May 23, 2013
For years, Michael Hunsucker worked to help his wife, Bridget, score her first buck. She had a number of close encounters and actually hit a buck one year, but it wasn't found for months, so she never felt the euphoria of finishing a hunt.
This year, she finally received her overdue buck in Missouri. Mike, co-host of "Heartland Bowhunter," was there to capture all of it -- the preparation in the cool, dark morning, the silent wait, the adrenaline pumping shot, and look on his wife's face.
"She'd been hunting for a couple years off and on, and she's never really gotten the gratification until that moment," Hunsucker said. "Bowhunting is about the ups and downs and misses and close calls - it's a rollercoaster, but when you seal the deal it's so gratifying."
Curiosity and the "Heartland Bowhunter" crew's vow to quality has proved to be key ingredients in creating gratification with their work. With the sixth season of the television series set to air on the Outdoor Channel starting in July, the show's evolution -- as well as the personal stories of each team member -- shows that filling a void in the world of outdoors can create exciting success.
The team's journey began years ago while creating online videos of their hunts throughout the Midwest. Members of the team needed a way to hold 40- to 50-pound cameras in a tree stand, and they experimented with building mounts that would attach to tree limbs. Their tree arms later became the equipment standard for filming in the outdoors.
After partnering with the outdoors retail store Muddy, which now manufactures the tree arms, Hunsucker started giving more thought to the current outdoor shows that he believed didn't tell the entire story of a hunt and didn't offer the visuals he thought he could capture.
Combining Show-Me State curiosity and drive with co-host Shawn Lutchel's hunting skills and a supporting cast, the team set out to create a visually better product with more compelling storylines than what already existed. And in the end, turn their passion into a profit.
"All of us grew up hunters," Hunsucker said. "And we're passionate about videography and filming. We started filming and people really liked the videos, so we decided to go the TV route. We just saw an opportunity to produce a quality production."
Quality in stunning visuals is evident. The slow motion and time-lapse shots from creative angles wow the viewer, even when doing something as mundane as setting up camp. For five consecutive seasons, the team has pushed the limits as they chronicled hunts throughout the Midwest, scoring big game and showing viewers that hard work pays off in the outdoors.
"The TV industry makes it seem like that we get in a van and kill a deer the first time we go out," Hunsucker said. "It may not be as exciting to see a person working hard to get a deer - but when you can pull them in with emotion, and make them feel that they're there, that's what they want to see. They want to see the ups and downs - they go through that as a hunter."
Crew members will say that the show's genuine approach sets it apart from other programs focused on the outdoors. Also noteworthy is that Hunsucker and Luchtel are entirely self-taught, and have no background in cinematography.
Bridget Hunsucker finally felt the gratification of the kill. (Courtesy 'Heartland Bowhunter')
"We've just been eager to learn," Hunsucker said. "We've always been passionate about learning what we can. It's about never stopping and trying to learn something new."
On the trailer for this season, one of the crew members put it this way: "We find bowhuting a challenge because we make it challenge. We call ourselves filmmakers who love to hunt."
The Heartland Bowhunter crew wanted to push the boundaries, hunt deeper in the woods, show more adventure, and do it all in a new, fresh angle. They've creating a following with fans who sent them comments like: "HBTV by far the best hunting show out there!"
"This season, we've been trying to change it up and stay ahead of everyone else by pushing the production quality more and more," Hunsucker said. "We're always on our toes trying to step it up to the next level."
Highlights of the season include a mule deer hunt in Western Nebraska, a 170-inch whitetail kill by Clayton Campbell, and two big bucks taken on the same food plot by the Hunsuckers.
Switching networks - from the Sportsman Channel to the Outdoor Channel - proved to be a good change for the progression of the show.
"It was the right year to do it," Hunsucker said. "Our ratings have gone up. And airing re-runs has been getting higher ratings on the Outdoor Channel than the original episodes. That says enough."
Some of the lessons that Heartland Bowhunter emphasizes, explained on the trailer, are that "Bowhunting is about adventure, a constant change of scenery, knowledge gained about the outdoors, and most importantly the friendships we built along the way."
Getting your wife her first buck is pretty important, too.
For more on the Heartland Bowhunter, visit their show page.