Into the Wild, Man
Shooting The Outdoorsman in remote locations is a constant challenge for Buck McNeely.
By Iain Stasukevich
For those acquainted with adventure television programming, the “Outdoorsman” moniker is usually equated with one individual — Buck McNeely — and with good reason. For the past 25 years, McNeely has crisscrossed the globe with his television show, The Outdoorsman with Buck McNeely, and captured the attention of avid hunters and casual viewers alike.
In Argentina, Buck McNeely stands by his Panasonic AG-HDX900, powered by
an Anton/Bauer Dionic battery.
“The keys to the show’s success are its environmental and conservation aspects, and its travel and tourism elements,” McNeely points out. “There’s a lot of fascinating content even for the people who aren’t inclined towards hunting shows.”
McNeely has been hunting since he was a boy. As a mass communications major at Southeast Missouri State University, he incorporated his love of the wilderness and an interest in television production into The Outdoorsman. The first four episodes aired on cable access and featured stories on fishing and hunting in the local area. Viewer response was enthusiastic. A syndication deal was cut and soon The Outdoorsman went international, shooting in such far-flung locales as Siberia, Brazil, Costa Rica and Africa. In the process, McNeely would discover that shooting in the Arctic tundra and the sweltering jungles of South America makes Missouri’s extreme seasons seem temperate.
“Without question there was a learning curve, and I had to learn a little bit on every shoot and adapt and develop skills that are still in play today,” says McNeely.
Shooting in Arctic-level cold is a common situation for McNeely.
The earliest lessons McNeely and his team learned were to have the camera ready at all times and to focus on getting footage of the game. “Adventure photography is the toughest production scenario in the industry,” he adds. “Unlike a studio shoot where you fire up the lights and let your talent do their thing, the animals never read my script. We’re totally at the mercy of Mother Nature, and if she decides to create havoc with the weather or the animals, you can come home with nothing but a bunch of scenic shots because that’s all that was presented to you.”
Location photography for The Outdoorsman is structured in a way that allows McNeely and his cameramen to work around almost any situation presented to them. Whether they’re hunting brown bears or fishing for marlin, each episode is written in an “ass-backwards” fashion, as McNeely puts it: Get the animals or the fishing sequence and then write the story and produce the show based on the footage, “whereas most of the time you write the script then shoot the show.” In the aftermath of the kill shot or the catch, after the animal’s been dressed and removed, McNeely and cameraman John Helgren will stage the approach and the setup. “That’s the Hollywood part,” McNeely admits.
In the event of extreme weather, different locations require different contingencies. Cold or humid environments call for rain slicks and hair dryers to keep the camera running. And generators are relied on to keep the batteries charged.
Still, there’s been more than a few technical hiccups over the years — from breakdowns to loose screws to water damage — even as McNeely consistently adapts to newer, more efficient technologies. From 1985 to 1990 The Outdoorsman was shot to 3/4" tape using a camera tethered to a field VTR. The cameramen needed to be strong enough to hump the gear through a swamp or two feet of snow. In 1990, McNeely upgraded to a far lighter Beta SP cam and shot with that format until 2000, when he began using an Ikegami digital Editcam unit. The Outdoorsman went HD in 2007, when the DVCPRO HD Panasonic AJ-HDX900 and the AG-HVX200 entered the mix.
McNeely sets a shot with his Ikegami Editcam at the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota.
The tape-based HDX900 sports a Fujinon 22x7.8mm telephoto lens with 2x extender and serves as McNeely’s primary camera. The HVX200 is used only for close-up and medium-range photography, but it still works enough to warrant packing two 64GB, two 16GB and two 8GB P2 cards when in the field. “If I find myself in an extreme cold scenario, I’ll shoot with the P2 cards over the tape,” he reports.
Spotting shots with outfitter Dave Holbrook and the HDX900.
When shooting with P2 media, McNeely swears by his Nexto NVS2500, a compact mobile storage device for video. “It’s such a lifesaver in the field because you’re able to dump your files so you can reformat cards and keep shooting,” says McNeely, who operates with two 500GB Nexto units. “They really came in handy on our last Costa Rica trip, where we had the ability to clear off the cards and reuse them again and again over the course of the day.”
Another favorite field gadget is a Marshall 6.5" LCD monitor with SunBrite Technology: “I use my Marshall not only for shooting real time but for playback. It’s so bright, you can focus by it and check your shot in direct sun without a hood.”
Videographer John Holgren angles in with an HVX200, McNeely's go-to camera while shooting in close quarters.
Sunlight is something McNeely’s learned to be aware of — 98 percent of what he shoots outdoors is in available light. “Dawn, dusk and low-light conditions are certainly challenging. Oftentimes game is moving at that point, so you have to be aware of camera angles, sun position and shadows.” The other two percent of the time he’s using either a Litepanels Micro or Micro Pro for extra illumination.
There’s a careful approach to what McNeely does every week, not only in producing an entertaining show but also in the work he does as a game hunter. All of the animals taken down on The Outdoorsman are donated to local tribes or otherwise utilized in their entirety. Nothing is wasted. “The hunter is still an important aspect of game management programs worldwide,” he notes. “Sometimes people need to be reminded of the importance of man’s role as a predator in nature.”
That’s something anyone who tunes in to The Outdoorsman is unlikely to forget.
For more detail on The Outdoorsman, go to McNeely’s site at www.outdoorsmanint.com.