Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rx: What hunting TV needs

Hunting TV needs work.

We call it horn porn for a reason: low production values, cheesy music, but we can't stop ourselves from watching it because we're desperate.

But that doesn't mean we don't want better.

What's wrong with it?

- Too much damn hootin' and hollerin' on the kill. Yes, I know we're excited when we hit our target. I've been known to make all sorts of exclamations myself.

But we've got to think about how it looks to people who don't know every thought that's going through our heads - like, you know, sadness. And appreciation.

Steven Wells, a British blogger for the Guardian based in Philadelphia, describes American hunting TV like this in his blog: "It's all about the killing. And it seems staggeringly obvious that the killing is all about sex. I'm not saying that all hunters get sexually aroused by killing animals, I'm just saying all the ones on US TV do. All of them, all the time, without exception."

I disagree with him, but I bet he's not the only one who thinks this.

(And I have to add, my criticism goes quintuple for duck hunting shows, which are usually 30 minutes of non-stop kill shots, so grotesque I can barely stand to look at them.)

- Total lack of intellectual stimulation. In my travels on the Internet, I see anti-hunters claiming all the time that hunters are stupid. Horse apples. I know education is only a proxy for intelligence, not a match, but let's look at the stats from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Percentage of high school dropouts in the U.S. population: 15. Percentage of high school dropouts among hunters: 14. Point is, our educational numbers are pretty close to that of the general population.

Based on what you see on TV, though, you'd think half of us hunters skipped class on the day God handed out brains. I'm lucky to learn even a single hunting tip in a whole night of viewing, much less learn anything about wildlife or the environment. I don't know a single hunter of any educational level - and my friends come from every part of the educational spectrum - who's satisfied with that.

- Obsession with racks and records. Shut up already about points. People like me spend a lot of time telling the whole world it's about the hunt, and that we can be happy as hell even when we come home empty-handed, and hunters out there agree with me all the time, so I know I'm not alone. But TV keeps obsessing on the racks.

Why is that bad? One, it's the image of ourselves that we present to the outside world, even if we know we're something different. And two, it's what our children see, and what they see becomes their reality. Keep this up and before long, we won't be different from the trophy obsession we see on TV.

Who cares? Well, let's just review the data from page 165 of "The Future of Hunting and Shooting Sports," a report produced last summer by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Responsive Management.

Duh. The public thinks trophy hunters are Class A morons. Part of the problem is misperception: Non-hunters don't understand that just because you hunt for a trophy doesn't mean you toss the meat. But part of it is a legit concern that wanting to hang a head on your wall isn't a good reason for taking a life.

See what gets the highest support? Hunting for meat.

OK, so what do we need in hunting TV?

- Meat. We need to show the connection between the animal we kill and the meals we put on our tables. One show that does a great job of this is American Gun Dog on the Outdoor Channel. No matter where the host Harley Jackson hunts, the episode always ends back home with a chef preparing the game he brought home. Jackson's not the only one who does this, but his show does it best.

Why do this? One, it shows the non-hunter that yeah, meat matters. Eating the game we've killed completes the circle.

And two, hunters could use a little inspiration. I think too many hunters are stuck in ruts, and much of their game ends up as jerky, which is probably not the highest and best use of some of the magnificent animals we hunt.

I know, with Hunter Angler Gardener Cook as my boyfriend, I'm biased. But if hunters were able to transform their game into more amazing meals, they'd be talking about that in their daily lives ... and reminding the public that the meal that comes from the hunt matters.

- Information. Galen Geer over at The Thinking Hunter thinks we need to push for a hunting news program, and I think that's a great idea. How about professional journalists gathering news that matters to us: What's really going on in the Obama administration with guns? What anti-gun bills have a chance and what don't? What's the latest news on the push to ban lead ammunition? Who are some of the people setting great examples of conservation and hunting ethics in our community?

Of course, my fear is that a news program would become yet another thinly veiled infomercial, like a good two-thirds of shows I see now. And I don't know if the hunting channels are ready to invest in news gathering, which is an expensive operation, when their business model is often based on sticking a camera in one hunter's hand so he can film his hunting partner for the TV show.

But right now, most of our hunting "news" comes in the form of press releases from organizations that have a vested interest in fanning flames, so almost any effort would probably contribute a little enlightenment.

- Quality entertainment. There are three people in the illustration at the top of this blog post: American Gun Dog host Harley Jackson; the Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain, host of No Reservations, a food-travel show; and Bethenny Frankel, cast member of Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York City.

It should be obvious why Jackson is there, but what about the other two? Bourdain is ruthlessly honest, literate and hilarious. When he eats something that sucks, you know it - he leans into the camera and tells it like it is. Oh, what I would do to see his wit and perception in a hunting show.

And Frankel? Yes, I confess, the "Real Housewives" series on Bravo is one of my faves. I loved the original OC version because I used to work for the Orange County Register, and it was entertaining seeing Bravo's take on what was ever so briefly my stomping grounds. But I really love the NYC version, because the cast appears to have lives that are more than 3 mm deep.

It's not that I'd like to see a show of hunters' wives (though, cable channels, if you're listening, Jody's your gal). It's that most hunting TV these days is "reality TV," and I'd like to see the high production values that Bravo brings to the table. That and I'd kill to see a show about Ricardo the Fabulously Gay Elk Hunter (a line I've stolen shamelessly from Chas Clifton in his comment on another post I wrote about hunting TV).

Also, I've watched as the Food Network - food's equivalent of hunting TV - has degenerated into more and more mindless crap as Bravo and the Travel Channel have claimed the high road and done some really good food programming, and I'm thinking maybe they're the channels that can rescue hunting shows as well.

That's my prescription.

I'm sure I'll keep watching crappy shows for a while, because I'm still learning a lot about hunting, and I'm desperate for even the minuscule scraps that television throws my way.

But it won't keep my attention forever. The only question is, will some innovator steal it away? Or will I just keep turning off the TV and heading to bed with a good book about hunting? Which is what I'm about to do right now.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


SimplyOutdoors said...

I have to be honest - I don't really watch that much TV. And I rarely watch any hunting television at all.

It does nothing for me to watch all these different hunting personalities get setup on some outfitters land in the perfect spot, with no input from the hunter whatsoever. They doesn't even seem fun to me.

And I can totally understand what you're saying about the killing aspect. I don't think they should shy away from that portion of the programming, but I think not making it such a focal point would make for a little better outdoor programming.

I can also understand about the lack of meat related portions of the programs. I think showing that part of hunting would go along way in showing that we're not all about trophies, and killing for racks.

Another great post Holly.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I totally agree with you about the need for honesty about the kill. It was interesting: Another thing that Brittish blogger criticized was never seeing a hunter field dress an animal. I commented that Americans are way too prissy to put up with seeing steaming guts on their TV screens.

I don't even mind showing that people are happy. We are happy when we drop an animal. I just think it'd be smarter to show the complete range of reactions, and not show three minutes of testosterone-laced (even with the women!) whooping.

Phillip said...

Great topic, and one that needs to keep coming to the surface.

My two biggest complaints about the hunting shows, as I've written before, are the lack of context around the kill and "celebration" and the trophy madness.

It doesn't bother me as much that the hunters get excited about a good shot and quick kill as it does that, to the viewing audience, all they see is what Arthur just described... a couple of hunting celebrities get set up in a prime spot to wait for a trophy animal and then kill it.

I know that, on many televised hunts that's precisely what happens. But on many others, there's a real hunt (or several real hunts) that go into making that 30 minutes of footage. A lot of those guys are good hunters, and they do have a lot of input into the execution of the hunt. What's even more impressive is that they can pull a successful hunt off with at least one camera operator in tow... something a lot of fellas can't do when hunting solo.

The trophy thing gets me the worst, though... it's generated a madness that is absolutely ruining the sport (in my opinion), because it distorts the objective of the hunt. Sure a trophy animal is magnificent and a beautiful thing to see... but it shouldn't be the end-all be-all of the hunt. Shooting does and lesser animals has come to carry a stigma, and is discounted as sport for the youngsters and inexperienced hunter. This, in turn, discourages many hunters from taking the smaller animals and females, which runs counter to the management goals in many parts of the country.

I've railed on this before, though, so I'll leave off... point is, the TV shows could do a much better job of showing hunting as a more positive activity. It's great that there's a fast-growing focus on hunting with kids and women, but they could do a lot more to promote the sport in a constructive way.

GSP Russ said...

I watch a lot of hunting shows and yes, American Gun Dog is one of my favorites. Flyway Highway was one of the worst. Is seems to be gone now. The host was intolerable and the sidekick was just there to smugly say three or four times a show, "whack 'em and stack 'em". Michael Waddell has fallen into the "boob" category with "The Bone Collector". T-Bone plays stupid and obnoxious and the other guy just plays. Primos' Truth stuff is okay. I really all of Drury's stuff and Lee and Tiffany and Bow Madness, but they do go gaga about the racks. There's no one gentler and more in awe of their harvest than Julie Kreuter. The 'Nuge, well what can you say. He at least claims to eat all that he kills, or donates it and makes no bones about his canned hunts. Jim Burnworth on whatever his show is called (it seems to change) may be a good hunter, but he's an awful showman and he did a pheasant hunting show with a kid where the kid's stomach was not ready for hunting, but they kinda forced him into shooting a pheasant on the ground. It was pathetic. Tom Knapp is always a gentleman on American Bird Hunter. Pheasants Forever Television is a great show, but they either don't produce very many of them, or they couldn't get renewed. I had an opportunity to hear Phil Robertson, the Duck Commander, speak, call and preach at a dinner a few weeks ago and they previewed his new DVD and his new series that will be on ODC in June. He commented that there is nothing he likes better than to "shoot a duck's head smooth off". The DVD shows lots of hard-hit waterfowl, but it was a little graphic. We'll see what the show is like.

Terry Scoville said...

I don't watch TV hunting shows hardly at all anymore. They are so staged and lack authenticity.
As for kill shots how many does anyone really need to see in a 1/2 hour show? If the quality were there I believe it would be much less. I also can not stand 90% of the hoopla after they have made their kill, for obvious reasons which have already been mentioned. Yea I too get excited but lets have some reverence for the life just taken.
As for head hunters, you still can't eat the horns. So just get over it.

I agree that much of the TV shows depiction of hunting and hunters do not cast a favorable light our way for those of us who are ethical and have respect for the entire experience. You/we are better turning off the TV and grabbing a good book!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Good assessment, GSP Russ. I haven't seen all of those, but I've seen enough to know you're dead-on.

Phillip, interesting that you bring up the influence of women. I finally got a chance last night to see SHE's Beyond the Lodge, the new show sponsored by SHE Outdoor Apparel (formerly SHE Safari), and it was interesting. It's trying to do more, taking on a documentary flavor, adding documentary-style tidbits of information, and using what sounds like the exact same music you hear in the Planet Earth series.

I love that it's different. But it tries too hard. The narrator has the obligatory British accent (cliche!). The drama seems manufactured at times (common failing). And when the narrator stops talking, the footage and audio still look and sound like every other hunting show.

I think it's not "there" yet, but the fact that Pam Zaitz and crew are trying to innovate in an incredibly formulaic medium is worth saluting. With some refinement, it could be a real step forward for hunting TV.

NorCal Cazadora said...

And Terry, hope springs eternal for me. I know there are great food shows; I know there could be great hunting shows...

The Hunter's Wife said...

As you know, I don't watch the shows and it isn't a topic in our house so I'm not sure how my husband feels about them. He does watch a lot of them.

I've watched a few of Tred Barta's shows online and I actually found them entertaining. He expresses excitement for just being out there.

When I participated in a podcast with Tred Barta, someone asked why they don't show more skinning and properly processing meat. Mr. Barta responded that some of those that watch Versus County, for example, aren't all hunters. Skinning, gutting, and de-boweling an animal is a sensitive issue and that needs to be respected.

He also mentioned there are a lot of shows out there geared toward sponsorship only.

The Hunter's Wife said...

And I forgot to mention ... when I have my own outdoor reality you wouldn't watch? I would even invite you on the show to come pluck and do whatever you do to a bird.

Albert A Rasch said...


If they could only put a show together like Planet Earth...

If an entire show was dedicated to the pursuit of one animal, with an education thrown in ala' National Geographics or Mutual of Omana Wild Kingdom (from the seventies), and with an intellectual but personable host, it would be a hit.

With us anyway...

Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
The Range Reviews: Tactical
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit
Southeast Regional OBS Coordinator

Josh said...

I watch nearly zero hunting TV, because we don't have cable. However, the only show I've ever seen and liked was Jim Zumbo after a bear in BC. He, his musical choices, his guide, and the camera shots were very respectful. They also talked a lot about food.

Your comments about duck hunting shows are warranted, but I must say that the alternative is only fun when you are there; I don't think I'd be too entertained watching a couple of people half-crouched for two hours, staring up at the sky, every few minutes asking if somebody wanted some jerky.

And, Mr. Shaw being your boyfriend, yeah, you are biased. And right.

NorCal Cazadora said...

That, Josh, is precisely why I haven't written my Rx for Duck Hunting TV yet. I'm not sure how you do it.

But I think it would involve LOTS of cameras at different locations - you could get a lot of laughs showing ducks strafing unsuspecting hunters. I'd probably also set up a duck cam so you could see how the hunters and their blind looked from a ducks-eye view. 'Course, it might get shot.

gary said...

This is the very thought behind our video's, to show the whole experience from leaving home to returning and cutting up meat. We haven't added the eating yet but that shouldn't be hard. It hasn't went well enough, it seems that a majority out there like the hoopla and kills only. We've had some discussions amongst us on this subject, as I would like to continue as we are doing and strive to get better quality and learn more what people like with out stooping to what is out there now. Tom is leaning toward the, we need bigger animals (more horns)side of the issue as it appears that sells.

I do not watch shows on the TV but I do buy DVD's - I can be more selective that way.

NorCal Cazadora said...

The majority of whom like hoopla and kills? Hunting channel execs?

I totally appreciate what you're doing, and I know it's hard. It's very easy to make a big deal of the kill on video because you have the natural excitement of the hunter. But it's harder to make the rest interesting. There's a reason I prefer to write my hunting stories, and it's not just that editing takes time - it's just easier to tell a story with words alone. (And it takes a fraction of the time.)

GSP Russ said...

I couldn't think of his name when I posted yesterday, but Stan Potts (on a show that I can't think of either) is one that is ridiculous in his over-reaction to his kill. He ALWAYS exclaims, "That's what I'm talkin' about!", in quivering, almost on the verge of tears voice accompanied by a fist pump. Now, in all fairness, I am pretty cynical and stoic and don't ever succumb to "buck fever", so I'm a little hyper-critical of some of these guys.

However, after I posted yesterday I thought about the blog author saying that she wasn't familiar with a lot of the shows I mentioned and that got me to thinking about what I watch besides deer and bird hunting shows. Fishing shows. But the thing with many fishing shows is they talk about structure, presentation, lure selection, water temperature gear choice, etc. and you might learn something you didn't know before. Hunting shows rarely try to educate you on, say, camo selection, wind direction, stand placement, shot size, turkey, elk, deer, duck, or goose calling, approach, stalking, food plot development, etc. They focus on product placement and the antlers.

GSP Russ said...

I wasn't done... and for me, I'd just as soon shoot a doe as some little 6 or 8 point buck that, given a few more years might be something great. My buddy would shoot a spike buck standing next to a big doe, just because the spike had some horns on his head. Nevermind that a little doe management would go a long way here in over-run with deer Illinois.

Anonymous said...

I don't watch the shows - I don't have tv anymore. When I go to friends houses and see the thing running with all the garbage and hype, I would prefer to leave the room. It all reminds me of Channel 23 and Max Headroom.
Do you actually go out in the field and think "hey I saw this on tv, I think I'll try it"? If that works for you, then fine. I don't have the patience so sift through all the nonsense.
I mean no disrespect, I just can't watch the constant "hype and sell".


Anonymous said...

I don't watch hunting shows, don't watch a lot of television in general, mostly because it seems everything is dumbing down and going for the lowest common denominator. I'd love to see some well done television of any stripe, but I'm not sure that's ever going to happen. As long as shows where people act like idiots get the ratings, we'll simply get more shows about people acting like idiots.

It's sad, but unless a lot of people stand up and demand something better, I'd say that's what we'll get.

Live to Hunt.... said...

Holly, I agree and appreciate your observations as well as most of the comments here. I do find it fascinating that almost everyone here says they don't watch the shows because of the reasons you point out. But clearly SOMEONE is watching these shows and buying the DVDs. Otherwise folks like 'gary' and the decision-makers he is referring to wouldn't be producing the material.

My point is this; it is our very own brothers and sisters of the field that are driving the market for this perception (misperception) of what hunting is all about. Ad executives and TV producers can dream up all the alternative ideas in the world, but they will only fly if there is a market ready to buy them. We can bang on the TV and video folks all we want to produce "better" material that reflects the totality of hunting and respect for game, but if only a small few of us are going to buy it - or the ratings from the public don't support it - guess what, it gets canned.

I believe Walt Kelly said it best -"I have met the enemey and it is us". Discussions like this are critical to getting the base energized, but we also need to be talking with our hunting partners and blind mates about it in order to try and bring them along as to why, for the sake of our hunting heritage, it is important to move past the shoot-and-grunt perception of hunters. If there are 10 dudes sitting around the hunting lodge and 9 of them like/buy this stuff, guess what the producers are going to produce?

Maybe that's all just pointing out the obvious and doesn't really offer strategies for changing the current dynamic. I do value the liberty of choice in one's own livingroom. But for the sake of our survival, we've got to start thinking and talking differently.

GSP Russ said...

I didn't say that I didn't watch them. Obviously, I do, but I do find many of them juvenile, immature, poorly directed, etc., but its all we have. I do not, however, buy the DVD's.

Bobby Nations said...

I may have two examples that fit the bill for you to consider.

Here in Memphis, we have a nicely done outdoors program that is put together by one of the local news channels ( For a good example, go to the second page of the video highlights and watch the episode about a Father/Son turkey hunt in Mississippi titled "MS Turkey Hunt".

There's another program that comes out of Arkansas IIRC that features a husband and wife who both hunt where they finish each program with a cooking segment. The recipes are generally typical Southern fare, so they might not be all that exciting to Hank. They're comfort food for most folks around here though. When I find links for their stuff, I'll post it as well.


Bobby Nations
(long time reader, first time commenter)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Thanks, Bobby - I'll check those out.

And cooking is cooking - it's all good. For Hank's own purposes, he always wants to learn something new, which is a ridiculously high bar. But just getting people to think about ways to make delicious food with their game is enough.

Tom Sorenson said...

Well it gives me hope to read a discussion sch as this one. I know we've got a long ways to go, but it has been our goal in making a show that mostly covers what you're talking about - minus the education, probably. The reason Dad mentioned I'm leaning toward the bigger horns (not trophy - just not forky, either) is because I'm tired of popping out videos that no one seems interested in, and I thought, well maybe the shooting forkys all the time is turning folks off. Aparently that is not the case - which lends me to face the facts that the overall content is still not up to par. But, I thank you for creating a space for good dialogue on the subject - and I hope I can make some adjustments that will find an accepting audience.

For me, I like Primos because I like Will Primos - he seems like a good guy that really understands what it means just to be out in the beauty of nature. Outside of that, there isn't much on TV that I find worth watching.

Anonymous said...

These comments are precisely the motivation for our most recent project. Check out Benelli Presents Duck Commander.

I am one of the producers and I completely agree with the complaints about your average hunting show. We're hoping to change the industry with this one. I hope you enjoy the show.