The New Media Star
Last season, Mark Kenyon got a shot at the biggest buck of his life. He nicknamed a giant 10-point Jawbreaker after it appeared on his trail cameras and he tracked the buck for two years on his Ohio lease. He wrote about the deer on his blog, talked about him on podcasts, and recorded videos his hunts. Then, on October 16, Jawbreaker strolled beneath Kenyon’s stand as the evening light faded. Kenyon found the buck in his camera, drew his bow, stopped the deer, and shot. But Kenyon hit the buck too far back, and he knew it immediately. The video of the hunt shows him looking into the camera whispering “Please Lord, let him go down.”
Kenyon didn't recover the deer, but weeks later he thought he got new trail camera photos of him. During the rut, Kenyon went on to kill a buck, a big 10-point that was almost identical to Jawbreaker. When Kenyon walked up on the buck, he was thrilled—and then heartbroken. It was the biggest buck he’d ever harvested, but it wasn’t the Jawbreaker he had wounded in October. Kenyon shared the whole story, in great detail, on his website.
In a nutshell, Kenyon’s 2014 season sums up his breakout career in the outdoor industry: the adversity, the perseverance, and above all, the heartfelt honesty.
Kenyon, 27, runs Wired to Hunt, a whitetail-focused website and brand that he started in 2008 while he was an undergrad at Michigan State University earning a degree in business marketing. He went on to land a job at Google working as an account manager for the company in California before eventually moving back to his home state of Michigan.
Kenyon spent his days working for the tech company and his nights and weekends working on Wired to Hunt.
“I would go home and watch every deer hunting video I could find. I also wrote a blog almost everyday. I wanted to immerse myself in it.” Kenyon says. “Some nights I would be up until 3 a.m. working on the site.”
In 2013 Kenyon decided to roll the dice, quit Google, and go full-time on Wired to Hunt. The site’s traffic had grown steadily and a few sponsors were already on board, but progress plateaued, Kenyon says.
“I remember getting in my truck after I quit and thinking: ‘Wow, you just quit Google. This is crazy. I have no income right now,’” he says.
In the following years, Kenyon cranked up the content on his site and now drives 1 million visitors a year. He makes his living from the website, running social media for the National Deer Alliance, and freelance writing. He freelances mostly to get his name out there and learn from whitetail experts. He makes 60 percent of his income ($40-60K) from Wired to Hunt, which now has a handful of strong sponsors.
But for all of Kenyon’s success, he’s not a super hunter. He’s young, he still has a lot to learn, and he knows it. And, that’s what makes him most appealing in an era of outdoor media where hunting “celebrities” are guided to multiple trophy deer each season. Kenyon is a likeable, enthusiastic kid from the Midwest with whom viewers can relate. He doesn’t hunt with guides, he does his own scouting, and he doesn’t hold out for B&C deer. You almost can’t help but root for him.
In fact, his personality helped him get his foot in the door. When he was getting started, Kenyon emailed Field & Stream Whitetails Columnist Scott Bestul out of the blue, asking for advice. Bestul and others like Craig Dougherty, Director of the National Deer Alliance, helped Kenyon out with feedback and more industry contacts. He’s leveraged that help into a broad reach throughout the outdoor media industry. Now he’s pulling down podcast interviews with stars like Jim and Eva Shockey, as well as topline whitetail experts like Kip Adams.
“I remember the first time I talked to Mark, I asked him: ‘What do you have to offer?’” says Dougherty. “Mark said: ‘I’m not an expert and I know that, but I’m a good listener and a fast learner.’ I knew right then that he could be somebody,” Dougherty says.
He shares his failure just as willingly as he shares his successes, hoping that viewers will learn with him along the way.
“The most important thing is maintaining the trust my audience has in me. That’s all I have,” Kenyon says. “If I lose it, I’m done.”
Photos by Andrew Hetherington
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