OSCODA – The Mitten State boasts a bounty of opportunities within its waters and forests. It has consistently been a draw for hunters and anglers, including Jimmy Gretzinger, owner of the “Michigan Out of Doors” television show.
At the request of those from the Alpena Community College (ACC) Oscoda Campus, he gave a presentation on Sept. 16 at the Warrior Pavilion of Ken Ratliff Memorial Park. He served as the speaker for the latest ACC Talks event, a quarterly series which was initiated last year by the campus’s Director, Dr. Marvin Pichla.
Gretzinger’s appearance provided a welcome respite during a year which has seen the cancellation of a multitude of normally scheduled activities.
His anecdotes were lighthearted and entertaining, but also informative. Gretzinger’s humorous tales of his outdoor excursions resonated with the audience, and it’s clear that his personality would be welcome at any Michigander’s deer camp or favored fishing spot.
In fact, as a lifelong fan of “Michigan Out of Doors,” Pichla said he knew there would be a lot of people interested in attending the most recent ACC Talks. So, approval was sought from the township to host the event at the Warrior Pavilion instead of the college, in order to accommodate more people and still maintain a safe social distance.
Gretzinger’s presentation covered a number of topics, but the audience took away a few key points, in particular. One item he stressed is that sportsmen and women have to do a better job of telling their stories – and no, he wasn’t necessarily referring to the “stories” where one embellishes the size of the fish they caught or the buck that got away.
While people love to both hear and tell such tales, he said he believes that outdoor enthusiasts should also explain why they enjoy hunting and fishing.
For instance, if someone were to show him a photo of a pile of bluegill they caught, or a nice deer they took down, it would pique his interest and he would be excited because he knows what goes into something like that. But to someone who is not a hunter, he said they’re going to wonder why they’re being shown a photo of a “dead critter with its tongue sticking out.”
Gretzinger says there is quite an overlap of why people like to hunt and fish, that those who do not partake can actually really understand and get behind. It’s up to the sportsmen and women, though, to explain why they do what they do, and to share it in a way that others can understand.
For Gretzinger, personally, spending time with friends and family is one of the top reasons he loves to hunt and fish. He said he has a small cabin in Cheboygan County which is nice to stay at from time to time, but it isn’t until the friends start pouring in around mid-November when the cabin really transforms into “deer camp,” which he likened to the best place on earth. “But it’s about who is there. So, any time with friends and family is a huge reason why we like to hunt and fish.”
Another driving force behind his passion for the outdoors, he says, is that it allows him to unplug from the craziness of life and forget about the phone for a while. There isn’t much reception in remote hunting areas, anyway. “And that’s awesome,” he expressed.
Having an adventure and simply taking in the experience of hunting or fishing is another example Gretzinger listed. He said that when you step out of your vehicle, and you go into a duck marsh or venture into a trout stream, you don’t know what’s going to happen. “And that’s just an adventure.”
When these types of experiences are explained to others, “That’s something we can all understand, even if we’re not hunters or fishers,” he says.
However, he adds that a lot of times, people who tell their stories can gloss over some of the things that non-hunting and non-fishing folks might really want to hear about.
Gretzinger said that by sharing why people like to hunt and fish – and doing so in a way that is relatable for others – there are two main, positive things which he believes can happen.
“One, they may want to try hunting and fishing,” he pointed out. “And if you’re here, and you love the outdoors, and you’ve taken someone new with you into the outdoors, I’m telling you what, it is so awesome to experience the outdoors again through somebody’s eyes for the first time.”
As for the second item, Gretzinger says that sooner or later, people are going to be voting on something which is hunting or fishing related. So, if those from the outdoor world start sharing why they love to do this – such as a pheasant hunting trip that allows them to spend time with their children – then others can see that there is much more involved in these kinds of activities.
He encouraged the hunters and anglers in the audience to tell their stories to whoever will listen, so they can understand more of the reasons behind this. He added that he thinks it would go a long way in preserving the outdoor legacy which exists in Michigan.
Gretzinger has plenty of experience in this realm and, while growing up in Ludington, he would tag along during his father’s hunting and fishing adventures.
Upon obtaining a degree in broadcasting and audio/video production from Michigan State University, Gretzinger came back to Ludington in search of a job in this field. His passion for the outdoors also remained strong, but he didn’t know if he would be able to combine these two loves.
He found work at SpringHill Camps in Evart, where he started the venue’s production facility. “And I worked there for about three years or so, full-time, and loved it,” he said, adding that it was the perfect training for what he is doing now.
When Gretzinger caught wind in 1998 that one of the hosts of “Michigan Out of Doors” had just retired, he submitted a resume and a tape of his work, and they made him an offer two weeks later.
He is now wrapping up 22 years with the show, which has aired since the early 1950s.
Originally called “Michigan Outdoors,” the program was started by Mort Neff, who did the show for about 23 years. A second owner bought it from Neff and took things over for a handful of years, before selling it to Fred Trost, who did the show for roughly two decades.
“And then in the late 80s/early 90s, Fred had a legal issue with a company called Buck Stop Lures,” Gretzinger said.
According to Gretzinger, Trost had claimed that the lures were not real and that they were synthetic. The company sued him, he lost the case and the name “Michigan Outdoors” basically went up for sale.
“And so the Michigan United Conservation Clubs [MUCC] – who had a magazine at the time, and still do, called “Michigan Out of Doors” – they bought that other name and then restarted a television show, calling it “Michigan Out of Doors,” Gretzinger said.
He notes that he started working for MUCC in 1998, and it was about 10 years later when the economy took a dive and many nonprofits were left struggling. This included MUCC, which had to decide what they could cut. Gretzinger said that MUCC figured they should continue with their magazine, as it was the one tangible thing they could give to their members. They didn’t have to do a television show, however.
This started the process of Gretzinger negotiating with MUCC, and he purchased the show in 2009. He stayed in their offices for a while, then moved from the Lansing area back to west Michigan in 2010 to do the show from there.
The other full-time staffers are based in different areas of the state, and they all travel across Michigan to get their stories. They edit their work and can send it to Gretzinger online. He then packages it in Grand Haven, where he lives, puts everything on a thumb drive and delivers it to one of the technicians at PBS. All of the content is taped in Michigan, but the show is broadcast in this state, as well as in Canada, Alaska and parts of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin.
According to Gretzinger, most outdoor/sportsmen channels typically do 13 episodes per year, and there are very few which do 26 episodes a year. But “Michigan Out of Doors” puts together 52 episodes annually, and he says he’s not aware of any other outdoor show that does this weekly.
In Michigan, Gretzinger’s program airs through PBS, on all different stations. Depending on where one resides, they can catch the show anytime between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., every Thursday. The program is re-aired again on the weekend, as well.
The show’s crew has to produce 26 minutes and 46 seconds every week, and the program highlights everything from hunting and fishing journeys, to recipes, how-to segments and much more.
Gretzinger is frequently asked what some of his favorite stories have been, and he says it’s funny how the ones that really stick out are when things didn’t go as planned. “And that happens quite a bit.”
He told of his too-close-for-comfort encounter with a bear as it scaled down a tree right above his head. While nerve-wracking at the time, it made for a rather comical story to share with the ACC Talks attendees.
They also got a kick out of the rocky ride Gretzinger took while shooting a big lake fishing segment for the show, near the Port of Onekama. With waves crashing over the break wall and the vessel being jostled around, the situation ultimately ended with fishing line and ropes being scattered all over the boat – and hundreds of dollars of lost gear.
Once they got back into calm waters, Gretzinger recalled, the captain had a rather nonchalant response of, “You know, I don’t think that was such a good idea.”
“No, it was a terrible idea!” Gretzinger said, to the laughter of the crowd.
When Gretzinger accepted Pichla’s invitation to speak at ACC Talks, the plan was for him to also potentially take some video in Oscoda for a future show. Following his visit, he was headed to Petoskey for a goose hunt this past Friday. With the woodcock opener being that Saturday, he planned to stay an extra day to go on a hunt.
Pichla said he tried to model the ACC Talks after the successful TED Talks, and that the college’s next program will be held in December. As the date draws closer, more details will be available at https://discover.alpenacc.edu, or by calling the ACC Oscoda Campus at 358-7295.