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Michael Waddell: Cold Turkey

Michael Waddell: Cold Turkey

By Chris Avena

Today we are speaking with the guy that can’t stop the flop, Mr. Bone Collector himself. Michael Waddell came from humble beginnings as a youngster. He worked his way through the ranks of the outdoor industry. His journey began way back during his high school years, entering and winning numerous Turkey calling competitions. Through hard work and maybe a little bit of being in the right place at the right time, Michael was recruited to be on the RealTree Pro-Staff. Back then becoming a pro-staff member of any manufacturer was not something that was handed to you because you put on some camo and took good pictures. It was an earned privilege. It said that your hard work was recognized and it was not something that Michael took lightly. Over time, his work ethic brought him from pro-staff to cameraman and from cameraman to hosting his own television show. The rest, as they say, is history.

Chris: Michael, I have to say that you are probably one of the trail-blazer of our modern outdoor industry. How does it change since you first came in?

Michael: First of all, thank you for saying that. That is quite a compliment. It’s crazy because for me so many people, obviously way before me, knocked the path down and paved the way. It is kind of cool to know that, maybe I was able to kind of brush hog on a little bit of a different path. But I would say that a lot has changed from the standpoint of where things are adding social media. I would say that in a good way, everybody has a chance to provide their opinion that can be seen so many. However, the bad part of that is the social media issue of it. Sometimes hunters can beat up on each other pretty good. So, a lot of it has changed, but in any situation, you have to figure out how to embrace growth and figure out, who is the next trailblazer. What is their message going to be? But I’d say that the nuts and bolts of what hunting stands for, even if it tries to start changing, usually collectively, the culture brings it back down to Earth. It is about family, friends, certainly we have beneficiaries, certainly we have better herds and bigger animals, but at the end of the day it really is just something that is culturally rich in heritage. We’re just so blessed to be able to do it.

I have always said that a lot of people see hunting as a privilege. I really never looked at it necessarily as just a privilege. It is, but I always looked at it as a God given right. It is kind of like self-defense, the ability to hunt and gather and feed yourself. Even though it is entertainment and let’s face it, hunting is fun. At the end of the day, it really was a God given right to provide these resources for us to take care of us.

Chris: You started your career by entering and winning Turkey competitions.

Michael: Correct.

Chris: How old were you?

Michael: I was basically in high school and all my heroes were Turkey callers. It’s crazy. That was my heroes. People like Dick Kirby. He is in Orchard Park. I’m sure they were a big Buffalo Bills fan, by the way.

Chris: I’m a Giant fan.

Michael: You’re a Giant fan? The Giant’s did well this year. But anyway, at the end of the day I was always intrigued by, I loved music in a weird way to me, Turkey calling, then the invitation that was kind of like playing a guitar. I just love it. So, I just fell in love with Turkey hunting first. Then I started to get better at the Turkey call. So, I was always kind of a student of Dick Kirby and Eddie Southridge. So, I started competing in Turkey contest right there when I was in high school. I was just out of high school when I started having some success, calling the Georgia State Championships, the World Championships and the Grand National Championships and even US Open. It is cool looking back at it. It was a really a cool stepping stone because I got a chance to meet a lot of people in the industry. Not only just my heroes, people that I looked up to, but that’s who introduced me to Bill Jordan and got me my first gigs or jobs and where I got to go guide and do some new things in the hunt industry.

Chris: So, moving forward, you were interested in getting into the outdoor industry. What do you tell your family? I’m going to go get a job in the outdoor industry. You can’t make a living hunting turkey’s, right?

Michael: I ran into some pretty stiff resistance. I always laugh but when I first started talking about this stuff, you would’ve thought I went and got hooked on drugs, Chris. It’s almost like, you and I said, hey man, we’re going to start a rock band, move to LA. People might have thought that we have lost our minds. So it’s the same type of adage -follow your dreams, but how are you going to make a living? So, I think that’s what my aunts, my uncles and even my grandmother at the time were thinking. I went to Heat and Air School and I had a degree in HVAC, you know service and installation.

So, in my blue-collar family, this is like, oh my god, Michael’s made it. He has a trade. Now he will be working in HVAC and I had my own van, my service van. I was working for this HVAC company in Georgia. Everything was going well. All of a sudden, I’m winning in these Turkey contests and the opportunity comes up. RealTree needed some help doing some things. So, I’m thinking, well I might try that. I really thought it was going to be a temporary thing. In my mind I was always going to come back to the heat and air conditioning, this blue collar trade, which I have so much respect for because that’s what I grew up with, hardworking people.

I have been blessed to do this. I was a little uncertain about it. I almost felt like I was walking away from something that I needed to do. I wanted to do some guiding. I thought it would be almost like taking a trip. If you ever had to say, quit your job because you’re going to go away for three months and do something fun. But. At the time, that is how I looked at it because I thought sooner or later, I was going to come back to reality and say okay, I’ll get back into HVAC. So, I just talked to my dad. At the time I was very young. I wasn’t even 21.

I remember telling my dad about it and he said, “well, you’re only young once and you do not a family. You do not have a lot of responsibilities outside of providing for yourself.” My dad was really good to me, but he was hard on me in a good way. Some tough love. He told me that it was time that I found my own place and started to pay my own bills. It was time for me to be my own man. Whether I going to do some hunting and guiding or you work with heating and air conditioning. I knew it was inevitable that I was going to get weaned off the care and nurture of what parents provide.

So, when I started talking about this, my family thought that I had gone crazy. They thought that, you can’t have fun. You can’t hunt the rest of your life. But I knew that I had a passion for it. I already flunked out of high school, had too much fun and missing class. But one thing led to another and really from that time that I went to go take that quick little fun guiding trip and run a camera for Realtree, it never stopped. It was just a door to a door that kept opening.

Michael Waddell: Cold Turkey (

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