1 on 1 With the Pros: Meet Matt Jennings
Lights, Camera, Action — What It Takes To Make It In Outdoor TV
Not unlike other youngsters who want something so badly they can’t mask their emotions, Matt Jennings wanted a bow so badly he cried and begged and pleaded and reminded his parents. And grandparents. And anyone who might listen or be able to get the word to Santa.
As with anything for a pre-teen, it couldn’t come fast enough. Jennings had killed his first deer a few years earlier with a 20-gauge slug while sitting in a ladder stand with his father. He couldn’t hunt alone with a gun, but could with a bow. His uncle gave him an older recurve, which only made that hunger worse to be in the woods.
“I don’t know how many arrows I shot and what all I shot at, from targets to deer, but I was absolutely hooked on bowhunting,” said Jennings, who lives in east-central Alabama and is host of “The Game” outdoors show. “After I got that recurve and had it for a while, I wanted a bow for Christmas. Man, I cried myself into a fit sometimes about that. Saved money, talked about it, did everything I could. Santa brought it to me early and I slept with that bow for two months. Killed my first deer when I was 13 with the bow and that only made it worse. I’m eat-up with it.”
If that sounds familiar, it should be. Many bowhunters experienced similar feelings when they started. Many of them still do, eschewing firearms or crossbows. There’s just something about a compound bow and the challenge and skill required when you’re going after whitetail deer, elk, moose or other game. All of that is what hooked the 30-year-old Jennings almost 20 years ago.
As with many stories about folks in the outdoors industry, Jennings started with a solid dose of outdoors media. He thumbed magazine pages thin, watched videos and television shows, and soaked up as much as he could online. He went to shows. Met people. Hunted a lot. Made mistakes. Killed a few deer. Learned a lot. Made more mistakes. He soaked up all the things during the process and still is, as every hunter understands.
“After I started hunting it just kept growing,” he said of his passion for it. “As for my family, I’m about it. My father has a large body shop and all of my family, if you’re not up before the crack of dawn working you’ll get your butt chewed out. We go all-in.
“I’m like that with hunting, too. When I was starting out I took it so seriously I’d have to make my dad go with me, and I once asked him why. He said because he didn’t hunt, he didn’t want to mess me up. I put my mind to something and go 100 miles an hour. I knew I wanted to do something in the outdoors industry and decided I wouldn’t try to compete against anyone else. I just focus on myself to be better than I was the day before, and help my sponsors and the people who watch the show.”
Lights, Camera, Action
Jennings’ hometown is a spot on the map, five decades old and fewer than 200 people. It has a main drag with some stop signs “and if you blink going through there you’ll miss it,” Jennings said. Folks there are into God, family, country and enjoying life, which includes fishing, hunting and outdoors pursuits.
After several years of hunting and traveling, Jennings met a guy at a gas station. Coincidentally, he said, “his mama ran the hotel where I stayed a lot while hunting and I probably spent enough there to build two houses. I was just a redneck with a jacked-up truck who loved deer hunting. He asked if I was going that evening and if he could film me, and we went. I shot a doe with him working the camera and thought it was pretty cool.
“Next thing I know, we were kind of off and running. Then he had a job offer, and hunting was the only thing I know other than running my mouth and entertaining. I started in August 2018 with a hundred bucks and my mom’s JVC camera. I didn’t know what a media kit was, marketing plans, nothing. I didn’t have a clue. I figured if I could make a little to get by that would be good, and I broke even that year. Things grew from there. I’ve been incredibly blessed to work with great companies and a super fan base.”
That first bow he started with? It was a Ben Pearson recurve his uncle found in a car purchased at auction. Two boxes of XX75 aluminum arrows were with the bow. Some of them may still be in the woods. From there Jennings tried stands, camo, bows, arrows, broadheads … all the things. He continued to soak up traditional and social media, watching and learning. That first year of The Game, he realized a lot more was involved doing a show than climbing a stand, pressing a camera button and shooting a deer.
“The workload’s all on you and you have no option but to get it done,” he said. “I learned how to adapt to the pressure, work to make the companies happy, give every one of them what I can, and help them so that it relates to the people watching me. I ain’t no better than anyone else but I’m just as good and I’m going to work harder.
“I guess it didn’t really hit me until last year when things blew up with the show. Dad called while I was on the road, and he asked if I remembered him getting onto me for reading hunting mags when I should’ve been separating bolts? He said he was looking at the ScentLoc catalog and I was in it. That kind of hit me, being part of these companies that I’ve looked up to for so many years and now I’m working as hard as I can to show them while I’m doing something I love.”
Jennings and his wife have a child on the way. Hunting seasons are ending, and he’s already looking ahead to autumn. Before then will come diapers and some sleepless nights, more sponsor commitments, practice with his bow and plans for hunts. All the things. Jennings is looking forward to it.
“I’d just like to continue growing the brand and be a positive figure in the industry,” he said. “I want to be entertaining, and I’ll still be going 100 miles an hour, but I also want to help others to learn things and give back as much as I can.”
About the author: Alan Clemons is a professional outdoor writer whose work has appeared in countless newspaper columns and magazine articles for more than three decades.
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