Great stories come from expeditions that have a lesson to tell, and that’s what Arrow Wild TV is about. Formed in the fall of 2016, Arrow Wild TV wanted to bring together a group of friends to share their stories and passion for bow hunting mature whitetails. Welcoming back Johnny “Utah” Mulligan of Arrow Wild TV, he shares the story of the show and how it led him to where he is now by remembering his friend and business partner, Todd Pringnitz. John goes deeper into the subject of what the Arrow Wild Lifestyle is all about and why being who you are as a hunter is important. He further shares his experience as a wildlife photographer, capturing moments that tell a story, and lets us in on the value of shopping at the local archery stores. Don’t miss out on this great episode and be an awesome ambassador for the hunting community.
Listen to the podcast here:
Exclusive Introduction Of Arrow Wild TV With Johnny “Utah” Mulligan
We’re heading to Iowa and we’re going to meet up with Johnny “Utah” Mulligan. He will explain the “Utah” in a little bit. He was on the show many years ago. I know that you were working for Tecomate and you were getting connected with a great friend of yours, Todd Pringnitz. Why don’t we open the show and remember Todd with White Knuckle Productions?
When I was on your show last time, Todd and I had just sold Wicked Tree Gear. We were co-owners of Wicked Tree Gear and we had sold that to Tecomate Holdings down there in Texas. Todd was going to continue being the engineer and designing products for Wicked. I was going to take over the Director of Marketing position for Tecomate Holdings in all of their brands, Tecomate Seed, Wicked and things like that. When we did the podcast, I was in the middle of packing, getting ready to move to Iowa. It’s been three and a half years that I’ve been out here in Iowa. There’s been a lot of changes. Todd stepped down from the position working for Tecomate after we sold it.
About that same time, I left White Knuckle Productions and creatively going in a different direction. I was getting into more of the photography and the short film side of things. I realized that I couldn’t do them both. I had to pick and choose what I was going to do. I ended up stepping down as the VP and General Manager of White Knuckle Productions. I started Arrow Wild TV, my hunting show. Right around the untimely passing of Todd, Tecomate Holdings took a step back. The week before he passed, they said, “We want to shut down operations scale back a little bit and here’s your negative five-day notice that you no longer have a job.”
That was February. It was a rough week. That was a double whammy to have that happened at the same time. Being a husband and a father and the sole provider for the family, then I found out that negative five days ago, I lost my means of providing for that family. It was a little bit of a scramble. It took a couple of months doing a little soul searching. That is what I wanted to do. Fortunately, I’ve been able to stay in the outdoor industry. I’m now doing professional photography in the outdoor industry. Arrow Wild has continued to grow. Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of partners that have financially backed to the show.
I’m still doing some product design work and doing some design work for a little backpack company in Bozeman, Montana, Mystery Ranch. They’re a phenomenal company. I’ve been very good friends with a lot of them. I approached them and said, “I’m a product designer. I could help you guys with some packs as a design/consultant.” We’ve been doing that and it’s going very well. We’ve got several packs that we’re working on that we’re going to be launching within the next six to twelve months. I’m still all over the place and I’m traveling a lot.
Todd Pringnitz was a friend of mine. Not as close to as he was with Johnny, but we wish his family the best.
It was a rough deal. I’ve talked about this a few other occasions. You have two people that are passionate about what they’re doing and then one decides, “I want to go a different direction.” In the books and the textbooks, it says that everybody’s supposed to be happy for each other, that they’re making these career changes. We leaned on each other so much for what we were doing and when I decided I wanted to step away, it puts a strain on our relationship almost to the point where we almost became competitors. I know that he still cared about me. He still loved me. I still loved him, but we stopped talking for a little while. The craziest thing about it is we were both at the Harrisburg show about two weeks before he died. We bumped into each other there and we officially buried the hatchet. I said, “I’m not mad at you. I’m not in competition with you. You’re my business partner and best friend for many years. I want you to know that I care about you. I’m very happy for your family.” He had a son born. It was nice for us to have that. I’m fortunate that I got that opportunity. I didn’t want him to die, but I’m very fortunate that we got to share that moment and clear the air before he passed. I couldn’t imagine carrying that around with me forever.
Johnny is the owner, producer and host of Arrow Wild TV. He is a professional photographer. I’ve been tracking him for a while. His Instagram accounts and Facebook accounts are blowing up. Tell people how to get a hold of you on those two social media platforms.
You’ve got Instagram, there’s @Johnny.utah.hunt. On Facebook, I started a separate Facebook account for myself and it’s Johnny Utah Hunt Official. Those are my two main pages for myself. The show also has its own, it’s @ArrowWildTV, the same on Facebook, Arrow Wild TV.
You get the negative five-day and you did some soul searching. Why did you start? Let’s go back into the background of Arrow Wild.Be who you are as a hunter Click To Tweet
When Todd started White Knuckle, it was revolutionary. It was one of the first web shows of its kind that it wasn’t all about the kill. It was about the mission. It was about scouting. It was about shed hunting and the preparation for the season. It showed all of that content, whereas at that time, still even today, a lot of shows showed the kill shot and you have no backstory. Why did you pick that tree? Why did you plant beans versus oats in that field? I was drawn to the format of the show. That’s how I got involved with White Knuckle. As time went on, I had been on three different DVDs and at headhunted for four seasons with White Knuckle. I started getting into photography. Maybe I’m an old soul, but I still think that a picture’s worth a thousand words.
I wanted to start taking photos and tell a story without having to say anything. That was the fun part for me. I took that idea of a web show into storytelling and went a whole other way. I did my first short film in 2016 and released it on April 1st. SITKA Gear launched my first short film for me on their platform and it blew up. It was amazing. I had this outpouring people that were coming to me and they said, “You have no idea. This short film works more hours. It completely touched me.” I shared a story about my dad and how my relationship with my father correlates to how I approach hunting. You just got to put in the hours. You got to outwork. There are no shortcuts. There are no gimmes. It comes down to hard work. That’s always been a mantra for my whole life. You have to outwork every situation. If you’re in a bad spot, you have to work the problem until you get a solution. I enjoyed doing short films. Todd and I talked about it. I said, “I’m enjoying going down this rabbit hole. I don’t know where it’s going to go.” He’s like, “You have to pick one or the other. It’s either White Knuckle or it’s Johnny Utah.” I said, “I’m going to have to step down and go my own way.”
That’s what I did. That’s how I started Arrow Wild. It was scary when you leave something that was a comfortable thing. I had never done it on my own. There were some speed bumps, there were some things to learn to go in but I kept the faith. As long as I put out authentic content into the story the way it happens, I think I’ll find an audience that appreciates what I’m doing. 2016 was a slow season for the startup, but this is going into the fourth hunting season as Arrow Wild. It’s been tremendous. It keeps growing every year. We keep picking up new partners. The cool thing is the partners that we’re picking up, are the products and companies that I’ve already been using all these years. I’m not changing anything. We recognize these products more. It’s been a cool deal.
Where did Utah come from? Is it from Keanu Reeves and all that? Is that where that came from?
Yes. Todd and I were hanging out, having some adult beverages one evening. He made a comment to me. He said something about Johnny Utah. I laughed and I said, “The movie Point Break.” He goes, “No, seriously.” I said, “Yes, the movie Point Break.” A little more backend story to that is in my previous life, I was a police officer. I did some undercover narcotic work with some federal units. It pulled the two characters together because, in the movie, Keanu Reeves is undercover with the FBI. The name stuck. There was a moment there that when he passed, I thought about dropping the nickname. One of my buddies said, “If nothing else, that’s the one thing that you do from here on out. That’s a memory of Todd.” He’s the one who gave me that nickname. I’ve stuck with the nickname and I’ll keep it until the day I die.
That’s a good story. Here we are doing Arrow Wild TV. What’s your message? I picked up the backstory and I call that being the 365 hunter, but documenting, sharing that and teaching people. Let’s talk about Arrow Wild.
The message of the Arrow Wild with every episode is I want to educate and entertain. There has to be some entertainment part of it. I want to educate and my position is never my way or the highway. This is just the way that I do it. The other day, I was filming where I was walking into public land here in Iowa to hang a set. I stopped and let the camera focus on the sign that describes the exact unit that I’m hunting them, no secrets. I let everybody know exactly where I’m going. I can tell you that my treestand is within one mile of where I filmed that sign. If they drew a one-mile radius, they would eventually find my treestand. There are no secrets about it. I’m showing people what it is I do, how and what my approach is to it.
You get people that say, “I don’t know. I don’t have that time. I don’t know if I can get all that done.” I’m not superhuman. I make the most out of my time. I work more hours. When this podcast is over with, I’ll change clothes and I’ll drive 30 minutes to the gym. I still got to get my workout in that day. I want to go to sleep, but I got to get it in. That’s the way I do it with Arrow Wild. I honor the animal. I show respect to the animal and I’ve said it over and over again, “Hunting is a privilege. It’s not a right.” That’s the way I look at it. It’s a privilege that we get to do it. We need to give back to make sure that we can keep doing it. I try to get that message across in Arrow Wild.
Arrow Wild is aired on what channels?
Once you take that step on the cable, we’re talking big bucks.
It is and it is a big risk. It also comes down to your audience. Where is your audience? The majority of my audience is digital and that’s where it makes more sense for me to be. When we put some feelers out, if we think that we can resonate with the cable audience, then it will be beneficial. The potential for more eyeballs is there. There’s no doubt about it, but I liked the digital space. I’ve done well there and a lot of my partners that I work with, that’s where they want me to be, on the digital side of things.
When you think about the audience, are you 18 to 40 or 25 to 50? Where do you think your audience set?
My key audience as far as engagement through Instagram and Facebook on those platforms is that 25 to 38. That’s my wheelhouse. I’m 41. I know that there are way more active users on social media that are in that 17 to 24 bracket but that’s not my number one demographic. Should I dye my gray so I can appeal to a younger audience?
Hear from the old guy, be who you are.
The nice thing is conversion. I’ve never had the highest numbers of engagement. I might get lucky with a post. I might get 800 likes and then I might get 300 likes the next day on a post. What my partners are telling me on their end of things is because of the age of my audience, that’s the audience that has money to spend in the hunting industry. It’s doing them better if my audience is older. My audience isn’t buying beer. They are buying tree stands and backpacks.
That’s interesting because you can talk about CPM and engagement, conversion rates and all that, but in the end, if buddy isn’t getting the cha-ching, it doesn’t matter.
You could have a million likes on every pulse, but if you’re not converting sales, what good is it?
It’s no good from a pure business standpoint.
I get messages daily from people that say, “I liked the position that you take. You market and you brand the products that you’re working with, but you’re never shoving it down to somebody’s throat. We appreciate that because it’s more of an honest sale.”When things go downhill, doing a little soul searching helps the mind to reevaluate your steps. Click To Tweet
It’s the stuff I use. I know Bill Vanderheyden, I’ll give you a free shout out, Bill of Iron Will Outfitters. They make great broadheads. We talked and everything so I’m shooting his broadheads this year. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a shot in elk. I didn’t kill him. My goal is to shoot any number of deer with one broadhead because he said, “You can do that.” This winter, we’ll see what happens. Then I can just say, “This is what happened to me. It worked. It’s like my Vortex sporting goal, my long glass, my spotting scope.” I tell what I use is what I use. I do the same thing and people appreciate it. Both the client and Mark Boardman over at Vortex, he appreciates that. The integrity of you and I and others in the industry, we’re not being paid to say anything. We’re using the gear and telling people, “This is why I use it. This is how I use it.” That’s it.
I have a standard thing. I will buy the gear myself if I have to. If a company says, “We want to send you something and we want you to test it out,” I’ve done that as well. I will not give them a shout out until after I’ve tested it and so-call I approve it. Who am I? I’m not saying I’m anybody special. I have to approve of their product. I’m not going to change the way I hunt to be able to market a product. It has to fit into my style of hunting and the way that I hunt. If I can checkmark, all of those categories, then that’s when I’ll return a call to the company and say, “I like the product. Maybe I don’t like this or I like that. How do you see this relationship going?” That’s how all negotiations start. There have only been three companies that I work with that I reached out to them to engage in conversation. I’ve been very fortunate that the companies have all reached out to me to start negotiations. That’s something I’m proud of, that they sought me out. When they do that, it’s a little more genuine.
I get a lot of calls. I’m sure you get when you go to whatever show you’re at or the Iowa Deer Classic. People come up, “How did you get in? How can you do this?” Let’s spend a few minutes and sharing career advice from Johnny Utah.
I can easily break this down into two categories. The first category is how I got in and the pros and cons of that. I started out with Wicked Tree Gear. I was a manufacturer in the industry. When I would meet another company, whether it be a marketing director or the owner, I was introduced, “This is the owner of Wicked Tree Gear.” It wasn’t, “This is another hunter trying to get free product.” The first impression of me was, “This is the owner and he’s in the suck with us. He’s another manufacturer.” We had something in common right off the bat. Automatically, they looked at me differently. It was a little more unguarded.
Then things started to come around where people said, “You’re knocking down whitetails left and right with a bow. You only hunt with a bow. You’re killing bucks in Kentucky and places where other people aren’t killing bucks. What’s going on?” With the White Knuckle and the Arrow Wild, I was able to network in the industry and got to meet everybody that I needed to meet. It’s no different when a guy like John Travolta, Matthew McConaughey or Johnny Depp walks into the room, their reputation speaks for itself and people were like, “It’s Johnny Depp.” People in the industry already knew who I was. I was legit because I was a manufacturer. I didn’t have to work as hard for that validity or to legitimize myself. That helped out.
What I have done since then is I want to keep myself in high regard with the companies that I work with. I try to conduct myself in a certain way. The brands that I choose, there’s a similarity between all the brands. They’re all very high-end quality brands. Some of them aren’t the most popular, but it’s a very high-quality product. That goes into that being true to yourself, being who you are and not changing who you are. The biggest advice for somebody getting into the industry that maybe does not work for a manufacturer is to be who you are, be respectful and always pretend that there’s a camera rolling and your mom’s watching. That has a lot of truth to it. Don’t jump around. Don’t brand hop because people know that. I could sit here and throw out names, which I won’t do.
I can name people that in January they were sponsored by Elite, then Bear came along. “Instead of a 30% discount, I’ll give you a 50% discount.” Now, they’re pro-Bear. Then it comes June, Hoyt says, “I’ll give you a free bow.” They’re like, “Screw Bear. Give me that free Hoyt.” We haven’t even made it to the deer season yet and they’re on their third bowl already. It’s jumping from one lily pad to the next. Companies recognize that. They see what you’re doing. It doesn’t paint yourself in a good light. You are staying true to yourself. Always stick to your guns and stand for something. I don’t care if it’s the dumbest thing in the world. Stand for something and you will end up standing out from the crowd.
That is one way that you can differentiate yourself as being true, being authentic and being genuine. Companies will eventually notice it. I’ve had people reach out and they were like, “You’re a SITKA Gear ambassador. I’d give my left toe if I could be a SITKA Gear ambassador.” I’m like, “What? Why?” “Then people would know that I’m with SITKA, and it will make me seem cool.” Be cool. You could be cool without being an ambassador. I’m very fortunate that I get to work with SITKA in that capacity as an ambassador, but make sure your motives are genuine and you’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s truly passionate, not just seeking attention or popularity.
I’m sure Johnny would take questions. Reach out to him on Facebook or Instagram and have a conversation. If you’re going to get serious and are serious, you can email me at WhitetailRendezvous@gmail.com or Johnny and we’ll talk to you. Don’t say, “How do we get free gear? Who do you know in the industry? How’s your Rolodex?” Because that flat won’t get you anywhere.
I get it every single day. I see it more with a younger generation, the 19 to 22-year-olds. Readers that are in that age bracket, I’m not grouping everybody into that bracket, but I do see it in that demographic more where they say, “I started on this Instagram page last week. I’ve been tagging companies and I’ve been posting pictures and no one’s reached out to me. When am I going to be famous?” It’s been a week. It doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve been at this hard for going on seven years. I wouldn’t say that I’ve hit a huge stride of success, but I’m starting to get recognized a little bit. I’ve made a lot of good friends and connections in the industry. I’m happy.
Be real and be who you are. Be who you are as a hunter.
That’s what it is. I tell people all the time, don’t be somebody that you’re not. If you shot a hundred-pound whitetail, don’t throw it on your shoulders and carry it out because campaigns carried out an animal on Instagram. You see a lot of this monkey see, monkey do. Be you. Be your self. That’s how you get noticed. If you’re a whitetail guy and you’re going on your first elk hunt, one of the best things you can do is you can talk about how that was your first elk hunt and you enjoyed the experience, “I learned this today. I learned that today.”
That makes you seem more genuine and more transparent. Somebody who’s thinking about going on their elk hunt, they can identify with you and say, “That’s pretty cool. He went out there and admitted that this is the first time he’s ever done it, maybe I will give it a shot.” The flip side of that is when you see somebody who watches outdoor television and I was like, “Did you see anything yesterday? He had this 145-inch buck. I think he’s a four-year-old.” “Why don’t you shoot it? You’ve never shot anything remotely close to that big or that mature.” “It’s not as big as some of those bucks I see that Murkowski killing.” I’m like, “No.” Hunting television can ruin young hunters.
I was like, “If you’ve never killed anything like that and that got your juices flowing, then shoot it. Don’t care what some TV hunter’s going to say that you shouldn’t have shot it or not. You bought the tag, hits your tag. You can put it on whatever you want.” I always encourage people to try to target mature deer, but I’m not going to criticize anybody who shoots a young buck. It’s their tag. I always tell everybody, be who you are. Be genuine. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not. You will resonate with more people if you’re genuinely authentic and transparent. I do videos all the time in my family room. You see the dogs in the background. You might see a messy house in the background. I’m as transparent as all of them get up. I have nothing to hide. That’s helped me a lot with resonating with a lot of people. It makes people feel comfortable that they can reach out to you and they can ask you questions. Over the course of the last couple of years, I get more questions and I might not be able to answer them all immediately, but I tell everybody I will get your question answered within 24 hours. I’ve had a lot of people thank me for that. It’s done well for me.
Case in point about your hunt, your tag, when I first started in this, one of my first guests is Brenda Valentine. She said, “Bruce, it’s really simple. It is your hunt. It’s your deer. It’s your turkey. It’s your whatever. Enjoy it because we’re supposed to have fun.” You see the buck over my shoulder, that’s my first muzzleloader buck. I killed it in the Loess Hills of Iowa. It was the smallest buck killed in cam. He walked out after four days into the bean field. The sun was perfect. I wish I had a good camera. The way he walked out there in the field, in the beads and stuff and the shadows hit him, I went, “Look at the brow tine.” You can see his brow tine. I saw them. I didn’t see anything else. I didn’t look at his face and chest. I didn’t see anything. He’s a two and a half-year-old deer, a young deer.
I lined it up, I’m in a blind and I shot him. We picked him up and we get them back in the camp. We killed a monster guy. It was a 196. It was a joy but I said, “That’s a gorgeous deer.” That’s why it’s on my door because it is the prettiest deer I have ever shot. I’ve got some Saskatchewan bucks that are bigger but it’s a pretty deer. It’s a gorgeous deer and two and a half years old maybe. I killed a Booner buck, but it’s just two or three years early because he’s got the frame, everything. He’s got everything there you want. I didn’t let him grow.
He was a future Booner. It doesn’t matter.
It is a gorgeous deer. The reason I bring that up is that be happy. John and I are yakking it up about my happiness and my passion for shooting a wonderful buck. I have the video pictured in my brain, the memory forever, the sunlight hitting him, the sun was going down. It was perfect. The guy was on the radio and said, “He’s a ten-pointer. It’s a pretty nice deer.” I didn’t even wait.
What that says is, I can’t tell you what I had for dinner three days ago, but I can go back to every single buck I have ever shot in my life. I can tell you the temperature, the time of day, where I was and what I was wearing. What direction, what the wind direction was that day, how far the shot was, what bow I shot it with, what arrow I shot it with. I know every single detail of those hunts. I’m not a savant or anything by any means, but it’s that passion for the hunting and how much attention goes into all of that stuff. I didn’t shoot that buck. You did. I was smiling ear to ear when you were telling me the story about it because I’ve been there and I can identify with that. As you said, it was the memory. It was the way that buck came in with the sun and with that doe and across that plot. That’s what the hunting’s all about.
In my mind, it was perfection. He’s on the wall and that’s why I’m out stuff. He’s on the wall. I look at him and I’m right back in that Beanfield in Iowa.It’s not always about the kill when hunting, it’s about the mission. Click To Tweet
That’s right. I can have any bad day ever and I can go out to my family room. I can look up on the wall and look at the mounts. By the time I get to the third one, I’m smiling. It doesn’t matter how bad my day is going. By the second, maybe a third buck, I’m smiling again.
That’s a little insight from a couple of people that have hunted a little bit. The joy of the hunt and the passion that we both have. There’s almost a decade, not a decade of generation of difference, but we’re brothers. I call it being an ambassador. How do you call it, being an ambassador of the hunt?
The first time I had ever heard the term ambassador used in hunting was when SITKA Gear back in 2015 launched their new pattern. They had reached out and said, “We’re going to put together a team of ambassadors.” I’m like, “Ambassadors? That sounds pretty fancy.” I’m an old Kentucky boy. I don’t know if I’m prepared for all that. I was still thinking pro staff and field staff, but they said, “No, we want to do something called ambassadors where we’re going to hold everybody to a little bit higher standards to promote the hunting and the heritage and the process of hunting.” I thought that was so cool. It’s been one of those things where I always tell people, I don’t care if the guys weren’t Mossy Oak, Realtree, KUIU or SITKA. We’re all on the same team. We don’t compete against each other.
Every player in the NFL is in the NFL. They were a different team, but they compete against each other. We’re not competing against each other. I think the sooner people start to realize that, if anything, it’s us against the deer or us against the poachers or us against the farmer sometimes. We as hunters all on the same team, we would be much better served to act accordingly and to help each other, build each other up. I can’t stand it when I see, especially a younger kid post a picture of his trophy and says, “I got it done last night.” You can tell he’s happy. “What do you all think?” Somebody says, “He needed another year.” I’m like, “You are a jerk.” You didn’t have access to that farm. It’s not a state you hunt in. You’ve got no control over that. Why make that comment? It’s not needed. We’re all on the same team and we need to be on the same team. I don’t care if the guy, what boots he wears or what bow he shoots, even what weapon he hunts with. We’re all on the same team. We need to act like it.
We have to be all on common ground around the same campfire. We got to share experiences. If we’re not going to say something positive, then shut up. It’s pretty simple.
I like it. It’s simple and direct to the point. That’s where it should be.
It’s really simple. A friend of mine, Sam Ayres change his name. It’s The Wild Initiative now. He’s a Hollywood boy in the hunting country in the city. He lived right in Hollywood. He’s since moved to Idaho. It doesn’t matter. He’s on a big kick on the positive thing because he’s sick and tired of it. “I’ve got a lot of friends, but I’m sick and tired of it.” I said, “Stop it. Don’t do it. I’m your grandfather. Don’t do it.”
I’m from Kentucky and my mama was a Southern woman. I remember she used to tell me all the time, “If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all.” I remember hearing that when I was a kid and it’s funny how that still resonates every day in my life and that’s so true. The beauty of social media with this finger as you can keep on scrolling. You don’t have to stop and be a jerk. Keep on scrolling. If you don’t like it, hit the unfollow button and keep ongoing. Some people aren’t built that way and it’s unfortunate. There’s going to be haters in it.
I’ve noticed that the more I’m on social media, some of my friends from back in the day aren’t my friends anymore. They’re bitter. They might be still stuck in the hometown and not happy with the way things turned out for them. They might pay it on other people for obtaining what they see as success. What they don’t see is the grind that goes into it every year hanging stands, moving stands getting skunked and planting plots that didn’t turn out. Hang in a set and you sat there for three days and you never saw a deer at all. They don’t see all the work that goes into it sometimes.
I’d spent ten days with them. I’m with Michael Anthony Merrill in some lake and access of six tags given out. He got one of them. I went down and helped him scout. He hung twenty cameras and I was a camera boy and glossing guy. I never had one because he had another buddy hunting one. I put them to work because of the love of it. He honored twenty-some days and he got on this target bowl twice. A gorgeous bowl and t didn’t work out. If you follow him on Instagram, he’s putting a series of posts. He’s telling a story with his pictures like we’ll you talk about the photography in the second. The lessons learned, the experience, he had the bulls he saw the people he met. You throw that all into the hunt and its unbelievable success.
That’s the thing people lose sight of. If they didn’t fill a tag, they still went on an epic adventure. They did something they’ve never done before. They didn’t get eaten while they were out there. They got to come back and tell the stories. That’s a success. I used to always tell people, “Hunt more.” I’ve started changing that. I started using #AdventureMore. That’s what a lot of these things have turned out to be is they’re becoming adventures. I’m 41 now and I find myself not so much picking the animals that I want to hunt, but the location that I want to hunt them in. By location, I mean Montana or Canada and things like that. Those are adventures. Taking in the culture and the different styles. That’s what fun is for me.
That’s the journey. We talked about Iowa but people ask me all the time, “You’ve done this for so long, how do you keep juiced up and stuff?” I said, “I spent seven days in the Colorado Rockies. I met those two young kids that were sleeping in baby sacks and hammocks.” We met the owner of BowDagger on the forest service road. We met, T.J. Guccini and Jackie Gross-Guccini who see me in Western Colorado. She’d been on the show. I gave her a call and I said, “Jackie, it’s Hail Mary’s time. We’d got a couple of days left. What do you think? Can you make some calls in your area or whatever.” She said, “I’ll have TJ call you.”
Within hours, we’re at our house having a beer, eaten food and said, “You can stay in the apartment by the garage. Here’s where you’re going to hunt. It’s these three places. It’s above private lands. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to see elk. I’ll guarantee you’ll see elk, but to get them a different thing. The whole thing of the story is those are the relationships that I’ve developed with two young people I met. Getting back and I’ll underscore it and move on. Be the best you, be genuine, transparent, be an ambassador of the sport and know about what you’re talking about. You talked about it. If this is the first outcome, be it your first outcome.
The sidebar on that is hunting magazines. I remember reading Gordon’s articles and Don Higgins and Sam Collora. Nowadays, you see more are the authors are one to two-year hunters. They’re very proficient in their writings, but sometimes it’s interesting to me, depending on the subject matter of what the article is. I just came back from Canada on a successful bear hunt. Bull Hunting magazines and reached out about me writing an article. I was very upfront with this was my first black bear harvest ever. I can’t write an article from a position as a professional bear hunter. I did hunt eight days, but it was my first hunt for a successful hunt. I can only write about some of my experiences and what worked for me. I thought that that was important to do. By no means, would I ever try to come across I was a pro at it? I got lucky.
I was on Judd Cooney’s farm in Iowa and Judd has written hundreds of articles back in the day, his day, hundreds of thousands of photos. He told me, “Your photos have to tell the story and use words only as necessary.” Let’s talk about that. You’re a professional photographer, you do well at it and you got a great future in it. How did that all intertwine in the hunt?
What started my photography was SITKA Gear. When I joined the SITKA Gear ambassador team, I noticed that the way that they were doing a lot of their branding and marketing was through photography. I was inspired by when you look at a photo and I’m like, “I don’t have to read the caption. I know what’s going on there. I can see the exhaustion on that guy’s face.” He’s in it to win it. He’s dealing with the struggles or the excitement. You see the big smiles and stuff like that. I’ve always been a big fan of don’t use 200 words if ten words will do. I took to photography and again, at this time I was still in law enforcement. I couldn’t be in front of the camera that much because I was undercover buying drugs.
That was another natural fit was to get into photography. I love telling a story. I’m a marketing guy at heart. A lot of my photos are product-lifestyle themed a lot of times and I genuinely enjoy it. It’s like getting to be a fly on the wall and spying on somebody hunt and capturing those intimate moments. They’re fully closed, but they’re very intimate moments. It’s capturing those and I was very fortunate, I got to do some photos for Ms. Hannah Barron, the catfish noodler from Alabama. She was in Kentucky and I was on a photoshoot with the client of mine. She was in town and camp. She had a successful hunt. The next day, I had some photos done. I sent her fifteen to twenty photos that I had taken. She didn’t know that I’ve taken any of the photos. It was capturing that raw emotion when she had walked upon this beautiful 138-inch velvet eight-pointer in Kentucky. She said, “I tell you one thing, boy, you can take a damn photograph.” It brought a smile to my face.
That’s the other part of it is, having people appreciate it because I captured a memory of that sheer excitement. We talked about it earlier about remembering every aspect of the hunt. It is because we love what we’re doing. We had fun doing it. Not only is there is a memory but there’s photo to go along with it that tells that story. In any of those photos that I took her for, you can look at the photo and there is no question about it, that girl is as excited as she’s been in months. She genuinely was living in the moment that she had harvested this beautiful whitetail. That’s what I like about it. Photos are timeless. They’ll never get old.
I still like the mountains. I’ve got plenty of photos of my special critters. I live in a condo now so I sold most of them. I kept what I wanted. You can look at a photo and still take you back to the I’d still like the mountain or the hides that you have. Let’s switch gears. Iowa is the thousand-pound gorilla right now in deer hunting, what’s your forecast for Iowa as far as access and “success”?
For me, I tell everybody I own 6,300 acres in Iowa. That’s the public, the size of the public land piece that I hunt a lot. It’s 6,300 acres. I do have one lease that I have of my own. It’s a very small lease. It’s not a dynamite property, but every year it gets a little better with my food plotting. Of course, every year I learned the property a little more. Maybe it’s always been a decent property. I haven’t figured it out yet. It seems like every year it gets a little better for me. On my private stuff, I don’t get a mature buck on trail camera or see a mature buck until we start hitting late October. When scrapes are firing up hard, that’s when I’ll start seeing some bigger deer come in. I do have a camera picture of a nice buck that I will have to say that’s my target buck. He’s probably got 14-inch brow tines. His brow tines are taller than his twos and his threes. I’ve never had anything like that. He’s a buck that I’m going to target this year.Stand for something and you will end up standing out from the crowd. Click To Tweet
Are those in public or private?
That’s on private and it’s only a quarter-mile from the public. Then on my public pieces, I set some cameras. I’ve been gone for almost two months. I didn’t get a chance between being in Canada and chiggers. I stayed out of the public for a couple of months, but I do have a lot of cameras out there. For me, in Kentucky, I jumped into the woods on September 1st or September 7th, whatever that first Saturday was because you get some patternable bucks. Because the season opens up on October 1st in Iowa, I don’t jump into the woods in the opening season. If I had something extremely patternable, I would. Once those bucks get a little testosterone flowing and which they should shed their velvet and they can start shifting around a little bit.
I want to let my properties lay and keep the pressure off of them. On October 15th through November 1st, I’m watching cold fronts and I’m making my steps in on cold front days. Then come November 1st, it’s game on. A good friend of mine, Sam Collora, told me when we were talking one time about the rut and I said, “It’s awfully hot out there. It’s awfully warm. I don’t know.” He said, “You do realize the ruts going to happen, whether you’re in the woods or not. It’s going to happen every year. You better get out there.” They might not be Primo days, but you got to be there. That’s changed things up a lot. I’ve killed deer September, October, November, December and January. I’ve killed them in every month. My strategy this year is, I’m trying to get back to being more aggressive. I used to be very aggressive because I was surrounded by hunters on every parcel. There are two or three guys on every parcel and we were all hunting like this 50-acre to 60-acre chunks.
I was competitive with my other hunters, but I was trying to get on those deer before they did try to figure him out. I was very successful in doing that strategy. Then I got to Iowa, where there are more deer, fewer hunters, little bit bigger parcels. I said, “I’m going to ease into it. I’m going to creep into my season. I’m not going to bump the big boys.” What I do is I always say I hunt from the outside in. What I mean by that is I go field edges and then I go to bits, which is a night and day difference from my good buddies, Andrae and Cody D’acquisto.
They’re like, “I’m going to bed right away. Then I’ll go to the food later. We both have different strategies. What I’m trying to do this year is I’ll still hump, my edges, but occasionally if I get a good high-pressure day in a cold front, then I might take a dive in. Make a stab, if it’s not successful, back out. Don’t keep wearing it out. I’m trying to get a little more aggressive this year, but I am going to start on the edges. I’ll do a lot of public land hunting only because I know my lease. I know that the big boys are not going to show up until the rut. I’m starting to think that my lease is like a hotel for does. The big boys only come in until around the rut.
There are a lot of doe betting areas there and it’s never held a lot of deer. A buddy of mine, he’s like, “There are bucks on every property.” I said, “I’ve got seventeen trail cameras out there on a hundred acres. I would know if I had some bucks out there. It doesn’t happen.” During the rut, I catch them cruising. I’m convinced from hunting Iowa for three years, Iowa deer put more miles on their hose than any Kentucky buck ever has. I have nothing to prove. I’ve got no science to back it up other than I get a picture of a buck on October 29th and I get a picture of him on October 30th, four miles down the road on a different piece. My Kentucky deer never did that.
It’s a very interesting thing. Living in Iowa, I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to do that for your preference deal. I do get to buck tags every year. That’s cool. I was very naive when I moved here. I was having dreams of 180-inch bucks, taking strolls across these big soybean fields. I thought I was going to see that every time I went into the woods in Iowa. That is not the case. There is not a booner behind every tree in Iowa. I’m sorry to disappoint anybody who’s thinking about moving to Iowa. That’s just not the case. We do have big deer because we have more deer than humans. We don’t have a rifle season that contributes to having some of those mature deer, but it’s no easier in Iowa than other States. It’s as hard. A booner is a booner. It’s still a unicorn in the grand scheme of things.
Statistically, somebody once told me the mathematical statistic of Whitetail reaching 180-inch or 200-inch is astronomical.
Everybody says, “You’ve been hunting a long time and you live in Iowa, how come you haven’t shot 180-inch buck yet? I said, “You cannot kill what’s not there. I don’t care how hard you pray, wish, rub your boots. You cannot make a 180-inch live on a property where he does not live.” I’m a firm believer in that. That’s where the management can come into. I’m not blessed with a pile of cash to go and lease a bunch of ground. I have to hunt what I got and try to make the most out of it. Fortunately for me, I’m not a book chaser. I’ve never been one of those guys like, “Do I target older, mature and bigger bucks? Is that what I would like to kill?” The name of the game for me is not to do everything in my power to get my name in the record books.
There are two things I want you to underscore. One is cold fronts. Everybody reads about them. It’s all over the media. I remember talking at length with Bill Winke about cold fronts and his success rate during cold fronts. Do you hunt the front of the cold front during the cold front or the backend?
If we’re going to have a cold front move through in the AM, then I love to hunt the evening before. I love to get on that front side of it. I’m also going to hunt that morning and following morning. Generally, the same spot wherever I hunted the evening as were all go back to in the morning. I do try to get on the front side. If they’re talking about the cold front move it in the evening, that’s when you might see me walk in at 2:00 PM and get on the front side of it right there. Another thing that I like to watch that I call trifecta is if you get into late October and you have a cold front that’s coming in and by a cold front, I mean ten degrees or fifteen degrees.
I look at 20 degrees, but you’re saying ten degrees to fifteen degrees delta.
Ten degrees to fifteen degrees and then you get a little bit of a pop-up shower. You might get wet. What would happen to me is I would be sitting at the house waiting for it to stop raining. As soon as it stopped raining, I’d jump in the truck and I’d drive to the farm. By the time I got out of my truck to cut across the field, they had already made it to the field. This year, I set up a blind in the same food plot of one of my Primo tree stands. My plan this year is to hunker down in that blind while it’s raining. As soon as it stops raining, I’ve got a three-minute walk to get up in the tree across the field. I can be there before they walk in. If you can get a cold front, deer and turkey both are notorious for that. As soon as it stops raining, they bust out into the open fields.
The snow comes through. They’re coming through and you hunt the front side, when you can see a little bit of blue, the storm’s over, you better be where you want to be because that’s how I killed my first elk ever in Colorado. Somebody had told me that they said, “Bruce, here’s how you hung it. Here’s how you hunt this property. I went out. It was over.” He was coming out and everything, deer, elk and cows and he was the first bowl through and boom.
I’ve had buddies in other States that’ll say, “How come you didn’t hunt on your cold front? I’m like, “It only dropped seven degrees and it’s still 70 here.” It doesn’t matter. If it was 79 degrees the day before and it dropped to 70 degrees or 69 degrees the next day, it is a cold front. It’s all relative to your location. Some people think, “A cold front, are you saying it drops down to the 30 or 40 degrees?” No, it’s any drop in temperature.
It’s that Delta, the thing I’ve learned and been told and had conversations with. The bigger the Delta, the better it is.
You get a high-pressure front that pushes through. A lot of times, you get that on rain. It is that pressure primes right before it rains. Get in the woods, Katy bar the door or some crazy is about to happen. Speaking of Todd Pringnitz, I remember there’d be days where he would call me. He’s like, “What are you doing?” He’s like, “I looked at your area, your pressure’s 31 right now. You’ve got an eight-degree temperature drop. He’s like, “I don’t care if you have to call in sick, get in the woods now.” He would always refer to those as kill days. He’s like, “You don’t get that many kill days in a season. You might get seven. You might get ten Primo kill days.” He’s like, “You have to be in the woods those days. Every year I’m more and more of a believer of those days. They are magical days.
One thing that you wanted me to bring up is supporting mom and pops. Talk to me about that.
I’m as guilty as anybody. I love Amazon. I love that Amazon Prime where you get something in two days. I do order some stuff in mom-and-pop shops, but I always make sure that I try to spend money locally with the local bow shops. Make visits to the local bookshops. I love going down and hanging out with Sam Collora. I think through osmosis become a better hunter. If I’m in the same room as Sam, my big thing was supporting the mom and pop shop. It comes down to, as hunters, that’s the barbershop. The deer might get a little bigger when people when they walk through the door of the bow shop. That’s okay because that’s the heritage. That’s where it all started. I almost wish we still had check-in stations because that’s a commonplace where all the hunters get together. That’s where that camaraderie is. How much camaraderie is there and picking up a phone and call?
None.You will resonate with more people if you're genuinely authentic and transparent. Click To Tweet
I say support the local mom-and-pop shops. You should do that for your local economy and your local commerce anyways. That’s where a lot of times the kids get drag to the bow shop with their dad. “We’re going to the bow shop again” That’s where those dreams are created. I remember going out with my dad to some of the fish. My dad was a big fisherman. We are going into some of the fishing shops and bait shops. I used to hate it, but once I got in there and I saw all of those old-timers talking about, “I got this bass the other day was bigger than any bass you caught.” That was cool for me. I understood why they did it. If for nothing else, go to your local bow shops and support them. That’s the barbershop for hunters. That’s what keeps us all grounded. That’s our tie to the old days of hunting.
They all get pictures. I’ve got a couple of memories right now. I’m thinking that’s true because I remember coming up. There’s old George and it’s got a Model T. He’s got two bumps on the fenders and that’s the way it was in 1950.
I’ll give you the cliff notes. Last year, November 8th, I’m hunting with a buddy of mine on my lease. In the first 30 minutes of daylight, we rattled in eight different bucks. I’m looking at and he’s running the camera for me. I’m looking up at him and I said, “Not a single one of these bucks is a shooter, but this is the best day I ever had in the woods in my life. I’ll never forget this day. We had a buck come in that we didn’t get a shot in because I didn’t have a shooting lane trimmed. I did not have a shooting lane for where this deer came in. Never in a million years. He was going to cut this timber the way he did. We agreed that this day is such a great day but we got to get some shooting lanes cut. We climbed down, went to my house grabbing poles. Sam ate a big brunch, so that way we could go back and we’re going to sit until dark. We go back, he’s like, “I need to cut one more branch.” He cuts one more branch overhead. The branch is about a three-inch branch. It falls, hits my bow, knocks my bow off the hanger. I blindly take a swipe and my finger goes inside the cam. I catch the boat and he’s like, “Oh my gosh”.
I’m like, “That would’ve been bad.” We were in a cliffhanger. We were about 25 feet to 26 feet up. I’m like, “No harm, no foul. We’re good.” I hang my bow up and I’m looking at the rest. The rest is actually bit. I thought, “We’re dead in the water.” I don’t have a backup bow. I went to the local bow shop, that’s 30 minutes away. I knew that he carried HHA rests. We went slapped one-off, re-sight it in real fast at the range. We drove right back to the tree stand, climbed up in the tree and at 2:00 PM, we’re back in the game again. Amazon Prime, it’s not going to do that for me. Two hours later, I see a buck 400 yards away.
He whips his head up. It’s all on video. He howls the male within 45 seconds. He’s in the shooting lane that we had cut two hours before that. I smoked him at 22 yards. He tips over in 60. I’m like, “This is amazing.” It is the most amazing day I’ve ever had in the woods with interaction with bucks like that, then to have happened, and what happened. It was meant to be. It was like “You’re killing a buck today.” You earned this buck today. I wrote an article for Bowhunter Magazine. I’ve submitted it to them. I haven’t heard if they’re going to pick it up or not, but my article is about supporting mom-and-pop shops. That’s the reason I told and I shared that story. You’re not going to get that from Amazon Prime.
I’m thinking of all the different things you had to figure out. You got one magical day and you had there covered up with bucks. Did you write that date down? The wind direction, the temperature? Did you log it all in?
That’s important that people miss. It sounds like that happened once in the season that everything will coincide.
We had a Northeast wind that day and it consistent all day long. It was Northeast, and it stayed that way all day long. Getting on the front side of a front, I shot the buck. We didn’t go recovery. We knew it was dead. We knew it was a good shot. We knew he was going to tip over. I told my buddies were going to go to the house, we’re going to eat dinner and then we’re going to recover the buck. He said, “What are you talking about?” I want to go home. I want to grab one of my sons and have him go on his first recovery. We go home and we’re like, “It’s an okay day.” My wife’s like, “I was hoping I’d see something today.” I’m like, “Me, too.” We get done with dinner. I looked at my buddy and I said, “Do you want to go recover that buck now? He’s like, “You’re a jerk.” She thought I hadn’t killed anything. We step outside and it’s snowing like crazy. Then I panicked because we’re not going to have a blood trail.
There’s no blood trail.
I’m like, “This little game that I played on my wife backfired on me.” I remembered thinking about it. I said, “Wait a second. We were on the front of one of those deltas.” I said, “Once again, it proved true, that those are kill days.”
How did you find the deer there?
In the timber, the snow had not penetrated through all the branches. It was only about a quarter-inch of snow.
Wasn’t it a dump?
In the fields, it was already about two inches because there were big flicks. Those big quarter size of things. We walked out there and as it turns out, it made the most epic cinematic recovery with the snow blowing as we were dragging the deer out and stuff like that. It was super fun. As I said, my youngest got to go on his first recovery and afterward a lot of their friends now are on social media. My sons are not hunters. They love to shoot bows, but they’ve never hunted. A lot of their friends in this area are hunters. They came home and their friends are like, “You’re on an episode, you’re on a deer hunting video. You got to go out with your dad or recover a buck. Your dad’s awesome.” If my kids didn’t think I was cool, their friends are telling them that I’m cool. That works for me.
We’ve covered a lot of stuff. Any final thoughts?
I like to share this anytime I get a chance, “Never apologize,” should be in a hunter, but never give the antis any ammunition if we don’t have to. I’m not saying play the game, but I’m saying play the game. Clean up your deer, don’t take photos in the back with all your beer cans. That’s going to give them ammunition to attack us on. Show some respect to the animal. Appreciate the sport, build up the sport. Do right by it and promote it in the right way. Conduct yourself ethically. Be sure to teach the youth and the new hunters the right way to hunt. Don’t teach them to spotlight and road hunt deer with rifles. Do it the right way and don’t be a jerk. Be a good person and support other hunters. That’s my big thing. Enjoy it. Have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Please tune in to Arrow Wild TV and check out Johnny Utah. I’ve got to give my plug and hopefully you like what I’m doing. Hopefully, you become a fan follower and friend.
Thank you for being part of the alumni of Whitetail Rendezvous, Johnny. I look forward to more shows, watching your success and watching your brand grow. It’s always a pleasure to have you on the show.
I appreciate it. Thanks for having me back.
- White Knuckle Productions
- Arrow Wild TV
- @Johnny.utah.hunt – Instagram
- Johnny Utah Hunt Official – Facebook
- @ArrowWildTV – Arrow Wild TV’s Instagram page
- Arrow Wild TV – Arrow Wild TV’s Facebook page
- SITKA Gear
- CarbonTV – Arrow Wild TV’s Carbon TV channel
- YouTube – Arrow Wild TV’s YouTube channel
- Iron Will Outfitters
- Brenda Valentine – previous episode
- The Wild Initiative
- Bill Winke – previous episode
About Johnny “Utah” Mulligan
Johnny Utah Creative
Resident of Iowa having since moved from Kentucky. Strictly bowhunter, former owner of Wicked Tree Gear, former Director of Marketing of Tecomate Holdings.
Currently my day jobs are;
Owner/Host of Arrow Wild TV – http://arrowwildco.com/team/
Arrow Wild Co was created to share our lifestyle of bowhunting through video and photos! WebShows, with tips/blogs to feature our passion!
2 Boone/Crockett animals under my belt, but neither are a whitetail which is my preferred hunt. Lol.
Johnny Utah Creative