From “Northern Exposure” to “Wild West Alaska”

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There are countless aspects of the show Northern Exposure that appealed to me, and as I have lived in Alaska for 15 years, I have come to realize that the show understood Alaska. But more than exposing me to the idea of Alaska and its culture and the wonder of the northern lights, it also gave me an idea for a piece of photo equipment I would lust over for years to come.

It was the episode where Holling goes on a “hunting” camping trip (“A-Hunting We Will Go,” Season 3). For decades, Holling had set aside killing animals (through hunting or trapping), and now he only hunted them with a big lens. But rather than drag a tripod out into the backcountry with him, Holling had a lens mount built onto a rifle stock so that he could hand-hold his 300mm lens and have extra stability. I always liked the idea. And as I came more and more to shoot from moving platforms – like canoes or kayaks or boats – I came to long for a rifle stock with a lens mount, fitted with a shutter trigger in the same location where the normal trigger would be found on a rifle.

Over the years, I would occasionally skim through magazines, then through web search engines, looking for something like Holling’s rifle lens mount. But I never could find just what I was looking for. And then, a discussion with some friends drifted to the idea of having one custom made. Since I am not much of a gun owner, I was not aware of where to go for such a thing. Then the suggestion rang out: Wild West Guns, a specialty gun shop in Anchorage.

And before I knew it, not only was I approaching Wild West Guns, but I was roped into their reality TV show, Wild West Alaska, as well. (Not being much of a gun owner, I was not aware of this show, either.)

I won’t tell the whole story of how things unfolded at Wild West Guns. You can see the episode on Animal Planet or for download on Amazon.com. The episode is called “Hell on Wheels.” My only disappointment from the episode is that they did not use a whole interview sequence we shot at Wild West Guns where you can see how I got the idea for the rifle stock. But what Mitch created for me is a complete work of art, performing exactly as how I had envisioned. And like I say on the show, it makes my 500mm lens feel about half the weight, and makes it much easier to hold the lens for longer periods of time.  I also have come away with a higher percentage of sharp images, even for distant subjects.

But, if you follow this blog, you have already seen how my first fieldwork with the new rifle lens mount went. And while I couldn’t say during that original blog post about a trip to Prince William Sound what TV show I was out there for, now you know.

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Mitch and the Animal Planet crew behind my episode of “Wild West Alaska.”

One Response to “From “Northern Exposure” to “Wild West Alaska””

  1. John Miller Says:

    I am a novice photographer, I use a Canon Rebel XSI with a 200mm lens to take my pictures. Between Carpal Tunnel and a motor vehicle accident in 2012, my hands are very unsteady. I saw where Wild West Guns in Alaska created a gun stock that will hold your camera. I talked to Ken only to learn that they were far too busy with their next season’s filming for them to take on such a project.

    Would it be possible to see how they did your trigger for the camera? I think I can fashion a mount of some kind for the camera so that it would fit on the gun stock but I am unsure of the triggering system.

    I hope to use a bipod attached to the bottom of the stock to steady the camera.

    Thank you.

    John Miller
    sacnorad@hughes.net

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