When viewers last saw Alaskan trapper Marty Meierotto on the History Channel’s “Mountain Men” (prior to this week’s episode), he was about to embark on a bitter cold, four-hour hike home in the darkness after his snowmobile broke down. He was 10 miles from his rustic trapline cabin and temperatures had dropped to less than 50 degrees below zero. The narrator detailed the looming threat of “extremely aggressive” Alaskan wolves earlier in the episode, and an ominous howling wolf closed the scene.
Spoiler alert for those who haven’t watched the latest episode yet: Meierotto managed to make it out alive.
The veteran trapper said via telephone Wednesday that while the experience wasn’t pleasant, it also wasn’t quite as perilous as it was portrayed on television.
“I broke down and I had to walk. It was kind of a brutal walk, but, I mean, that happens every year,” Meierotto said.
And the circling wolves?
“Obviously there weren’t any wolves after me,” Meierotto said. “I wish there were. I could’ve got a few on the stretchers.”
Meierotto, who had a rare off day from his summer job as a smoke jumper for the Alaska Fire Service, said he understands “Mountain Men” has to be dramatized a bit for entertainment purposes, but he’s hoping the show is a little more realistic in future episodes.
“If I had that many chances to be dead, I’d be dead already,” Meierotto joked. “I hope they show more about how trapping and living in the woods is cool, and I hope they back off how I’m going to die every two minutes.”
JUST A TRAPPER
Meierotto is an unlikely television star. Aside from living in some of the most remote country in the world, the trapper says he’s anything but a “publicity hound.”
“I’m just a trapper, that’s all,” Meierotto said.
In fact, his initial reaction was to turn down the opportunity to be on “Mountain Men.”
“I wasn’t interested in any goofy reality show, so I didn’t want to get involved in anything like that,” Meierotto said. “I don’t watch TV, but I’ve heard enough and seen enough snippets of those reality shows.”
But the show’s creators convinced Meierotto that “Mountain Men” would be good for the trapping and hunting communities. He was especially encouraged that Warm Springs Productions, the Montana-based production company that filmed the show, had experience in outdoors television with shows like the Sportsman Channel’s “On Your Own Adventures” and the Outdoor Channel’s “Duck Commander.”
After talking with Warm Springs Productions, Meierotto was convinced the show would portray trapping and hunting realistically, something many History Channel viewers undoubtedly have never seen before. While he admits the show won’t likely convert anti-trappers or anti-hunters to favor the outdoor pursuits, he’s hoping “Mountain Men” will help show those who are on the fence or who don’t know much about trapping and hunting to see the positive experiences those pursuits truly offer.
“Even if they do dramatize it a little bit, as long as they show trapping how it is, if you see the real thing, it’s a pretty interesting thing,” Meierotto said. “It’s a study of animals in nature. Nobody is out there because they want to kill a bunch of animals. They’re out there for the whole experience, the whole outdoor experience.”
A NEW CHALLENGE
While Meierotto agreed to be on the show, there were several more hurdles to clear before filming could begin, the biggest being how a camera crew could live and work in remote Alaska.
“That could’ve been a show in itself,” Meierotto said. “There are a lot of challenges. I just have a small cabin in the middle of nowhere. Just setting stuff up was a real pain.”
Fortunately, the cameramen had an outdoors background from their hunting shows so they were accustomed to roughing it in the wild.
“The camera guys were pretty good troopers,” Meierotto said. “They stuck with it.”
But there’s not much you can do to prepare for the Alaskan cold, especially when it comes to camera gear.
“They’d get frustrated sometimes because I don’t think any of them had tried to film in cold like that,” Meierotto said.
The frigid temperatures led to dead batteries, foggy lenses and wear and tear from banging equipment on the back of Meierotto’s spare snowmobile, which the cameramen learned to operate on the trapline.
“I cover a lot of ground. It’s not a matter of just hopping on a snowmachine and driving around,” Meierotto said. “We were always getting stuck.”
And that wasn’t the only trapline delay Meierotto wasn’t accustomed to. After successful sets, the film crew had to stop to record footage.
“We might spend a half hour or 45 minutes filming,” Meierotto said. “It slowed things down. I expected that so that didn’t bother me any.”
Meierotto is waiting to see what the next episodes of “Mountain Men” will reveal, just like the rest of us. He watched the first two episodes as they aired and has only seen some raw footage aside from that.
“I have no idea where the show is going or how they’ll make it look,” Meierotto said.
But he thinks there should be some good episodes ahead.
“We got quite a bit of fur,” Meierotto said. “I think they got some good footage of actual trapping. I hope they use it.”
The crew also filmed his family on a sheep hunt and a caribou hunt.
“I hope it all works out to where trappers think it’s cool,” Meierotto said. “I really don’t care if somebody in New York (City) thinks it’s one way or another. I want it so trappers think it’s cool.”
“Mountain Men” airs on the History Channel on Thursdays at 9 p.m. Central.