Local outdoors TV host can’t get enough of hunting, fishing

PARIS — Kyle Randall loves the outdoors, and he likes telling others about it.

Randall is executive producer of KMA Productions Inc., and presents The Wilderness Journal television program, televised across the state and locally on WCMU and WGVU. He’s been in production for 17 seasons. His Paris office is north of Big Rapids on the Muskegon River. He’s been in the area since 1985.

He laughs and says a 1979 Chevrolet pickup is what brought him to the area.

“We came here, I bought an interest in a fish farm,” Randall said. “I moved over in 1985 to pursue that. I sold a business on the east side of the state.”

The TV program comes on 52 weeks a year.

“There’s 30 new programs and the best of the best in the summer,” he said.

Many will remember the former Michigan Outdoors programs in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, featuring Mort Neff and others, but Randall said his program doesn’t follow the same format.

“Our program is just hunting and fishing, but it’s pursued all over North America,” Randall said. “It’s not just a Michigan program, by any stretch. We do programs obviously here in the state and try to do as many as we can. We travel. Wherever there’s a quality opportunity, we’ve either been there and we’re going back or we’re still looking to go there.

“We’ll have 50,000 to 55,000 miles a year in travel, primarily in North America, but we do get off the continent once in awhile. We air all over, all through Chicago, Indiana, Ohio and as far south as Tennesee and Kentucky, plus Florida as well.”

His ratings have been impressive.

“I can tell you we’re the highest Nielsen-rated outdoor show in the entire country, have been for years,” he said. “We enjoy well over a million viewers a week. We always enjoy finding new viewers.”

Randall hosts the show, but still finds plenty of time to himself to do some hunting and fishing.

“I do probably between 40 and 60 percent of the hunting and fishing in the program every year,” he said. “It depends on what’s scheduled.”

Randall said he likes to hunt “everything that’s legal and anything that tastes good.”

His favorite hunt is archery hunting for whitetail deer.

“I truly enjoy archery elk hunting,” he said. “Taking young people turkey hunting is tough to beat. It’s very exciting and very action-packed. Of all the things, it’s near the top.”

Turkey hunting is an excellent way, Randall says, to get youngsters involved in the sport.

“It’s interactive, they don’t have to sit perfectfully still if you use a blind,” Randall said. “If it’s not working where you are, you can pick up and move somewhere else.”

Randall noted turkeys were harder to come by during this past spring season.

“There were less of them,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have access to a lot of private property to hunt on. In a normal year, three or five locations we have access to would have turkeys. This year it was one out of three or four. It was feast or famine, and it was primarily due to winter kill.

“We did encounter a number of obvious winter kill situations when we were in the field this year, both for turkey and for deer.”

Randall expects a “fairly substantial” impact on the upcoming hunting season “anywhere they’re more than a mile or two away from agriculture, which isn’t so bad right here. But if you get much north of here, it’s going to be considerable. We’re blessed to have a lot of agriculture here that carries the deer through the tougher winter months. If you get much north of (US) 10, it will be substantial.”

When it comes to being an angler, Randall loves his smallmouth bass fishing on the river.

“It’s predictably good, it’s accessible, and there’s suprisingly good quality fish to be caught,” Randall said. “We fish the Muskegon, the Tittabawasee, I enjoy fishing the Manistee for steelhead especially in the winter. We try to do that every year.

“Right now this time of year, the Grand River, we’ll fish for channel catfish coming out of Lake Michigan. They can be a lot of fun on a medium weight rig. They come up to spawn and you can get into 10, 12, 15-pound fish fairly predictably if you know how to fish the holes in the river. It’s a lot like fishing steelhead. We call them ugly steelhead. A few of the 5-to-7 pound males that we keep make for a pretty good fish fry as well.”

He’s a native of the western Upper Peninsula.

“I’ll be honest with you, Michigan is the No. 1 outdoor market in the world,” Randall said. “That’s why we’re here. We could produce our program from anywhere. We truly enjoy many places. But Michigan, for the lack of a better term, is the epicenter for outdoor activities. If you can’t promote and enjoy hunting and fishing in Michigan, you can’t do it. According to the DNR, 2 1/2 million people hunt and fish in this state.”

Randall recalls getting involved in TV when he was asked to do a number of politicized and publicized debates when organizations were trying to outlaw bear hunting in Michigan.

“We were trying to convince the general public that we needed bear management in the state,” he said. “We were successful. From that effort, there were several individuals that asked me if I would host a program they were trying to develop. Their program didn’t work out, but I was contacted subsequently if I’d be willing to produce a program of my own.

“It was with some intredpitation because I really wasn’t trained in television production. I agreed, thinking it wouldn’t work out. That was 17 1/2 years ago and over 400 episodes. It may not yet work out, but so far, we’re still doing it today.”

Randall produces the show right at his office.

“We sold our studio when our last daughter went away to college,” he said. “We moved back to the home because our schedule is so incredibly hectic. The more hours I can spend at home, the better.”

From a satisfaction standpoint, Randall’s most memorable hunt was the first mature deer he was able to harvest in Michigan.

“It’s still the largest deer I’ve ever taken, the only Boone and Crockett whitetail I’ve taken with my bow,” Randall said. “I pursued the deer three years before I got a shot at it. I nearly froze to death trying to drag it out. If it were not for some very kind-hearted neighbors, it would have killed me. That one sticks as the best of the best and nearly the end of the worst. That was some years ago, 1982. There’s been a lot of hunts since then but that will be tough to beat.”

He enjoys going to northern Canada and fishing the wilderness for walleye and big pike, plus brook trout. He has also immensely enjoyed Great Lakes fishing.

Randall has one hunting experience he’d like to take.

“I have yet to harvest a bull moose with my bow,” he said. “I would very much like to do that before I get very older or I won’t be able to carry it out. It’s an 1,800-pound animal. That’s the one thing in North America I have yet to have access to and I truly hope to get that done in the near future.”