Bill Winke is among a large contingent of deer authorities who appear on TV talking about deer. But the founder of Midwest Whitetail is among my favorites for a number of reasons. He’s a family-first, God-fearing hunter, who is always a writer and photographer first, before he is a celebrity hunter.
Since the day AHT Contributor Greg Johnston showed me Winke’s semi-live hunting show, I’ve been hooked. I expected I would after reading Winke’s writing for a number of years. Like his writing, his weekly shows are informative, entertaining and very well produced. Simply put, it represents the digital future of outdoors entertainment.
Winke gives AHT readers an inside look at where his passion for hunting came from and tells us where the 2011 season ranks within his top whitetail seasons of all time.
1) You’ve been writing about whitetails for a long time. Where did your interest in hunting come about? And even more specifically, how about the interest in writing about them?
My actual interest in hunting came from my dad. I remember the moment to this day. I was riding with him on the Farmall C heading out to get the cows to milk when I asked him what was his favorite thing to do outdoors. I thought that would give us an excuse to talk about fishing, which I loved. He said “hunting”.
I was probably 8 or 9 at the time and I had never known my dad to go hunting. He had given it up when he started raising us kids. I figured if it was better than fishing it must be a pretty awesome thing! So I asked my dad if he would take me hunting sometime. He took me squirrel hunting and I remember him shooting two or three with his .410 that day and I was hooked from then on.
My passion for writing started from my passion for reading. I used to read hunting magazines every evening for at least an hour before going to bed. In our house, the heat ducts didn’t reach my room so I set up a system for turning my light off at the end of my reading time without having to get out of the bed. (That was long before the clapper). We didn’t really have much money to spare so it never occurred to me to ask for a reading light. When I finished reading, I pulled on the fishing line that ran under a book and then was taped to the light switch. That way I could turn it off without getting out of the warm bed.
I always loved writing and took many writing courses in high school and college (I always wrote about hunting). I actually went to college for engineering but after four years in that field I wanted to see what was out there in the big world. My wife and I quit our jobs, traveled for several months all over western North America, living on $300 per week! It is amazing what you can do with nothing if you are creative. Along the way I met some people that led to part time jobs (always focused on hunting) and those jobs led to relationships and eventually God opened the right doors and closed the wrong ones and I ended up writing for a living. Believe me, it was not easy at all getting started, but I am sure glad I stuck with it now.
2) How did the idea for a semi-live, online hunting show come about?
I could see everything going to web and I felt that I needed to do something there. I had a video camera for a project I had been working on so I just thought “What would I like to watch if someone would just create it for me?” This is what I came up with. The path from idea to success was also twisted and never easy, but that will have to be a story for another day. Just bear in mind that giving birth to anything is never easy.
3) Producing a show in such a quick turnaround seems challenging – what kind of work goes into bringing a full segment to your viewers each week?
Obviously, we have to get the footage in, whether we shoot it or someone on the pro staff shoots it. Then we have to capture it to the computer, file it and watch it all to see where the best story or best lesson lies. Then you have to start the video editor and beginning laying it out. Once the footage is in the office, it takes about two days to turn that into a finished show. There are usually interviews needed so that also has to be figured in. I edited many of the first shows, but now I have employees that do all that. We have done it for so long now (four years) that it is just instinct. We don’t even think about it any more. It is just part of our lives.
4) Ok, outside of a weapon, what are the items you take to the treestand that you simply cannot live without?
I don’t carry much. I am a minimalist. I carry a knife, grunt call, facemask, tags, small penlight, tree harness and that is about it. I carry it all in my pockets! Camera and associated gear, of course, but that is not something that most people need. If I am putting up a stand, I carry a small fanny pack with a pull up rope, folding saw, tree steps. That is pretty much it. I use the harness with a rope as my climbing harness and would never leave the ground without it now.
5) You do several appearances and speaking engagements. What is the most-asked question you field, and what is your common answer?
I actually don’t do a lot of speaking. I like staying home with the family. When the kids are grown and on their own, I will likely travel more again. However, I do get a zillion questions on the website. Most often asked: “How can I get into this business?” Second most asked: “Which tree should I hunt from?” The answers obviously would take way too long to dive into here. They are varied. I generally just refer people to a blog I wrote on the website back in 2009, I think, about how to get into the industry so I don’t have to go through it each time. The opportunities are still there for people with skills and a work ethic.
6) Your 2011 season has shaped up to be quite remarkable – two amazing bucks that you have a history with. Is this among one of your most memorable seasons?
For sure, it is my best whitetail season ever. People have no idea how much luck goes into something like that, and how special it really is. You have to make a few good decisions, put in the time, but the rest is luck. You have to really take the time to enjoy the blessing when it finally all comes together.
7) What does a typical off season entail for you?
I do a lot of writing and photography, managing Midwest Whitetail (getting organized for any opportunities I see coming) and we spend time working on the TV shows now. I don’t do as much with the TV shows other than guidance and interviews. They guys are good enough now to handle it without much input from me. I spend a lot of time playing sports with our kids. I grew up playing sports. People probably don’t know it, because I don’t talk about it, but I really, really loved sports as a boy. I loved hunting more, but only slightly more. I had some scholarship offers to play college football but I didn’t want to give up my duck season for four years so I turned them down! I still never regret that decision. I loved (and still do) hunting.
8) Ok, long-time watchers need to know … when are you going to get that crack fixed on your windshield?
Maybe what I will do is take up a collection from the viewers to get it fixed. Actually, it still seems to be hanging in there and not spreading too much, so I just never think about it anymore. If it starts spreading again, I’ll have to fix it! Can’t have the wind blowing in the front windshield.
Cat Tales: If you have time, you should go vote for Midwest Whitetail as a write-in for Best Hunt Show on Sportsman Channel. Again, you need to fill in the Write in section as editors didn’t consider it (ridiculously) among the finalists. Here’s hoping hunters can make that adjustment!