Walked away from Eastern Sports, grew up as country as a chicken coop
One of the biggest attractions at this year’s NRA Great American Hunting and Outdoor Show, held in Frederick, Maryland from January 25-27, was Michael Waddell, host of the Outdoor Channel’s hit show, Bone Collector.
Visitors had the opportunity to meet Waddell, take pictures, get an autograph, and purchase everything from hats to shirts to posters bearing the Bone Collector name.
Waddell is a hunting superstar of the first order, a genuine A-lister in the hunting television world. He's also about as down to earth as they come.
“I grew up country as a chicken coop, man,” Waddell said with pride during one of his seminars at the show. “A&E had great success off of Duck Dynasty. Y’all ever seen that show? Everyone loves it. They asked me if I’d be interested in doing something like that because they knew I was from Booger Bottom, Ga. I told them I don’t have a problem with that, but those Robertsons are gonna feel like yuppies after they see Booger Bottom.”
Waddell’s rise to stardom has even surprised him considering his humble beginnings. After winning a few turkey calling contests, he was approached by Realtree founder Bill Jordan, who asked him to do some guiding. One thing led to another and he went from running a video camera for Realtree Outdoors to being offered a full-time job with the company.
“Man, I thought I’d hit the big time,” Waddell said. “I was getting free camouflage and free turkey calls. There ain’t nothing else in life you need.”
As the Outdoor Channel burst onto the scene, Waddell had the opportunity to work with the Realtree team to develop show concepts, and what they came up with was Realtree Roadtrips, a documentary-type show that would follow a hunter on the road to different destinations and share the entire experience.
Little did Waddell know that Jordan and Realtree Outdoors’ Executive Producer David Blanton had him in mind to host the new show.
“I never in a million years even dreamed I’d be where I am today,” he said. “I never thought I’d be hosting a TV show. To be honest, it wasn’t even really a goal of mine. I just wanted to have the opportunity to have a career that I loved. I didn’t know what that was going to be.
“Realtree Roadtrips turned into a really cool opportunity for me. Coming from Booger Bottom I never thought I’d ever be on TV. I never thought I’d have the chance to do some of the things I’ve done. I never thought I’d have the chance to hunt in the places that I’ve been fortunate to hunt.
“I have been lucky, but I am no different than anybody sitting in this room. I’m just fortunate the Good Lord has given me this opportunity.”
Despite all of the places he’s had the opportunity to hunt, the trophies he’s taken, and the time he’s spent in front of a camera, Waddell says it’s not changed him in the least.
“Through our job we have the opportunity to shoot some big deer,” he said. “But even now I still get nervous. People ask me all the time if I still get buck fever. Are you kidding me? I’m shook up every time I have a deer coming in on me. I still fight it tooth and nail mentally to get it all the way down until I can get an arrow stuck in him. That’s the coolest part about it. I think when I lose that I probably won’t hunt again.”
Waddell currently hosts the award-winning show Bone Collector, which has taken his stardom to new heights. To him, the notoriety he’s gained from television has just given him a larger platform to speak up for hunters and represent the hunting tradition.
“We just try to celebrate hunting,” he said. “We’re not doing a hunting show so hopefully we can sign a hat. We’re not doing a hunting show hoping some of you guys will look at us and say, ‘Man, he’s awesome.’ We don’t feel like we’re awesome. We’re not heroes. We feel like we’re just like you guys and we’re trying to celebrate hunting and show people how fun it is.
“We don’t feel like our job is to shoot a deer. It’s not. Our job is to promote hunting and make sure other people understand it.”
In that vein, Waddell was one of many in the outdoor industry who withdrew from the Eastern Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa., after organizers announced modern sporting rifles would be banned from the show. Despite being one of the largest hunting- and shooting-related shows in the country, the Eastern Show could not withstand the tidal-wave of opposition to its anti-gun stance.
“Walking away from that show was the right thing to do,” Waddell said. “We have to stand up. We have to speak our opinion. We have to let it be known. That’s what we did with the Eastern Sports Show. A lot of you guys and the hunting industry stood up for the Second Amendment and the voice got so loud that it sent a message across our country and to the world that we as Americans aren’t going to be denied out Second Amendment rights. And it shut the entire show down.
“We have to stand loud and proud, and we have to do it the right way.”
For the man from Booger Bottom, that’s the only way he’s known.
“What you see on TV is the way I am in real life,” he said. “I’m not gonna change.”