Bill Winke, who resides in southern Iowa, is the founder of Midwest Whitetail. He has built a career on producing quality articles, photographs, and videos across different formats in the outdoor multimedia world. He has a knack for putting trophy bucks on the ground and it is evident in each and every episode.
Anyone who follows outdoor television, has seen the works of Bill Winke and Midwest Whitetail. The team that makes up this program, both online and on television, are without a doubt experts in their field. Bringing education and entertainment together to produce information filled hunting segments, all while harvesting huge bucks at the same time. Come along with Examiner Christian McHugh and Bill Winke as they discuss Midwest Whitetail, outdoor filming, and more!
Can you give us a brief history of how Midwest Whitetail came to be what it is today? Where did it all begin? I started Midwest Whitetail after a long career writing for hunting magazines. I was seeing the downslide in the number of magazines on the newsstand and the amount of work I was getting was starting to drop off. TV and the internet were stealing the advertising revenue from the magazines and as a result, the publications were buying less editorial for each issue. In some cases, the magazines were folding. I knew that to stay in this industry I needed to reinvent myself in some way. I decided that a web show would be fun to do and would be much easier to start than a TV show. That all started on July 4, 2008. By the middle of August we had our first episode of Midwest Whitetail running on the Realtree.com website. By December we had our own site (MidwestWhitetail.com). Web is our true home, but we also do a TV show for The Sportsman Channel now too. It was a very humble start. I had help from one other person, Jason Vickerman, and we literally had no idea what we were doing. I had an intern helping with the editing, but he was also green as a gourd. We were fortunate to ever get this off the ground. Being first definitely helped because the novelty of the production definitely kept people from being too critical of the quality of the editing. We killed big deer that year, and that always helps too!
What makes Midwest Whitetail different than other outdoor shows?
As mentioned, it started on the web as a near-live series. That alone made it very unique and revolutionary. No one else was producing a web-only hunting series, let alone one that came out just a few hours (sometimes) after the hunts took place. The episodes we produce on the website come out daily from late August through the end of the season – from various regions of the country – so we have tons of editing that takes place each day in the office and that happens even during the season. Many times we have killed on a Sunday evening and had the hunt on the next morning’s episode on the website! That means someone stayed up all night to get it done. That kind of spontaneous content and the fact that we have series from all the regions of the country (so it is in everyone’s backyard) are the main reasons the shows have been popular. The popularity of the TV Show is related to the popularity of the website. We use the same footage but edit a number of hunts together for each episode of the TV Show and build it around a teaching theme – like “Finding the Fall Range” or something like that. I talk about the subject a bit and then we highlight that with lots of action and lots of kills. I think people like the combination of some teaching and lots of action.
Where do you see Midwest Whitetail going in the future?
I think we will keep doing exactly what we are doing now, just try to do everything better: better footage, better storytelling, better teaching. It has to be educational, I think, but it also has to be entertaining and that is the trick – to combine both in a creative and fun way. I am sure we will try some creative stuff along the way, but the core of what we do will not change in the future.
Who was your biggest outdoor influence growing up?
Like most hunters, it was my dad. He took me hunting. Without someone to take you hunting, it is very hard to gain a passion for this sport. He was a dairy farmer and many mornings he got up at 2:00 AM to milk the cows so we could go duck hunting that morning. I never fully appreciated his sacrifice at the time. I can remember him sleeping in his chair a few times with mallards circling his decoys though! I started out as a hard-core devout in the end duck hunter.
What do you think is the best way to introduce youth and new hunters to the sport?
Make sure it is fun and comfortable. As guys who have done this for years, we accept that there will be boring days and cold days and exciting days. We take the good with the bad, but a newcomer doesn’t have that perspective so you have to make sure it is fun and action packed right away. If not action-packed, at least fun and with a twist of adventure. Kids love the feel of adventure. Don’t take for granted the simple excitement and adventure that comes from going on a night time blood trail. That is how both of our kids got started – helping me blood trail deer.
If you could hunt with anyone, past or present, who would it be?
I think to go back to the public marshes of NE Iowa (Mississippi River) with our old group of duck hunters from my Junior High and High School days would be awesome. I loved that with an unquenchable fire. It was my best friend, Scott Sawyer, a few other friends from school, a few dads and some of their friends. We spread out and took up several square miles of island marshland each weekend. All the boats and dogs and decoys – it was awesome. I remember many days that Scott and I would go duck hunting Saturday morning after a hard-fought HS football game the night before and we would both be limping to the point where we could barely walk. We would never,ever think of not going to the River to chase mallards no matter how much it hurt or how tired we were. The Mississippi was THE place to be back then – lots of migrating red-legged mallards. We got really good at that. I really do miss those days.
What are you currently running for camera equipment?
We have a wide assortment of cameras for different projects and opportunities. We have smaller size cameras like Canon G10s and G30s for cutaways and for quick segments, a bunch of GoPros, some Sony AX 2000s and NX5Us for some basic hunting, Sony EX1rs for a lot of our hunting, several DSLRs and lenses of all kinds and even a large sensor Sony PMW 350 that follows me during the season. I have a lot of money wrapped up in film equipment and computers and servers and office space, etc. I never would have dreamed of this when we started so humbly back in 2008.
What is the biggest mistake you see people making when trying to film their own hunt?
They don’t tell the whole story. They only film the deer coming in, the kill and the recovery. That is a small part of the story. You can go to YouTube and literally watch thousands of these. To do justice to the experience you have to tell the whole story on film. That takes a lot more work. Aside from that, the usual stuff of the shot being out of focus or poorly framed is common too.
What is your largest deer to date?
I killed him last season. He scored 206 inches. The buck was 7 1/2 years old and I had been hunting him for four seasons. That was very bittersweet. I had really come to love hunting that deer and once he was dead I felt that a part of my reason to get up each morning was dead too. But I am finding new targets and still have a deep love for just being out there, so the loss of that buck from my “hit list” will soon be forgotten.
As deer seasons nationwide are slowly but surely opening up, Midwest Whitetail is a great place to learn about what the deer are doing, and the tricks needed to get that big buck you are after on the ground. Go to MidwestWhitetail.com to learn more!