By Thomas “Encyclopedia” Crawford
This show is a very interesting look at how some people can survive and thrive out in the wilderness. The danger is real for these men and women and they do put their lives on the line daily. However, there are some things that need to be understood. This show is entertainment, and therefore not everything is exactly how the show is promoted. The show promotes these people as completely independent individuals. It also builds suspense through narration and filming techniques.
The first part is very easy to see. The commercials, the intro credits, and even the music used seems to portray these men as individuals that have turned their backs on regular society. They have forsaken technology, money, and modern comforts to support themselves and live solely off the land with no help. This is very far from the truth. When looking at Tom, Eustace, and Marty, one can see they rely not only on technology, but other people to make their lifestyles work.
Within a few episodes anyone can see that Tom Oar works very closely with his wife to survive in Montana. Not only that, they do have neighbors that live a good distance away, yet are constantly working together to survive the harsh environment. Tom traps beavers out of a neighbors water hole so that his neighbor can have fresh drinking water. In return Tom not only keeps the beavers for their pelts and meat, the neighbor also takes him out on his boat duck hunting. When Tom gets lost, it his neighbors that go searching to find him and make sure he is safe.
Eustace is a mountain man that doesn’t go it alone either. He works with his friends on the land and the young interns to help survive. They work together to hunt for plenty of meat. They also work together to plant and grow enough food to help them survive. It is true they don’t seem to have an abundance of material comforts, yet would be a lie to say they don’t take advantage of technology. Eustace even goes into great detail about how some of his most important tools are the chainsaw and his rifles. Without these to make his work easier he would have a very tough if not impossible time making it in the wild. He also makes it a point to say that the team working together is key to their lifestyle.
Marty is quite possibly one of the bravest men in the show. He risks his life every time he gets into his plane to fly out to his cabin. He admits all it takes is for his plane to freeze up, or get caught in a sudden white out snowstorm and he’d probably not make it back. He also makes great use of technology. Other than the plane he uses his snowmobile to get his daily water several miles away, and to check his one hundred plus traps over a hundred miles. He is completely alone in the wild, and his only connection to the outside world is a small radio. It should be noted he actually lives in a normal home with his family in Alaska, with a lot of the regular comforts one expects. His jaunts into the Alaskan wilds are to make money, he uses the money from pelts to support his family. Marty actually makes it a point to say one of the hardest things is the isolation, and a man can go crazy spending too much time away from other people.
Okay, these men aren’t completely by themselves. They aren’t lone individuals that are completely cut off from society. In fact, they need society for many things, from selling their pelts to buying parts for machines that break down and bullets for their guns. They do live off the grid, and do face a lot of danger that the average person doesn’t deal with on any regular basis. However, the way the show is filmed does add more danger and suspense to the show. This is another aspect that needs to be understood.
Tom is out hunting, he finds some grizzly prints. He worries about how close it might be as he continues tracking the deer he has been hunting. The camera shifts from Tom’s worried face to a growling grizzly. As the narrator describes the resurgence of grizzlies in the area. Tom starts talking, saying a grizzly can kill a man in a heartbeat. As Tom looks around, he picks up his walking stick, and continues in tracking the deer. Tom calls out for his dog to remain close. The image shifts again, a grizzly in the distance, stalking some prey as it pounds the snow covered ground with its massive paws.
Marty has been checking his traps all day. Suddenly, his snowmobile breaks down. Nearing him, he can hear the call of a pack of wolves. Marty, starts to work fast, taking apart his machine and trying to find the problem. The camera switches to some wolves in the distance. As they prowl closer, Marty works to change the spark plugs in the engine. The narrator describes how Marty was once surrounded by wolves. The only way he survived was by firing off several rounds to scare them away. The camera zooms in on Marty’s hands, as he has to take his gloves off he explains how the cold is one of the worst parts of working on the snowmobile. The picture changes to more images of wolves, fighting and running, stalking their prey. The narrator explains that these wolves can get up to 145 pounds, and won’t hesitate to attack humans. Marty laughs, says he wouldn’t want to be caught in a pack’s sight without his gun, it could be some trouble for him. As the camera switches to one more shot of a pack, Marty fires up the snowmobile and zips away before they can close in for the kill.
These shots and the narration do add a lot of suspense to the show. They actually make the danger seem even closer than it is when filmed. During these episodes grizzlies don’t actually get close at all to Tom. There are periods where it seems scary, like finding grizzly prints not a hundred yards from his house. However, the actual danger is built through the storytelling of the narrator and the video slicing to growling grizzlies while Tom is walking. The same goes for Marty, one can hear the wolves, but never actually see the pack circling Marty closely. The danger is built up using the narration, Marty talking about his own experiences, and shots of wolves in the wild. Was a pack close? Yes, the way it was shot seems like there really was a pack of wolves within seeing distance. Were they actually going to come up and attack Marty, that is up to the imagination.
These men are not the “mythic mountain man” that live by themselves and survives only through their own skill and ingenuity. The fact is, that is a myth. Men and women need other people to survive. Are there men that really live completely alone and never interact with anyone from society or use any modern technology to survive? It is very possible, though the chances of them surviving long completely isolated is slim, it has most likely been done before. However, in the context of this show, this isn’t exactly the case for these men.
The camera never shows them fighting off a grizzly, or fighting a pack of wolves to survive. The camera and narrator tell a story that allows the imagination to create those scenes, and build the suspense. However, the threat of freezing to death, starving to death, or being attacked or injured without nearby help is very real. Even without the help of the camera and storytelling to make this point, it is easy to see.
Overall, the show is a good one. One has to take it with a grain of salt, because it is entertainment, and some of the dangers are more imagined and created to make it more interesting. Does it take away from the true dangers these men face? Not at all. Anyone can still watch this show and know that the storytelling and camera shots are meant to enhance it. These men are very self-reliant, tough, and not the typical American. A person can watch this and not help having respect for the lives they have chosen to live, and the dangers they face just to survive. They may not be the “mythic” mountain men, but they are strong willed and entertaining characters to watch. Even taken with a grain of salt, this show is enjoyable to watch.