Hiking for almost three weeks together chasing animals in the Himalayas, Jim Shockey got a good read on his son, Branlin, and vice versa. Both say they left Nepal with a better understanding of one another, a closer bond, and Branlin began to figure out exactly what makes his father tick.
As producer, Branlin was responsible for making sure viewers would be transported with “The Professionals” to Nepal for their epic hunt. By Jim’s high standards, his son passed with flying colors.
“All through it was great. I was learning about Branlin and just seeing really how strong he is as a human being,” Jim said when asked if there was one specific moment that stood out. “It was hiking out. We still had days to hike out and all of us were beat, exhausted -- you can probably see it in the footage. We are right at the end of our ropes. You really don’t feel like climbing up anymore.”
Click image to see photos of the Shockeys' hunt in Nepal
The team was on a serious uphill journey to a pass in deep, melting snow that broke under foot, making the climb even that more arduous. But Branlin saw an opportunity and climbed another 500 vertical feet with his gear and cameras to the top of the ridge to get some dramatic, faraway shots.
“That was totally Bran, knowing he wanted those live shots to make the episode complete,” Jim said. “At that instance I realized Bran is the real deal. He’s got the whole package. It’s one of those moments with pure pride. If you look real closely and zoom in on me, you’ll probably see me walking with a little bit of shoulders back and head up and quite proud of what Bran was accomplishing right at that moment.”
Jim reports that Branlin fared better at altitude than the rest of the crew, which included international hunting expert Corey Knowlton and rookie cameraman Matt Gibson. The latter two began to experience altitude sickness after they hiked to 16,500 feet on consecutive days.
Branlin, 26, has been on a number of Jim’s hunt, but not that many in recent years as he’s focused on the show’s production. Growing up, Branlin would see his dad leave for three weeks then only read or see the edited half-hour version of the trip. He had some travels with Jim, namely Tanzania, Australia, Mexico and various North American hunts through the years, and he recently went to Mongolia with Knowlton.
But on their first extended hunt in some time, the Shockeys learned much about one another and bonded. They experienced Khatmandu’s culture together, spent days in the mountains getting used to the altitude, then days hiking to and from sheep camps as well as time spent on the hunts.
“There’s no question that I got to know Branlin better,” Jim said. “I watched him grow up from when he was tiny, tiny. You think you know somebody you’ve spent the last 26 years with, and certainly 15 of it very close, but absolutely after that trip Branlin and I were closer. I felt it.”
Branlin agrees he’s closer to his dad, but neither Shockey went in knowing that would happen. Branlin entered the trek with an analytical approach, wondering why Jim chose such a location. Then he not only had to capture that for the world, but for himself.
“Most people when they think of Nepal, they think of monasteries and Everest and the Himalayas, but they don’t think of being able to go there to hunt,” he said. “So it’s kind of the thrill being one of the first people to go there.
“I enjoyed going to Nepal. It was a trip I’m never going to forget. But from an actual documentary side, that sort of drive is really interesting to me and something I had a lot of respect for my dad. But I also have a lot of curiosity of what exactly motivates him and drives him to do that 300 days a year.”
Dads are allowed to brag on their children and spouses, Jim said, who adds that Bran is far and away the most intelligent person he’s known. He said Bran learned to play guitar by locking himself in a room for a month.
“I don’t know how many people even know that about him, but he’s a very accomplished acoustic guitarist,” Jim said. “He just taught himself on a whim just because he wanted to learn it. He’s the same with anything he’s ever tried.”
Yet Jim didn’t know how Branlin would perform in the Himalayas, with 10-hour hikes in and out of sheep camps, all at altitudes around or above 14,000 feet.
“It’s one thing to be mentally tough and creative, but when you’re pushed right to your limits physically, that’s where someone’s character comes out,” Jim said. “I mean we’re right at the edge of the death zone -- we were at elevations that you can die from -- and Bran did better physically than any of the rest of us. Mentally he was solid like a rock. I was extremely proud.”
Jim Shockey said hunting counteracts the urbanization of our society and the subsequent weakened familial bonds. Families are being second-graded today as it’s become more important what kind of car one drives, what neighborhood one lives in, he added. Hunting brings families closer.
“Unfortunately a lot of people nowadays in our society are forgetting that,” he said. “That’s a byproduct of hunting. That’s what hunting is about. That Nepal trip, of course, was maybe a little more intense than a hunt in Arkansas for whitetail deer, but on that level it’s the exact same thing -- father-son, can be father-daughter, can be any relationship within a family. But it makes you stronger, and that’s one of the greatest things about hunting.”
While Branlin headed to the Himalayas knowing much about his dad, there were still pieces of the puzzle left to place. He admits there’s even more to discover.
"Once we start going on some more trips here and really put them together, hopefully a bigger picture is going to emerge and people can look at that and say maybe I do understand a little bit why Jim does these trips or why he goes in these places that no one really wants to go to necessarily,” Branlin said. “And why does he go up there and risk altitude sickness or crashing a helicopter when he has a family at home.
“I guess actually I’m curious myself. And part of why I like going on these trips is from a documentary standpoint … I think it’s really interesting why guys like my dad or guys like Cory go on these adventures. I think it actually does bring us closer. I guess I am a little bit closer to understanding what drives him to do what he does, but I’ve still got a few more trips before I totally figure it out.”
For video of "The Professionals" hunt in Nepal, click here.
“The Professionals” airs Monday at 9 p.m. ET and Sundays at 4:30 p.m. For more, visit The Professionals Show Page