Friday, September 11, 2015

Fish and Game biologist debuts ‘Untamed’ hunting film

Idaho Fish and Game’s Clay Hayes of Kendrick grew up in rural Florida and moved to Idaho in 2007 to work as a wildlife biologist. He started Twisted Stave Media in 2012 with the goal of preserving and promoting traditional woodsmanship skills and lending a voice to the wild lands he enjoys. He recently released his first film, “Untamed,” and it can be seen at (a downloadable photo of Hayes is also available on the webpage).

Hayes began filming his outdoor adventures with an old VHS recorder in Florida while he was still in high school. Since then, the country has gotten steeper, the equipment more expensive, and the adventures more remote. 

Hayes participated in a question-and-answer session with Idaho Fish and Game’s public information specialist Roger Phillips about his film making, hunting and more. Views expressed in this Q&A and the video are his own.

Q: You went hunting with archery equipment you made yourself, then decided to film the hunts solo and produce a movie. Did you wear roller skates to make it a little more challenging? 

A: Ha, no, but that’s an interesting concept for the next project. Not sure how well they’d roll in the mountains though. I’d say I captured about 95 percent of the footage, though I did have a little help. Jake Way did a little of the filming, as did Tiege Ulschmid, and my wife, Liz. 

You’re spot on about the challenge. Hunting with primitive gear is one thing, but making a film about it is quite another. You have to do everything multiple times to be able to cut it properly. And sometimes you just have to get lucky.

Q: What part of “Untamed” are you most proud to have captured on film? 

A: That’s a difficult one to answer. There’s no one scene, or sequence, I can pin down and single out. It’s much more about the story as a whole, and how the images and music support the narration. But, if I had to pick one moment captured on film that was the coolest, I’d have to say either the barred owl that snuck up on me while I was taking a nap, or the stalk on the black bear. Both were pretty lucky situations.

I got the footage of the owl while lying down and resting after a morning hunt. I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye, up in the canopy, and happened to have my camera out of my pack and sitting next to me. I got the camera ready and squeaked a time or two, and he came in to check me out. He was less than 20-feet away for a few minutes. 

The bear scene was captured while I was still hunting through a patch of timber looking for elk. I’d seen him through the timber, and I started making my way to him when he stopped and started digging roots. 

I had a gorilla pod attached to my camera and was able to find a lodgepole pine about 30 yards from the bear that happened to have a flicker hole about 5 feet off the ground. I bent one leg of the gorilla pod into a hook, put that into the flicker hole, and I had a camera support at the perfect position. All I had to do was point it at the bear, hit record and make the stalk.

I ended up getting within about 8 yards of that bear. He was a nice one, but 5 miles in on the fifth day of a 10-day elk hunt isn’t a time or place I wanted to deal with a dead bear. So I decided to play with him a little. 

Q: Explain how your background as a biologist and your work with Idaho Fish and Game contributed to the film?

A: I’ve been a hunter my whole life. It has, in some way, influenced every major decision I’ve ever made, from what I studied in college, to where I live, to what I do for a living. I chose to become a biologist because I’ve always been fascinated by wildlife in their natural environment. I chose to live and work in Idaho because we are so fortunate to have some of the best hunting and fishing in the country, and some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes. As a biologist, part of my job is to have a keen understanding of wildlife and their habitats, two things that come in very handy when trying to film and get close to wildlife. 

Q: Hunting and film making is growing in popularity based on the Hunting Film Tour, hunting videos on YouTube, TV and elsewhere. What is it about hunting that makes it an interesting subject for storytelling? 

A: That’s an interesting question. Wouldn’t it be something to go back and ask that same question to the hunters who painted the cave walls at Lascaux, France over 15,000 years ago? Point is, we’ve been telling hunting stories for a very long time, perhaps longer than any other kind of story. I think it’s so deeply ingrained in us that it’s inherently interesting. 

But, with that said, in these days of social media and fast-paced information, it’s easy to focus on the trivial aspects of hunting like gear and antler size. Those are quick and easy, and often what grabs people’s attention – good or bad. 

For me, the interest isn’t so much in making a “hunting video.” There are plenty, or perhaps too many, of those already. It’s about telling the deeper story. Hunting is about so much more than what we usually see highlighted in the mainstream media. Telling the story of why we do what we do is what’s so interesting to me. 

Q: You raised a very thought-provoking question about how hunters are problem solvers, and with all the technology trickling into hunting, we’re dangerously close to figuring out how to take the “uncertainty” out of hunting. Using a bow and arrow is one way you put it back in. What other things can hunters do to give animals a few more advantages in a fair-chase hunt? 

A: Let me start by saying we shouldn’t confuse uncertainty with inaccuracy. We should all strive to be as good a shot as possible no matter what weapon we use. And we should all know our limitations and be comfortable within them. The uncertainty I mentioned has to do with the problems that hunting presents.

Finding an animal, deciding on an approach, considering wind, topography, footing, other animals – all these things are problems that a hunter must get past in order to kill that animal. They’re also problems that can be circumvented by using new technology. 

Today we can buy our way past many of them and make killing that animal much easier. I choose not to go that route because, for me, it diminishes the very thing that makes hunting so alluring, the problems themselves. 

With that said, I have no qualms about killing a doe from 100 yards with a rifle when the freezer is getting low. Wild game is the only meat my family eats. When it comes to that, though, I’m hunting for a different reason, and challenge takes a backseat to necessity. 

Traditional bowhunting is the path I’ve chosen, and it’s how I love to hunt. But I realize most hunters won’t share my sentiments. As far as what others can do, I’d say take an honest hard look at how and why they hunt. Is it truly a dead animal they’re after? (And sometimes it is.) Or is it something deeper? If everyone asked themselves that simple question, they might find that they’re on the right track, or they might settle on something a little different. Regardless of the answer, I’d encourage all hunters to ask the question.

Q: Your dream hunt, with or without cameras. Where would it be and for what species? 

A: That’s a tough one. I’ve always thought it would be cool to go hunting with the San Bushmen in Africa who still practice their ancestral hunting/gathering lifestyle. I’ve heard and read accounts of the unparalleled tracking ability of these people, and I would love just to soak up what knowledge I could from them. We could be hunting guinea fowl for all I care.

Q: Anything in the works for a sequel to “Untamed”? 

A: Absolutely. I started working on my next project earlier this spring. It’ll be in the same vein as “Untamed,” but focus more on the challenges we create for ourselves. 

For example, we’re going bowhunting in some very remote backcountry in the November mule deer rut during an any-weapons season. We’ll be facing some of the most rugged and remote country Idaho has, and of course, we’ll be hunting with traditional bows while everyone else is toting rifles. 

We’ll need to get within 20 yards of a buck before even considering a shot. You can find a more detailed description of the project at And, you know, I’ve thought about those roller-skates you mentioned earlier, but I think we’ll have our hands full as it stands now. Next time, maybe.

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