Outdoor Television 101 -- or What You Don’t See on TV

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You are supposed to title your article when you’re finished with it, so I am already doing this backwards since I just wrote the title. But what you see in outdoor television programming, and what is involved in making it happen, are about as backward as it gets. As a viewer, you see the great dog work, the great shots, the great panorama shots of sky, mountains, birds and the successful hunter. What you don’t see is the WORK, on the part of everyone involved, that goes into making that wonderful entertainment we call Outdoor Television.


Recently, last week in fact, I spent 7 work days (yes, I emphasize work) with two wonderful television personalities, Tom Knapp and Colorado Buck; their cameramen; my partner here in Argentina, Eduardo Martinez; and a host of bird boys, guides, dogs, and locals, creating the base materials for three 22-minute television shows.

Cameraman, Tom Knapp and Colorado Buck.

People, let me tell you, all those smiles and laughs, great shooting, great dog work, and great views of the woods, waters, marshes and fields are real – but they are also the culminating product of many days afield, not always in the best of conditions, and hours and hours of camera time, editing, voiceovers, cut-ins and many other things too numerous to mention here. Let me elaborate.

The story – Tom Knapp, famous exhibition shooter and host and star of Benelli’s American Bird Hunter; Colorado Buck, famous big game hunter and star and host of Where in the World is Colorado Buck?; Jason Steussy, videographer extraordinaire and one of Tom’s right hand men; and Jake Nay, world traveling big-game videographer and one of Colorado’s right hand men; and me, the American partner in SYC Sporting Adventures, met at the airport in Santiago, Chile, on July 2nd for the last leg of our flight over the Andes and into Cordoba, an adventure that had begun at our various home airports on July 1st.

We left Santiago at 11:00 am and landed in Cordoba about two hours later with guns, clothes, carry-on luggage, everything – except the cameras. Hmmmmm! New game plan. While we had planned to transfer to the pigeon hunting area that afternoon for the first of two days of pigeon filming, we now transferred to a wonderful restaurant in downtown Cordoba, Rancho Grande, with which Eduardo is very familiar. While we waited for LAN Chile to locate the cameras and give us an ETA on their arrival, we enjoyed the first of many stunning meals in Argentina.

ETA update from LAN on Eduardo’s cell phone – cameras will arrive 4:30 pm on the next flight from Santiago.

Hmmmmmm! New game plan. Wait for the luggage, then go to our five-star lodge, El Cortijo, only 50 minutes East of the airport, to shower, relax, have another great meal, some wine, a good night’s sleep and head for the mountains and the pigeons on July 3rd. With half a day of pigeon hunting and filming lost we will have to do our best. And we do.

On July 3rd we arrive at the hunting area in the Comicheng Mountains about 3½ hours west of Cordoba at 11:00 am in time for a short hunt before lunch.

Scenario: The hunting area is excellent, lots and lots of wild Spotted Wing and Picazurro pigeons - sharp eyed, fast flying, acrobatic pigeons who now notice the small, short brushy area over which they are used to flying is now occupied by two hunters, two bird boys, two cameramen, the guides, Eduardo and myself. As Tom says, “I go hunting with a 15 piece marching band including a brass tuba and a set of drums.” So the pigeons all fly about 50 yards off to the right and left.

Hmmmmmm! New game plan. Pick up everything and move to heavier cover. Hide everyone except the cameramen and the hunters. Wait, the sun is wrong for filming and the wind is going to keep the birds from decoying.

Hmmmmmm! Okay, let’s break for lunch and talk this over.

For those of you who have never experienced a wonderful Argentine asado, prepared over hardwood coals, knocked from a hot fire and shoveled under the incredible Argentine beef and sausages, you are missing a culinary experience that rivals any in the world.

An asado and a glass of wine have a calming, relaxing, thought provoking effect on the participant. It allows you to look at things and nature with a better understanding of time and space. Then it dawns on me – “This isn’t hunting, this is making television.” Suddenly, the way to set up and film for the afternoon becomes apparent and easy, and we set up everything in yet another area, with the sun and the wind as our allies and the cameras strategically located to capture the sights, sounds, and beauty of pigeon hunting in the mountains of Cordoba.

It isn’t about the shooting, which can be incredible at times with as many as 100 pigeons in the air; it is about the total experience. Okay, I get it. We wrap up a good afternoon hunt with a review of the day and a game plan for the next day as to where, when and how it all should be arranged. Off to the lodge area in the mountains for showers, snacks, wine, decompression, another large, late supper (I’m beginning to think we are eating too much) and a good night’s sleep.

I have learned several things already on this trip, not the least of which are 1) Tom is not only a very good shot, but a very good teacher; and 2) Colorado Buck is, as Tom so eloquently put it, “the real deal.” He is a true cowboy, from Colorado, a rancher, an outfitter, a big game hunter, a television star, and most importantly, a down to earth, saved by Grace, genuine and enjoyable human being. ‘Nuff said.

Come July 4th we celebrate with lots of gunfire from a well-concealed blind on the edge of an expansive, harvested, peanut field. In front of the blind are 20 or so plastic pigeon decoys, imported from England, some Mojo spinning wing decoys and a carousel of two pigeons going round and round to attract the pigeons much like you would ducks over decoys. And, much like ducks, many of the pigeons see the motion, bank and fly toward the decoys, offering a world class shooter like Tom and his shotgun protégé, Colorado Buck, ample opportunities to take a limit of pigeons under the clear, blue skies and warm Argentina winter sun. A single swings in over the decoys, sees something amiss, and banks sharply right, and then left. Tom misses a tough shot and an expletive not acceptable for television is caught by the microphone. The video footage was great though.

Great work if you can get it.

Hmmmmmm! Note to editor – Make that “How did that ‘little’ pigeon get out of here?”

Eduardo and I retire to an area where we can watch but be hidden, and the cameramen and their cameras, completely camouflaged, film and move, film and move, in a seemingly choreographed dance to film as much as they can of the best pigeon shooting to be had in Argentina.

Another great in the field asado for lunch (I am pretty sure we are eating too much now), another well orchestrated set up, we film, they shoot, and the magic which is hunting television begins to take shape. We wrap up early, do some openings and closings for TV (staged entries and exits) and head back to the lodge for some well-earned rest, a debrief on what we have done, a plan for stage two with the raw pigeon footing ‘in the can,’ and supper (now I know we are eating too much).

On July 5th we’re up early and off to El Cortijo. We take another beautiful drive through the mountains and stop at La Condor restaurant and a wayside viewing area for coffee and a bathroom break. Jason and Jake grab their cameras to film some local color – a waitress with a parakeet on her shoulder, and soon Tom is in the mix with the parakeet on his finger and a look on his face that says, “What am I supposed to do if this thing bites me?” The waitress saves Tom, and we all laugh. This, too, is also part of hunting, and we sip our coffees as the boys film the grand views from the terrace and watch for a condor, and we appreciate who we are, and where we are, and how fortunate we are.

Okay, more van time. We have television to make.

We arrive at El Cortijo in time for another wonderful lunch – (didI tell you we eat way too much here, and weight loss is probably animpossible task? Except for the cameramen who are busy walking, trotting, and running everywhere with 50 pounds of cameras, tripods, and miscellaneous equipment on their shoulders). We head to a roost area about 3:00 pm, set up on the edge of what should be a great shooting area if it wasn’t for our 15 piece marching band. Birds stream right and left just out of good shotgun and film range.

Hmmmmmm! New game plan. We separate into two groups and film for a while, then plan on putting the hunters together as we figure this thing out. Within 15 minutes all is in order and we get at least 2 ½ hours of good footage, but not what we had in mind. As the sun goes down we collect at the van, open some beers and discuss the next hunt, albeit three days from now, with Lalo, head guide, scout, and paloma (dove) man especialle (special).

Here’s what we need next time – the sun at our backs, good cover for the cameras, hopefully a favorable wind, etc. Lalo’s response – “No problema!” My man!

A late supper, (it’s so good, you can’t not eat), an after-dinner drink and bedtime. Boy, are we tired.

On July 6th the doves have to wait. We load up in the van for a 5 ½ hour ride to Santa Fe for a day and half of duck hunting.

Hmmmmmm! Why does my butt look like a van seat imprint?

Lali, our professional driver takes over the chauffeur duties, giving Eduardo some much needed rest, and we all take turns sleeping and talking in the van for the next three hours. We arrive at the halfway stop, a GasOil station that also has a restaurant and convenience store all together – not unlike the US, and pile out for coffee, la banjo (bathroom), and a snack.

When we come out of the store, a young man asks Eduardo in Spanish, “Who is the big man with us?” Eduardo tells him it is Tom Knapp. He then says to Eduardo, “No, who is it really?” Eduardo says again that it is Tom Knapp. The young man’s eyes get wide, and he says that it has been his dream to meet Tom Knapp, the famous shooter, and would Eduardo take a picture of him and Tom Knapp with his cell phone. What comes together at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in a very large country has to be a genuine highlight for Tom, for the young man, and for all of us. With tears in his eyes, he thanks Tom and waves goodbye to us. A smile, a handshake, a picture, a moment in time – its value – priceless.

By the time we reach Santa Fe, Tom has two emails from his new friend, complete with pictures of his own dogs, one of his own hunts, and an open invitation to take Tom hunting anytime the opportunity arises.

We arrive at the duck lodge in Santa Fe province, have lunch (another 5 course meal – did I mention we are eating too much?), pull on our boots and head out for an afternoon duck hunt. Our rooms are only 50-yards from the water, but it has been a dry year and the river is down. We should be hunting in a dry blind over a pothole, part of the 50-mile expanse of the Parana River. The band – guides, dog, hunters, cameramen, and outfitters – get in the boat, cruise for 10 minutes pull up into a relatively large, back-water slough as thousands of ducks leave in waves. The guide stops the boat in about a foot to a foot and a half of water, and he and the other guides, and bird boys, and dog, get out and start building a blind. Okay, not the dog.

Hmmmmmm! None of us are in hip boots or waders. New game plan. Build the blind on shore about 50 yards from where we are. No, that isn’t really where the birds want to go. Yes, it is very muddy. No, the blind is only big enough for the hunters and the guide. Yes, the cameramen, and the rest of the marching band stand out like sore thumbs.

Building the blind.

Hmm! No, this isn’t hunting, this is making television. We do the best we can. Tom and Colorado manage to scratch down a limit of ducks. Jason manages to fill one boot full of water. I manage to get muddy from my feet to my waist, (No, I don’t know how), but we make some good television. The setting sun is spectacular and Colorado Buck makes some fantastic shots on Rosy Bill drakes that will be incredible – if we got them on film.

Hmmmmm! Okay, pull everything, get back in the boat. Here is what we need for tomorrow – sun behind us, and a good blind higher in the back to conceal the cameramen; the best wind you can find to help decoying ducks; lots of ducks, and can you have all that figured out by 6:00 am tomorrow?

Response, “No problema!” My man!

Back to the lodge for supper (Did I mention we eat too much?), a debrief of what was good about today, what we hope will happen tomorrow, an after dinner toddy, and off to bed.

“Okay, one more toddy, but that’s it.”

“What time is it anyway?”

“Where is my room?”

“What country are we in?”

“What was your name again?”

“What is the meaning of life?”

You get the picture.

Sunset in Cordoba.

On July 7th we awake early, have breakfast (did I mention we eat too much?), get waders for everyone, load the band – guides, dog, hunters, cameramen, Eduardo and me – in the boat and away we go. We land about 10 minutes later and take off walking through the marsh to a good sized pot hole some distance from the river.

The morning sun, a crimson red, is just beginning to come up behind us, (Hey, that’s good), and the full moon is setting in front of us (Man, that’s beautiful). The guide puts out 25 or 30 decoys, and before it is light enough to film, ducks start buzzing the decoys. Two ducks appear from my left and head directly toward the blind.

“Ducks left, Tom!”

“I was going to wait until it’s light enough to film.”

“The limit is 25 each, you can warm up!”

Bang, bang! The dog heads out to retrieve two ducks.

Hmmmmm!! Amazing what a little encouragement can do.

Ducks come and go, and stay. The cameras roll. The cameramen move behind the blind, in front of the blind (okay, no shooting ducks over the cameraman), next to the blind, in the blind, across the pond from the blind. Ducks fly. Blackie, the Lab, makes some great retrieves. It is Heaven. And we are pretty sure it is good TV.

A half dozen working gauchos (Argentina cowboys) herd cattle about 100 yards behind the blind and they shout, “Buen tiro!” (Good shot), when they see a duck fall. One gaucho comes by later and Colorado and he exchange greetings with Eduardo interpreting. The camera rolls as Colorado asks about horses, saddles, quirts, work and all the things cowboys from different countries would want to know about one another. The gaucho asks for two ducks for lunch. We offer him more. “No”, he says in Spanish, “only two. Gracias.” A simple and beautiful person, in a simple and beautiful moment.


The folks you don’t see on Outdoor TV.

By 9:30 am we have 50 ducks, lots of good film, more opening and closings, interviews with the guides with Eduardo translating, filming of the new duck lodge, Irupe, more footage of the gauchos, all done. All the raw footage for the duck hunt is “in the can”.

Whew! Two down, one more dove shoot to go.

We head back to the lodge for lunch, a nap, a drink, and some serious decompression. Three American hunters from Kentucky arrive late in the day and they, too, are big Tom Knapp fans. Let the party begin.

Hmmmmmm! I turn in early. As Colorado would say, “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

On July 8th we’re up early and off to El Cortijo for an afternoon dove shoot and our last filming session in the field. Five-and-a-half hours on the road. God bless Lali, the driver. These are not American roads and these are not American drivers. Why is my butt flat like a van seat?

We arrive in time for lunch (did I tell you we eat too much?), get all our gear together and head out for an afternoon shoot. The weather is picture perfect, about 65 degrees, sunny, and not much wind. Lalo has us in the right spot with the right sun, but we still have the marching band to contend with.

Hmmmmm! We move; we move again; and we move a third time. (Sometimes making a TV show is like wipin` your hind end on a wagon wheel, soon as ya get past some of it.... Here comes some more ! – Colorado Buck), and then - Bingo! Tom and Colorado have the right cover.

Jason, Jake and the rest of us band members have the right cover and the filming gets underway in earnest. By 6:00 pm we have all we need to complete the dove show. Tom and Colorado do some closings by simply talking about their experiences and the bird numbers, and the food, and the wines, and the people. As the American partner in this outfit, SYC Sporting Adventures, it is gratifying to hear their complimentary remarks as we have all worked hard to make this happen.

Back to the lodge for supper (did I mention we eat too much?) we then make a plan for tomorrow, our last day together.

“Jason, Jake, what do we need to complete this event?”


“How many interviews?”

“Interviews with everyone. Jake and I need to interview John and Eduardo separately. Tom, you need to interview Colorado. Colorado, you need to interview Tom. We need to interview Jake.”


“How long will that take?”

“Probably two or three hours.”

“We have to leave at 1:30 for the airport.”

“Okay, we’ll do the best we can.”

On July 9th we’re at 9:00 and off to breakfast (did I mention we eat too much?) and today it is, for the first time this trip, “muy frio”, very cold! I mean like 32 degrees cold, and we need to do interviews – outside, in the cold. I do one with Jake outside in my heaviest coat, and a wool sweater, and a scarf, and long underwear, while Eduardo does one inside with Colorado, who is struggling to get the lighting right indoors.

Hmmmmmm! I have a funny feeling about all this. Wait, the sun’s not right, the angle isn’t right, the lighting’s not right, the microphone’s not right; my butt’s not right, I can’t feel it or my legs anymore. Okay, one interview down, and its 11:00. (Did I mention we need to leave by 1:30 for international flight check in? I did. Okay.) Eduardo and I swap. More lighting changes, new microphone set up, (what did I do with the one I just had?) okay, two down – it’s almost 12:00 and we have to do lunch (did I mention we eat too much?)

We eat and look at our watches simultaneously. Everyone packs their luggage and brings them to the van; well, not everyone – the cameramen, who have the most to pack and load, are still working. Jason is sprinting across the yard to set up for Tom’s interview. Jake and Colorado are getting the right lighting so Colorado can interview Jake. It’s 1:15.

Hmmmmmm! Jason’s bag is the biggest. It needs to go on first. Wait, the rest of the bags are loaded. Okay, unload and reload. What time is it? 1:28.

Get in. Close the door. Where is my hat? Is that your tripod in the yard? Why does my butt fit perfectly in this van seat?

We wave goodbye. Outdoor television here we come!

John Wiles is the American Partner of SYC Sporting Adventures, which provides wingshooting and fishing packages in Argentina. For more information about SYC Sporting, please visit their web site at http://www.sycsporting.com. Send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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Last modified on Monday, 31 December 2012 11:21