by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges
As most hunters know, the outdoor television industry has grown immensely over the last couple of decades. Where there used to be a handful of shows scattered throughout local networks, and a few picked up by sports channels, there are now at least three networks currently showing outdoor programming 24/7/365!
Outfitters are using outdoor television more and more frequently, as it provides an opportunity to have your business featured on a show seen by audiences potentially numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Most hosts of these programs try to avoid the hard-sell approach, but in reality, sponsors and outfitters are providing funds and opportunities for the show to produce entertaining (hopefully) and informative programming.
As with any television program, you need to keep the viewer’s interest piqued. In the outdoor industry this means showing animals, opportunity, and whenever possible, a successful harvest of the animal being hunted. Most, but not all, viewers would become pretty disinterested in watching a couple of guys just sitting on a rock, looking through binoculars for hours searching for elk, sheep, caribou etc.
Speaking of time, a normal 30-minute hunting show, after commercials, bumps and intros, has about 18 minutes of air time to show off the best of a five-day, or even week-long hunting excursion. Obviously, they want to fill that time with the best of the best and show very little downtime.
For example, I was fortunate enough to film — and be filmed — on a 10-day elk hunt. We filmed portions of the 23-hour drive, crossing the borders of several state lines. Stalks, calling sequences, and camp life were also filmed. We were lucky enough to take a great bull on the first day of that hunt (not by me).
The bull responded to our calls, walked almost a mile in plain view, and my partner made a perfect 35-yard shot. It was then my turn and I still had nine days to fill my tag and close the show! I thought my partner’s hunt would be an indication of how mine would go. Not so.
What followed next were nine of the hardest hunting days of my life. We hiked, glassed and called, with days beginning at 4:30 am and ending after 9:00 pm. We had some great encounters and incredible memories, but at the end of it, we had an unfilled tag.
When we got home, I logged all the footage we had collected and realized that there were 26 hours of tape to go through. Not all of it was Emmy Award winning stuff, but there was a pile of great footage from that adventure.
Well, after the smoke cleared, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor. As great as it was, viewers would get bored very quickly watching some guy walking up and down mountains, listening to elk bugles. The show ended up consisting of our kill, a close encounter I had drawing on a great bull, some quick clips of travel and camp life, and beautiful scenery. Anyone watching that 18 minutes would have thought the hunt was relatively easy.
I’ve also been in camp when things went so well that the hosts were tagged out too soon (if that’s even possible).
We were in moose camp one season and two great bulls were literally dying to be on TV (sorry for the bad pun). After day two, we were all tagged out. The hosts spent the next couple of days re-enacting failed stalks and calling attempts in order to have enough b-roll footage to build the show. Not to try and fool the viewer, but in an attempt to show more normal expectations of what the outfitter offered. Is that false advertising? I don’t think so, not to anyone who knows hunting and can read between the lines. Hunting shows need to portray what viewers want to see if they expect them to keep watching.
Occasionally, a show will include difficult times, or slow hunts, but only if there is an interesting twist that engages the viewer. If a show were to consistently air lackluster hunts, it wouldn’t take long for people to stop watching. This would cause sponsors to lose interest and the show would fade away into the sunset.
We’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of quality hunting shows up at Webber’s Lodges over the last several years, and we’ve always tried to work with them to accurately portray what could be expected on one of our adventures. This can be difficult with the 18 minute time limitation.
Hopefully, this insider look will help the next time you are on a trip similar to one you saw on television and things seem to be going differently than what you expected.
We, like other outfitters, use television shows to get our name out there, but we don’t expect viewers to understand every aspect of the hunt after watching 18-minutes of footage. These shows are meant to be a glimpse into what’s available.
We look forward to hearing from you, sharing more detailed information on the hunts we offer, and helping you plan your next adventure!