Balog joins the crew of the Fowl Life while on location in Arkansas
A recent trip to stuttgart, Arkansas was quite the eye opening experience. First and foremost, I had never hunted the rich timber of the duck hunter's holy land, so just being there was overwhelming. More on that soon.
Second, this trip was my first behind-the-scenes look at filming a hunting show. My hosts were Chad Belding and Keith Allen of The Fowl Life, a unique waterfowl show that continues to grow in popularity. The main concept behind each program is to portray waterfowl hunting for what it truly is: a style of hunting with a high level of camaraderie among its participants.
Belding sat down with me in between a few days of throttling ducks in the trees, and shed a unique light on his career path to date, and his future objective for the show. He entered the television arena starting as a guest on a few hunting DVD's, then on a show or two, and later found a demand for his own series. He films thirteen episodes of The Fowl Life annually, and hunts all across Canada and the US. Sounds great, right?
Well, in many ways, it is. While in Arkansas filming, our gang was housed in several beautiful lodges and granted access to some really impressive hunting grounds. But producing a television show is a great deal more complicated than just going hunting each morning.
The most noticeable inconvenience is that the camera is seemingly always on. In the case of the Fowl Life, one of the primary aspects of each show is to portray the interaction among the hunters, including the hits, misses, pranks and outtakes. Belding was quick to point out that he has no desire to produce a kill show," where each scene is simply of ducks getting gunned down. He would rather film the reality of the hunt itself, and document the adventure of going hunting and the anticipation we all get each morning. The demand for reality in television is higher today than ever in history, so that means the hosts need to be on their game all the time, whether in the blind, at a retailer or even at dinner each evening. Several times on our trip, Belding spent as much time in a restaurant talking to other patrons as he did his hunting buddies at the table. Being on all the time can get a little old, I'm sure.
Another daunting facet of filming waterfowl hunts for TV is the sheer amount of equipment required. Every hunter, camera man and dog must always wear the proper brand apparel, in the right camo patterns, in this case the new MAX-5 pattern. The crew must carry all the guns and ammunition, at times for 6-8 hunters. Boats, motors, gun cases, four wheelers, waders, decoys, blind bags; even sunglasses must match a certain brand for everyone, every time, without exception. Imagine you're invited to hunt and film at a premier duck lodge in Arkansas, and, upon meeting the owners, you need to request that they change their clothes. Awkward….
Finally, it must be irritating to know that a certain percentage of the public is just not going to like you, and for no real good reason.
There are no roadies for these guys. The hosts and TV crew are humping all of this gear, as well as all of the camera equipment, every day, all across the country. While I was with the Fowl Life for three days last month, they visited four lodges, unloading, inventorying, and loading all of their gear each time.
All that aside, it goes without saying that the biggest obstacle to this type of programming is filming the hunts themselves and, specifically, the ducks. For the most part, ducks aren't real keen on coming into areas with 6-10 men, two or three of which are holding large video cameras and swinging them around in the air. To compound the problem, in order to effectively film kill shots, those shots must be inside of about 20 yards. The cameraman's job is the most difficult. They are out there, fighting the elements, and they don't even get to hunt. Then, when ducks refuse to commit to the pocket, all blame unanimously is pointed at the moving camera. Who signs up for that job?
Finally, it must be irritating to know that a certain percentage of the public is just not going to like you, and for no real good reason. Being a hunter on TV brings creates jealousy from others who assume the pros think they're better than them. Belding pointed out to me that he was, by no means, the best hunter he knew. He insisted that his partner Allen was light years ahead of him in skill sets like calling and set-up. And, Belding pointed out that duck hunting isn't that difficult, in a way that a big game hunt may be, and that it shouldn't be ego driven. I really liked that viewpoint.
Waterfowl hunting can be whatever we make of it, from a solitary pursuit to the biggest team sport in hunting. But, in any case, once it's in your blood, it's pure addiction. The Fowl Life aims to document this crazy habit we all share, and the process of doing so is one of great pains. I look forward to seeing the finished product, including my far-too-serious contributions and cheesy grin for the camera. I'll let you all know when the episode airs next summer. By then, we'll all be, once again, dreaming of ducks.