I don't usually play the Powerball Lottery until the jackpot is at least $300 million as I don't think I could make ends meet otherwise. The jackpot has finally reached a "living wage" for me and it's time to play. As I a write this I stare at the Powerball ticket in my hands and my mind wanders as to what I'll do when I win the $400+ million jackpot. The answer is simple, hunt everything, everywhere, all the time. If Plan A doesn't go well and I don't win the Powerball I still have to figure out a way to enjoy those hunts. The hunts I romanticize about in my head are the same ones I often see on TV. Some of those dreams are huge elk across the west, African safaris, Alaskan Yukon Moose, and Bighorn Sheep, you know basically what Mike Lutt does. In the meantime I keep hunting on a budget and chasing whitetails, or local critters to get my fix.
In my quest to figure out how to make these dreams happen I watch outdoor TV and think, man that would be the life, hunt all over the country for a living and have it filmed for TV. How great would that be? See new places, meet new folks, hunt great farms and always have big animals around you. What a life, can it really be that easy? If so sign me up!
The NBA blogs are hopefully, a source of information, entertainment, mixed with advice, and knowledge to help the readers find whatever it is they are looking for. Recently I met an individual named Mike looking to spring turkey hunt in Nebraska as his research suggested our state has one of the earliest, and longest archery seasons for turkeys, with quality hunting, and reasonably priced tags. Mike had found the NBA blogs and used that as a way to contact me and learn about our state's turkey season. So we struck up a conversation and decided to hunt together and as I found out my guest this spring films for a TV show. I figured what a resource for giving us all a look into the life of a TV hunter. Here is our conversation:
Let me introduce you to Mike Marsteller, co-host of the popular Sportsman’s Channel TV show “Whitetail Fix” and in Mike's own words here is his story:
**I was raised in the small town of Russellville Indiana, about an hour west of Indianapolis. I started bow hunting when I was a freshman in high school and killed my first deer, a basket rack eight point, the following year and I was hooked! Due to my love of hunting and the outdoors I pursued a degree in Conservation Law Enforcement with the idea that I would become a Conservation Officer. I applied a couple times and came very close once, but in the end I took jobs with a couple different Sheriff and Police departments and I have been employed by the Speedway Police Department for the past 20 years. Speedway is a small town within the City of Indianapolis and is home of the “Indianapolis Motor Speedway”, the largest capacity sports venue in the world, known for the world famous Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. I always say that God’s plan is better than our plan and ending up with a police department as opposed to becoming a Conservation Officer is proof of that. I know several local Conservation officers and they have a tough time taking time off during the deer and turkey seasons, which just wouldn’t work for me. I’m 48 years old, I’m single and I have a 23 year old daughter from a previous marriage. Madison’s degree in AgriBusiness from Purdue University has taken her to Philadelphia where she works for Dow AgroSciences in their Urban Pest Control sales division. She has been to 27 different states in the past 9 months! As you can tell we are very proud of her!!
How did you get started in outdoor TV? In 2004 a show aired on the Outdoor Channel that was produced by Drury Outdoors called “Dream Season”. The show featured amateur hunting teams competing against one another. Jesse Fulwider, a hunting buddy of mine, and I got hooked on the show. At that point we had done a little filming with a low end camera that one of us had. Usually one of us filming the other after one was tagged out, we were far from committed to it at that point. In 2005 with thoughts of Dream Season running through our heads we up graded our camera and got serious about it. We filmed every hunt until two days before gun season, when like an idiot I suggested we not film in hopes that one of us would kill before the orange army invaded. And of course that morning I killed a giant 9 point that grossed 157"! That was a bitter pill to swallow and the last time we ever considered not filming. In the four years that followed, God blessed us in taking 12 bucks all over 130" and a couple in the 160’s. During that time Drury Outdoors introduced a new show “Bow Madness” which featured “I Shot it with my PSE”, a segment of each show of viewer provided hunts. Jesse and I were each selected several times as that part of the show. This got us some much needed notoriety with Drury Outdoors. The Archery Trade Association show is in Indianapolis about every other year. It was there that Jesse and I got our chance to meet Mark and Terry Drury and probably more importantly, Terry’s son Matt Drury the brand manager of Drury Outdoors. By that time Dream Season had moved away from the use of amateur teams, but Matt kept telling us that they were kicking around doing it again. In 2010 they announced “Dream Season Working Man” another amateur team show of everyday guys holding down full time jobs while hunting a much as humanly possible. And by the grace of God, Jesse and I were selected as one of the six teams as the “cops from Indiana”! They divided us three teams against three, but the biggest prize at stake was in the end one team would be selected to join Drury Outdoors full time on their pro staff. No other team had killed anywhere close to the number of bucks that Jesse and I had, so we were the team to beat. Remember “Gods plan is better than ours”…….we didn’t kill a single deer, we even tried to shoot some does in the late season and couldn’t even pull that off! As you can imagine we were not picked up by Drury Outdoors which ultimately turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise. We developed great friendships with the other teams on the show and decided the 10 of us should give a show of our own a shot. Through the grace of God and a lot of hard work, “Whitetail Fix” was born and just finished airing its fourth season on the Sportsman Channel.
What are some of the trips you take each year and what might be some unique trips you get to do this year? This past season I hunted Kansas and Missouri, the two bucks I killed will air in July on Season 5 of the show. I drew an Iowa tag for the first time in Season 4 and killed a giant 170" with Steel Creek Outfitters. My brother lives in Alaska and for Season 3 we hunted caribou in the Brooks Range and we killed 4 great bulls. I also hunted Illinois for Season one of the show, but did not have any luck filling my tag. 2017 is going to be a busy one! I will be hunting turkeys with you for the first time in Nebraska the last week in March, a Missouri turkey hunt the third week in April and a Michigan turkey hunt sometime in May. For sure a Missouri whitetail hunt the first week in November and I am in the process of working out another Kansas hunt for the following week. Its going to be busy, but its going to be fun!!
Are you paid for hunting, or are you more of a normal guy that uses vacation, and squeezes hunts into weekends while working a normal job? I think you started this interview by saying you would love to hunt for a living, and so would we! Everyone on the show has a full time job, so yes we are just like the rest of you, hunting evenings and weekends and trying to stretch our vacation days to hunt as much as possible. I actually own a Property Preservation business besides my Police job, so it gets pretty complicated at times. Part of the reason our show has been so successful is that we are not big name hunting celebrities that often get paid to hunt. We are Cops, Farmers, Teachers, Construction Workers, Taxidermists and Probation Officers. We are hard working family men who love to hunt, the kind of guys that viewers can relate to.
What would you say are the best and worst parts of hunting on TV? The best part is having someone with you to celebrate your success with and having the footage that will forever be a reminder of the things that mean the most to us. The worst part is when you know you have made the perfect shot and all you want to do is get down and get your hands on him, but you can’t because you have to film all kinds of post shot footage. We heard my 2015 Kansas deer I shot crash but it was still an hour and a half before I got my hands on him. Other drawbacks are; packing in all the extra equipment, setting it up for each hunt, twice the amount of scent and being twice as easy to get picked off. It all stacks the deck against you.
Tell me a little about how sponsors work without getting them in trouble. Is all of your gear furnished, or do you still have to buy things yourself? Do you have to sell products as part of the endorsement? We have some of the best sponsors in the industry who provide us with just about everything we need. We in turn use their products on the show where viewers can see our success with them. I’m sure everyone has seen shows that use a “hard sell” approach when it comes to sponsor products. We decided from day one Whitetail Fix would not be a show like that and our sponsors actually prefer it that way. As far as having to sell any sponsor products, we do not. However I am quick to suggest the products we use when someone is asking my opinion on something.
What hunts/journeys do you have planned for the near future? My brother and I have been accumulating points on elk, mule deer and antelope in Colorado and Wyoming. We have 9 points on each of them so we will be drawing some premium units over the next few years. I also want to get back to Alaska to hunt a moose. My brother killed a 52 inch bull two years ago.
What advice do you have for people that either want to film hunts for their own memories, or those that might actually want to do what you do? Do it!! I remember the early years, when the season came to an end Jesse and I would edit out all our encounters and kills, if there even were any. We would burn DVD’s and give them out to our hunting buddies who looked forward to them every year. There are so many cool things to see when you spend time in the outdoors. You're going to do it anyway, why not take a video camera with you? And now with YouTube, Facebook and Online Hunting Shows, you have a lot of ways to share your hunts. Success and quality filmed hunts and proving you can do it on a regular basis will get you noticed. Keeping after it, being in the right spot at the right time and throw in a little of God’s grace and you could find yourself on TV.
Can you tell us about the “best” and “worst” hunts you’ve been on? What made them that way? I have been on a lot of great hunts, but if I had to pick just one it would be our caribou hunt in Alaska. Flying into the middle of nowhere over the beautiful Brooks Range, landing on a lake that very few people ever see and spending a week with your Brother chasing giant bulls; it doesn’t get much better than that. The worst hunt was a Colorado elk hunt on public ground. We paid some cowboys to pack our camp in to a spot that was great the previous year only to find out the elk were nowhere to be found. A tricked out spike camp is great when it’s in the right spot, but due to its immobility you are helpless when the animals aren’t there.
How many hours of footage do you film compared to do the 30 minute show that makes TV? We all keep a hunt log which helps us organize our hunts so we can later find the ones that contain important footage of encounters and kills. This past season just my hunt log was 122 hunts. All the footage from those hunts are transferred to an external hard drive and then sent to Watermarc Productions who professionally produces the episodes for us. I sent them 320 GB of footage from those 122 hunts. Each season is made up of 13 episodes that are all 30 minutes long. Without the commercials it’s really just 22 minutes. Typically my hunts will make up one full episode and then here and there on a few others. So….122 hunts, 320 GB of footage for less than 40 minutes of final edited footage. It’s a lot of effort for the size of the end result, but the end result is all worth it all!!
What about bloopers, any funny stories happen on your trips? We were on an antelope hunt in Wyoming and my sister was filming me at camp talking about grilling some of the meat and trying it for the first time. At that same time we noticed a cat with its head stuck in a soup can. So I snuck up on it and she filmed me grab the can and pull the cats head out. I then walked back to the camera and announce that I not only saved the cat’s life, but I was STILL chewing on the same piece of antelope meat! We have so many bloopers each year that half of the final episode for the season is always a huge blooper reel.
How difficult is it carrying equipment around, keeping it functional, is it more of a burden at times? Luckily the cameras and the camera arms we use keep getting smaller and lighter. I felt like a pack mule in the early days. I tend to replace or upgrade my main camera about every two or three years and I have luckily had no issues with any of them. They are expensive so we all keep them insured. Besides the main camera and camera arm, we also set up two small second angle cameras and a bow mounted camera. It typically takes about 15 minutes to set all the cameras, shoot a hunt intro and a few other things that need shot on every hunt. So is it burdensome, YES!……is it worth it, YES!!
Do you have deadlines, or pressure to get a shot on film? Or to shoot only “big” animals?
I’m sure you have heard the line “the camera saved it’s life” and unfortunately that happens from time to time. Trying to get a deer in a spot that is clear for the hunter and the camera can sometimes be impossible. As far as deadlines the only ones we really have are the end of the season. We all feel the pressure of the need to kill one for the show and as the season moves along the pressure just gets worse. But in the end its hunting and sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Typically at least one of us has a tough year. We all try to shoot mature deer which is more important to us then score. Everyone wants to shoot a giant Boone and Crockett buck, but you are much more apt to see the type of deer the average hunter kills on Whitetail Fix.
A special thanks to Mike Marsteller for his time and willingness to share. I'll be back in April with an update to our story and to share our hunt with the readers. Don't forget to check out Whitetail Fix this fall on the Sportman's Channel and catch some of Mike's exciting hunts. Also a thanks to the NBA and my fellow blog writers for their time and willingness to share their insight. Sharing information of all kinds makes us all better bowhunters.
The Budget Bowhunter