‘Heartland Bowhunter’ is in its eighth season on the Outdoor Channel and is celebrating its 100th episode this Monday.
We spoke with Michael Hunsucker, one of the founders and stars of “Heartland Bowhunter,” to learn more about the evolution of the show, bowhunting equipment, and whitetail hunting strategies.
Here’s what he had to say.
What inspired you to start filming your hunts?
“Since I was a kid I’ve been intrigued by cameras and filming. One of my first big purchases when I was 10-11 years old was a video camera. My friends and I would film all kinds of stuff.
I always had a passion for filming so it just transitioned when I got seriously into hunting. I was like, ‘I’m going to start filming some hunts.’ That way I could share [the hunt] with friends and family.
It gets addicting really fast. You get those first couple of hunts under your belt and you share them with your friends and family and relive the memories. It’s pretty special.
I knew from that day that I got my first kill on video that I wanted to keep pushing the envelope and do a better job of capturing the hunt so I could portray the whole experience of bowhunting. It’s just been an evolving process from the very beginning.”
How did “Heartland Bowhunter” get started?
“Shawn Luchtel, my partner, was a high school friend of mine. Being serious bowhunters, we started hanging out more and filming each other’s hunts. We ended up investing in some higher end video equipment to get better footage and tell a better story.
One of the things we bought was a tree arm. There really wasn’t anybody out there manufacturing a really good tree arm to support a professional-grade video camera. We had some little rinky-dink one that was $100 and you’d be better off just hand-holding the camera.
Pretty much everybody who was filming professionally had big tree arms that they were having somebody they knew or a local machine shop make. Nobody was manufacturing, producing, and selling them.
Shawn’s dad owns a machine shop and it was a natural progression. We thought, ‘Why don’t we start making these tree arms and selling them?’ and that’s exactly what we did. That’s how we got our foot in the door.
We tried to produce the best footage that we could with the tree arms to promote them and help sell them. At that point, we had so much great footage we wanted to do something with so we looked into the TV route. The rest is history.”
How has “Heartland Bowhunter” changed since its inception?
“It’s changed a lot over the years. That’s what I’m really excited about with the 100th episode. [When the show started,] we saw an opportunity to produce a quality show that told the whole story and really portrayed bowhunting and what bowhunting is all about.
There wasn’t a whole lot of quality programming out there at the time. That’s changed tremendously in the last 7-8 years. There’s so many well produced shows out there.
It’s fun looking back at those first couple seasons of the show. What we were doing at that time was revolutionary and now it’s hard to imagine how far we’ve come from that point. Every year we get better.
It’s hard to see year by year, but when you take a step back and look back 7-8 years, it’s really evident.”
Can you describe your bow, arrow, and broadhead setup for this season?
“This year most of us are shooting the Bowtech Prodigy. It’s a really nice bow; really forgiving, really smooth. It has something different than any of the other bows on the market. The cam system you can adjust to three different settings so you have one bow that does three different things.
It has a speed setting. If you’re a speed freak and you want a fast-shooting bow. It has a classic setting, which is just the normal setting. It has a smooth setting if you want a really smooth draw.
If you’re going to be hunting out west, where you’re going to be shooting long range, you want a little more speed. No problem. Frigid cold temperatures, you’re going to be all bundled up. You’re going to want a bow with a really smooth draw cycle that’s really easy to pull back.
This offers all that in one bow instead of having multiple bows. I’ve been shooting it all year and I really like the longer brace height that it has.
That paired with Carbon Express Maxima Red 350s and all of our arrows are always tipped with NAP Killzone broadheads.”
What makes a buck a shooter to you? The age, antler size, or both?
“We’re primarily hunting deer based on their age structure. Everybody has their own preference. Most biologists say that the deer have reached most of their potential by the age of four.
That’s what we manage our herd by, targeting bucks that are four years old and older. But, over the past couple of years, as we’ve started implementing that management strategy, a handful of bucks have made it through until they’re five and six years old.
To watch that jump from four to five sometimes has us wondering maybe ‘let’s just hold off on the four-year-olds and let them get to five’ because sometimes they’ll really realize their full potential then.
If it’s a four-year-old who shows a lot of potential, we’ll let him go to five. It’s kind of a gamble, but it’s part of the whole strategy of managing deer and part of what makes what we do so rewarding.
What are your future goals for “Heartland Bowhunter”?
“We’ve found a recipe that works. We’re going to continue striving to tell a better story and do the best we can, but we’ve found what works and we’re not going to change that a whole lot.”
Where and when can we watch “Heartland Bowhunter”?
“Our show airs on the Outdoor Channel Monday nights at 9:30 eastern. The 100th episode is an hour-long special. It will be airing Monday August 24 at 11 P.M. eastern standard time.
We’re going to relive some of the best hunts and memories. It’s been a really exciting episode to put together and we’re really excited to share it with the viewers.
We’re going to be doing some live Tweets during the airing of the episode with the hashtag #HB100. We’ll also be doing live chats on Facebook. People are encouraged to share their favorite parts of the episode, ask questions, and just join in.
I’d like to thank all of our fans and all of our viewers. Without them none of this would be possible.”