Technology is making our world ever smaller, and the countless devices that we are tethered to have sent some people literally running for the hills. Many ambitious souls have taken to living "off the grid" in an effort to become one with nature and to live life in the way their ancestors did.
One such group of people are stars of the hit History Channel reality show Mountain Men, which debuted in May of 2012. For six seasons and counting, Mountain Men has invited viewers into the lives of Tom Oar, Eustace Conway, Marty Meierotto, Charlie Tucker, the late Preston Roberts, and others who have given themselves over to the difficult life of hunting, trapping, and otherwise completely relying on nature to survive.
By most accounts, Mountain Men is a fairly accurate representation of not only the lives of the people documented on the show but of the off-the-grid lifestyle in general. Stories about the show being faked or even exaggerated are few and far between, as are tales of the cast members not being all they appear to be. But that's not to say that there is nothing sketchy about Mountain Men or its cast, or that there aren't secrets to be found in the dangerous mountains and forests where they live.
Here are 15 Dark Secrets About Mountain Men You Had No Idea About.
Before rounding up the cast of Mountain Men, producers Chris Richardson and Marc Pierce had discovered another rugged group of people that they felt deserved their own reality show: the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame.
The show that Richardson and Pierce co-created for the Robertsons was Duck Commander, the precursor to Duck Dynasty. Duck Commander was a hit for the Outdoor Channel that lasted for three seasons before A&E decided to buy it and retool it as Duck Dynasty, shifting the focus off Phil to include more of the family.
The move was a lucrative one as Duck Dynasty proved to be an even bigger hit-- lucrative for everyone but Richardson and Pierce, who weren't asked to come along. After licking their wounds and mourning the show that got away, the producers were determined to prove themselves with another hit show, a goal they soon achieved.
While the off-the-grid lifestyle has modernized a bit over the years and allows for people to have various conveniences like electricity, GPS devices, motor vehicles, and running water, there are still some pretty obvious no-nos for people who are trying legitimately to live that way.
Among those faux pas would seemingly be cable television. Having cable definitely seems like it is a few steps too deep into being a modern technological luxury for a true off-gridder to be able to enjoy. So, when Mountain Men's Tom Oar admitted that he and wife Nancy watch the show every week-- a show that requires paid cable or streaming service subscription-- it definitely raised a few red flags as to just how off the grid they truly are.
One of Mountain Men's most popular cast members is Eustace Conway, and Eustace fans can read an entire book about his fascinating life. In fact, when discussing the process of creating the book, Eustace actually let an extremely interesting tidbit about himself slip.
Eustace admitted that, while talking with author Elizabeth Gilbert for her book about him, The Last American Man, he confessed to her that he has a certain persona that he shows the public. There's an assumption that people like Eustace are strange, eccentric men who rarely come down off their isolated mountain and interact with the big scary world, something that Eustace is all too happy to play up for visitors to his school and nature preserve. Shows like Mountain Men are usually about people trying to disprove misconceptions and stereotypes rather than play into them.
One of the most common sources of dramatic tension on Mountain Men, other than being eaten by a bear or falling down a mountain, is that the cast members of the show have to fight and scrape for every penny and are always just on the verge of financial ruin. The show portrays a group of people that are perpetually one slow hunting season from running out of money at best, and dying of starvation at worst.
While it's true that the Mountain Men cast don't command high salaries, they do get a stipend for appearing on the show. In addition, many of them have seen major upticks in their businesses due to the added exposure the show brought to them. Simply put, nobody on the show is in any danger of running out of money, food, or shelter any time soon.
Nobody is denying that living in the deep wilderness during extreme winters is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening way of life. Mountain Men producers haven't had to manufacture any of the scary situations that have occurred through the show's five-year (so far) run. It wouldn't be a successful reality show unless things were at least being a bit exaggerated.
Tom Oar has admitted that the show makes his life seem more consistently dangerous than it actually is. While he certainly has to fend off the occasional wolf and braves his fair share of harsh blizzards, those things don't happen on a regular basis like the show leads people to believe. It's as if producers don't think people would enjoy just watching a guy hike around without his life being in active danger at all times!
The cast of Mountain Men don't live just outside of any major urban areas or even mid-sized towns. In some cases, they are not only hours away from anything approaching civilization, but it's hours of treacherous terrain that can't be easily reached by car.
So, in order for camera crews to capture the cast of Mountain Men going about their lives, they have to actually brave the same conditions as the show's stars. Packing up and heading to a hotel at the end of a day of shooting isn't exactly an option.
Crews often spend multi-week shoots huffing around with nothing more than their cameras and backpacks full of supplies, making their job sometimes just as dangerous-- if not moreso-- than the subjects they are following.
It's a lot more than just an extended camping trip in tough conditions that camera crews on Mountain Men have to deal with. Often, their lives are truly at risk, whether it's walking along unsteady terrain where a single misstep could mean a fall down a mountain, or being charged by various wild animals that would love to make a snack of a cameraman.
In one particular instance, a camera operator was filming a scene over an icy lake when the ice cracked and he fell into the arctic waters below. It can take only a short amount of time before a person can get gangrene or hypothermia while submerged in freezing waters. Luckily, the crew member was quickly rescued before any serious injury occurred, but it's a situation that could've easily had a much worse outcome.
In December of 2012, one of Eustace Conway's neighbors, Margaret Palms, called police on the Mountain Man star saying that he trespassed on her land. Palms claimed that she and Eustace had had an ongoing dispute over property boundaries that stretched back over a number of years, with Eustace doing things like tying her gate closed, blocking her driveway with wooden barriers, and posting over a dozen letters on her fence and mailbox-- all in an effort to try and claim a part of her land that, she says, Eustace believes belongs to him. To quote Palms directly, "He just kind of went nuts."
Eustace was initially charged with trespassing, but the case was eventually dismissed. However, he has never formally commented on Palms' claims or publicly denied doing any of the things she accused him of doing.
The website and online community "Off Grid" has never been shy about calling out TV shows that it believes misrepresent living off the land. Among its past targets have been Doomsday Preppers, Man vs Wild, and Alaskan Bush People. But in a July 2012 blog post, the site really went in hard on Mountain Men.
Beyond accusations of Mountain Men being fake in very specific ways that only off-gridders would be able to understand, the site says that Mountain Men represents "TV's usual trashy take" on the lifestyle of living off the land. Clearly the irony is lost on the writers of a website that is not only dedicated to people living off the grid, but has the nerve to call out those who it perceives as not doing it properly.
Sure, one can argue that websites about living off the grid-- such as the aforementioned "Off Grid"-- are strictly for informational purposes and could just be aimed at people wanting to know more about the lifestyle even if they aren't actually living it.
But surely an actual off-gridder wouldn't have his own online presence, right? Tom Oar defiantly refuses to have an online presence even as demand for his products would greatly benefit from an online store-- though others have sold his merchandise second-hand on sites like eBay.
Mountain Men knife-maker Jason Hawk clearly isn't willing to uphold those same principles, as he proudly peddles his wares directly from his own web store. Maybe he has some kind of special solar-based internet that doesn't require an actual internet company?
Seasons three and four of Mountain Men saw the addition of father/son team Kyle and Ben Bell to its cast. While most of the peripheral families represented on the show have been portrayed as passive participants in the off-grid lifestyle, New Mexico-based hunter and outfitter Kyle was actively teaching 10-year-old Ben the ways of living off the land.
The only thing stranger about Kyle and Ben's quiet exit from the show after season three was why there wasn't a mother in the picture. Not that a single parent raising a child alone is strange in and of itself, but it seemed odd to have a reality show follow the pair for two full seasons and never once address where Ben's mom was and whether she simply didn't want to appear on the show or if she wasn't actually in the Bells' life at all.
Like most reality show casts, the various people on Mountain Men have some sort of quirk or gimmick that defines them. For Rich Lewis, that gimmick seems to be his pack of dogs-- or, more specifically, the fact that he can't ever seem to keep up with all of them. The constant tension of where Rich's dogs are and his trying to find that one dog that didn't make it home yet are common themes that the show frequently returns to.
There's just one problem: as many eagle-eyed viewers have observed, Rich's dogs wear collars that are outfitted with GPS tracking devices. In other words, he shouldn't ever lose them since he always knows exactly where there are. It is clear that "Rich can't find his dogs!" is a mostly manufactured element designed to add false drama to the series.
Long-running outdoor magazine Field & Stream decided that Mountain Men star Marty Meierotto was not only a great subject for an in-depth profile, but that he deserved to be featured as a cover story. The publication sent journalist Bill Heavey out into the Alaskan wilderness-- during winter-- in order to spend three days with Marty for the story.
At one point, Heavey decided it would be a good idea to strike out on his own in order to do research for the story, and ended up taking a wrong turn and getting lost. As Heavey puts it, things got so bad during his separation from Marty that he seriously considered the possibility that he wouldn't survive the ordeal. Fortunately, Marty knows the area around his home quite well, and was able to locate the journalist before any serious harm came to him.
In addition to living and earning off the land, Eustace supplements his income with the survivalist school he runs on his North Carolina preserve. In fact, Eustace's school had been going strong for over 20 years prior to his becoming a TV star, but naturally, the fame made the school an even bigger draw than ever.
Fame also brought additional scrutiny to Eustace and his school, with county officials suddenly claiming they had discovered a number of safety violations that forced them to close the school down in 2012. For a time, it seemed as though the school would remain closed as Eustace said he didn't have the money to make the necessary changes to comply. Luckily, North Carolina ended up giving his school an exemption that allowed it to reopen as-is in 2013.
Although Eustace's school was allowed to re-open-- and thus far has remained so-- it's entirely possible that those supposed safety violations weren't completely off the mark as an incident there resulted in a woman becoming partially blind.
During a slingshot demonstration, a visitor to the school was struck in the eye with a rock, the result of which was her completely losing her sight in that eye. The young woman successfully sued the school and received a settlement for the accident, and while Eustace stands by the safety of his school and his preserve, there seems to be a fair amount of evidence that suggests the contrary. Off the grid doesn't necessarily mean off the hook when it comes to safety regulations.
Do you have any Mountain Men trivia to share? Leave it in the comments!