Filming an American Bison archery hunt was the hardest and most rewarding thing we have ever done. I can’t even imagine how much harder it was for the girl doing the actual hunting. She hiked double what we were hiking and was more emotionally involved with the outcome of the hunt. Now, when I say hike I am not talking about your average, groomed and scenic trail. When I say hike, I am talking about hands and knee steep terrain at elevations over 8,500ft. There are no nicely groomed trails. You are moving through piles of rocks, sharp bushes, and trees all the while facing dust, the blazing sun, and the relentless wind.
Some people like to think American Bison are a lot like cows. Well, I am here to say otherwise. Bison are fast, agile and extremely sensitive to sound and smell. The huntress that we were filming had to hike in her socks to even get within 50 yards of the bison. She constantly had to maneuver her position to stay downwind from the animals. This means all of her senses are always at full capacity- one wrong step, one sound, or the slightest change in wind would blow her cover. Once her cover was blown, the bison would merge into a single file line and run up the steepest, nastiest terrain possible to remain unreachable. Watching the bison was amazing and I learned more about bison than I ever would have from a book or video.
Imagine for a moment the toll it would take on your body to have all of your senses fully engaged, heightened with adrenaline, and pushing past normal physical limitations for days at a time. I work out regularly; yet, I still felt like I was falling short. I remember asking her where she was getting this impressive stamina from and she replied, “It’s a once in a life-time hunt. I don’t have a choice.” Before the hunt began, people told her to turn the tag in. They didn’t believe that this petite girl was going to be able take down a buffalo with a bow and arrow, especially with her current archery set up. She responded by working harder than most. She didn’t stop believing in herself and she was never afraid to ask for help. I think her reasons for hunting are admirable: to be self-reliant, to provide food for her family and to turn I cants into I cans. I think many people will be able to relate-even if they don’t hunt themselves.
Filming this hunt was truly incredible. We learned so much about how bison behaved in the wild and we saw so many different kinds of wildlife. I feel so lucky to have not only filmed bison, but deer and smaller creatures like horny toads. Wildlife photography has always been a passion of mine and I finally have found the best way, for me, to connect to the earth and embrace my passions. This was our first hunting film. Overall, I learned that I need to go with the flow and let go of getting the “perfect” shot. The film may not be considered national geographic quality, however, the story itself is one of beating the odds, overcoming challenges and feeling primitive emotions that many people will never experience.