CAMERAS FOR HAPPIER HUNTING
“For sheer satisfaction
THE HUNTER EDGED stealthily through the underbrush toward a buck deer, calmly grazing in a forest clearing. He lifted the rifle butt to his shoulder, and triumphantly drew a bead on the deer.
But there was no silence-shattering explosion, no startled animal knocked sprawling by a searing bullet; only a quiet purring, like the sound of a living-room movie projector.
This man belongs to a new breed of hunter on the Canadian scene, one of a rapidly growing group who hunt with cameras. In his case, his “weapon” was a rifle-mounted Kodak Ciné Special 16-mm movie camera.
These hunters wear the same red mackinaws and waterproof leather boots as their killing counterparts, and they, too, traipse over Canada’s mountain and timber country in search of trophies. But their trophies are the magnificent quickfrozen portraits of nature’s creatures they capture in their camera sights.
Cyril Hampson, a wiry biology professor at the University of Alberta, is one of the most dedicated leaders of this movement. From spring’s early call to the fading of fall, he spends every weekend and most of his summer vacation camera-hunting in the wilds. In 30 years of capturing bird and animal life on film he has compiled the province’s most extensive photo library.
His 13,000 transparencies and negatives include such gems as a flying squirrel in a breathtaking glide, a Canada goose drinking from a snow-rimmed stream, a grouse frantically drumming a log in a mating ritual, and a mother deer rubbing noses affectionately with its fawn.
“Hunting with a gun just doesn't compare with hunting with a camera for sheer satisfaction and challenge,” Hampson declares. “In gun-hunting, the advantages are all on the side of the hunter with his high-powered repeater rifles, heavy-load ammunition and telescopic sights. The ‘sport’ that once characterized big-game hunting has been lost because your quarry has practically no chance at all — particularly in the case of so-called sportsmen who use motorized toboggans to chase down animals. I know people who go out and spot 15 coyotes and shoot 15; who spot eight and shoot eight. They simply run the animals down in the deep snow until they become exhausted and then shoot them from four or five feet. Sport? Challenge? I can’t see it."
This view is shared by Edgar T. Jones, also of Edmonton, a stocky former bush pilot who is a senior lecturer on the National Audubon Society’s circuit and one of Canada’s most versatile and productive wildlife movie photographers: “Hunting big game today is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Camerahunting has all the thrills and chills of hunting with a gun and much more . . . But it requires more time, skill and patience. The end results, however, are worth the effort.”
For example, Jones spent three years searching the wilderness for the rarely seen great grey owl. He logged more than 30,000 miles by car, 450 miles by horseback and several hundred on foot, "mostly through muskeg, with water up to the knees.” Only during the third year did he find two nests of the rare owl in outback Alberta.
Jones used lineman’s climbing spurs to shinny 42 feet up an aspen tree next to the nest. From this shaky vantage point, he shot the owl’s activities from only five feet. He was aloft for more than an hour on end and “my leg muscles cried out in pain."
But it was worth it. This, for a time, was the only film in the world of the great grey owl.
Close shaves sometimes are part of a camera-hunter’s repertoire. Prof. Hampson was “shooting” a young bull moose from about 20 feet away when the animal "decided he didn’t
challenge and true sport, rifles just can’t compare with cameras”
like my company, looked me right in the eye and started after me. I climbed a tree in a hurry. He kept me up there for three hours."
Hampson offers this advice to camera-hunters: “Keep your eyes open for a handy tree, so that if escape becomes necessary you’ve got the route all mapped out."
Jones could have been trampled while shooting the famous reindeer roundup at Kidluit Bay in the Northwest Territories. Filming a leopard in Africa, the big cat began advancing toward him. "The pictures were so spectacular, I couldn't move. It wasn’t until his head almost completely filled the viewfinder that I realized how close he was. I ran like hell. If the cat had sprung — he was only about 20 feet away — I would have been a goner."
While he was trying to film close-ups of a rare Arctic fox and her pups, the fox, displaying the protective instinct common to most mothers, suddenly darted toward Jones and bit the toe of one of his mukluks. But his camera never wavered in recording this remarkable sequence. "Fortunately, its teeth didn’t puncture the boot,” laughs Jones. "But even if they had,
I think it would have been worth it.”
Both photographers, however, insist that camera-hunting is less dangerous than ordinary hunting. “For one thing,” says Hampson, “you don’t have to worry about a fellow hunter mistaking you for a deer and giving you a seatful of lead — and you can hunt legally out of season.”
Patience and time are required to get good wildlife photos, he adds. "No one should expect to buy a camera one day and go out the next and shoot a rare sequence. A camera-hunter can’t be a clock-watcher. He must be willing to sacrifice a great amount of time to get good pictures.”
A month was required by Prof. Hampson to get close enough to photograph the wary whistling swan in its nesting place. "We set up our blind about three quarters of a mile from the nest and each day we moved it about 50 steps nearer. On the 30th day, we got to within 12 feet of the nest and shot a spectacular series of photographs of the male and female.” Camera-hunters need not travel far afield in search of interesting birds or animals. "They don't have to go any farther than their backyards for a start,” says Hampson. “There are countless opportunities there, in the park nearby, in the creeks, ravines and sloughs within walking distance of homes. People could spend many enjoyable years in an area within a mile or two of where they live and still film a great many things that have never been recorded before."
He recommends that beginners start with a 35-mm singlelens reflex camera. This will permit / continued overleaf
“Use on electronic flash set back far
them to view the subject through the lenses and see exactly what will appear on the negative. Color film should be used, rather than black-and-white, because the initial results will be more satisfying.
Accessory lights are a valuable aid, but not a necessity. “There’s plenty of work that can be done by sunlight,” Hampson notes. However, an electronic flash unit, with a speed range of 1/5,000th of a second is relatively inexpensive and it is excellent both for illuminating the target and for fill-in light if you want to try special lighting effects. Flash bulbs, though, operate at such low speeds that the camera misses a lot of action.
“A good habit is never to take a picture without a tripod," says Hampson. “You’ll be surprised how it improves clarity.”
Mounting a movie camera on a rifle stock, Jones says, increases steadiness in shooting birds in flight or animals on the run. The two photographers feel that a camera-hunter should begin with a still rather than a movie camera. “Shooting movies is much more expensive, involves considerably more work in editing, and the noise created by a movie camera will spook some birds and animals. You can also work in more difficult weather conditions with a still camera,” Jones explains. “With experience, you may want to progress into 8-mm movies.”
Cyril Hampson’s artillery consists of a 120 Rolleiflex, a 120 Hasselblad and three 35-mm Exacta cameras. Jones has a Ciné Special 16-mm movie camera, a high-speed super slowmotion Bell and Howell and a 35-mm Pentax for still work.
They recommend Kodachrome and Ektachrome for still color photography, and Kodachrome II for movies. Ilford film (ASA 125) gets the nod for black-and-white shooting.
"Don’t use high-speed color unless you are satisfied with second-rate pictures,” says Hampson. "It just isn’t suited for this type of photography.”
Long telephoto lenses (beyond 150-mm) are also unsuitable, he says. “They give you, in any sort of flat terrain, an out-offocus skyline. Out-of-focus features behind a subject are nice because they highlight it, but an out-of-focus skyline is very bothersome to anyone who looks at your picture.”
Instead, the camera-hunter should rely on blinds and a short lens. "You can move in closer to your subject and have almost complete control over the situation. You don’t have to shoot a bird or animal when it’s facing away from you. You don’t have to shoot blindly. You can wait until you catch the subject in an attitude you think is typical or attractive, and then release the shutter.”
A blind resembles a small canvas tent with camera slits in the side. Here’s how to build one for about $10:
Buy 10 yards of 36-inch, seven-ounce canvas and cut it into two pieces, each five yards wide. Cross them in the middle and sew around the edges where the pieces overlap. This provides a roof of double thickness. Sew up the adjacent corners and you have a blind, three feet square and six feet high.
The framework consists of six-foot-long wooden dowels (1 inch to IVA inch) for corner posts. Drill holes in the top of the posts and insert two pieces of pump rod with the tips bent at right angles. Another rod with two loops — one at each end — is pushed over these two to act as a spreader.
The blind is collapsible and will roll into a 30-pound parcel about six inches in diameter, which can be tucked under the arm.
To shoot nests high in the trees, Prof. Hampson places the blind atop a scaffold constructed of two-by-four lumber and supported by trees adjacent to the nest. (In one instance, the professor used $70 worth of lumber to build a 70-foot scaffold — as high as a grain elevator — to photograph a nest of great blue herons near Calgary.)
enough to give you a gleam in his eye”
Jones, on the other hand, relies on an adjustable aluminum tower to support his blind. In filming waterfowl, the blind is set on a raft floating in the reeds.
Extreme close-up shots are possible with a blind. Hampson has photographed Wilson’s snipes and marsh hawks from 14 inches. And Jones, working from a blind near a salt lick, caught a mountain sheep with salt glistening on its nose. "You get a fantastic peep show of nature," says Hampson.
Some birds and animals take much longer to get accustomed to a blind than others. Gulls may accept it in an hour. Others, such as the whistling swan, may require days or weeks. “In photographing wildlife, the welfare of your subject must be paramount,” says Hampson. “A blind can be a major foreign element in the immediate environment of a bird. Just to come along and plop down a blind close to a bird's nest may very easily cause the bird to abandon its eggs. It’s best to start the blind from 40 to 50 feet back and move it 10 to 15 feet each day until you have it where you want it. It’s important to take another person to the blind, so that he can leave once you're settled and thus make the bird think the blind is unoccupied. When you’re finished for the day, don’t suddenly walk out. This could seriously alarm the bird. When you are done, signal your assistant by sticking a handkerchief out a hole in the back of the blind. His approach will flush the bird off the nest in a normal manner, and then you can leave together."
Hampson urges camera-hunters to work with back lighting — to forget the old idea of having the sun behind you when you take a picture, and get it out in front instead. It gives interesting highlights — sunlight on the velvet of a deer’s antlers, reflected light from the beak of a bird, reflections from foliage surrounding a bird and its nest.
"But this also means that the shaded part of the bird is toward the camera and is underexposed. It’s a good idea to get a ‘catch light’ in the subject’s eye to make it look alive in the photograph. This can be done by using a mirror or an electronic flash set back just enough to give you the gleam in the eye." ★
EHRICHT LOADED FOR BEAR
EVERY CAMERA-HUNTER has his own preferences and prejudices in equipment — and for that matter in the game he seeks. Horst Ehricht, Maclean's photography director, specializes in grizzly bears, musk ox, mountain lions, moose — in fact, "anything over four feet in size.” The equipment Ehricht takes on a big-game-shooting expedition may weigh as much as 30 pounds, including a minimum of two cameras. He uses the Nikon F because of the adaptability of its lenses and also its ruggedness. No problems developed with his camera when he was shooting caribou near the Beaufort Sea at 50below temperatures.
Ehricht is shown on page 2A holding his motordriveequipped Nikon F with its custom-built powerpack pistol grip. This arrangement lets him shoot sequences "in bursts" without having to take his eyes from the camera.
Ehricht prefers the 400-mm and 240-mm Novoflex follow-focus telephoto lenses for their speed and ease in focusing. He supports his equipment with an adjustable gun stock. On a second Nikon F he carries a 105-mm medium-long lens.
One of Ehricht’s secrets is his army pistol belt on which he carries “ammunition” pouches. These pouches are waterproof, cheap, and easily available army-surplus stock. Additional lenses carried in the pouches are a 55-mm Micro Nikkor for extreme close-ups (a mouse or even a wildflower), and a 28-mm wide-angle lens for scenery.
A tripod, which is a necessity for the slow telephoto lenses, is stored in an ammunition pouch. For wet weather he carries a Nikonos underwater camera. Ehricht uses two light meters: the standard Lunasix, and for more sensitive readings the Spotmeter, which can measure the amount of light on a face 50 yards away.
Ehricht wears a camouflage suit and waterproof boots. In a pack on his back he has a heavy hunting knife for building blinds. “But the main equipment a camerahunter needs," says Ehricht, “is patience.”