In early October, I got the chance to sit down with Jada Johnson, who co-hosts Big Boys TV on the Sportsman Channel with her dad Kevin Johnson, at their studio just outside Gaylord, Michigan. Even more impressive than that, though, is the time she spends mentoring new female hunters of all ages through her all-girls boot camp. It was just a few days into Michigan's archery season and she was fresh in from a morning hunt waiting on a buck she'd been watching for years, still in camo. We talked about a wide range of issues, from the growing influence of female hunters and her role models and favorite hunts, to issues like the Michigan Youth Hunt, how she feels after a kill, how to approach non-hunters, and even quality deer managment. Her honest answers throughout the interview were refeshing and appreciated. You can watch Big Boys TV on the Sportsman Channel Sundays, July through December at 7:30am and 2:00pm. - Drew YoungeDyke, Editor
This interview appears as part of the cover feature, GIRLS HUNT TOO, in the Winter 2017 edition of Michigan Out-of-Doors magazine. Subscribe by becoming a member at www.mucc.org/join_mucc!
(Michigan Out-of-Doors): COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF?:
(Jada Johnson): I am Jada Johnson with Big Boys TV. I am the host of Big Boys TV. My dad and I do it together, we’ve been doing it for six seasons now. We have a passion for hunting and we have a passion for passing it down to other hunters. I’ve been hunting my whole life and I love to do it. My dad and I have just turned our passion into a career.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO HUNTING?
I started hunting pretty much when I could walk. I killed my first animal when I was ten years old in Texas, because in Michigan you couldn’t hunt until you were fourteen at the time. So my dad flew me to Texas, we went on our first hunting trip, and I have been obsessed ever since. I absolutely love being in the outdoors, I love being able to spend time with my family. And because we’re a very outdoors family, we can all go out on hunting trips, and I just really, really enjoy it.
DID YOU KNOW THAT THE ELIMINATION OF THE
MINIMUM HUNTING AGE STARTED AS A MICHIGAN UNITED CONSERVATION CLUBS RESOLUTION?
Mm-hmm. And I am so glad they did that!
COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR BOOT CAMP FOR GIRLS?
We do an all-girls boot camp every summer. Because I have such a passion for hunting and a passion for passing it down to the next generation, I had always been mentoring girls. So my dad and I sat down and said why don’t we just mentor a whole group of girls at one time? Let’s teach these that maybe have brothers, where their dad focuses more on their brothers, or their dads have never taken them to hunting camp because it’s such a male-dominated sport. For the longest time, there was only men’s clothing. It was, the men go to hunting camp and that’s when they get their boys’ time.
And so we decided we’re going to take this group of girls, we’re going to teach them the fundamentals. We do bows, we do guns, we teach them how to go up and down a treestand safely with the Hunter Safety System. We teach them how to actually bowfish, which is one of my favorite parts. We sit in blinds and we look at the deer in velvet, because we do it usually in July, and so the deer are just then really growing some antlers. We do some taxidermay; this year had a taxidermist come in and skin a squirrel for us, so that was really cool.
I just love teaching kids, and I love that I can get all girls in one group, one group of all outdoors women, and we can go through and teach them the fundamentals where they can leave my camp, and then that fall talk to their dads, their parents, and really try to get into the sport.
IT’S FUNNY TO HEAR YOU TALK ABOUT PASSING IT ON TO THE NEXT GENERATION, BECAUSE FOR MOST OF US, YOU ARE THE NEXT GENERATION. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SPECIES TO HUNT?
My favorite species is elk. I think I love to hunt elk so much because they talk to you, they bugle. You can be in the woods and hear so many elk bugle from a ways. Just hearing them screaming on a really cold morning is an incredible feeling.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MICHIGAN HUNT?
My most memorable Michigan hunt, would probably be… I shot a whitetail in Michigan, probably six years ago. It was only my second whitetail I’d ever shot, it was in all velvet, and it was a buck I’d been watching from the youth season until the opener. I ended up shooting it the day before Thanksgiving. I was hunting really hard for this buck, and it was just an incredible feeling to get him on the ground. It was actually all in velvet during the rut, which was a different time, so he had just not developed his testicles and so he had all velvet. It was just a really cool buck and a hunt that I’ll never forget.
HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF HUNTING DURING THE YOUTH HUNT WHEN YOU WERE THAT AGE? WE HEAR A LOT OF NEGATIVE COMMENTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA NOW, DID YOU HEAR ANY OF THAT AND IF SO, HOW DID IT AFFECT YOU?
I didn’t hear a lot of that and I don’t know where it’s really all coming from. When we have these three days that are designated for just kids, I think that’s an incredible thing that the State of Michigan does. I think they should continue doing it. I mean, that gives these kids who go to school every single day a chance where just they can go out with no other competition with other hunters and have a chance at a nice whitetail.
YOU MENTIONED THAT HUNTING HAS TRADITIONALLY BEEN A MALE-DOMINATED PURSUIT. HAVE YOU EXPERIENCE THAT EITHER IN THE HUNTING COMMUNITY OR THE HUNTING INDUSTRY? DO YOU SEE THAT STARTING TO CHANGE?
When I was younger and in high school it was something that all the boys talked about, and they kind of excluded me from that. And then I would get in their groups and start talking about it and they’d be like deer in headlights. They couldn’t believe that I was able to talk about exactly what they were talking about.
In the past few years now, the hunting industry has changed so much when it comes to women in the outdoors, and I think it’s absolutely incredible. I mean, you look at companies like PSE, Hunter Safety System, they’re making products just for women in the outdoors and I think that’s absolutely incredible. I think that the market is going to continue to grow for women in the outdoors and I couldn’t be happier about that.
PINK CAMO: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON IT?
Personally, I don’t have any use for pink camo, but I’ve always been a little bit of a tomboy, and so pink was never really my color to begin with. But I think if a little girl wants to wear pink camo, then let them do it, I don’t care. My little sister is a girly girl – she’s a singer, she’s a dancer, she’s a cheerleader – and she wears pink camo, and I have no problem with it. If that’s what you want to do, if that’s what it takes to get younger girls into the outdoors, then let it happen. I mean, there’s other options, too. Girls don’t have to wear pink camo, like I said I don’t have any use for it. I like regular Mossy Oak camo, but whatever gets girls in the outdoors, gets them motivated to learn more about it, I’m fine with.
WHAT’S YOUR MOST MEMORABLE HUNT OVERALL?
My most memorable hunt was my mountain goat hunt that I went on in British Columbia. It was the most challenging hunt that I’ve ever been on. We climbed the tallest mountain I think I’ve ever seen, it felt like it anyway! We started our hunt at eight o’clock in the morning and didn’t finish until one a.m. the next day. It was extremely difficult, not only physically but mentally. I didn’t think I would ever make it to the top of that mountain and then when I did, it was like, I’d never cried during a hunt, but there were just tears of joy. Just being so happy that I was able to accomplish this. I give serious props to the big game hunters who are doing sheep and mountain goat all the time, because I’ve got one mountain goat, and I think I’m good on that species! But that was definitely my most memorable hunt.
HOW DID YOU PREPARE FOR THAT HUNT?
At the time, I had a personal trainer, so she was training me for the mountain. So we did a lot of stair exercises, doing a lot of endurance things. I’d put my backpack on, my boots on and go for hikes, even though we don’t have a lot of mountains in Michigan, just to get a heavy backpack on and go for a hike. Even as much preparation as I did, and I was preparing for months in advance, even with all that preparation that I did, there’s nothing that can prepare you for that type of hunt.
BUILDING ON HOW YOU FELT AFTER THAT HUNT, HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER YOU KILL AN ANIMAL?
I definitely believe that each animal is a different feeling. If I’m hunting here in Michigan on my own property, and it’s a buck I’ve been watching for years, I feel maybe a little more accomplished, a little more appreciation, because I know that we’ve planted the food plots that it’s been eating, I’ve watched it for years on my trail cameras, and I’ve been pursuing it for years trying to go after it.
But I think every hunt is a little different. When I was on my mountain goat hunt, it was just this sense of accomplishment after climbing that mountain to get an animal that most people don’t ever see in their lives. I also think that there’s a difference between bowhunting and gun hunting when it comes to harvesting an animal. When you’re 20 yards away from an animal and you can literally see its pupils, compared to when you’re gun hunting – and this is meant as no offense to gun hunting or bow hunting – I just feel like there’s a little bit of a difference.
I have serious respect for the animals that we kill. It is a life and something that I believe was given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and I think they were given to us to pursue and to eat and feed our families. There’s a lot of controversy about hunting, obviously, right now, but as hunters I think that we need to remember that we hunt these animals not as a trophy, but as food. I mean, we may wait for a bigger trophy, but at the end of the day we’re doing it to fill our freezers and that’s something we need to continue to remember.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WILD GAME MEAL?
My favorite wild game? I really like elk. It’s so lean and it’s just so good! I love it.
HOW DOES THE HUNTING CULTURE OF NORTHERN MICHIGAN COMPARE TO SOME OF THE OTHER PLACES YOU’VE HUNTED?
I definitely think that Gaylord is unique when it comes to our hunting world because we all get together as a family and a group of hunters. I mean, Opening Day is like a holiday in Michigan. You get school off, there’s a lot of places that won’t work on Opening Day, and I really believe that Gaylord is unlike any other place I’ve been. It’s still a small town, I mean a lot of small towns are the same when it comes to wearing camo and driving big trucks and whatever. But I feel like everyone’s just part of a family around here and when you go into Jay’s Sporting Goods on Opening Day you get to hear everybody’s stories, that’s so much fun. I love where I live in northern Michigan. I’ll always live here because of that reason. Everyone hunts around here and it’s very easy-going. You can walk around in camo without someone looking at you and staring and thinking you’re an ‘animal killer.’ But, yeah, I think Gaylord is unlike any other place I’ve ever been and I love it.
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO NON-HUNTERS WHO MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT WE DO?
One thing that I always reach out on is that every animal that my family kills is either eaten by ourselves or donated to someone in need. So how can you say, ‘you can’t give this meat to a homeless shelter.”? People just aren’t gonna do that.
I like to remind people, also, that it’s something that we’ve been doing for thousands of years. Our ancestors did it. Even the president of PETA’s ancestors were killing animals to feed their family, it’s what we’ve always done, so I like to remind people of that as well.
It’s very hard to persuade someone when they have their minds set, but those people who are on the fence, when you can remind them that we make good, clean shots, that we fill our freezers and feed our family and it’s something that we’ve been for thousands of years, usually you can push them a little closer to our way.
The other thing is, I don’t need that person to be a hunter, I don’t need them to go out and kill something, but I do need them to understand why I do it so they don’t look at me as this bloodthirsty animal, to be honest.
BACK TO YOUR CAMP: WHAT ARE THE AGES OF THE PARTICIPANTS?
Our cutoff age is about 10 and really we’ve had girls from 10 years old to ladies in their fifties who come. I want any girl, any woman who is interested in learning about the outdoors to come. There’s so many times when there’s wives who husbands go off to deer camp, and they don’t even get a taste of deer camp because it’s ‘boys camp.’ I’ve had a couple different ladies who come who say, ‘My husband just won’t take me, so if they won’t take me I’ll learn myself,’ and I’m just like, ‘Props to you, girl, I’m going to teach you everything I know!’
DO YOU THINK YOU’LL STILL BE DOING THE CAMP IN FIVE YEARS?
Yeah, I do. I love the TV show, but even if the TV show didn’t work out, I would continue to do my boot camp. That is what I am truly passionate about. I love the girls. I love getting to know the girls. I have a passion for kids as well, so to be able to work with kids for two whole days about my passion is the best feeling in the world.
LOTS OF GIRLS LOOK UP TO YOU. DID YOU HAVE FEMALE HUNTERS AS ROLE MODELS FOR YOU AS WELL?
Yeah, actually my biggest role model growing up was Tiffany Lakowski. She has been in this industry for so many years. She and Lee, their TV show was one of the first ones on the Sportsman Channel and I had always went to the different outdoor shows and I’d see her and she was always very friendly, always smiling, she’d answer any questions you had for her, so I always watched her show. I was either recording it or I was watching it when it was on. So I really looked up to her and saw how much fun she was having and that’s what really got me started with the TV show. I was like, ‘well she’s doing it, we’re doing the same thing, why can’t we make ours into a TV show?’
SO HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? HOW DID YOU CREATE THE TV SHOW AND WHAT’S BEHIND THE NAME, BIG BOYS, IRONICALLY WITH YOU AS THE HOST?
So, the name behind Big Boys TV is that we are in pursuit of ‘a big boy.’ So most of the time when you’re hunting you’re going after the big buck, which is male, the big bull, which is male, you’re going after the big boar black bear, which is male, so I mean we’re going after the ‘big boys,’ and that’s kind of where the name came from.
We started the TV show six years ago. This is our sixth season. So my dad was a big game hunter before I was ever even born. He was trying to get all the 26 North American big game animals. So he would always take someone with him and he was filming it so he could come home and show me and my mom and my sister. He went to beautiful places like Alaska, you know, Newfoundland. He went up to the Arctic to hunt a polar bear. He’s been to the most amazing places. So he would film it, and then as I got into it, my dad and I started filming me so that we could show my mom and my sister if I ended up killing something.
So I was watching The Crush with Lee and Tiffany and said, ‘Dad, we’re filming this stuff already, why can’t we just make ours into a TV show?’ So we did two seasons with DVD’s just to build our name a little bit and we were on the Sportsman’s Channel ever since. It has been so much fun doing this TV show. It has its ups and downs, but really I enjoy doing it so much.
YOU MENTIONED THE SPORT SHOWS: WHAT’S YOUR PERSONAL PREFERENCE, SHOT OR ATA?
I like ATA, because it’s a smaller crowd. SHOT is just so big, and there’s more than just your hunting industry there. There’s the sport shooting industry, there’s so much there. So I really like ATA, it’s a smaller group of people. The PSE trailer is there, and they’re one of the companies we work with, and they’re like family to us. So we get to hang out with them, and it’s closer to home so we just drive to ATA. So I just love ATA and I love archery. Archery is huge in our industry right now, so I love going to ATA way better than I like going to SHOT. And I’m not a fan of big cities and Las Vegas is, like, the biggest.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE PROCESS OF ARCHERY?
I like that it’s a challenge. I like that, unlike your gun where you can just take it out of your safe and it’s already sighted in and you can just go out and shoot something, I like that you have to get close. I like that it challenges me to shoot my bow often, to really get good with it. There’s just something about being 20-50 yards away from an animal that just gets your heart beating even faster, and your legs are shaking, and there’s so many different things going through your mind. When was the last time I shot my bow? Was it on perfect? Am I going to be able to make this perfect shot? It’s just more of a challenge and I like the challenge.
WHAT ELSE IS ON YOUR MIND? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO EXPRESS TO MICHIGAN OUT-OF-DOORS READERS?
Well, as long as I’m not offending anybody, I would love to reach out to Michigan hunters, especially northern Michigan hunters, is to practice some quality deer management. There’s a lot of hunters that will come up north and shoot the first buck that comes into the woods, and for those of us that have been hunting in the area for our whole lives, and we put so much into watching these bucks grow, and trying to get some quality deer management, it’s frustrating for us. So that’s something that I’d really like the State of Michigan to push is to just practice some quality deer management. You know, just wait for a little bigger buck to come in the woods or get a doe tag if you need to fill your freezer. I understand that people need to fill their freezers, but there’s other ways to fill your freezer than just shooting the first spike that walks into the woods.