Great Northern Productions

Filming Whitetails

Adventures of Benoit Cameraman

by Tom Blais

I was born and raised on a vegetable farm in Springfield, Vermont. I now live in Chester, VT where I own and operate a small granite quarry. I also own Great Northern Productions that I started in 1999. Since then, Iíve produced several hunting videos including all the Benoit videos. Iíve also produced segments for TV shows on OLN, The Sportsman Channel, and the Outdoor Channel, and supplied segments for the NRA, Outdoor Life, and the Sports Afield videos.

When I was seven, I would follow my father on his trapline, and he would teach me about the different animals and their habitat. I remember many of those lessons to this day.

I donít know why, but at the age of 10 I started to become fascinated by whitetails. I got my license and my first deer-gun was a 410 shotgun with slugs. My dad was a good farmer and trapper, but he rarely got a deer. He simply didnít put a lot of time into it.

In the early days, he would drop me off and Iíd hunt the Crown Point Road, which is an old, abandon military road built in 1759. I wouldnít stray too far from it. As I got older I really looked up to my two uncles, Paul and Keith Ferguson. These guys were real deer slayers. They lived up over Skitchewaug Mountain, just behind our farm. Paul and Keith shot a deer every year, and they still do it today. I desperately wanted to be like them and shoot a buck every season. This determination paid off, and in a few years I began tagging bucks as well.

In my 20s I needed something bigger, so I started hunting the Adirondacks. In 1990 I went on a trip out West and it changed me forever. I couldnít believe all the wild countryóand big bucks. Soon, I started using a video camera to document our hunts. When the season was over, I would use a VCR to edit the tapes and give them to friends.

It was all for fun. An old hunting friend, Tom Lang, encouraged me to take filming seriously. Thatís how it all started.

Getting Started Filming

In 1997 I bought a high eight camera and was planning to hunt out west and videotape for the entire month of November. My friend, Corey Daily, told me that his younger brother, Erik, was really into whitetails and thought that he would make a good cameraman. Erik and I met and we planed our journey.

All the locals said that most of the whitetails had died during the winter of 1996 and 1997. I was in shock, just two years before Jeff Moore and I had tagged-out on big bucks. The first day Erik and I went to an old orchard where we found a decent amount of deer sign. We had noticed an old junk car on the edge of the orchard. It was rusted with bullet holes in it. I took a look at the old car and thought that it would make one heck of a blind. Erik agreed, and off we went to sit in it.

Here we were, sitting in a junk car not expecting to see much, when all of a sudden a big eight pointer steps out in front of us. The buck looked like he was mature, he had a large body and a rack that would score around 140 inches. This wasnít a particularly big deer for this part of the country though, and I wanted to take a monster on camera, so I decided to let him walk. This was only the first day of the hunt after all, and I had four full weeks left, surely I would see one bigger.

In the following days we set up two tree stands and watched the trails leading to the orchard with the old car. We saw three small bucks and some does, but nothing even close to the big eight pointer.

By the time our first year of video taping ended we learned a lot, and had quite an adventure, but we didnít kill a deer. We were deer bums. After deer season was over we stayed out West, rented a trailer, scouted, filmed and looked for sheds on the weekends. Erik stayed, and I went back to Vermont in March.

Over the next two years Erik and I had success in filming several hunts. We had enough footage for our first video, Public Land Whitetails.

I brought a new super computer to edit videos that cost more than my pickup truck. I didnít have any idea how to run the thing, so I hired my younger brother, Bill, a computer geek. Bill helped me edit my first two videos and soon I had become a redneck with a computer. Today, computers have changed my life. It hasnít been easy over the years, and Iíve almost quite the video business, but people have always motivated me telling me they want to see more.

Filming The Benoits

I met Shane Benoit through Craig Jacques. Shane had been working on a video for a few years, and wanted to work with someone to produce a video. I took on the job and worked with videographer, Josh Butler.

I quickly realized that filming trackers was going to be tough. I had always been a fan of the Benoits, and I had tracked some bucks, but I had given up on filming tracking because it was too hard. Now, I found myself having to produce the first Benoit video. Filming a stand hunter is a lot easier than following a tracker. When tracking, you have to carry all the gear, and trying not to get snow on the camera lens and viewfinder is a nightmare. Two things had to come together to complete the video: the hunters had to wait for the cameraman before they shot the deer, and the cameraman had to want to capture the hunt on film more than the hunter wanted to kill the buck. It took a few years, but we have put it all together and weíre now working on the Benoitís fourth video.

A lot has gone wrong while filming the Benoitís. Weíve had film and $5000 cameras ruined in bad weather. Weíve had new cameramen not hit record and miss the crucial scenes on some huge bucks, which is the most discouraging type of mistake. I have made it myself. One incident stands out in my mind.

A few years ago we were driving through a clear-cut. Lanny was driving with Shane, while Larry and I were in the back seat. There was another hunter up ahead of us on the logging road. He got out of his truck, got his gun, and started running toward us waving his arms. Lanny stopped, ďWhat the hell is this pilgrim doing,Ē he said. Then, Lanny looked to his left, and we saw a good 8-point buck. Suddenly, we understood what was happening.

The man ran closer to us and the buck was just walking through the cut. Lanny stuck his head out the window and said to the man, ďShoot the buck.Ē The guy dropped to one knee and shouldered his riffle. I had my camera laying on the seat and I rushed to get the camera on the buck, but by the time I got the lens cap off, turned the camera on, and hit record the buck was on the ground. I had missed the shot.

We got out and the Benoits were happy for him. ďLets all go look at your buck,Ē said Lanny.

I was mad that I didnít get it on film, and I though the adventure was over, so I left my camera in the truck. This was my second mistake.

We all walked single file to the deer, Lanny was right behind the hunter. As we approached the buck, it started to move and then picked up its head. It only had one antler. We all knew that buck had a full rack before he shot, and instantly we realized what happenedóthe man had shot the deerís antler off.

The buck stumbled to its feet, and was trying to run away from us, but it was still in a state of shock. It started running right for the hunter. ďShoot him again,Ē Lanny said, and the guy just froze. I thought he was going to get gored. ďWhere the hell is my camera!Ē was all I could think. Now the deer was just a few feet away and Lanny yells, ďYou better shoot him.Ē A second before impact the buck turns and falls down, and the man finishes the deer. It was pretty exciting and we all laughed. We looked around to find the antler that had been shot off. We couldnít believe how far away it had flown. I could have had that whole story on film. Iíll never forgive myself for that.

What Iíve learned from the boys

Iím a ďconditionsĒ hunter. Iíll adapt my hunting style according to the conditions and time of year. Iíll use tree stands, still hunting, rattling and grunt calls. When there is snow Iíll track. Before I met the Benoits, I had some success tracking, but after hunting with them I quickly found out that I had a lot to learn. After filming them for the past eight years, I must say that now Iím a real tracker. Iíll still use different tactics to shoot a big buck, but if thereís snow and Iíve got a few days to track, Iíll tag a mature buck.

(Editors Note: Lanny Benoit has commented on several occasions that Blais has developed into one of the best trackers he knows. These are pretty powerful words when you consider Benoitís understated nature).

1. Scout a lot of country. Big woods bucks are spread out and you have to think big and cover 100ís of square miles. You might also have to travel 100 miles to find snow. Youíll need lots of gas money!

2. Be very selective when looking for a track to follow. It might take a few days of looking to find the right one. Remember, tracking is the only method where you can select the biggest and oldest bucks from a huge area. If you want to take a mature buck, then donít follow an immature one. The Benoits have repeatedly told me, ďIf youíre following a big buck all day, and you donít get him, you still had a big buck in front of you all day. If you do that day after day, youíre going to shoot a big buck.Ē

3. Donít give up the chase. When I was younger, Iíd leave a track for a lot of reasons. Now, I look at it this way: if your tracking in the big woods where itís hard to find a mature buck, and you leave that track, you no longer have a big buck in front of you. Thatís real depressing. Once you leave that track, the odds of you getting that buck, or another one, go way way down. Now, Iíll track the same deer for several days in a row until I get him. Iíll track him until dark, GPS the spot, then return the next morning and start tracking him again.

Tracking is my favorite way to hunt, you become a real predator and I love the thrill of the chase. If youíre patient and follow the right tracks, they will lead you to your buck of a lifetime.

The Future: Passing It On

My son, Deven, is 15 and Iím teaching him all about whitetails and the outdoors. Deven and I hunt each year for 10 days during his Thanksgiving break, and heís becoming quite the deer hunter. Weíve shot some nice bucks together, and I must say to see your child shoot a deer is very exciting. Iím sure we will be hunting and filming whitetails together for the rest of our lives.

Iím proud of what we all have accomplish over the years, and Iím real proud of the Benoit brothers. Itís not easy having cameras invading your deer camp every year, and for three brothers to stay in the hunting business together is amazing. It takes a lot of hard work to make these videos and without the help of Shaneís wife Donna, and my sister Maureen doing the office work, it wouldnít happen. Weíve got a good team and our newest cameramen, Bruce Merrill and Steve Kennedy, are becoming real pros. When hunterís watch our videos and tell us we have helped them become a better deer hunter that really makes me proud.

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