We sat down with the host of Outdoor Channel's Hunt Masters, Gregg Ritz, and talk the NRA, hunting, family and the future of the outdoors.
When I was asked to interview Gregg Ritz from Hunt Masters on Outdoor Channel, I was flushed with excitement. Gregg Ritz has been an icon in the hunting industry for years and I've always been quite the fan of his.
The opportunity for me to talk with him about the NRA Annual Meetings, hunting in general and the future of the outdoors was just what I needed. He left me with some of the most humbling advice that I was eager to share as soon as I hung up the phone.
Each year Gregg takes time to make appearances at several outdoor and retailer shows and has an underlying message as to why it is so important for him to get out to these events and see the people. He gears up and heads out with excitement, ready to talk hunting, firearms and just converse with the public and his fans.
An hour prior to his arrival at the 2016 NRA Annual Meetings, Mr. Ritz took the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us and answer some questions, and here's what he had to say.
Wide Open Spaces: You're in Louisville for the NRA Annual Meetings this weekend, why is more important to be there than say joining other celebrity hunters in Baltimore, Maryland for the Preakness?
Gregg Ritz: Anytime I can be in front of gun and hunting enthusiasts, I try to cut out as much time as I can for them, no matter what the show is. I spend a lot of time working the floor and talking to the fans, consumers, and gun enthusiasts, and the NRA Annual Meeting is a great place for that. It's an important year being an election year and I'm just trying to rally the troops. I find that if you talk to people one on one and listen to their stories, it really helps connect things full circle. They see you on television, but it really goes a long way when they meet you in person and get to share their own hunting and shooting stories with me.
You're surrounded by the industry this weekend, and no doubt you will hear a lot of positivity about hunting and the outdoors. Would you say the hunting world, as a whole, is in a good place right now?
I think for hunting and firearms we are in one of the best places in history. As for hunting, we have phenomenal recreational opportunities, a great deer herd and and hunters who understand the concept of sustainability and managing their deer herd. They aren't out there just trying to put antlers on the wall and they are looking more long term on their management practices, and that's exciting. We have more women and youth coming into the sport than we have in decades and that goes for both hunting and shooting. Going back to the Clinton administration, sure people were buying guns, but it was the same people who already owned guns. Today, that number has climbed tremendously and it's because of new hunters and new people being introduced to the sport of shooting.
What can the hunting community do to continue the perception of firearms in a brighter light, as you know sometimes, especially today, many people stand far on one side or the other in their support or dissuade of firearms?
First you need to spread the word, which is easier said than done. We all like to spend a lot of time talking with our hunting buddies and friends or guys from the range and talk about what we see and what's new coming out or how much fun we're having. But how many times have we taken the effort to bridge the gap and talk to people who have never been introduced to hunting or guns? Many times people just don't know or understand and maybe they didn't grow up in a family with firearms or maybe they have a negative opinion about what we do just solely based on the media and have never been introduced to firearms. The answer, really, is stepping back and instead of taking a staunch approach, as in this is right and that is wrong, we both need to listen and understand. But ultimately, we need to get them to the shooting range. I have trained and shot with thousands of people and I have never met one person who when they walk away from a great experience at the range have come back with a null opinion about guns and hunting.
You are on Outdoor Channel five different times each week and I love how your production company, Sub7, shows your hunt and the story behind it as well as who you are as a person versus just the shooting and tagging. As I watched your show Hunt Masters last week, I saw an episode where your daughter Sydney shot her first buck with her Thompson Center Muzzleloader. As a hunter, a father and an advocate for the NRA, how did this make you feel?
That was a roller coaster of emotions! I have three daughters that are 14, 12 and 10 and they have all been shooting bows and firearms since they were five or six years old. It's one thing when you take them to the range and you can supervise and look over their shoulder, but it's another thing when you are in the stand with them, and even though I'm there, she ultimately has to make the decision. She's the only one looking through the scope with a finger on the trigger. When she makes the decision to take the shot, as a parent it's an amazing feeling because at that instant, you are passing on a legacy. At that moment I could candidly see all the work that went into this culminating transfer of the legacy.
You will also see this fall on Hunt Masters, I took my middle daughter Sienna to Missouri. Wait until you see this episode. We were out there battling warm temperatures and torrential rain all week, and she just didn't give up. She would go to bed late, around 11:00 p.m. every night after dinner and was right up the next morning at 4:00 a.m. eager to go hunting and would sit all day in the stand. It wasn't until literally, the last two minutes of our hunt, as we were packing up, we had just enough shooting light left when a big ol' mature, six and a half-year-old buck that we had targeted, stepped out. Now as a father you are trying to ensure everything is correct and you are saying "Are you on him? Make sure you breathe. Squeeze the trigger." And of course, you'd have to know my daughter, but she turns around and says, "Dad, I got this." And she did. She made a perfect heart shot with fading light at 120 yards.
That's the experience as a mentor I hope everyone can make in this sport.
How important is it to you to instill and touch on the freedoms of the sport of hunting and ensure the security of our Second Amendment for your children and other generations to come?
Plain and simple: If we don't do it we won't have the opportunities. There are so many things in the world competing for the attention of our kids that we need to be able to get them away from the electronics and show them the bigger picture. My youngest daughter Savanna, for example, wants to go everywhere and do everything. Sometimes just taking the time to show them the little things like how to whittle a stick and having that one on one time with them, they begin to see the bigger picture. They also start to see that things are a process, they don't take things for granted and when you have to work for something, the results are more enjoyable.
By doing this and showing them the importance of being a steward to the outdoors and investing the time in anything they want to achieve at, I think that transcends into things like gun rights or just having access to hunt. If they are never taught those things, they will take it for granted and one day it may not be available, so it is very important to me.
With today being so easy for people to just search for the content they want on the internet or social media, how are you as a hunting personality staying on top and what are you doing to rise above to keep people interested in you and your show, Hunt Masters?
Well, today the industry has changed a little and the world now consumes things in chunks. They snack on things as opposed to digesting them. People want to be current and want to know whats going on now as opposed to finding information out later on down the road.
We have done tests where, like this past year, I killed a 230-inch Mule Deer in Utah with my bow at 82 yards. Now normally it would go back to production and after editing it would show up on the Outdoor Channel a year later. However, within 48 hours, we edited the film into a two minute video, shared it on Facebook and it received over a million views. What we have realized is that people gather content in all different ways whether it be print, television or social media and we are working to display our content through each of those vehicles.
Have you or do you plan to use any of the new Facebook Live features in the future for your shows?
We sure do and we are finishing up the authentication process for our shows now. People want to be with you and see what you do, so they appreciate the great production value as they watch Outdoor Channel, but they also appreciate you including them at that given moment.
What's considered a good episode of Hunt Masters in your eye?
I want to convey a message in all of my shows. Great cinematography, great story line, but also great characters make for a good episode of our show. I want people to know that it's okay to take your kids hunting and to help spread the word and the legacy of the outdoors. I want them to walk away with something other than just pretty pictures.
Most people today have their face buried in their phone and they don't look up. If you look at any stop light or go to the grocery store or any doctor's office, how many people say hello and smile anymore? Very few. So with that, I try to make it a point to inspire and motivate people to go do something. Whether it may be to pick up the phone and call an outfitter or pick up the phone and call my dad who I haven't talked to in two months, that's personally what I want to engrave.
I know you are getting closer to the NRA convention now so I'll ask you a few generic questions to leave with our readers to learn some of your gear, your favorites and just learn a little about you as a hunter. With that, I see you are headed to New Zealand and Australia in June. I also see you are bringing along with you your Thompson Center Compass. What are you going hunting for and tell me a little bit about your set up for that rifle.
I am and I'm very excited! I am going out there to hunt Chamois and Tahr which can only be hunted in a defined area in the South Island of New Zealand and I'm going without the help of any helicopters and all on foot. I get to hunt on my own terms, and sure it may be a struggle, but I know I am going to need to take some shots at extensively long ranges. So with that, I have the Thompson Center Compass in a .300 Win Mag and it's an absolutely extraordinary rifle. This particular rifle I am shooting Hornady's new Precision Hunter Ammo which is designed to be a true long range performance bullet. They have done extensive testing and I'm very comfortable and excited to get out there and do it.
Now I'm sure you have your rifle equipped with Nikon Optics, which scope do you have?
That's correct! I have the Monarch 7 Nikon Scope set up with the 2.5-10 power magnification. Having a little bit more field of view instead of such high power I believe it helps really. Maybe on the bench having a 20 power is great, but in the field all you truly need is the 2.5-10 power magnification.
What is your favorite weapon of choice to hunt with: Archery, muzzleloader or rifle?
Muzzleloader to be honest with you. The challenge of fighting altitude, weather conditions, humidity and working to try to perfect something that you will never be able to perfect is just a loving challenge for me. I also love the idea of the one shot challenge because I know when I pull the trigger either I win or the animal wins and it makes me really think before I pull that trigger.
Mr. Ritz, with my last question I want you to leave our readers at Wide Open Spaces with something. If you could pass on a legacy summed up in spoken words to the next generation of hunters in the form of wisdom, advice and guidance, what would you leave behind?
Think about everybody that you can impact in your life in some way. Everybody touches somebody and if you can motivate them, inspire them, help them, you owe it to yourself and I think to everybody to do that. Somewhere along the lines somebody had to do it to you. I think too many of us think about ourselves and what's good for us and I think if we reverse that around and think about what we can do for somebody else, we grow as an individual.
As our conversation came to a close, I immediately felt inspired. I began thinking about what I could do in my life to be a less selfish person. I began to look and reflect on the words of Gregg Ritz and if you have ever watched his show or listened to him speak, like I told him on the phone, he has one of the most humbling voices and attitudes in the industry.
He truly loves the outdoors, hunting, firearms and helping others gain interest in all of those things. He's a stand up guy with a stand up attitude who has spent countless hours sharing his love and gaining interest of others for firearms and the outdoors all while helping to protect the future of other generations to come.
All images via Gregg Ritz & Outdoor Channel