Chris: Did you ever see yourself working in television when you were younger, or in the outdoors industry?
Jeff: Oh God no. I put myself through college with the Army/ Reserves and got a psych degree with an eye on working in law enforcement. Hunting was always just a hobby, something I loved to do in northern Wisconsin on public lands on weekends. It wasn’t a career aspiration. After my squad accident left me unable to work, I started Soggy Acres Retrievers, our Labrador Retriever kennel and things grew from there. Training and hunting my own dogs turned into training other people’s dogs and doing seminars on training. This eventually led to guest appearances on other people’s shows, which got me to thinking about doing my own. I look back and think that was an incredibly gutsy move. I had no experience in television, no real contacts for editors or cameramen, and no contacts at any networks. I had local technical school students filming for me my first season! I had no idea, really, what I was doing, but persistence and hard work paid off.
Chris: What is the toughest part of having a hunting TV show?
Jeff: There are two things, really. The most difficult part, from a business standpoint, is raising the money. Everyone with the ability to hunt and a camera thinks it’s easy enough to create a TV series. It’s not that simple at all. The actual hunting is secondary to creating and marketing a concept that companies will want to sponsor. You’re a business owner first, a hunter second. Raising sponsorship money is by far more difficult than hunting or filming. From a personal perspective, being away from my family as much as I have to be is the toughest thing. That’s largely why we bought the Soggy Acres Signature Lodge; it’s only an hour and a half from home, so it helped cut down on my time out of state.
Chris: Conversely then, what is the best part(s) of having a show?
Jeff: You get to meet so many great people and visit a lot of interesting places that you would likely never get to in a regular 9-5 kind of job. For example, I’ve hunted in Venice, Louisiana, an area nicknamed “The End of the World,” as it’s the last community accessible by car in Louisiana. You can hunt ducks and catch fish I’ve never seen anywhere else. In Canada this past year, we hunted land alongside a community of Hutterites. My hunting is all North American based, so I can only imagine what global travelers get to experience.
Chris: Has the industry changed for the better or worse in any ways?
Jeff: There have been both positive and negative changes. I think the industry is tremendously more inclusive and encouraging of getting women involved in hunting and the outdoors, and that’s a positive change. Nine years ago when I began, I couldn’t even name a women’s clothing outfitter company; now there are dozens. With women joining the field in larger numbers than any other demographic segment, it’s great that outdoor TV is promoting shows featuring and hosted by women. Conversely, with the technology available to produce video readily available, you have a plethora of poorly produced shows competing with well-produced shows for the very limited number of sponsor resources. This environment of too many shows competing for too few sponsor resources makes it more difficult on everyone to create a good quality show. Potential sponsors know the market is flooded with shows, and are more apt to offer product-only sponsorships which unfortunately don’t pay the bills. You end up with a lot of shows that can only survive a few seasons. Interestingly enough, airtime rates continue to climb in price every year, despite the growing number of digital platforms. Higher costs to be on air coupled with smaller sponsorships really puts the squeeze on shows.
Chris: How does the Soggy Acres Signature Lodge fit in with everything you do?
Jeff: Buying and developing a hunting lodge wasn’t something I had ever really imagined doing, especially on top of the television show and the kennel. I was looking for a piece of hunting property in Wisconsin that would offer both good waterfowling and good deer hunting. The hope was that I could enjoy the property on a personal level, as well as cut back on my out-of-state travel for the show, by being able to film right here. The third property the realtor showed us just happened to have a building on it that was a partially finished, new construction lodge. That’s when the wheels got turning. We closed on the Soggy Acres Signature Lodge in late 2016 and have now had two great seasons of hosting hunters, as well as two great seasons of family hunting time there. The Lodge has definitely cut back on my time on the road while simultaneously producing great footage for the show.
Chris: You’re currently filming for Season 9 of SportingDog Adventures. Where do you see the future of hunting TV?
Jeff: Probably the biggest trend in the industry has been the shift to alternative broadcast methods, i.e. non-network television avenues for distributing your show. We’re definitely embracing this shift because I believe it’s the future of “television.” We are working to grow our YouTube channel and we’re currently working on a deal to get the show on Carbon TV (a digital network). We’re open to Hula, Amazon Fire, wherever our fans want to view us. We aren’t stuck in the mentality that if you’re not on a prime slot on a major network that you’re not reaching your fans. Our fans are all over the globe and they’re not just accessing us on network TV.
For more information on Soggy Acres Retrievers, visit www.soggyacres.com. For information on booking a hunt at the Soggy Acres Signature Lodge, visit www.soggyacressignaturelodge.com. SportingDog Adventures airs on the Pursuit Channel and several other networks globally; see www.sportingdogadventures.com for times, or watch on YouTube at “SportingDog Adventures TV.”