Despite Bill Winke’s achievements and expertise, he’s still a humble and down-to-earth deer hunter.
I had the privilege recently to interview Bill Winke, who is a renowned whitetail expert and land manager. He also hosts the television and online program “Midwest Whitetail.”
Bill Winke’s story is an inspiring one. He started from humble roots, just trying to make a living doing something he loved. Clearly he found it, as his highly successful show has grown tremendously.
In that time, he has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about whitetails and land management. In addition, Bill holds onto his grounded morals of faith and family, and is an excellent role model for younger generations.
Midwest Whitetail has evolved a lot over the years. What has been the hardest and most rewarding part of developing your show?
“The hardest part, by far, was the second year, 2009. I had very little money to work with and was not able to afford any employees so I had to do everything myself or with the help of volunteers. Volunteers often are unpredictable and sometimes they cost me more time than they saved me. I put up tons of content that year. I was so burned out by the end of the show season I really, seriously considered shutting it all down. We were producing and uploading 11 original content episodes to the website each week for about 20 weeks back then. Think about that! All done by volunteers or by me.
On top of that there is the hunting and the other aspects of the business – not to mention the family and the need to keep doing some writing and photography to actually pay the bills. I am sure if I had known what I was getting into, I would have not have done it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I guess in hindsight, I am glad I didn’t know. But man that was a tough year!
The most rewarding has been seeing where it all has gone and how my employees and myself have been able to create a leadership position in the industry as it relates to near live video production for a range of topics. We have produced series for Cabela’s that have ranged from hunting to fishing to wildlife management and it has all been accepted well by the public. I guess it is rewarding to see all that work start to pay off.”
What drew you to the online, semi-live hunting program approach?
“I was seeing a slow down in the number of articles I could sell to the hunting magazines and realized that video (TV) was growing while print was declining. If I wanted to keep my career going I needed to do something. I didn’t want to get into TV because I was afraid we would fail and I didn’t know where to start so the web seemed to offer a safer option. I could control the standards and produce something a bit rough that was totally acceptable by web standards. Our early shows were very rough, but on the web, they were viewed as just fine. On TV we would have been laughed at.
From there, I just tried to think of something that I would enjoy watching and that is where I came up with the idea of the semi-live web series. Lots of advantages to that for the viewer and we thrived despite our lack of production skills.
From there we soon went to the TV format, but our heart and bulk of our business is still tied to the web.”
What is keeping you busy this time of year that other hunters can/should be doing?
“I am not sure they can or should be doing it, but I am coaching track and managing our growing on-line video production business. We do a number of series for Cabela’s now and they are all growing and becoming popular. Just figuring out what to do next to stay ahead of the competition is nearly a full time job.
On the hunting side, I am starting to plan my food plots for 2015. That always takes plenty of time too. I am scouting some and placing stands to take advantage of what I learned this past season. You always learn something so the time to apply that is after the season before green up. Get out and confirm your hunches and get those stands up or moved.”
In managing your farms, what are some unusual lessons learned that might help other property owners?
“It is never as successful as you thought it would be. The number one thing at the end of the day is the age of the animal. You can do all the work and spend all the money, but if the deer don’t get to maturity, you won’t see any big bucks. On the flipside, you can do nothing and have great hunting if the deer are getting old. So, the neighborhood where the farm is located (what the neighbors are shooting and not shooting) is actually more important than what you are doing. If the neighbors are on the same page, your management practices will see good success. If not, you are (honestly) better off selling the land and finding something in a better neighborhood than to think you can fix the age issue by doing some habitat improvement or planting a few clover plots.
That is the harsh reality that most people don’t understand until they have spent a lot of time and money. Forming co-ops is likely the answer for people who find themselves in average or worse neighborhoods and want to see the greatest success.”
Your segments on the ‘Poor Man Plot’ are great. What did those processes teach you?
“They taught me how to sweat for sure! They are great for people in all situations, even those hunting on permission, because those small plots become awesome killing grounds. Everyone needs a few of these because they create such good stand sites.”
What challenges do you anticipate for deer hunters and managers in the next decade?
“What happens when the deer herd numbers come up and the hunters in some areas aren’t as excited to take them down as they were in recent years? What will that look like? Depredation permits maybe? Kill permits that farmers get to use indiscriminately? I fear the politics more than anything else. Game departments are increasingly run by politicians and not by biologists. That is not good. I think CWD is a big dark cloud too. What is it really? No one understands it completely. That is also bad.”
Thinking back to your beginning, what goals did you set to get to where you’re at now and where do you envision going?
“I had very small goals – feed my family, keep doing what I love. God’s plans were much bigger than mine. It has been an adventure for sure. All I ever saw was the next step. I never saw us doing what we are doing now and I am sure what we do in five years will be different from what I am thinking now. I love that! I have goals for our company, but they are pretty short term, a year or two out. Beyond that, I am more than happy to see where God blows this little sailboat.”
What advice would you give to today’s younger generation looking to purchase and manage their own farm?
“Focus on growing your nest egg by buying and selling until you can afford to be in a great neighborhood. Don’t get married to any piece of land until you get there. Have realistic expectations.
Also, when buying, always kick over the rocks that seem the least appealing before you ever walk the land. Who lives in that rough old shack on the north line? What do they do when deer season comes? Which side of the fence are they on? Where do their dogs roam?
Kick over those ugly rocks before you ever get emotionally attached to the property. You have options, don’t jump into a farm too quickly and then regret it later.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“Life is an adventure. Don’t be scared if you are uncomfortable. That is right where God wants you. That is when the fun and the growth take place.”
Thanks Bill, for taking time out of a very busy schedule to teach us about whitetails and give us some tips.
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