Posts Tagged ‘Fox Hunting’

The Atherstone Hunt are finished.

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George Whitemore – Atherstone Huntsman 1906

This is of course incredible news and testament to the dedication and perseverance of a small group of people who took it upon themselves to protect the wildlife that was routinely persecuted by this organised gang of criminals, often with the full support of the police.

Full statement from West Mids Hunt Sabs below:

After six long years of an unrelenting and unstoppable campaign by West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs the 200 year old Atherstone Hunt have finally thrown in the towel and folded.

We have faced harassment, extreme provocation and regular violence from those associated with the Atherstone Hunt. We’ve received death threats, had our tyres slashed, cars burnt out and have been hospitalized. We have also faced a hostile campaign of police harassment from Leicestershire Police who have actively sabotaged investigations against the Atherstone Hunt whilst constantly seeking to prosecute members of our group at all costs.

We persevered and never backed down. Despite the regular violence we have faced our campaign has always remained non-violent. Over the last six years we have sabbed almost every single meet of the Atherstone Hunt. They have collected over 20 criminal convictions and cautions for their violence and antisocial behaviour and at their worst they were making the national press every other month for their hunting and violence. As well as stopping them killing foxes twice a week every week we have been able to expose the real face of fox hunting.

We witnessed them kill numerous foxes in front of us but that only made us more determined. We exposed all businesses that supported them. We held demonstrations at their biggest events of the year and at all of their fundraising events.

For six years the Atherstone Hunt have been completely sabotaged and as a result they have now folded. This means that for now the 908 km² area of West Leicestershire and North Warwickshire are completely hunt free and hundreds of foxes lives will now have been saved

Ultimately the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened however we are not waiting around for politicians to change the law or corrupt police forces to enforce the law. Fox hunting is cruel and barbaric and has no place in the 21st century. Hunt saboteurs will shut hunts down one by one until hunting is consigned to history.

Our only concern remains the safety and welfare of the hounds. We have notified relevant authorities

We would like to thank all the different sab groups who have helped us and joined us in sabbing the Atherstone Hunt over the years. We would also like to thank all of you who have donated towards fuel and equipment costs over the years, all the kind words and encouragement and all the tip offs and information sent to us.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Dedicated to Leanne Bridgewater.

If I can put this achievement into some perspective take a look back at this blog post I wrote back in 2015 (see here). It’s a meet of the Atherstone. Look at the number of supporters alone.

It was a hunt of some significance. I can remember driving to the meet on that particular day and seeing a least a mile of parked up support vehicles on both sides of the road. The riding field was huge.

Not any more.

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Trying to drum up support

Of course the hunting community are probably feeling a bit miffed right now to say the least. The FB page,This is Hunting UK are trying to rally support but the problem they have is a simple one. It’s impossible to promote hunting in a positive way to everyone when hunting is just a cruel and illegal minority pastime. The British public, by a vast majority no longer accept the lies spouted in an effort to save their sick little hobby.

This isn’t the first hunt to go to the wall, it certainly won’t be the last but the method in which this one was helped on it’s way should be considered a blueprint for others with the same goals.

To all those at West Mids Hunt Sabs – I salute you.

Finally I’d like to say “Hi” to Adrian Henson. I love it that you share my blog among your bumpkin friends online, it improves my figures! Did you like the one about the letter?

UPDATE: Comment from the hunt themselves on their FB page.

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We have a guest blog this week, an opinion piece written by someone only known as Scorpiovulpes, a monitor with a vast experience of hunting in England and the often pathetic response of the police and CPS in dealing with this illegal minority pastime. It’s a good read so grab a cuppa and settle in.

I have monitored hunts for twenty five years, and I can honestly say my shock and disgust have not abated one bit during all that time. It seems that the world of hunting is a strange alternative universe existing here among us. All the rules are reversed, all the standard codes are turned on their head.  Accepted norms of behaviour are ignored, and punishment is meted out to the innocent, not the guilty.

The most innocent of the victims of this sinister world are the hunted animals.  There are laws in place in England,  Wales and Scotland which purport to ban hunting and thus protect the hunted animal.  Do they?  Of course they don’t!

These weak laws were drawn up by people who did not understand the true nature of the hunter.  They failed to listen to the people who had the measure of hunters – i.e. the monitors and the sabs.  They totally underestimated the ruthlessness of the hunters, and failed to grasp how determinedly they would continue their cruel pastime no matter what the law said.  They failed to understand that hunters fundamentally believe they are above the law and they can do as they please, that they believe nobody – nobody – can tell them what they may and may not do.

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Openly flouting the law.

And so we have a situation, 14 years after the ban was instituted in England and Wales, where hunting continues unabated, covered by the smokescreen of “trail” hunting.  I will state without hesitation my opinion that trail hunting does not exist, and never has.

It is an illusion – well, basically, it’s a con.

So the monitors still have to go out to hunts and do the best they can to film what is really happening, collecting evidence which, in very rare cases, will actually get to court, but more realistically will form part of the library of shocking evidence which will lead to the strengthening of the Hunting Act and the creation of a real ban on hunting, a true death knell for this vile and barbaric practice.  The sabs still go and risk their safety in order to protect the hunted animals and save the lives of as many as they can.

The hunts are absolutely infuriated by the presence of sabs or monitors, whose safety is at real risk every time they go out.  It is common practice for hunts to call in so called “hunt stewards” – typically a particularly nasty species of inadequate and thuggish person who, given a baseball cap with “hunt steward” on the front, think they’re somebody and start throwing their weight around.  They behave in an unbelievably obnoxious way.  They constantly harass and impede the monitors, surrounding them, continuously trying in every possibly way to wind up the monitor they are victimising (usually a female and/or elderly person) to try and make them lose their cool.  I could write a whole book on this subject, but instead I suggest you view the film of this type of behaviour that you will find on all the monitor and sab Facebook pages, and also on You Tube.  These films speak for themselves, and make grim viewing.

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Hunt Steward hat but dead behind the eyes and delusions of adequacy.

So we have an orchestrated conspiracy to hunt illegally being conducted between the hunts and their lackeys, the whole scenario being  protected from scrutiny by obstructive, menacing and threatening behaviour .

Well, you might say, the police must be very concerned about this.  They must be shocked to see the film.  The CPS must be very willing to act on the clear filmed evidence presented to them.  This is where you need to grasp the extent of the alternative universe we are talking about,  as the very opposite is the case.  Police scrutinise the film to try to pin something on the innocent monitors (or sabs),  They downplay the seriousness of the behaviour of the stewards.  They churn out the old chestnut “six of one and half a dozen of the other” when it would be obvious to a five year old that this is categorically not the case.

Time and again the monitors and sabs are left shocked and disgusted by the lack of action by the law enforcement agencies over the whole scandal of illegal hunting and its attendant intimidation and violence.

So they turn to Facebook.  For all its faults, Facebook has provided a lifeline for campaigners, and has led to a turning point in the general public’s understanding of the sheer and utter horror of illegal hunting, the cruelty, the deviousness, the thuggery  –  the lengths gone to to protect this abomination from scrutiny.  Sometimes when the absolutely disgusting behaviour of a hunt steward is exposed on Facebook or another arena, the subject of the film uses devious means to have the film taken down.  Fortunately this only works short term as their reasons are bogus and the films are usually reinstated.  But this again shows how secretive and how absolutely without morals are the people involved in hunting.

It is not  only the stewards who behave in a revolting way.  People who no doubt consider themselves to be the cream of society will barge you with their horses, swear at you, persistently drive at very low speeds in front  of you to prevent you keeping up with the hunt, even assault you.

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Terrier men – Lowest of the low. What purpose do they have on a “trail” hunt?

So there you have the alternative universe of illegal hunting for your edification.  The hunters throw a threadbare cloak of respectability over themselves with a claim of “trail hunting”.  They lie.  They bully.  They abuse.  They bring in their hunt thugs to protect themselves from scrutiny.  The law enforcers of the land, who are paid by the taxpayer and whom we are told to respect, more often than not support them, sometimes hunt with them.  I have seen a high court judge out hunting, a meet held at a magistrate’s house, ex police officers hunting, uniformed police officers laughing and joking with obnoxious hunt heavies, while a woman monitor was held captive in her car and the police refused to help her.  I have heard a female police officer tell a hunt master she would try and get me to leave the hunt so the hunt could carry on as they wished.  The list goes on and on and on.  You may think that, if the police fail in their duty, there is a robust police complaints system.  All I can say to that is, you try it – and good luck.  Very recently a District Judge found a hunt not guilty of illegal hunting, giving one of the reasons for his decision that he did not believe a hunt master would lie and perjure himself.  This kind of thing leaves those of us at the sharp end of this situation in absolute despair.

I have given you my opinion as a seasoned and long term hunt monitor.  You are free to disbelieve me if you choose, but if so, I ask you to look at the plethora of filmed evidence that unequivocally illuminates the situation.  And ask yourself why all these people would go to such lengths to stop a non-violent individual from legally filming their activities.

We know the public are overwhelmingly against hunting. We know they are absolutely shocked when they see the evidence of what is happening in our countryside on a daily basis during the hunting season.  Between us all we can drag this alternative universe out of the dark ages and expose it to the light.  That way we will see it finally abolished.

That day cannot come soon enough.

 

I’ve been off all week, stewing in my bed watching Netflix with the lurgy. I don’t get ill very often but when I do I get it properly. It was also getting somewhat frustrating waiting for the court decision over the Fitzwilliam’s appeal of their conviction we secured back in April of last year. As you probably know by now the court upheld the conviction after a 5 day re-trial at first Peterborough and then Cambridge Crown Court. I was present for some of those days and of course had to give evidence once again. I won’t go over all the details of the trial as it was much the same as the previous in terms of actual evidence and you can read all about that here: Original Case.

What I will do is give you some of my observations and thoughts from the case and the lengths the other side went to to discredit the prosecution witnesses and scupper the case.

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George Adams

For those that don’t know in Hunting Act cases that go to appeal there is no jury as there normally would be in a Crown Court. There will be a Crown Judge presiding but also 2 Magistrates. The Crown Judge is obviously the main player in this and it’s their job to advise the Magistrates on complex legal matters. Judge Cooper was presiding in this case and from the very start, and to coin an old fashioned phrase, I liked the cut of his jib. Here was a man who was clearly of very sharp mind and not one to be taken in by the attempted dirty tricks of the other side.

The defence team consisted of Stephen Welford (solicitor) and Peter Glenser QC. I’ve crossed intellectual swords with both of these before, I beat Welford in the original case and Glenser was the defence barrister for one of the Thurlow Hunt defendants in a case we also won only last March. (See here: Thurlow Hunt Conviction). Their record against me and my colleagues so far certainly wasn’t anything to shout about. Glenser it would seem is also Chairman of the BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) which has always seemed like a contradiction in terms to me. It’s more about killing things than any real conservation work so here we have a man who is clearly very deeply entrenched in the wildlife abuse industry and obviously the go to man for legal matters within the CA.

On the very morning of the first day of the trial the defence submitted an application to have our expert witness, Professor Stephen Harris’s testimony omitted due to both bias and bad character, this dodgy tactic was intended to rule out his evidence without giving him the right of reply due to the lateness of the submission. Fortunately Judge Cooper wasn’t having any of it and referred to this tactic as “ambushing” the court. He noted that the defence had well over a year to submit any claims and doing so on the morning of the first day of the trial was simply not acceptable. The defence then applied for their own “expert” witness to be included, a certain Dr Hamilton Wallis.

Now Dr Wallis has a somewhat shady background to say the least. We did some digging and soon had someone who was prepared to jump on a train, travel a significant distance and stand up in court to tell everyone that he was in fact a professional liar. This so called expert’s speciality was in computer forensics although had once run a drag hunt somewhere in Wales. His relevance to the case at hand was, at best, questionable. For a little bit more about Wallis read this blog. Fields Data Recovery Scam.

I was once again on the stand for nearly 2 hours. I like to think I held my own and there was nothing in their cross examination which surprised me. I had crossed words with Glenser on a couple of occasion, my favourite of these was over the cause of death of the fox. He claimed the fox wasn’t “disemboweled” as I had claimed in my statement.

I asked him “If it wasn’t killed in this manner why were it’s intestines hanging out?” (This is clearly visible in the video).

Glenser replied, “We ask the questions Mr xxxxxx, not you”.

I think I won that one.

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Adams looks on at the kill – This was no accident

The other witness called was a sab I’ve know for some time now from South Cambs Hunt Sabs. She performed admirably once again and was certainly not overawed by the situation and definitely not someone the defence were able to bend to their will.

I should also comment on the prosecuting barrister, David Matthew QC. He was a complete gentleman, utterly charming but a shark when cross examining the defence witnesses and very robust in the legal jousting he undertook against Glenser and their dirty tactics. A razor sharp legal mind certainly not to be taken lightly who always seemed to be in control from day 1.

The appeal itself, something which sometimes gets lost, was in fact from the now retired Fitzwilliam huntsman, George Adams. When looking at the bigger picture you have to concede that George was little more than a pawn in all of this. He’ll get no sympathy from me as he chose his own fate and employment but on the stand he once again came across as what he is, a bumbling old fool. One has to wonder who really drove the appeal, the so-called Countryside Alliance or the Fitzwilliam? Adams had very little to gain apart from clearing his name but in hunting circles that’s probably irrelevant. The Fitzwilliam were clearly not happy at being labelled a criminal hunt and the fact they attempted to bring an injunction against me and others suggest they were probably the driving force in this with full CA backing. The usual CA mob of Adrian (Barry Chuckle) Simpson and Polly (Pinocchio) Portwin we also there for several days of the trial.

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John Mease

I’ve always had a very personal hatred for the use of raptors during a fox hunt. I’ve written about this at length before (see here), plus I have fairly extensive knowledge of raptors having spent many years observing and photographing them in the wild and learning about them where I can. For this reason the BoP handler John Mease has a very personal hatred of me. I think it’s probably because he sees me as a threat to his livelihood, and he’s probably right.

John was acquitted in the original case on the basis that he wasn’t in control of the hounds. It’s a shame the court couldn’t convict him due to joint venture but he was also acquitted of  cruelty after submitting video evidence of his eagle catching a fox. I saw this video for the first time during the appeal. What I saw will haunt me for the rest of my days. How he was acquitted I will never know. The CA employed some dodgy vet to state his actions were humane. What I saw was anything but.

It showed his eagle catching a fox at the base of a hedge. By the time he arrived the fox and the eagle had been fighting on the ground for some time. The eagle had stripped the flesh from part of the foxes jaw and you could see bone. The fox, still fully conscious was fighting back as best it could. Mease arrives, draws what appears to be a glorified screwdriver, nothing more than a sharpened spike and has several attempts to stab the fox through the eye socket while holding off both the fox and the eagle which is trying to defend its catch.

It was utterly grotesque and a horrific end for a beautiful animal.

Mease showed 3 videos like this.

Three.

Considering the hunt go out 2, sometimes 3 times a week during the season he could only muster 3 videos since 2005 where his eagle had been released and caught a fox even though he wears a head camera all the time. And oddly enough there was no sign of any riders and horses, hunt staff or hounds in any of the videos. In fact there was no sign of any hunt at all. This was certainly not proof the hunt had “flushed” any of those foxes.

Mease himself was a very angry man on the stand. Every question he was asked turned into a rant about sabs. We lost count the number of times he mentioned balaclavas and dressed in black. He even claimed we sprayed acid in animals faces! On several occasions the judge had to step in and tell him to answer the question he was asked and not deviate. Our QC took him apart and called him out on his constant lies.

When his cross examination was over we heard a whispered comment from the hunt support at the back of the public gallery, “Thank God that’s over”. Mease had just incriminated the hunt further. I will always maintain that if you enjoy this kind of activity there has to be something very deeply wrong with you psychologically. Violence to animals very easily translates to violence to people. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if I was to learn in the future that Mease had made that short leap.

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The fox which paid the ultimate price on NYD 2016

Moving on now to comment about Professor Harris. He’s slightly mad as you would expect any professor to be but in a good way. He dealt with the excessive and dubious claims against him in his own nonchalant style and proved his knowledge of foxes and hunting in no uncertain terms. If it was a contest merely on expert witnesses we’d have won hands down.

And so that was it.

We had to wait some time for the verdict but it was worth it in the end. I was unable to make the court on decision day which was a shame but the other witness was there and said it was “Bloody great”. Judge Cooper, in summing up had some complimentary comments about me as a witness which is always nice and has written a very detailed ruling, clearly upholding the original conviction but more importantly stating, “Something significant” must change in the planning and training of the hounds and the characteristics of hunts in the future if they don’t want to be charged with illegal hunting.

What next?

We now have case law and that’s vital. Any hunt which uses the Falconry exemption within the Hunting Act will now know it won’t protect them from prosecution. The term “flushing from cover”, was a major talking point during the whole trial is likely to be defined in the ruling. This is effectively the end of the falconry exemption loophole used by fox hunters. How the Fitzwilliam and other hunts respond to this setback remains to be seen. They took a huge gamble with this appeal and they lost but they’ve also screwed up every other hunt which used this loophole and that’s not going to make them any friends. There can be no other appeals except on a point of law. No doubt the other side will be picking through the ruling and looking for a way out but my involvement, after almost 3 and a half years is now, finally over.

John Mease was probably right to hate me. He’s probably going to lose his job, and with his job, his house, as he lives at the kennels and is a fully paid employee of the hunt.

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke.

Finally like to thank all those involved in bringing the case to this successful conclusion – Cambs Police for a proper and robust investigation, David Matthew QC, the other witness and everyone who offered their support and advice along the way.

I’ve written before about what kind of evidence you need in order to get a chance of a prosecution under the current Hunting Act legislation, and we all know the level of burden of proof is set way to high but I’m not going to cover old ground again, instead I’m going to focus on the actual use of the recording equipment itself and how to maximise it’s effectiveness.

At any hunt meet there will always be a proliferation of body cams, phones and hand held cameras, both still and video, and used by both sides, but what is the most suitable for the sab or monitor in their quest for justice?

Choice of Kit?

Body Cams: We use these for the purpose of self defence and are of a GoPro type mounted on chest harnesses. As a recording device they are generally only really any good for close in subject matter, great if you’re getting some grief from your local hunt goons but no good if you’re filming the hunt itself.

Mobile Phones: Most mobile devices now have some pretty amazing cameras but once again these aren’t really suitable for catching fast moving action which could be some distance away. They are difficult to hold and easily stolen or obstructed, not something which is ideal in the field. Most people rely on their phones for everyday life so they really need to be protected at all costs.

DSLR: The DSLR will undoubtedly produce the best quality footage and stills with the highest frame rates and quality settings along with shooting in RAW for stills. You have the option of a vast selection of lenses for both near and far work however they are generally quite expensive (a decent 500mm lens is likely to cost in excess of £1000 minimum) and very bulky to carry around. The risk of damage will usually mean this is not an option for most people monitoring or sabbing hunts.

Handycams: These are the most likely option and can be purchased relatively cheaply when compared to the performance available. They fit the hand nicely, are compact and offer zoom capability which is unparalleled, this is a huge positive as hunts can be filmed from some distance without them knowing. For around £250 you can buy some excellent equipment. Personally I’d go for the Panasonic HC-W580. It claims a 90x zoom but the reality is 50x optical and the rest digital. I’d always ignore any digital zoom figures, all you’re really doing there is increasing the size of the image and a drop in quality will result but, 50x zoom is plenty in most situations.

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A good bit of kit for the price.

What & When to film?

Much of this can only come through experience and understanding of what’s happening during a hunt. As you start out learn to focus on the huntsman and hounds and try and consider where a fox is likely to break. Keep as much of the action in shot as you can, don’t focus in too early and if the hounds go into cry get the camera up and running as soon as possible, it’s highly likely that it might be a false alarm or you don’t get anything in shot however missing something important because the camera wasn’t rolling is a schoolboy error. Spend lots of time filming and you’ll soon begin to understand what and indeed when to film.

Positioning.

Where you locate yourself will once again come with experience. Most sabs with a few seasons under their belts will know this, it’s all part of sabbing. We’ll always be looking to position ourselves in the ideal location to get between the hunted animal and the path of the hounds. If you’re in a group make sure everyone knows their job, the sprayers, the raters and horn blowers. As the camera person you should be positioned slightly further back so you can catch all the action as it happens but the starting off position will be very similar to the rest of your team.

Using the Equipment.

It’s happened to me several times before, I’ve given someone a camera prior to a hunt and told them to get some footage when they can. What I got back was a jumbled up mess of shots which included a lot of sky and ground, the insides of their pockets, some banter in the back of the sab van and a whole bunch of footage where the camera is being shaken all over the place as it’s filming as they are running along.

Most handycams are very easy to use with a small flip out screen, a zoom trigger with a start and stop (filming) button. Make sure you know where they all are and that you remember to start and stop filming properly. Some cameras will continue to film even if you flip the screen to closed. This is a route to filling up memory cards and flattening batteries very quickly and there’s nothing more annoying that missing that shot for these reasons. You can of course carry spare memory cards which is advisable along with batteries but in the course of a day I’ve yet to fill one up or drain a battery.

There are a few simple steps to getting good footage.

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A couple of frames from the footage which convicted the Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams

 

1 – Stand still. Shaky footage can be useless. Modern cams have some great stabilisation but they can do only so much. Running around while trying to film effectively is nigh on impossible and footage gained likely to make the viewer sick!

2 – Frame the subject matter first. Do this with a wide shot. Resist the temptation to zoom right in straight away. If you are any distance away you’ll lose the subject matter and spend ages zooming in and out trying to reacquire it. Only a very tiny movement of your hand end will be a huge movement of image.

3 – Predict the direction of travel. If you see a fox running from the hunt get it in a wide shot and slowly zoom in. If it’s going in and out of obstructions or cover try and predict where you think it will break cover and give you a clear shot. This will give you the opportunity to focus on a specific area and when the subject runs through the shot you can pick it up and follow it more easily. This is exactly the process I used in the video which convicted the Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams. I knew where the fox would run, focused on a piece of ground directly ahead of it then tracked it as it came through shot (see images above).

4 – Keep a steady hand. Use both hands if you have to. Keep the camera close to your body and use your bent elbows to brace against your chest while using your other hand to steady the camera. Shooting over long distances can be very difficult, use the environment to help if you can, lean on a wall or gate post, they can all improve matters. Keep everything as smooth as you can.

5 – Keep calm. It’s very easy to get over excited when things start to happen in the field. Keep a cool head and focus on what you need to achieve. If you’re panicking or rushing about you’ll miss that important shot and the footage will be all over the place. Let those around you do their jobs and you concentrate on the filming.

The film we submitted which is the basis for the Thurlow case is a prime example of this. There were 2 of us with cameras at the location and although I started to film I knew there was someone else with a better, wider view of what was taking place. That left me to move forward and concentrate on other matters. Obviously I can say too much but needless to say the footage achieved on that day was enough to put the hunt before the courts and hopefully enough to secure a conviction.

6 – Stay Secure. This is really important. If you’ve got some crucial footage the other side will be desperate to get this from you. As soon as you can move away from the area and swap out the memory cards. Even if they manage to get the camera from you later in the day the footage you gained earlier will be safe and secure.

On a final note you do not have to submit your footage to the police on the day. If they ask for it DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM. You are under no legal obligation to do so and this type of evidence has a habit of going missing. Take the details of the officers on the scene and then go home and make a copy which you can keep secure. You can then either send the police a copy via web download (although they sometimes have trouble with this) or literally put a disk or memory stick in their hands and get proof they have it.

So hopefully you’ll have enough of the basics to go out there and get some good footage. Hunts hate cameras, lets make sure they stay in the spotlight.