Hunting with Team Realtree as the host of “Realtree Road Trips” seems like the job that every outdoorsman would love to have — you’d get to hunt some of the greatest places in the world, take trophy game and live the big life as a professional hunter. After reading this up-front interview with Realtree’s own Michael Waddell, you might just find that a day in life of those hunting boots isn’t as easy as he makes it look.
First off, tell readers how on earth you landed your current job with Bill Jordan’s Team Realtree?
MW: Hunting has always been a big part of my life, so landing a job with Realtree was like a dream come true for me. I had won several turkey-calling competitions, and some of Realtree’s pro staffers had mentioned my name to Bill Jordan. I finally met Bill at a turkey-calling contest in 1994 in Perry, Georgia. I won that contest. After we met, Bill ended up putting me on Realtree’s hunting advisory staff. That spring, Realtree invited me to guide an outdoor writer’s hunt. That experience went well, and I started running a camera during other Realtree hunts. For the first year and a half or two years, I worked behind the scenes. Then, because of my background with turkey-calling competitions, Bill allowed me to do a little turkey hunting and to give calling tips on the videos. As time progressed, I spent more and more time in front of the camera until I became a constant on the Monster Bucks videos. Realtree was growing a lot in its production company at the time and needed someone who could travel, run a camera and learn to edit. I fit that bill. Hunting on camera comes very natural to me because I grew up hunting and fishing. I feel like I’m no different than the guys who watch these videos.
Run us through your typical day during hunting season.
MW: While in hunt camp, I’m usually the last one to go to bed at night. I like to stay up, talk and hangout, so the other guys are usually shaking me awake the next morning. We get up 1½ hours before we plan to get to the deer stand so that we have time to make plans, check the camera gear and eat breakfast. On average we spend 8 hours in the stand a day. We go out first thing in the morning and stay in the stand for several hours. Then we’ll come in to eat lunch, hang stands in other locations and do some scouting. We’ll then go back out until dark. If we’re hunting somewhere like Canada, we’ll stay in the stand from before dawn to dusk. We’ll pack a lunch before we leave that morning and we’ll stay out there all day long. Once we’re in for the evening, we’ll eat a good meal and will then just hang out with everyone in camp. If college football is on, we may watch a little bit of TV, but typically we just enjoy talking and goofing off with the other guys. Depending on who’s in camp, we’re all usually bedded down by 10 or 11. We don’t always have the huge parties like it may appear on the show, but there are times when the campfire is just right and the drinks are just cold enough to entice us to stay up a little later.
What do you do during hunting’s off-season?
MW: Lot of folks think that the only time that I work is during hunting season and that all I do is hunt on camera, but that’s inaccurate. The easiest, most laidback time for me, as far as work goes, is during the hunting season when I’m doing what I love the most — hunting. Once the season ends, the tough work begins. After we film the last hunt, we return to the office and begin producing and editing the shows for The Outdoor Channel. When I’m not helping with that process, I’m making appearances across the country at various consumer shows and sporting goods stores. I’ll also shoot TV spots and commercials and help with designing new products. I’ll start planning for the following year’s hunts and will catch up on administrative work and phone calls. It’s a constant grind.
How often are you on the road during hunting season?
MW: Throughout hunting season, I’m on the road an average of five to seven days at a time. I’ll return home to spend three or four days with my family, and then I’ll hit the road again. I’ll also take a couple of two-week long trips to places like Canada or Alaska throughout the season, or I’ll hit a couple of Midwestern states back-to-back. You’re married and you have four children.
How difficult is it to be away from your family?
MW: Having a bigger family hasn’t diminished my excitement about hunting, but is tougher to look forward to leaving because of my responsibilities at home. I have four children, Mason, 7, Meyer, 2, and twins Macoy and Addie, 4 months. Taking care of my family is my No. 1 responsibility. Mason is the oldest of my children and is beginning to demand more of my time. He wants to play catch and throw Frisbees with meÉ and he wants to go hunting all of the time. Having a brood of children at home who want to spend time with me and knowing that my wife, Ashley, needs my help makes leaving tough. The time away from home is definitely the toughest part of my job.
In addition to hosting “Road Trips,” what else are you involved with?
MW: “Road Trips” takes most of my time, but I’m also working more tightly with the Outdoor Channel on some other projects. I’ve just signed on to host Gander Mountain’s new TV show, “We Live Outdoors.” I won’t travel for that show like I do for “Road Trips”; instead I’ll do mostly stand-ups and voice-overs. I make a lot of appearances at retail and consumer shows as well. In fact, when it’s not hunting season, I’m on the road at the least, every other weekend. I’m also in the process of launching the new Michael Waddell website.
How do you occupy your time while traveling by car or by plane?
MW: When I have cell service, I’ll typically use that time to return industry phone calls, and I’ll touch base with the outfitters I’ll be hunting with that year. I’ll also catch up with my family. I love to use that time to talk to my dad and find out about what the family’s doing and to hear the back-home gossip. When I’m not on the phone, I spend a lot of time listening to country music, cutting up and telling jokes with the other guys traveling with me. Of course, if you watch “Road Trips,” 90 percent of what we do on the road is captured on film. We document it all to give people an idea of what goes on during the trips. Obviously, a lot can happen out on the road, such as cars breaking down, getting stuck, and getting stranded at the airport. The fun of being on the road is more than just killing a big deer. The adventure starts as soon as you leave home and enter a different environment.
What’s the easiest part of your job?
MW: The easiest part of my job is keeping a good attitude and having fun. Most of my job is spent around people that I like and in an environment that I enjoy. We laugh and cut up a lot. I’ve learned that when it comes to a career in hunting, the only thing that I can really control is my attitude. I wake up and figure out a way to smile. Even when I face adversity, I’ll find a way to come away laughing and smiling.
Aside from being away from your family, what’s the hardest part about hosting “Road Trips”?
MW: The hardest part is just producing the show, period. We have a good time, but its hard work. We can have the best time in the world, but if we’re not putting game in the back of the truck, then we’re not doing our job. Our job is to close the coffin and fill tags in an ethical way. We have to make good, clean shots and make sure that we’re capably handling all of our hunting and camera equipment. We not only have to capture successful hunts on film, but we have to make sure that the footage we capture is entertaining. We must have a great start, climax and finish, and when it all comes together, then we have the ultimate “Road Trips” show. The crew and I have experienced a lot of luck over the past several years. I’m blessed to have made some good shots. In fact, I haven’t wounded any animals since I first began hosting “Road Trips,” which is a very good thing because it’s tough to rebound from a wounded deer. That’s not to say that I haven’t gotten completely skunked during a hunt. There’s been a couple of times when we haven’t had one shot at an animal, but 95 percent of the time, I’ve managed to fill my tag. I do all that I can to succeed during a hunt, not only for the “Road Trips” fans but for the production guys who are out there freezing with me. I’m just another part of the team, and I certainly want to do all that I can to fulfill my role.
What does your family think about your career?
MW: Ashley is definitely proud of me, but at the same time I know that my absence is hard on her. She essentially gets widowed during every hunting season. My time on the road is tough on my marriage and on my family. In fact, my schedule is very similar to that of a professional baseball player’s. But despite the hardships, I know that my family is proud of the fact that I host a TV show, and they’re proud that our family stands for a culture that represents the outdoors and hunting. Even though I’ve gotten to meet and hang out with some famous people, we don’t live like rock stars ourselves. We’re no different than any family that loves to hunt. We’re just simple country folks like the people who watch the show, and just like them, I value my family. No matter where I go, I’ll always hang my hat back home with my wife and kids.
What’s it like working with Bill, David and the rest of the Realtree gang?
MW: I have a great time with those guys. We’ve all become really good friends, yet we don’t cut each other any slack. We all have very different personalities, but we share a love for the outdoors. I enjoy working for those guys because they aren’t dictators to the point that they hold back any creative thoughts I might have. If I come up with a good idea, they just want me to run with it.
Those guys work hard to make sure that Realtree is doing good things for the hunting industry. If they were asked the same question about working with you, what do you think they’d say?
MW: They would probably say, "Michael keeps us laughing. You never know what he’s going to do!" David Blanton is probably one of my biggest fans. He brags on me when I probably don’t deserve it. But, his confidence in me makes me better because I feel like I have to live up to his expectations. He has a football coach mentality, and we are all better for it.
Outside of hunting and/or fishing, what are your favorite pastimes?
MW: I spend as much time with my kids and family as I possibly can. Right now, most of that time involves changing diapers and feeding the little ones. I’m on the road so much now that I want to spend every free second I have with my family. I want my kids to know that they have a dad who loves them, and I want to do what I can to take as much of the load off of Ashley as possible. I also love playing the guitar and playing softball. I like riding around on a Bad Boy Buggy while scouting out new hunting sites and putting up trail cameras to find out what type of game is on the property. My wife and I especially love to have get-togethers at our house. We enjoy grilling, partaking in some adult beverages and just spending time in a low-key atmosphere with friends and family.
If you only could hunt one game species for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
MW: I love the camaraderie and the strategy involved in hunting turkeys. I also enjoy learning about the language of the wild turkey. Not only does a hunter have to learn to talk turkey, but he also has to become a good hunter and woodsman in order to take these smart birds. You have to have a lot of knowledge about turkeys in order to plan a strategy for hunting them. I also enjoy taking other folks turkey hunting because turkey season occurs during a pleasant and pretty time of the year. We can have a lot of fun talking and goofing off together; then we can get serious and do what it takes to bag a nice gobbler.
If you weren’t in the outdoor industry, what would you probably be doing for a living?
MW: I’d probably be trying to figure out how to step up to the plate and run my dad’s construction business. My father has a successful contracting business in the small town of Manchester, Georgia. While growing up, I used to work with my dad during the summers, so that type of a career obviously crossed my mind. I actually got a degree in heat and air and worked a couple of years in that business. Working so hard for my dad during those years makes me really appreciate the job I have now. I know I’ve got it good at Realtree.
What’s your earliest hunting memory from your childhood?
MW: I’ll never forget the first time my dad took me deer hunting. I killed a buck that won two local deer contests. It had a big, gnarly rack and weighed more than 200 pounds field dressed. With the gift certificates that I won from the local sporting goods stores, I bought my dad a gun and some new camouflage. That was a really special memory for me. I also remember how my dad would buy me a pair of insulated hunting boots the day before opening day of deer season. We’d sit around that night in the living room and clean our guns and plan our hunt. The whole atmosphere took on a Christmas-like feel for me.
If you could be a professional athlete, who would you most want to be and why?
MW: I’d want to be my good friend Jason LaRue, a catcher with the Cincinnati Reds. Jason is a leader for his team, but he’s not in the lime light all of the time. He gets in the trenches and gets the job done. He doesn’t mind helping other players. If there’s a marquee player on the team, he’ll push that player and encourage him to do his best. He’s just a very sincere, good guy. He’s a coach-type player.
Who would you say is the most interesting person you’ve ever hunted with?
MW: It’d no doubt be rocker and legendary hunter Ted Nugent. There’s just no one else like him. His passion for hunting and the outdoors and fighting for gun rights is unrivaled. He’s extremely sincere with his message, and he’s down to earth but interesting. Ted is not as wild and crazy as he may come across on TV, but he is radical in the way he expresses himself. He speaks no differently than the way he plays his guitar. He’s passionate about everything he says and knows how to hit just the right strings so that you really listen to him. You don’t ever want to get into a debate with him because you will lose. He has an amazing memory and has so many facts stored in his head. He challenges me to be a bigger and better spokesperson for the outdoors. Another interesting person I’ve hunted with is the famed Chuck Adams. Chuck is very precise about protecting his equipment and knowing about it — almost to the degree of being a nerd. He also researches every place he plans to hunt until he knows by heart every tiny aspect of the property. He knows exactly what potential the area holds and what he can expect to shoot on any property he plans to hunt. Chuck is a very smart individual. He takes hunting extremely seriously and that is why he’s so successful.
As the host of “Road Trips,” which trip most sticks out in your mind?
MW: The one that sticks out the most in my mind and has spurred more comments from viewers than any other is the trip I took with country music artist Rhett Akins to Alaska to hunt moose. We were supposed to leave camp to return home on the 10th day of the hunt, but we didn’t make it out until day 14. We got stranded there for several days because of bad weather and didn’t know if or when our helicopter would pick us up because we had no way of communicating with the outside world. The Alaskan countryside is so beautiful yet so tough and unforgiving that it reminds you that you’re really nothing more than a speck of dust to the rest of the world. During that trip, I realized that the things I normally worry about really just don’t matter. Out there, it’s just about surviving. Not knowing if someone is coming for your or not is a very weird feeling. A trip like that will really make you think.
Do you enjoy staying in a tree stand all day long during your Canada hunts?
MW: No, I’ll be the first to admit that I hate sitting in a stand all day long because I get bored very quickly. It takes a lot to entertain me, and one thing that doesn’t do it is looking at the same leaf in the same oak tree all day long. I consider myself a smart hunter, not a hard hunter, and the cold weather makes me an excellent hunter. I want to spend as little time freezing in a tree stand as I possibly can, so when the elements are tough, I’ll find a way to make something happen quickly. Even when the best strategy is to wait, I don’t want to because I get bored out of my gourd. For that reason, I’ll often play games on my phone while in the stand Ð anything that will help keep me there 30 minutes or an hour longer. My biggest frustration is that no matter how hard we’ve prepared for a hunt, success still depends in a large part on luck. Only luck can make that big buck walk within shooting distance of my stand, and waiting on that luck to happen is like pulling teeth. After three or four hours, I’m ready to get down from the stand and return to camp so that I can regroup my thoughts. If you’re bored and frustrated, then staying mentally in the game is the toughest part. Keeping the right frame of mind is crucial during theses cold-weather, all-day hunts.
Who is your inspiration?
MW: My parents are my inspiration. I lost my mom when I was 16 to leukemia, but the lessons she taught me before she passed have really stuck with me. My dad has also been an inspiration to me. He taught me that life is what we make it. He worked hard everyday in a blue collar job as a contractor, and hunting provided him with an escape. He dearly loves the pastime, and he passed that love on to me. Now he gets to share that past time with his new wife, Lisa.
Where have you not hunted that you’d like to?
MW: I’ve always thought it’d be cool to hunt red stag in New Zealand. I’d also like to hunt brown bear in Russia with a bow. Most of the animals that I haven’t hunted require a trip to another country. I want to kill a cape buffalo with bow in the wilds of Africa —somewhere that’s really secluded and out there on the edge of danger. I’d like to give that type of a hunt a try at least once, but all of this isn’t to say that I don’t just love hunting whitetails and turkeys back home as well.
What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
MW: I plan to still be doing some TV work and working tightly with Realtree, but by then I may be doing more producing. I may even have my own producing company one day.