Reeve, the producer and star with his wife, Nicole, of the acclaimed outdoor TV show “Driven with Pat & Nicole’’ on the Outdoor Channel, is, as you read this, on a plane to somewhere. Or soon will be. Or just was. Nicole is there as well, along with their checked bags filled with video cameras and hunting gear.
A Minnesota success story, Pat and Nicole live in the southeast part of the state, outside Plainview, on the same farm where Pat, 49, grew up. A natural born hunter, Pat as a kid routinely patrolled the picturesque bluffs and valleys near his home, looking for deer.
But his fascinations while afield have long extended beyond squeezing a trigger or drawing back a bowstring. From a young age, he also was enchanted with photography, particularly with the challenge of capturing video images of wild animals in wild places.
“It’s to the point now,’’ he said the other day, “that I wouldn’t know what to do if I walked into the woods without a camera. It wouldn’t seem right.’’
Minnesota is among states where outdoor television programming has flourished, with Al and Ron Lindner and Babe Winkelman among early market entrants in the 1960s and ’70s. Those initial broadcasting efforts reached loyal national audiences. And while they weren’t as slickly produced as more contemporary outdoor shows, they captivated hunters and anglers with adventures filmed in Minnesota and beyond.
Employing exacting production standards, compelling storytelling and hard work, Pat and Nicole have risen to the top of today’s outdoor TV market. Perseverance has helped, too. Neither of them studied broadcasting in college. No one in their families was in the TV game. And at one time decades ago when Pat lost a job as a budding outdoor television videographer, he was so broke he couldn’t fill the gas tank of a $400 beater he bought to get him around while he pondered his future.
“My dad was a welder,’’ Pat said. “It was a dirty job, and I saw how hard he worked. I decided that whatever I did, I’d work hard, too. But I was going to enjoy what I did for a living.’’
Hired in his 20s by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to help trap and transplant wild turkeys, Pat reveled in outdoor labor and decided then and there he’d never be deskbound.
“Even when we’re filming a show and it’s raining and I’m up in a tree with a cameraman and we’re not seeing any deer,’’ he said, “I’m still thankful I’m not stuck in traffic somewhere, going to or from an office.’’
For proof that outdoor TV isn’t all autographs and sunglasses, consider Pat and Nicole’s schedule.
Their appearance Saturday at the Minnesota Deer and Turkey Classic at the State Fairgrounds marked the end of a monthslong trade and consumer show season that included three national exhibits: the Archery Trade Association show in Louisville; the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) show in Las Vegas; and the Safari Club International show, also in Las Vegas.
“Our sponsors are at those shows, and we make appearances in their booths,’’ Pat said. “At the Safari show, we also connect with outfitters and set up hunts for the following year. We have to plan our hunts and travel a year ahead to produce 18 to 20 original shows.’’
Whitetail hunting is the primary feature of each show, with Canadian, Alaskan and western U.S. elk, sheep and moose adventures sprinkled in.
In addition to one or two camera operators who often travel with them, Pat and Nicole employ two video editors who work full time in a production facility the Reeves built near their home.
“You can have the highest quality footage,’’ Pat said, “but if you don’t have great editors to put it together, your product will suffer.’’
With their winter show season ended, spring filming has begun. This week the Reeves are in Florida, hunting turkeys, after which they’ll return north for more turkey hunting and spring bear hunting.
Like Pat, Nicole is an expert archer and hunter. Growing up in southern Illinois, she hunted with her dad and two brothers. In college, she studied education, and she was a third-grade teacher when she and Pat met.
“Our advertisers, and the Outdoor Channel, invest in us because of the quality of our show, and because of our ‘brand,’ ’’ Pat said. “Nicole is a critical part of that brand.’’
Nicole’s regular appearance on “Driven,’’ along with her skills in the field, have helped boost the number of women who hunt, Pat believes.
“The development of hunting bows and other equipment, including hunting clothing, made specifically for women, along with the appearance of more women hunters on TV like Nicole, has shown women that, like their husbands, brothers or dads, they can enjoy hunting, too,’’ he said.
Like other media, outdoor television is constantly changing. Fewer people today watch entire episodes of any TV show. Instead, increasingly, they catch snippets on their phones and laptops.
“I often say if we had to start our own TV show today, we probably couldn’t do it,’’ Pat said. “Hard as it is kill a Pope and Young buck on film and get the lighting and everything just right, it’s even harder to sell the advertising and run the production and business parts of the show, and the social media, too.’’
Family is also an important business consideration. Pat and Nicole are parents of a 2½-year-old boy, and Pat has four children from a previous marriage.
Sometimes the kids travel to show locations. Sometimes they stay home and are cared for by helpful relatives.
“Not being there for all of the kids’ football games or wrestling matches or other school events can be tough,’’ Pat said. “Hopefully, being available to them when we are here, and taking them with us when we can, makes up for the time we’re gone, and provides the kids with good memories.
“Doing what Nicole and I do, we make a lot of memories.’’
Editor’s note: “Driven with Pat & Nicole’’ is broadcast on the Outdoor Channel Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org