It only took five minutes after arriving at George Bush Intercontinental Airport May 31 for a promotional press tour before someone recognized Michael Waddell.
That wasn’t bad considering he wasn’t decked out in camouflage and hiding in the woods like most fans see him whenever they watch “Bone Collector” on the Outdoor Channel.
The 45-year-old celebrity outdoorsman will be one of the stars of Sportsman Channel Outdoor Fest July 20-22 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
The festival is a Texas-sized celebration of the outdoor lifestyle featuring celebrities such as Waddell, Brian “Pigman” Quaca, and Tom McMillan. The three-day exposition will welcome exhibitors from the outdoor marketplace showcasing current outdoor lifestyle equipment, gadgets, clothing, and recreational accessories, as well as a jam-packed schedule of events that include: speaking programs and discussions about outdoor lifestyle issues and current events, celebrity appearances, seminars, demonstrations and more.
“The biggest thing is wanting to celebrate the outdoor lifestyle, hunting and fishing, and not just what it means to be able to participate but what it means for people who do participate,” Waddell said while waiting for his burger to arrive at a Houston area Fudruckers. “You find some really fine Americans that do it. So many times we get stuck inside so much more, especially our youth, and hunting and fishing is such a cool family thing that you can do to enjoy time together.”
Waddell gets excited whenever he talks about hunting, fishing or growing up in Booger Bottom, Ga.
“I’ve been a cheese grit eater pretty much since I was born,” he said. “I grew up real simple. Hunting and fishing wasn’t really just a hobby, it was kind of a way of life. So growing up in a real rural area in Georgia, my Pawpa, my uncle, my dad, everybody hunted and fished. It’s funny, I didn’t look at it as a sports, it’s just what you did. We ate everything we caught or shot.”
Waddell is well aware of the negative public perceptions that some have about hunting. That’s what makes him so passionate about promoting the outdoor lifestyle.
“There’s hunter and fishermen everywhere. I think right now there’s 11 to 12 million licensed hunters out there, so obviously that’s a pretty big demographic,” he said.
According to the Sportsman Channel, there are more than 3.5 million hunters and anglers in Texas, an outdoor lifestyle consumer base that spends more than $6.2 billion annually. That’s why the Sportsman Channel Outdoor Fest is being launched in Texas. They expect more than 15,000 people to attend the event.
“Texas is like its own country. … Even the people in the city seem to get out a lot,” Waddell observed.
“Hunting is something I truly believe in. If more people was educated in it and understood the true reality of what it’s about, I think mainstream would have a lot less criticisms toward it,” he said. “I think sometimes people view hunters as just these trophy hunters, just this blood sport type of macho trophy thing and in reality it’s nothing at all about that. It’s about spending time with friends and family and meeting new friends and just kind of unwinding and taking a breath of fresh air.
“Trying to get that hamster wheel to slow down and you can get those two or three days in a hunting camp and it’s not necessarily about being successful and pulling tags, it’s really about hitting the reset button and stepping away from your iPhone or your computer and just relaxing and having good food and having a chance to just kind of go outdoors and see a sunset or a sunrise and at the same time if you have a deer come by you can do some grocery shopping in the wild,” he said.
For Waddell, hunting isn’t about the sport.
“There’s a certain feeling that’s irreplaceable that, in my opinion, is better than sports, it’s better than anything you can really do. It’s not anything to do with being a savage. It’s just more connected, I think, to the bigger picture,” he said.
As he mulled over the last remnants of his burger and fries, Waddell became philosophical.
“What I think has happened is society has changed. Society has grown or evolved and sometimes the hunting and the outdoor culture has gotten lost, where as we eat a nice burger here … well obviously that was beef cattle raised specifically for our consumption, so the argument against hunting makes no sense, especially in America. When you look, everybody hunts in some form or fashion; they just don’t realize they do. It’s just some are hunting for the golden arches or the Burger King sign,” he said.
Waddell said that for some, hunting is a necessity.
“A lot of our older generation, our great-grandfathers, if they didn’t have a good trout line run or squirrel hunting wasn’t that good, you did rely on momma’s cornbread and you better have some collard greens because you were going to be hungry,” he said. “And so I think the misconception is that sometimes we think a ribeye or filet mignon grows right beside a pear and apple and it don’t. It don’t think it goes for everybody and certainly that message isn’t lost in Texas but I think sometimes the hunting aspect its gets lost as just a trophy, it’s just that, it’s something different than what it really is.”
He said hunters and fishers are leading the way in outdoor conservation, something they often don’t get credit for.
“We’re self-managing it through our desire and love to hunt, but also make sure there’s bigger and better and more than there ever has been. So even though were getting more people in America and it seems overpopulated and overcrowded at times, we have a thriving wildlife and fishery, better than when we had less people, so that only can be attributed to the hunters so that’s what we want to celebrate and educate,” he said.
Waddell said people are going to eat whether they get it in the woods or at a store. In nature, he said, it’s all organic, healthier to eat, and better for you.
“What’s the difference in providing your own table fare versus buying it at Dairy Queen or Burger King or Fudruckers? I think that’s what gets lost, it gets one direction, so we just want to celebrate that and show people how much fun it really can be and how healthy it is and also what assets these hunters, these men and women, are to America,” he said.
“You’ll find that most outdoorsmen, most hunters, have a very simple, solid foundation in the way they look at other people and that’s proven through their works and the way they manage the wildlife and fisheries and they do it all the time through their exceedingly abundant harvest. They feed other people. Millions of pounds of meat are sent every year from our renewable resources here in our wildlife and fisheries that feed a lot of people that wouldn’t get it, they couldn’t afford it, so I’m proud of those things. It just proves that hunters and fishermen are good people,” he said.
For more information about the festival, visit scoutdoorfest.com.