COLLEGE STATION — More and more Texas hunters are just learning how to shoot with a “shutter.”
“Wildlife photography shares many of the same challenges and rewards as hunting with a rifle or bow and arrow,” says Dr. Dale Rollins, Extension Wildlife Specialist based in San Angelo. And, photography can even top regular hunting in some respects he says. “There’s no bag limit, you don’t need a license, you don’t have to clean anything at the end of the hunt, and you can go back tomorrow and hunt the same animal” he continues. “It’s sort of a ‘catch and release’ type of hunting.”
Rollins, who has been hunting for the last 30 years, says that he first became interested in wildlife photography back in 1976, when he called up a tom turkey to within five steps and “shot” the bird in full strut with a Kodak instamatic. Since that early beginning, his equipment has improved with the addition of several 35mm cameras and telephoto lenses.
“The minimum setup that I would recommend to get decent pictures is a good 35 mm camera complete with an 80 to 200 mm zoom lens” he says. “I’ve been able to take nice photographs of animals like deer and coyotes with this equipment. The secret is to get as close as possible without being detected by the subject.”
Adequate light is the wildlife photographers bane. Wildlife are most active at dawn or dusk when lighting is limited. “Use the fastest lens and film speed combination possible under such conditions, and a tripod if at all possible” he urges.
Film speeds of ASA 400 or higher are recommended under such low light conditions.
Rollins equates a good photographer to a skillful bowhunter. Both must be able to get close to their quarry in order to be successful. He recommends the use of camouflage, scents, and attention to other ingredients of stealth. Many of his subjects are lured “up close and personal” using different calling techniques.
“I enjoy hunting anything that I can call up” he says. “My repertoire may include everything from an amorous turkey hen, to a rival buck, to a squeaking rodent. Don’t let anybody tell you that calling doesn’t work.”
Rollins says that would-be photographers were given a great gift in technology about 10 years ago when video cameras became common. “Today’s camcorder is ideal for hunting,” he says. “They’re virtually noiseless, have good zoom lenses, and will shoot in very low light situations. And besides, all you have to do is pop the tape into a VCR and you can enjoy the hunt over and over.”
According to Rollins, packing a camcorder has become routine for many Texas hunters.
“Many hunters use their camcorders to extend their hunting season, especially before hunting season starts. This is a good way to pattern the buck that you might be hunting during bow or gun season,” he advises.
“I’ve been using my camcorder for the last several years during quail hunts as well” Rollins adds. “The video format really enhances such things as dog work, covey rises, and the inevitable miss of an easy shot.”
Rollins offers these tips for novice videographers. First, use a tripod if you can, but if you can’t use a steady rest, just as you would in firing a rifle. Second, if there’s brush between you and your quarry, take the camera off of “autofocus” and use the manual focus.
“A small weed between you and your quarry can really cause you fits if you don’t,” he warns. And finally, don’t get too carried away with zooming in and out on your subject; it tends to make the viewer motion sick.
“I enjoy hunting, whether that be with rifle, muzzleloader, shotgun or bow” says Rollins, “but if they banned hunting season tomorrow, I’d pick up my camera and never miss a lick.”