In an exclusive interview, Sportsman Channel host Aaron "Chili" Childress discusses his show, his love of hunting, and offers advice for newbies.
Aaron "Chili" Childress is the star of the Sportsman Channel program, "Chili Off the Grid." The show focuses on brotherhood and camaraderie in the outdoors.
Childress is a former Marine infantry team leader and a two-time suicide survivor who sought the outdoors as a source of therapy. Chili hopes to inspire other returning American veterans with emotional and physical scars from the battlefield to also heal through time in the outdoors.
He is joined by friends Troy, Chet, Shawn, Matt, and Daniel on the program. The goal of the show is to "provide veteran and military therapy to fight the good fight of suicide prevention within the brotherhood, based on the principles of GallantFew."
Aaron was kind enough to allow Wide Open Spaces to interview him about the program and his efforts to help fellow returning veterans find tranquility through the outdoors.
Wide Open Spaces: Tell our readers about yourself and your show "Chili Off The Grid" on The Sportsman Channel.
Aaron Childress: Chili Off The Grid is a veteran-themed, half-hour, outdoor adventure on Sportsman Channel, CarbonTV and YouTube (outtakes, how-to's and video shorts). The show was birthed somewhat reluctantly out of a nearly tragic situation where I survived a suicide. I grew up an outdoorsman enjoying fishing, hiking, and camping all over the Midwest and Texas. In the years after leaving the Marine Corps, I had distanced myself from that love. At the time of the failed suicide, I was being mentored by a good friend - he encouraged me to seek a form of therapy that I could be successful in. So I chose to reignite my survivalist mindset and outdoors adventures. I had never really had a social media account, so I started a Facebook account and YouTube channel.
While I was out on the trail, hunting or adventuring, I would take some quick videos of what I was thinking at that precise moment, no filters. I would return from the trips and my friends would mention how they were cracking up at the video - I thought this was insane because I wasn't necessarily trying to be funny, I was just letting my thoughts fly. But I saw how much it gave me a release and a form of therapy against my depression. I went back to my mentor and asked if he felt this would be a way we could help other veterans. We both agreed it would.
So I took some friends along, and it went well. It wasn't earth shaking, or profound, it just worked. A network happened across my YouTube channel and asked me if I thought I could produce 30-minute episodes. I sad "yes" because I believe if you have to challenge yourself. I connected with some friends and we began production. The first season was only 7 episodes, but when it ended Sportsman Channel took notice and called me immediately to negotiate terms to produce on their network. Currently, we are filming Season 3 for Sportsman Channel and we have added a few new wrinkles which I won't give away on here.
WOS: You are a veteran who has served this great nation. (Thank you for your service!) Why do you think your fellow veterans should participate in fishing, hunting, and the shooting sports? How will they benefit from being outside more, especially if they are battling PTSD and similar conditions?
AC: There is a certain respect that consumes you when you put yourself back into the food chain. Yes, I take weapons with me, so truthfully I am not at a disadvantage. However, when you see some of the creatures out there, you begin to respect that a firearm means you are creating an advantage against only one of them. I remember once I was on a deer hunt with a bolt-action rifle, and I could see silhouettes of coyotes on a near crest. It brought a certain respect to my mind. I knew I had ONE advantage with the firearm, but not in overall numbers. Coyotes aren't necessarily going to come as a pack at a human, though it does happen. That being said, I was in total respect of my surroundings and felt like all my problems, aches, pains, and troubles were a wash as in that moment, I was pitted against a pack of howling coyotes. The adrenaline was addictive. The feeling didn't leave me. I cannot describe it without throwing someone into that scenario for themselves. Their only concern is food - we are the food.
Another time, I asked an individual if they had ever seen a Mule Deer. Having never seen one, I rolled up to a spot where I had watched a herd for a number of years. I didn't hunt this herd, I watched them because they were beautiful. We hopped out of the truck, and Mule Deer being more timid that a typical whitetail, they hid in the thicket (in full view) only 8 feet way. They didn't run away, they stayed close. The light in my friend's eyes was magical. Going from never seeing one, to almost petting one in the wild, was a spectacular moment. What all of that means is that when you struggle with depression, guilt or stress, you are often focused internally and centered on yourself and what is negative about you. You are your chief threat. When you dislocate yourself into the wild, you are now forced to think about something other than yourself. Yes, you are part of the equation, but you are only a small part of the entire puzzle. It gives a moment of perspective. By no means is this salvation. Individuals with intense struggle must seek professional help and counseling to resolve issues. However, the outdoors can prove that buffer and "cookie" to stem the tide.
WOS: What advice do you have for newbies to the outdoor/shooting sports industry? Why should they get involved?
AC: It's not for everyone. Learn the laws, learn the rules. It can be the most fun you have ever had or the worst time depending on your preparation. Many people start out with high-dollar gear. I advise against this. Start off humble, learn to appreciate what you are doing before you throw down on pricey equipment. Try different types of hunting - don't limit yourself. Pace yourself. Hunting can be financially draining if not done properly - don't make it another stressful item in life. The benefits of hunting are that I have hundreds of pounds of meat that I pay pennies on the dollar for compared to store-bought meat. I also know what the animal has been eating, I know the farmer, I know I have a meat product that hasn't left my sight after it was harvested.