MeatEater has only been on the air for three-and-a-half months, but that’s given us plenty of time to fall in love with you guys — our viewers. What we like about you is that you’re willing to watch a hunting show that doesn’t always include a kill.
To be honest, this was something that we worried about incessantly while we were filming our first season. On the one hand, we were committed to showing real hunts, with all the disappointment, suffering, joy, and triumph that go along with them. But on the other hand, we knew that we risked alienating an audience that has grown accustomed to hunting shows that focus on slow-motion kill shots played over and over on a nearly continuous loop. Often, at night, we would sit around our campfires worrying about the inevitable moment when we’d have to end a hunt without making a kill.
To be honest, that moment came much sooner than we expected. After filming a very solid start of our first season in Alaska (Tongass blacktail deer, Chugach Range black bear, and this Sunday’s Minto Flats waterfowl episode), we hit disaster on our fourth show; after a few days of busting our asses and covering massive amounts of ground while chasing mountain goats on the Kenai Peninsula, we had to wrap the episode without putting a billy on the ground.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of fretting and frowning that occurred as we packed down off the mountain and loaded the trucks. We weren’t at all unhappy about the hunt—it was a blast, actually. Instead, we were unhappy about the show that we’d have to put together. It became known in our circle as “the skunked episode,” and any mention of it was greeted by either icy silence or a bit of whispered cussing. We tried as hard as we could to postpone its airing, but we were convinced that it would be the end of us, that viewers would be so bored and disappointed that they’d never tune in again.
Thankfully, the most intense periods of our anxiety were short-lived. Partial relief came after the premiere of our second episode, blacktail deer, in which I miss a relatively easy 400-yard shot at a nice buck. While we fully expected to hear all kinds of negative things about the miss—that I’m a loser, that I should have done this or that differently, that I shouldn’t have my own hunting show—we were instead bombarded with compliments from a hunting community that was thrilled to see some realism on TV. The most common refrains went like this: “Missing is inevitable; it happens to everyone; thanks for showing it.” But as pleasing as this was, we still didn’t think we could air our mountain goat episode without losing some of our audience. After all, I did manage to kill another blacktail buck within minutes of missing the big one, so the show still had a happy ending and closed with a great meal.
A few weeks later, we decided that we ought to test the tolerance of our audience once again by airing an aoudad hunt in which nothing gets killed and cooked except for a fist-sized quail. We found ourselves getting increasingly stressed out as the premiere of that episode approached, and were fully prepared for a huge round of booing and heckling from a blood-thirsty crowd who’d been let down. But, once again, we were completely wrong. The audience’s acceptance of that show was even better than their acceptance of the missed shot. You guys flooded us with letters saying that you’ve all been there, that most hunts do not end with success, and that what really matters is that a hunter tries his hardest and respects his quarry.
By now you’ve probably guessed where this is going, and you’re right. We aired the mountain goat episode and we’re still alive and on the air. In fact, we’re gearing up to film about twenty more episodes that will undoubtedly include plenty of kills and a few clean misses. Not only did you guys respect us for showing a botched hunt, you took the time to tell us. We even had a couple of viewers who claimed that the mountain goat episode was their favorite show so far, something that makes me proud to be an American hunter. What this all says to us is that MeatEater has the coolest fans a show could ever hope for. You’re not just watching because you want to see animals get killed. Instead, you’re watching because you love all the possibilities of hunting. You love success, obviously, but you also love the bitter moments of failure and defeat that make success so sweet when it finally comes. For that, we owe you our eternal thanks.