Michael Waddell Turns Passion Into A Career
A longtime friend to GON, this hunting industry icon got his boyhood start chasing deer and turkey in Meriwether County.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” certainly describes the life Michael Waddell has lived, starting out as a young boy growing up in the woods of a place he calls Booger Bottom, just a stone’s throw from Woodbury. Now he’s a man who makes his living in the woods all across America.
As a young Georgia boy, Michael spent his time chasing game and wetting a line every chance he got. Taught by his daddy, Edwin Waddell, Michael’s skills as a hunter and outdoorsman eventually catapulted him to the top of the outdoor television industry, which generates more than $40 million in advertising sales revenues each year.
Today, Michael chases game all over the country and occasionally on faraway continents. He’s always with a cameraman behind him, capturing his outdoor adventures for the millions who tune in each week for new episodes of “Bone Collector,” one of the top hunting shows on television.
Booger Bottom, located in Meriwether County, was the home place carved out by the Waddell family some 70 years ago when sharecropping and hard times were the norm. Michael’s boyhood home was one of several built by the Waddells and their in-laws, the Owen family, along a gravel road far from the main road that runs between Woodbury and Thomaston. Rolling hills and hardwood bottoms were young Michael and his younger sister Jessica’s playground. In these Georgia woods, a seed was planted that would bring him to where he is today as one of the most popular personalities in the hunting and outdoor industry.
Michael was taught by his daddy to read the woods for signs of whitetail deer and turkey. Edwin called the first turkey to Michael’s shotgun when he was just 9 years old; Michael took his first deer when he was 10. He’s parlayed this woodsmanship into a career he describes as “a dream come true.”
“I never imagined someone could actually make a living doing what I loved—hunting,” Michael said.
The first turkey call Michael learned to use was his daddy’s Lynch Fool Proof Box Call. Over time, he became so good with this call and his various mouth calls that he became so well known in the area that a couple of fellows encouraged him to enter a National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) calling contest in 1991 when he was just 17 years old. After placing in the top 10, he began to make the rounds, entering contests across the Southeast.
“I drove that boy all over the state, from one calling contest to another watching him win trophy after trophy,” said Edwin.
At 19, Michael found himself competing for top prizes against more seasoned professionals and winning. It was at a NWTF competition at Unicoi State Park near Helen that his rendition of a turkey’s “kee-kee run” caught the ear of outdoor writer Laurie Lee Dovey. After listening to “the most beautiful kee kee she had ever heard.” Laurie Lee began to get to know Michael. She found a young man who she remembers “had the enthusiasm and willingness to do whatever it took to be successful” in what was then a very young hunting television industry. Laurie Lee helped him put together a resume highlighting his skills as a competitive turkey caller and outdoor experiences. She began introducing him to some of the industry’s pioneers, like Bill Jordan, founder of Realtree, a Columbus company that is one of the industry’s leading manufacturers of camouflage clothing. Realtree also produces the “Monster Bucks” video series and Realtree Outdoors television series. Bill then introduced Michael to his show producer David Blanton.
With Michael’s success as a turkey guide, and Bill’s keen eye for talent and a strong work ethic, he was offered a job with Realtree as a cameraman.
“David Blanton called me and told me, ‘I can’t offer you much, but if you want to join Realtree, it’s yours,’” said Michael.
He jumped at the opportunity to travel with the Realtree team filming hunts.
“The next thing I know I’m meeting legends like Chuck Adams, Larry Wiesenhunt and Jim Shockey and filming their adventures all over the country,” said Michael.
Michael found himself learning a new industry that was growing fast and presenting incredible opportunities. His position at Realtree grew from that of a cameraman to the host of an award-winning show “Realtree Road Trips.” Selected in its first year on air as “Fan Favorite” at the Outdoor Channel’s Golden Moose Awards, Road Trips quickly became one of the most-watched hunting shows in the lineup. The show’s success propelled Michael’s popularity among viewers to the top of the heap among other well-known celebrities in the industry.
In 2010, Michael and Mike Schoby penned a book with a light-hearted look into his life growing up in Booger Bottom titled “Hunting Booger Bottom: Life Lessons from the Field.”
After several years with Realtree, Michael decided to create his own show and brand. Michael’s “Bone Collector” was born in 2008 and first aired in 2009, featuring Michael and friends Travis “T-Bone” Turner and Nick Mundt.
“Bone Collector is a hunting show that makes no bones about who we are and what we do—hunt,” said Michael.
The Bone Collector crew created a show that didn’t soften the hunt by editing out the true nature of the adventure. Michael’s vision for the show was to provide an entertaining yet realistic depiction of hunting. He wanted to include the practical jokes among the “Bone Collector” crew and their guests around the campfire to the reality of following a short trail to a monster whitetail, a big bull elk or a wild turkey taken with one of his many shotguns—a TC Encore muzzleloader or a Hoyt bow.
Between Realtree Road Trips and Bone Collector, Michael has won more Golden Moose awards than any other outdoor personality, a huge accomplishment when stacked against all the other outdoor TV hosts today.
While Michael’s rise to the top has taken him around the country, his roots still remain in Georgia where he makes his home in Hamilton and raises his children, Mason, 15, Meyer, 11, and Addie and Macoy, his 8-year-old twins. They are his first priority, and his passion for the outdoors is one he proudly passes on to all of the Waddell young’uns. Each of his kids love hunting with their daddy.
“Their hunts get my heart pumping far more than any of my own,” Michael explains. “There’s just something about seeing that ear-to-ear smile on your child’s face or hearing the excitement in their voice as they say, ‘I got it, Daddy, I got it!’”
While much has changed for Michael Waddell throughout his life, one element remains the same. Wherever he is or whatever he is pursuing, his passion for hunting has never waned. More importantly, his heartfelt appreciation for his fans, whom he fondly refers to as “The Brotherhood,” has grown stronger with each passing year.
At a point in his life that requires hard work, travel and a dedication to represent his sponsors as well as maintain his own brand with “Bone Collector,” Michael’s roots remain in the woods of Booger Bottom. His heart is always with his wife Christie, their four children and his daddy who taught him the ways of the woods.
“I am so thankful that Daddy taught me how to hunt and fish and that those skills became my passion and helped me develop my career in the hunting industry. Now I get to pass on those skills and traditions to my kids,” Michael said.
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