Too young to walk while following her father atop south-central Minnesota’s snowy farmlands, Melissa Bachman instead was towed in a sled, bundled up.
This was in the mid-1980s, near the family’s home outside Paynesville, Minn., and the little girl accompanied her father willingly while he hunted fox, his rifle in hand.
She was then, and remains, an enthusiastic participant — in everything.
Now 34, Bachman lives in South Dakota, with her game-warden husband, Ben Bearshield, their 6-month-old son and three older children. But thanks to her undying infatuation for all things outdoors, her name and reputation extend far beyond the windswept plains that surround their home.
Bachman, who produces and stars in the television program “Winchester Deadly Passion,” now in its ninth season on Sportsman Channel, has forged an international reputation in the traditionally male-dominated field of outdoors television.
She’ll be in the Twin Cities beginning Friday as a seminar speaker during the three-day run of the Outdoor News Deer & Turkey Classic, held at the State Fairgrounds’ Warner Coliseum.
“Even when I was too young to accompany my parents while they hunted, I was always brought along to recover a deer that my mom or dad shot and to help in the processing,” Bachman said. “One of my jobs would be to write ‘venison’ on the packages.”
A National Honor Society member and standout athlete who set high school and section pole-vault records, Bachman as a girl did pushups in advance of her 12th birthday so she could pull back the 40-pound bow her parents bought her.
In autumn during her senior year, she arranged her classes so she didn’t have to arrive until midmorning, allowing her to hunt.
For a while, she considered a career as an anesthesiologist. Journalism also held appeal, and she dreamed of becoming an NFL sideline reporter.
Instead, intrigued by the possibility of combining her interest in the outdoors — especially hunting — with broadcasting, she studied TV production at St. Cloud State University.
“When I graduated, I sent out 74 resumes, looking for a job, but no one would hire me,” she said. “That’s when I contacted the North American Hunting Club in Minnetonka and told them I would work for free, as an intern.”
Which Bachman did, for four months, until she was hired by the same outfit as a videographer and editor to film hunting and fishing shows.
“Little by little, I worked my way in front of the camera, doing ‘tips’ and other short segments,” she said. “I’d work 30 days straight, then I’d get ‘comp’ time and go out hunting and filming on my own. The first actual hunting show I filmed of myself was in Illinois, when I shot a whitetail buck that scored 202, which is still the biggest deer I’ve ever killed.”
Bachman’s drive to succeed doesn’t surprise her parents, Karen and Dale, who live on a 115-acre farm outside Paynesville. Most of the property is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
“Melissa is a worker who gets things done,” Karen Bachman, 59, said. “She’s always been very organized.”
Karen Bachman has accompanied her daughter on far-flung adventures to appear in episodes of “Winchester Deadly Passion.”
“One time I went with Melissa on an alligator hunt, and I got five with my bow,” Karen said. “I told her that hunt wasn’t one I had on my list.”
An incident that wasn’t on Melissa’s list occurred about five years ago, after a hunting trip to Africa during which she shot a male lion.
Like thousands of similar African hunts conducted every year, the hunt was legal. But controversy erupted when a photo of her with the animal went viral.
Bachman received more than 30,000 death threats, she said, and the FBI entered the case. The trip’s fallout “made me stronger,” Bachman said. But she wouldn’t want to go through it again.
“My top priority now is to continue producing the show, and in doing so to get as many families involved in hunting as possible,” she said. “I’ve taken wounded veterans on hunts for some episodes, kids with illnesses — I even took my grandmother on a mule deer hunt in Colorado. I see ‘Winchester Deadly Passion’ as a great opportunity to showcase the enjoyment and benefits of the hunting lifestyle.”
This weekend on the fairgrounds, Bachman will lead seminars on whitetail and turkey hunting.
“I enjoy these appearances because I enjoy meeting people,” she said. “Right now, there are a lot of families who find it challenging to get their kids involved in nature. All of us have to work at it if we’re going to expose kids today to the same opportunities I had when I was a girl.”
There’s serendipity, Bachman said, in the Deer and Turkey Classic’s sponsorship by the weekly newspaper Outdoor News.
“When I was young and I would bag a deer or catch a fish, I would send my photo with the deer or fish to Outdoor News,” she said. “Then I would wait each week until the paper came out to see if my photo had been published. Now I’m appearing at their show.”
Melissa’s dad also recalls times afield with his daughter when she was a young girl, including the days when he’d pull her on a sled while hunting fox.
“Melissa has worked really hard,” Dale Bachman said. “Hunting and outdoor TV is a man’s world. That’s changing now, which is good. A lot of young girls look up to Melissa.”