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Recent entries


Through the Lens

Get the Picture

Thu, November 18, 2010

It’s time guys and gals - the woods are heating up, gun season is upon us and fellow blogger Marc Anthony along with our publisher Jeff Lampe have issued the call for photos. Trophy Photos - photos of your best day afield, photos of one of those big monsters that have made the Midwest famous for whitetail hunting.

Here are some basic tips for getting a great trophy shot to share here, there, and yon. Maybe even make it part of your Christmas card. Certainly send it to Jeff or Marc!

1) Think Like a Photographer
Find a good location with a background habitat that is similar to that of where you hunt. Better yet, take the photos at the site of the kill (the background alone if taken at the hunt site can create a richer and fuller memory of the hunt) If such conditions are not favorable at the hunt site, no worries, be creative. Such backdrops as lake or stream bank, a small stand of trees, even a fence row will work.  A photo with your deer stand in the background, the cabin, deer camp etc also serves to preserve the memory of the day. The key is to keep background distractions to a minimum, and take the time to set up the shot.  A quick snap with your cell phone is great for sending out to all of your pals is fun but don’t you also want a good portrait suitable to hang on the wall along side your mount or to tuck into the family Christmas card? The point here is to take the time to set up your shots.

2) Clean things up.

Yes your friends and colleagues will most like want to see exactly the damage done by your brand of broadheads or slugs, and in that case a few snaps of the entrance and exit wounds make sense. After those are captured CLEAN THINGS UP!! Take the time to grab a jug of water and some shop towels and take it to your deer. Or better yet, pack a package of wet wipes along and use them. Either method you choose, wash off the bloody spots, smooth back the hair as best you can and moisten up the eyes and nose. You can dribble some water from your water bottle into the eyes to moisten them up a bit, just wipe off and squirt a bit of water on the nose as well.  (I know some trophy and hunt photographers who go to the extreme of carrying glass eyes with them, just in case the eyes of a deer they are photographing have already sunken).  PLEASE PUT THE TONGUE BACK IN THE MOUTH! Position the deer so that a large gaping exit wound is away from the camera, or drape your jacket, bow, gun, a few leaves or small branch with a few leaves over it – (Pine boughs work especially well for this)  over it so that it isn’t quite so obvious Cleaning up isn’t just for the creatures. Give yourself a little once over as well. Ditch the bloody jacket, wipe off your face with one those handy wet wipes – spiff up a little.  Hats… oh the dreaded hat and hat hair issue – While we all know that sometimes hat hair just can’t be saved… the problem with a baseball hat is that it tends to throw shadows just over your eyes and we want to see the pride and excitement in those eyes – so don a stocking hat if you must!  If you need to wear a sponsors ball cap - kick it back a little on your head so the brim isn’t covering your eyes quite so much.

3) Find the trophy’s best look or feature.

If you’re the one on camera duty, pose the hunter and the game with different positions and animal angles in an attempt to find the best shots. Some of the best portraits I’ve seen I know the photographer had to be lying on his/her belly shooting upwards - an especially big rack with your face framed by it.. now that’s a keeper!  Actually take the time to look through the camera at different angles before you start clicking the shutter. Even consider moving the trophy several times to take advantage of different angles, placements and locales.  If you can – zoom in and shoot from below a particularly impressive set of antlers, cradle the head if it’s a massive old toad to help show the scale. Even if you are resting your camera on a stump and using the self timer you can achieve some of these things.

4) Take lots of photos

Most of us are shooting with digital these days and memory cards are cheap! Think about the time and money you have spent on gear, licenses, food, leases, in the pursuit of these hunting memories, so don’t skimp on the number of images you shoot!  Keep in mind that these pictures of your trophy are keepsakes, something your children and grandchildren will treasure in the years to come. If only one photo in the large number of exposures you take comes out perfectly, well then, that is all you need for a lifetime of memories.

5) Use a tripod, if you can, to stabilize your shots
Yes, I actually said use a tripod. – To say I’m not a fan of tripods is putting it mildly, but they can make a good shot better, and for the casual photographer they are a must, especially since many hunting trophy photos are taken in lower light conditions. Even a stump or your back pack can be used as stable rest for the camera.  For those of us who spend a great deal of time in the deer woods, on a duck slough or in a spring turkey hardwood ridge a tripod with a self-timing camera should be considered a necessity.  There are plenty of light weight collapsible models out there. I carry one that collapses to a mere 12 inches and straps easily to my pack.

6) Lighting can make or break your photos.

A high, hard sun makes for difficult lighting conditions. The best light is the slanting light of early morning or late afternoon. What we photographers call the golden hours. That’s right, about the same time frame that hunting is often at it’s best.  Taking lots of pictures can help ensure that one or more of your camera angles will work well with your light conditions. In many cases, camera angle can take advantage of the shadows and highlights the light can create. If need be move into a shady area, but watch for odd shadows from branches etc that may fall across your subjects face. If your camera has an option for fill flash - this can be very helpful in insuring that the hunter and trophy are well lit as well. If you use the flash on your camera and it seems that shadows and lighting is harsh a bit of tissue placed over the flash will diffuse and soften the light.

7) The old philosophy of making sure the sun is always at your back does not always apply.

If you are taking your photos early in the morning or later in the day, actually taking photos into or just at an angle to the sun can produce a photo with incredible detail: so be creative. Take a series of images from different angles to the sun . Often times if the sun is at the cameras back it will create harsh shadows and squinty eyes, so remember we want to see eyes full of pride and excitement – not squinting because the mid morning sun is burning out your retinas! And speaking of the eyes – please take off your sunglasses if you are wearing them!

There are a few little ways to make a good photo better, more interesting, ahem.. more acceptable for to hang the wall if you will. I like to add a few little extras to the shots I do. A spray of golden rod, acorns, and persimmons scattered about, cattails and rushes, a branch with brightly colored leaves,  any number of natural features are usually close by and can add an extra bit of interest and color to your photo. 
I know what you’re thinking at this point – “yeah but you have all that fancy schmancy camera equipment – I have a point and shoot cheapy.” As far as a camera goes, you really don’t need anything fancy. Any camera can take a photograph that can capture the memory of the hunt worth sharing with friends and family. The key is being serious about your shot and taking your time. Having a camera with a zoom can really help the quality of your shot. If you do have a zoom lens to use,  take your photos between the 70 mm and 90 mm range.  This considered an optimal portrait range, and this is what you are trying to achieve – a trophy portrait. This focal length also helps manage the “big nose syndrome” you see in so many photos. These are shots where the animal and the hunter are so out of balance it looks unrealistic. Get down on the same level as your subject as well rather than standing and shooting when the trophy and the hunter are kneeling.
The first time you go through the routine of staging good quality trophy photos for your hunting party or friends , you may find yourself subjected to lots of moaning, groaning and hurry it up comments, folks are often in hurry to get things moving along after taking a trophy. Remember - your hunting pal still has an adrenaline high, so they tend to be a little impatient. Be sure to reassure them that they will appreciate the 20 - 30 minutes that it might take to get everything done correctly for an outstanding trophy portrait.  Show them a quick preview of the initial images on your camera – they’ll usually slow right down, get in the groove and in many cases even get a little hammy and pose more!

Keep in mind, you are not just taking photos, you are capturing memories! Memories that all of us here at Heartland want to see!


We’re Looking for Birds

Mon, November 15, 2010

I’m Looking For Birds! It’s Serious Business!

Willie is learning - like any good dog he’s catching on to reading my moods and learning to respond. I won’t go so far to say he’s always responding appropriately, but at least he’s making headway. It was tough a weekend for poor little Will - he got his “Service Dog In Training Vest” . He immediately demonstrated his superior intelligence by promptly removing it every 30 seconds or so for the first couple of hours. Finally after a battle of the wills he relented and figured out that he was just stuck with the atrocious looking thing.  Because the majority of our travels are in the field I decided that the standard spiffy red or blue might not be the best and we went with a blaze orange with reflective stripes. Willie is not impressed with the choice. In an effort to demonstrate his displeasure the stinker shredded a couch cushion and carted my hunting boots off to the fountain while I was in the shower.

Since Willie was being such a rambunctious guy I though perhaps a good romp through the fields chasing his bumpers would maybe settle the little hyperactive snot down a bit. Maybe we would even get lucky and kick up a few quail.

I gathered up his training lead and he came running… “Let’s go look for birds Will”  I told him. The word bird is already sending him into a spinning tail wagging frenzy so he raced off to the door and parked himself at his “wait” spot, giving me that look that says…“Hurry up! I want to go find birds! Birds! you said BIRD!”

Alas - we didn’t kick up any quail, even though Willie had great time blundering through the fields and chasing mice, foxtails and other little errant bits and pieces of things he stumbled upon in the dog fields.

“I will not pose nicely. Thank heavens there are no other dogs here to see me in this ridiculous get up”

Over the hill I could here the evening crowd of waterfowl starting to stir - listening closely I could hear specks, canadas, and snows. I could here a maelstrom of various ducks. Okay Willie - let’s go find the birds!

There we go with that bird word again….

We were treated to a full complement of waterfowl - the numbers had come up at least 20% from the previous days. We watched a pair of Eagles feed on the lake - time and time again diving and snatching up small fish. Wille sat quietly, minding his manners while group after group of duck and geese lifted of the lake headed to where ever it they go at dusk.  Wide eyed he’d watch cocking his head this way that - repeatedly looking at me as if to say “aren’t I supposed to be doing something about these flying squawking things over my head? Can’t I just run amok and see how many I can catch? ”

As the light dwindled down to the golden glow of sunset we headed back to the car. Suddenly a doe came crashing through the Russian olives. “Willie stop! Settle!”  I just knew there’s would be a buck hot on her tail and indeed there was - before I could even think about getting the camera ready a big 10 point toady looking fella came crashing out of the shrubbery and stopped suddenly. I’m not sure who was more startled - the buck or Willie and I!
The big old guy stomped a little, snorted a little and gave us the eye.. Willie just quivered and turned his head from one side to the other in that quizzical manner that makes all puppies so adorable - before I could get another “settle” out of my mouth, Willie found some courage and let out a little guy version of “I’m a big bad dog” bark and the buck flew into the Russian olives on the other side of us - deciding I’m sure that we were nut jobs and thinking, the poor dog.. having to wear that orange vest…

Of course NOT the big buck but a couple young ones we ran into as well

I should add the the minute the buck took wheeled around to break and the minute the bark was out his little snappy, alligator, teeth with feet, mouth Willie immediately ran behind me, possibly realizing that a big bucks hooves were something he didn’t want any part of!

After a short chat about not barking at deer, not barking when we are in the woods, Willie happily marched back towards the car where he landed exhausted in his seat..

While we probably accomplished very little training, we did accomplish more socialization, and we cemented in his head a little more that “BIRDS!” are a good thing and the more birds we find the happier we both are! 



Shoot For the Heroes

Thu, November 11, 2010

When our wounded and fallen soldiers return home it is often accompanied by a flurry of recognition, ceremonies, and much press coverage. Friends, family, civic organization all step in to lend a hand to offer help.  Sportsmen’s organizations are quick to offer hunts, fishing trips, and support.  But sadly as time passes the initial rush of assistance fades away and our wounded soldiers and the fallen soldiers families are left to continue on alone as they struggle to piece together lives and families after the fact.  This phenomenon was easily recognized by Matthew Cutler, Founder, Director, and President of the Joshua Chamberlain Society.
As the St. Louis metro area attorney began to see and hear the stories following 9/11, and the stories of soldiers who had served in the ensuing wars and operations that have followed 9/11, he felt an increasing need to do something.  : I explored a good many organizations that help our wounded soldiers and their families, and thankfully we have so many out there – but the fit wasn’t right for me. What I kept seeing time and again was after the initial rush of services,  things dwindle and soon these heroes are forgotten.  I wanted to find a way to connect with them on a more personal one on one way and to continue that connection, to build relationships with these soldiers and their families.” That desire led to the founding of the Joshua Chamberlain Society, named for a noted war veteran who lived with the scars, wounds and trauma he endured in the Civil War.
The most notable difference between the Joshua Chamberlain Society and other organizations that support our heroes is that the Joshua Chamberlain Society makes a lifetime commitment to the soldiers and families that it adopts.  While the Society does offer financial assistance – for any number of things, they also assist the veterans in negotiating the services available to them through the VA and other community outreach services.  They form friendships and bond with their heroes.  “We visit, hang out, grab lunch – these heroes are part of our families and our assistance isn’t limited to just say – adaptive equipment, or transportation to appointments – It’s whatever we determine the hero or his family might need. It might be something as small as a gas card to help defray the costs of long distance trips for treatment or just meeting with our heroes to hang out, watch a ballgame and visit.  We adopt them for life and we are committed to them.” Said Cutler. The Joshua Chamberlain Society strives give any average person, and everyday soul who cares about our heroes to have an avenue to offer support, whether it’s in the form of a fund raiser by local civic organization or on a more personal level, volunteering to provide transport to appointments,  taking a hero out for lunch and some hang time..offering help to go hunting or fishing, anything that supports the heroes is welcomed.
This commitment was evident at the recent Shoot for the Heroes event hosted by the Chamberlain Society recently at the Black Hawk Valley Hunt club in Old Monroe, Missouri.  40 Teams of shooters from across the Midwest descended upon the grounds to help raise funds for the Society, along with the challenging sporting clay tournament, participants enjoyed auctions both silent and live, raffles, and a number of other fund raising activities.  “We netted right at 45,000.00 from this event,” said Cutler “we had 190 shooters step up to ‘Shoot for the Heroes’. The best part though was seeing others become aware and enthused about helping our country’s heroes and we are now working with several other organizations to host different fund raisers and hopefully an additional Shoot for the Heroes event on the Illinois side of the river for next year. “ Most importantly, the event helped to build relationships, and friendships, and show the heroes that those of us here at home really do appreciate and care about them. For life. For More information about the Joshua Chamberlain Society and how you can help, visit

Scenes from the moving and emotional day “shooting for the heroes”

Warrior - a fierce young gun dog who was the Mascot for the day.

Participants throughout the day - both active duty military and civilians alike stood side by side to honor the heroes

Most importantly - the heroes that the Chamberlain Society serves.

To all of our past and present armed services members - this “Marine Mom” salutes you.