establishing a “Key Light” is where it all begins. This is your main light source, pointed directly at the subject and usually slightly above them facing down at 30 to 45 degrees. This light will cast shadows on the talent, but that’s why we have other lights to knock those shadows out. It’s lighting 101, and I’m grateful that our head editor & Emmy award-winning mastermind taught me that from the beginning.      Your secondary lights, or fill lights, will be level with the subjects face and slightly dimmer than the key light. When you get the perfect combination of lighting, viola, you have a much better looking subject on camera. 

3. Learn from the Obama-prompter.

We can all see your eyes moving from side to side. If you’re going to use a teleprompter, then try to position it so that the moving eyes are not visible. Now that you’ve got great lighting on the subject, we can see those small details. Knowing the material ahead of time is the key, and the person controlling the prompter should keep pace with the talent – not the other way around. We have used an iPad as a teleprompter before and it actually worked well. Most of the time, though, it’s still noticeable. This is where preparation meets opportunity… Learn your lines ahead of time, keep some notes nearby if you need to reference them between takes, and focus on looking directly into the camera lens. 

4. Running and Gunning. We Don’t Have A Strategy, And You’ll Need To Keep Up. 

Working in the outdoor industry requires that we have a plan, and we don’t bank on sticking to it.  Many factors can change everything that we’ve planned out; the weather, animal movement, travel delays, equipment failure, cameras dropped into a lake, weapon malfunction… Planning for every possible scenario wouldn’t be a useful waste of my time, so I just don’t. This is where knowing your equipment and quick thinking come into play. If you’re running up a mountainside to catch up to a group of bull elk, and suddenly your camera stops working, what do you do? What if you drop your on-camera light into the swamp water while you’re filming a nighttime alligator hunt? Any ideas? The first step is to be prepared (I hope you have backup batteries and SD cards in your pack for the first situation, or a backup camera), and thinking outside the box (you go into the water to retrieve your light, and finish the night hunt by using your headlight as the camera light substitute). If all else fails, find a work-around and pray that they can fix the problem in post-production. 

5. Follow Your Storyline. 

Check back to your production book notes and go over the small details while you’re in the middle of filming. Don’t leave this for the last day. If the storyline mentions a specific shot or small detail, get it early. The final day filming could be rained out and then you have a gap in your story. Filming a show for outdoor television requires specific attention to detail so that it doesn’t look like all of the other shows out there. Many programs begin with a guy sitting in a tree. Within the first few minutes of the show all I know is that he’s a guy in a tree. The production manager or producer obviously forgot to come up with a storyline. Who is this guy? Why is he in that tree? Why do I want to watch him sitting there whispering to me? A storyline, even a simple one, would have connected me to that person and made me want to watch his show. Instead, since I don’t know why he’s in a tree, I’ll flip the channel. It’s crucial to tell a full story. We’re not here to watch “guys with goatees whispering in the trees”. (That could end up being a TV show title)

6. Do Not Put The Camera Down. 

All of the good stuff happens when you’re least expecting it to. All of this talk about setting up lighting and working in a controlled environment is great, but the really good footage is usually what you get when nobody even realizes that you’re recording. The best cameramen in the industry always have a camera in hand. Eating dinner? The camera is right there. Waking up in the morning? Camera before coffee. Truck ride to the hunting location? The power should be On, even if it’s dark outside.         When we work there are usually 2 or more people working cameras at all times. With the popularity of GoPros with WiFi capability some of the pressure is off and we can put a camera down now and then. But not for long. Some of our best footage has been captured when nobody realized that our cameraman was even in the room. 

7. Bigger Isn’t Always Better. 

We always say that just because you own a guitar, it doesn’t make you a country singer. Many of us in the production industry have the same equipment. Some of the smaller DSLR cameras are capable of capturing incredible cinematography in the field. And some of the expensive large 4K cameras aren’t worth the money. It’s what you do with the tools you have that will make a difference. Oh, you have a drone? That’s awesome… But it only matters how you use the footage from it. We all have drones now. Using an unedited 4 minute clip from it isn’t always the best move, especially if you get motion sickness. Choosing your camera and production gear is a big part of the creative process. There are a lot of forums online that will help beginners get started, and many of the larger production companies sell used cameras at steep discounts when they upgrade. Don’t be afraid to get creative and do something that the others haven’t thought about yet. That’s what keeps the industry alive and thriving, and that’s the passion we all need to hold onto. 

 

For those of you who disagree with my opinions on this topic, I understand. I run a large production company and sometimes we can get jaded because of the poor quality of work that is submitted by others in the industry. We work hard to keep the standards up, and my intention is to merely state my opinion. If you have a different opinion, please blog about it on your own site. Trust me, it feels good to talk about it…  None of my statements are meant to offend or belittle anyone. Unless if you’re an internet troll looking for something to complain about. Or an anti-hunter. Then it’s fair game. 

 

If You’re Looking For The Fish, They’re Under This Tree

If You're Looking For The Fish, They're Under This Tree

The New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812 created what we now call Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. Up until 2003 Reelfoot Lake was the only legal commercial fishery for crappie. So much history surrounds this lake, and the fishing is incredible.
The militia was called in at one point back in the early 20th century to take back our rights to fish the lake from a group of people who wanted to make it private property.
Thank goodness for a “well armed militia”, right?..

This lone cyprus tree is a well known hangout for the local crappie.

Bachelors at Dusk

Bachelors at Dusk

This photo was taken by Daniel Lee Martin of Backstage & Backroads Productions LLC in 2011. A group of bull elk bachelors walk into the sunset just out of bow range. The photographer arrowed an elk the next day in close proximity to where this photo was taken.

The Gift Of Confidence

Sighting in a weapon is a task that many of us have encountered in our lifetime. Knowing the logistics and fine tuning details of the weapons we are sighting in always helps, but for the most part we tend to guess at it until it looks about right before we take that first shot. If you’re sighting in from 150 yards away it can be a long walk back and forth until you’ve got it right, so spotting scopes are useful for judging where the last one hit. And now with the brilliant invention of self-marking targets we can easily see the bright spot where the last bullet went through. 

Why am I telling you this? 

I’ve had many proud moments in the field. But my proudest moment came during a typical day of sighting in a weapon on a range. It was a gun that hadn’t been shot in a while, and the owner of the weapon was shooting at a target while we all gave our respective opinions about each shot placement. I watched through a spotting scope while the others either took photos or video of the occasion. After quite a few shots we thought the scope was on, but there was still a shadow of a doubt in our minds that it could be slightly off. The gun was pulling to the right during recoil, and it was obvious if you watched the gun go off from behind the shooter. Stabilizing that particular gun while touching the trigger would be the key. 

My proud moment begins here. 

My husband, seemingly satisfied with how the weapon was shooting, told me to take the gun and make a final shot to determine the accuracy. In front of my peers I was singled out to help determine how the gun would perform. Instead of taking it upon himself, or trusting a more experienced shooter than I, he told me to take one shot to make the decision. 

I switched spots with the shooter, and took my time reveling in the gift of confidence that had been given to me. 

It wasn’t pulling the trigger, or the fact that my shot was good and entered through an already existing hole in the bullseye, or even the look of satisfaction after we recognized that the gun, scope, and bullet all shot straight… But it was the fact that someone else asked me to perform such a simple task, and they trusted my skill. 

I’ve had the good fortune of traveling the world and harvesting many animals over the years, but right there on that shooting range in the middle of nowhere I realized that having someone believe in my skill and ability means more than any accolades that I could ever give to myself. 

I hope that everyone out there can give that gift to someone else along the way. Let your kid take the final shot when you’re sighting a weapon in, or have your spouse check your work after you clean a gun together. Instilling that confidence in another person is a gift that can never be repaid. 

 

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Taking Time to Make A Difference

We live in a neighborhood that is filled with children. Our streets are safe, we still have an ice cream truck that plays music up and down the roads, and the kids are never afraid to stop in for a visit. Our home is always open to the kids who stop by, and I keep snacks and CapriSun stocked in the fridge just for them. It’s a nice way to live, and I can’t imaging a day when our doorbell doesn’t ring because a child wants to stop by for a chat. We talk with them, we laugh with them, we know most of their parents, but most of all – we listen to them.

One day I even went as far as to paint an entire wall in our home in chalkboard paint so that the kids can draw and write on it.  I never wipe it off. Their messages and pictures stay as a reminder to us that these kids are crucial to our future as Americans and as humans.

One thing that I cherish the most is when they ask permission to come into our home to see the animals. Not our dogs, even though our 2 dogs are loved by all of the kids, but the animals that we have proudly displayed on our walls and throughout the house.

When a little girl gets to touch the soft hair on an elk for the first time, or a little boy gets up close to a mounted whitetail for the first time, it lights up my heart. The wonder in their eyes is apparent, and they typically ask if it’s all real. I always tell them the truth. The eyes are glass. The rest is real. They run their little hands over the red stags hair and the elk horns, they look in amazement at the caribou in velvet, and they feel the softness of the pheasants feathers. They touch the sharp teeth of the alligator and sometimes I’ll take out the ivory teeth from and elk for them to pass around and look at.

Our home is like a small museum, or a step back in time, for these kids who are growing up in a world full of electronics. Instead of sitting at home playing video games and texting with their friends, we always encourage them to come to our home and learn something new.

We talk to them about the animals they see on the walls. We tell them stories about the far away places we travel to. Sometimes we will teach them how to use a blow gun in the backyard, or how to shoot a bow. Even as adults, we never get tired of shooting slingshots at bottles in the back yard. We live in a place that’s very much like Mayberry, except it’s in color.

We always listen. Sometimes they just need to reach out and talk to someone who is genuinely interested in their lives. If the bond between us begins with nature, then all the better. They all know that they are welcome in this house. And someday I hope that some of them will carry on the tradition and heritage of hunting and fishing. If, when that day comes for them, we are a memory in their minds, then our job here has been done.

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We Are Athletes, And This Is Our Sport

I am an athlete, although I can’t throw a football for more than 10 yards, and my dunking skills leave a lot to be desired. The similarities, however, between myself and the professional ball players is uncanny when you stop and think about it… 

I’m here to discuss the similarities between my sport and the sports that are more commonly accepted by the general public.

Football requires that the athletes condition and train day in and day out for the physical requirements of their sport. They must know the drills and catch the ball when it’s thrown in their direction. They need to block the opposing players entire body force when it’s in the way, and they have to do all of this with their heavy padding on to protect their bodies. 

My sport requires that I climb up mountainsides with a heavy pack on my back. I need to know the terrain, the flora and fauna, and what to do in case of an emergency. I must set up camp with what little supplies I have, and I need to shoot straight every time. Even when my body is telling me to rest, I must keep going. My sport requires that I know the drill, and that I have the physical strength to pack in light and pack out heavy. My uniform is usually torn from the rocks and tree limbs, and although I don’t wear shoulder pads, my rifle has padding on the shoulder strap for comfort during the hike. 

Baseball requires that the players have excellent hand-eye coordination. They need to know everything about their opposing team, and what to do in any situation depending on where the small white ball is at on the field. They need to run fast, dive into the dirt, and instantly recognize the swing of the bat and the sound of the ball hitting wood. 

My sport requires that I have controlled breathing and a steady trigger finger. I need to know the movement of my prey and what each of their steps mean to my game plan. I’m required to run fast across uneven terrain, slide beneath barbed wire fences, control the direction and protection of my weapon, and sometimes fall into position within an instant to get the winning shot. If my eyes are blurry from the heat, or my palms are sweaty from the adrenaline, then I may lose that one moment of opportunity. 

In basketball the teams must work together to get the ball in the net. The individual players have a job on the court, and they each know their place. They run back and forth while keeping their eyes on every other player simultaneously. They need to catch the ball and pass it to their teammates. They know that one small mistake can ruin the game, and they know that all eyes are on them during that one moment of glory when the ball hits their hands. 

My sport requires that I work with my team also. We each have a place on our court. We have a job to do as individuals, and our success is dependent on our teammates successes also. We keep our eyes on each other in the field, and we know where the others are positioned at all times. My sport requires that I know which knot to use for which type of fishing line and species. I’m required to wade through strong current waters with my pack on my shoulders and my hands full of tools. My sport requires that I recognize the species of fish beneath the water and what is required to either capture them for food, or release them without harm. One mistake could ruin the game for me also. All eyes are watching closely, and my moment of glory rests on knowing that this is my championship game. 

In my sport, we aren’t typically paid millions of dollars per year to perfect our athleticism. We don’t have an off season or a training camp. The crowd doesn’t go wild when we achieve our goal in the field, but the roar of the stream or the bugle of the elk is our applause. The trees are our audience, and the birds are the witnesses. The moon is our stadium lighting and the guides are our cheerleaders. 

We are athletes, and this is our sport.

Fortunately, we have a team of millions. Hunters, fishermen, conservationists, and outdoor enthusiasts are all our teammates. And we couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that team. We should all work together because every day in the field for us is the equivalent of a Super Bowl Playoff Championship World Series. If that’s even a thing… 

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No such thing as a free meal?..

Once again we are in Boca Grande Florida for tarpon season! 

We come down for Hill Tide every year, just like thousands of other people who can’t get enough of the Silver King.  We all line up on boats in the Boca Grande Pass to get closer to the rolling monster fish gorging themselves on the crabs down below. We take turns hooking them, fighting them, and admiring their strength. We take photos, we earn bragging rights, and we deal with our sore biceps the day after. 

Just like all popular and fun things in life, there will always be some type of controversy. I’m not even going to begin talking about the circle hook situation… Guides take photos of other guides on boats who are supposedly using illegal fishing gear. It’s like high school girls fighting over who’s prettier. I’m an advocate for conservation and doing what’s best for the species, but some of these guys are just out to shame their competitors. 

Also, some people are allowing the sharks to eat the tarpon now. I’m not sure what type of person you have to be to allow that to happen, but I’d like to catch them in the act… 

This is how it happens. The sharks know where the food is at this time of the year. They circle around the thousands of tarpon in the pass, and when one fish breaks off from the rest of the group, the sharks attack. Typically, the tarpon is tired from fighting against an angler. That tarpon rarely stands a chance against the huge bull sharks and hammerheads that are just feet away, waiting on their chance at an easy meal. 

We usually pull the tired fish away from the lingering sharks, revive it properly, and then release it back within proximity to the other fish after it has rested enough. While witnessing a shark attach is an incredible thing, it’s not the right way to get footage if that’s what you’re looking for. Recently I saw video of some guys on a boat in Boca who allowed a shark to demolish a tired tarpon. They had cameras rolling, and it was gruesome. Allowing that to happen without properly trying to save the life of the fish should be punishable. 

I understand that sometimes the sharks win. I’ve seen it happen. My biggest tarpon was attacked by a shark in front of me after we had saved it from a different shark. It was beyond our control, but you can guarantee that any of us on that boat would have given all of our efforts to save that fish from being attacked. 

We are all out there for the same reasons. We want to fish. Something about the huge trophy game fish and their brute strength calls us back every year. Watching them roll through the pass by the thousands ignites something within our soul that we can’t always explain. I hope that the thrill of watching the sharks attack does not tempt our fellow anglers to stand idly by and watch it happen. I hope they will have more respect for each individual fish than that, and at least give them a fair chance against the predators out there. If men on boats can’t show more respect than that, then they are no better than the sharks in the water. And both deserve to be jabbed with a harpoon. 

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