The Mountain Men are not at the top of the food chain, and they want their viewers to know it. Their whole show is based on their struggles to survive in freezing winters and around carnivorous animals, collapsing trees, and other natural accidents. But TV is known to be a disturbingly unreliable source of information (well, so is the Internet, yet here I am writing to you).
In any case, let’s take a dive deep into the show and see how wild these men really are. While the concept is a lot more refreshing than your average Keeping Up with the Kardashians format, we’re still not entirely convinced these guys are battling life-threatening situations on the daily.
The show follows a group of rugged-looking guys, each living in different parts of America’s unspoiled wilderness. The cast changes each season slightly, but some have been with us from the very beginning. Take Eustace Conway, for example. The American naturalist opened the doors to his Turtle Island in Season One and has been around ever since.
Other central characters include former rodeo cowboy Tom Oar, mountain lion hunter Rich Lewis, and smokejumper Marty Meierotto. Some reside in Alaska, and others in secluded valleys in Montana. Clearly, they want to keep their distance from society.
Wildlife guide Eustace Conway owns a parcel of land just a few miles east of Boone, a town in North Carolina with almost 20,000 residents. He used that land to build The Turtle Island Preserve, a camp designed to offer people raw, outdoor experiences.
Now, we’re not saying he doesn’t offer that; we’re just saying that he’s not so far away from spacious and modern homes. But, then again, Eustace never denied the fact that he lives next to ordinary people. He calls his camp “an island of wilderness in a sea of development and destruction.”
What would this show be without some danger and suspense? According to the producers, pretty boring. That’s why they ask the cast to exaggerate how difficult their lifestyle really is. “They always have to make it seem more dangerous. I’m too boring otherwise,” Tom Oar laughed.
Oar revealed that producers have even edited shots of bears into some of the scenes just to get the viewers excited. The animals don’t usually come near Oar’s residence when the cameramen are following him, that’s why they need to look elsewhere if they want to get a good shot of a dangerous teddy.
In his biography, The Last American Man, Conway revealed that he gets into character whenever he leaves the house: “When I go out in public, I deliberately try to present myself as this wild guy who just came down off the mountain, and I’m aware that it’s largely an act.”
He says he does it for the greater good. By sticking to his character, he gives the people what they want: “I know I’m a showman. I know I present people with an image of how I wish I were living. But what else can I do? I have to put on that act for the benefit of the people.” Aww… how noble of you, Conway!
The term “off-grid” has modernized itself a bit, and it’s pretty hard to find people who are actually living an electricity-free life. So, there’s no reason to be mad at Tom Oar, right? He’s still a wild, bushy-bearded mountain man, even if he watches TV every Sunday night with his wife.
To be fair, he claims he watches the show [The Mountain Men]. So, at least he’s not binge-watching the Kardashians (or maybe he is…). In any case, the fact he can afford to enjoy the convenience of cable television means that he’s not so isolated after all.
The show portrays the Mountain Men as guys who are on the verge of financial ruin. Eustace’s bio on the History Channel mentions how he relies on a grassroots lumber operation to “secure his financial future.” Yeah, we doubt it. His little camping business is raking in thousands.
If you want to take one of Conway’s workshops, he demands around $300 per person. So, yes, maybe he’s not getting mad money from the show, but the exposure has definitely skyrocketed his business and allowed him to demand a lot more money than before.
Most mountain men on the show have hundreds of thousands of dollars to their names. But one guy has topped them all. Hunter Kyle Bell, who runs a hunting guide service in Cimarron Valley, New Mexico, is reportedly worth at least $3 million.
He makes his fortune off eager people who are dying for the thrill of the hunt. In case you were wondering, a five-day guided trophy elk hunt, for example, costs $7,000 plus the license fees. But don’t worry! The price includes lodging and meals. Happy hunting!
In 2005, a slingshot incident on Turtle Island left a woman named Kimberly Baker partially blind. She visited Conway’s camp as a part of the North Carolina Teaching Fellow program and was struck with a rock right to her eye during a slingshot demonstration.
She sued Conway’s school, and he eventually agreed to compensate her for the trouble. He paid her $75,000, but it took a while for him to let go of the money. She took him to court several times until he finally paid up seven years later in 2012.
Okay, we have to admit we don’t know what to think of off-grid enthusiasts who make fun of this show. If you’re that secluded from the modern world, how are you able to access the Internet and troll the Mountain Men fellas, huh?
Putting that question aside, it’s still worth noting that naturalists are not happy with the show’s cast. Just like Alaskans criticize The Alaskan Bush People, off-grid extremists are accusing The Mountain Men of being fake and representing “TV’s usual trashy take” on that form of lifestyle.
This doesn’t necessarily imply that The Mountain Men is staged and phony. This is just a reminder of the kinds of people working behind the scenes of this show. I mean, come on. Does anyone remember Duck Dynasty? The show that brought us the daily chaos of Robertson’s duck-hunting business?
It was completely scripted. Even the cast admitted they would sit with producers to develop ideas that would add some spice to the scenes. Once the show ended in 2017, producers put all their energy into The Mountain Men.
The cold weather is probably both the greatest concern for both the Mountain Men and the cameramen. Backstage worker Mason Gertz revealed, “I nearly lost part of my hand to frostbite while trying to film a lynx.” He admitted that if it weren’t for Mountain Man Marty’s survival skills, he’d “probably be missing three fingers.”
As if frostbite wasn’t enough, some cameramen have to deal with ferocious animals. For example, crew members who tag along with lion hunter Rich Lewis have come face to face with the angry cat themselves a few times.
Paralyzing weather, wild animals, and unsteady terrain. When filming a scene over an icy lake, one cameraman almost died after the ice cracked and he fell into the freezing arctic waters below. If it wasn’t for the crew’s quick response, he might have suffered gangrene or severe hypothermia.
It looks like if you want to follow the Mountain Men, you have to be willing to risk your life. Producer Richardson explained, “Our guys know how to keep batteries from freezing, lug 50-pound cameras up 10,000 feet on elk hunts, and make do without electricity for days.”
In 2012, Conway’s neighbor, Margaret Palms, called the police to complain about him. She said he trespassed her land and that she wasn’t surprised by it. For years the two have been disputing their property boundaries, and it was only a matter of time until he simply barged in.
Their fights over the land reached some ugly places. Eustace tied her gate closed, blocked her driveway with wooden barriers, and even stuck a bunch of notes on her fence – all so she would admit that the land was his. According to Palms, “He just kind of went nuts.” Conway was charged with trespassing, but the case was eventually dismissed.
Some mountaineers refuse to have an online presence. Like Tom Oar, for example. He despises the Internet, and even though his products would definitely benefit from having an online shop promoting them, he would rather not open one. But knife-maker Jason Hawk is a different story.
Mountain Man Hawk has his very own online store, which he proudly set up to sell his knives and other goods. His website’s motto reads: “For those that live on the edge, the flotsam and jetsam of society.” We’re not sure how much Jason is living on the edge. He has Internet, and his online store looks like any other modern virtual shop.
Seasons Three and Four of the show introduced the father\son duo, Kyle and Ben Bell. Before that, many of the mountaineer families we saw weren’t really active on the show, but in this case, hunter Kyle was shown actively teaching his little boy the ways of living off-grid. But where was the mom?
The show never addressed what happened to Ben’s mom. Maybe it was a touchy subject (probably). But still, it was hard to overlook a situation where a single dad teaches his son wilderness skills for two full seasons and never once mentions why the mom wasn’t even in the picture.
It seemed like lion hunter Rich Lewis could never keep up with his dogs. He would roam the land with his pack of hounds in search of mountain lions but would always end up losing one of his dogs on the way. The constant tension we viewers had to experience got a bit boring after a while.
Especially because we realized it was fake. Lewis’s dogs weren’t actually lost. They wore collars outfitted with GPS tracking devices. So, the whole “Rich can’t find his dogs!” hysteria was nothing more than a manufactured moment to add drama to the show.
Journalist Bill Heavy was sent into the Alaskan wilderness to spend three days with Mountain Man Marty Meierotoo. He wanted to document every little detail about this man’s life, so he followed him around and took notes on his unconventional living. Until he got lost in the woods, that is.
Heavy decided to embark on a little journey of his own around the woods but, sadly, lost his way. He took a wrong turn in the forest and was so disoriented he believed he wouldn’t make it out alive. Luckily, Marty located the frightened journalist and saved his life.
Building inspectors didn’t like what they saw when they came to Conway’s camp because his buildings weren’t made from the marked, graded lumber required. The Mountain Man produced it himself out of the trees that had fallen nearby. Which isn’t so bad, right? At least he’s not faking his wilderness skills.
But if you’re inviting people over for workshops and long stays, you have to make sure you’re not putting anyone at risk with your “illegal” construction. Conway was furious by the inspectors’ complaints. He argued, “How am I supposed to teach primitive living in modern, cookie-cutter structures?”
When Season Seven aired, fans were surprised to discover that their beloved Mountain Man, Preston Roberts, was nowhere to be found. Preston never announced he was leaving the show, so it was a bit of a mystery at first and left viewers scratching their heads.
Sadly, Preston died from complications due to a liver tumor on July 24, 2017. The show’s executives didn’t want to mention it on screen, but Eustace Conway paid tribute to his dear friend on Facebook and wrote: “Rest easy Preston James Roberts… The loss and sadness we feel is indescribable.”
A short while after Preston’s death, a GoFundMe page account was set up to raise money for the funeral’s expenses. Friends, family, and fans donated money into that account to help Preston’s wife, Kathleen. It proved successful and raised over $100,000.
But did Preston’s family really need that account? According to some close sources, no, they didn’t. They had more than enough money from the show. We’re not really sure how believable those sources are, but if their claims are right, then that’s a pretty dodgy thing to do.
There comes a time in a man’s life when all he really longs for is to lie on a sandy beach with his wife and enjoy the heat of the sun. And it looks like Tom Oar has reached that point. He reportedly ditched the cold wilderness and retired to Florida with his wife Nancy in 2019.
Nancy gushed about their new location, “It’s gorgeous. What a place. It’s like I’m on a different planet. The flowers and the birds are different… This is certainly a treat.” Good for you guys. After all those years of hunting, chopping wood, and riding bulls, it’s time for some soothing Florida sunshine.
Years before he became our hero on Mountain Men, Lewis was Montana’s source of pride for his reputation of fighting off mountain lions. In 2007, residents witnessed a horrific incident when a mountain lion killed two dogs. Lewis was immediately contacted.
The Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks reached out to Rich Lewis and gave him their approval to take care of the unrestrained cougar. He came to the rescue and confronted the lion before it could harm anyone else.
When the History Channel decided to document the Mountain Men’s lives, they had no idea how big the show would become or the good it would do for the production company hired for the job. Warm Springs Production went from being a small, little business to hiring more and more employees.
“This was a huge opportunity for us to prove ourselves,” said Chris Richardson, co-founder of Warm Springs. The show opened many doors for them and led to other gigs, like shooting the show Making Monsters for the Travel Channel.
For a guy who agreed to be on TV, his thoughts on the modern world are a bit too harsh. He calls his Turtle Island “a pristine and green example of what the whole world once looked like,” and the modern world a “plastic, imitation.” Yeah, well, those plastic cameras made you a whole lot richer, Eustace.
“I think television’s terrible…It’s definitely a paradox,” he once admitted. At least Conway is aware that wanting to live completely off-grid is a tricky business in the 21st century. Most of us would love to live in a little house surrounded by nature and frolic in the forest, picking mushrooms for fun. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Nomad Morgan Beasley was reportedly making around $10,000 per episode. So, why did he suddenly disappear from our screens? According to some sources, he “was simply tired of airing out all his personal business on national television.” But that’s only speculation.
Morgan prefers to keep to himself and hasn’t been really open about his departure. Today, he’s the Apricity Alaska Wilderness Adventure co-owner, a tourist company he runs with botanist and fellow cast member Margaret Stern.
Lewis was fascinated by wildlife and wild living from a very young age when he wandered around and explored the areas of his hometown in Idaho. With time, Lewis built up the skills to be a real Mountain Man who wasn’t afraid of lions or harsh weather. Little did he know that his acquired skills would land him a spot on TV and turn him into a rich man.
He joined the show in its second season and remained until the sixth. Apparently, he left because he felt he was getting “too old for this.” But his time as a reality star was a great contribution to his bank account. Lewis is reportedly worth around $300,000!
To pay for the land he now calls Turtle Island Preserve, Conway had to travel the country and sell himself and others’ wilderness skills. He fully believed in his valuable knowledge and knew he had to spread the word.
Conway has managed to build himself up from zero and wants others to do so too: “I learn things by doing them. And I am an astute learner who can focus intensely. Most modern, overstimulated Americans lack the ability to hone in and focus. The key to learning is to pay attention—complete attention—to the lessons of the moment.”
Fans were heartbroken to discover that Marty Meierotto would not be a part of the ninth season. He explained that he needed to spend quality time with his daughter, Noah: “I thought a lot about it, and that’s the decision I made. It’s gonna be the best for her and family time and all that.”
He continued, “I’ve been doing this my whole life, and for the past eight years, I’ve had a camera on me all the time. I’m glad we got to tell a story, and I hope it’s helped people understand what it’s really like out here.”
Viewers didn’t hold back after Season Nine aired. They ranted on the Internet about how disappointed they felt. One fan mentioned, “I am really disappointed in this show, I have been watching it ever since it started, and this year is the worst.”
Another viewer added, “I stopped watching. It’s just not the same. So disappointed in the show now. Too bad, there were some good storylines in the past.” Without Morgan, Marty, or Margaret, the show is just not the same. Season 10 aired on January 7th, 2020.
The first episode aired on May 31, 2012, and attracted an audience of around 3.9 million viewers. Amazingly, the show’s ratings haven’t declined that much. The series still attracts a steady 3.5 million fans each week.
It’s one of the most popular TV shows on History, and we understand why. Contrary to other reality shows that seem disgustingly fake, The Mountain Men is somewhat (emphasis on the somewhat!) real. Yes, they stretch the truth at times, and, yes, they add some drama to get us excited… but the guys seem like they’re real mountain men in the sense that they know how to survive in the wilderness. And that’s impressive.