The following story appears in the June issue of Alaska Sporting Journal (photos courtesy of Freddy Harteis/The Hollywood Hunter)
By Chris Cocoles
Freddy Harteis, big game hunter with central Pennsylvania roots, couldn’t be more of a fish out of water than in his home base of Los Angeles, which is, as his hunting show states, “a place that isn’t too kind to hunters … Hollywood may not like what he does, but they will respect him.”
Harteis was more in his element when he filmed an episode of his Sportsman Channel TV show hunting bears in Southwest Alaska. But the California lifestyle is what Harteis chose after marrying Jeannie Mai, a Golden State native, makeup artist, fashion expert and cohost of a talk show targeted towards young women, The Real. The couple has settled in with the (mostly) gun-abhorring Los Angelinos.
His series, the cleverly titled Hollywood Hunter, chronicles his global adventures of chasing big game and depicts his conservation views. He assures the audience that just about all the meat from his harvested animals gets distributed to those in need.
“It’s not so much hunting, but the conservation behind it or the good behind it,” Harteis says of his fish-out-water existence in famously anti-hunting Hollywood.
He’s become a voice for hunting and conservation in his adopted hometown.
“L.A. is all about going organic. But most of them believe when you walk into a grocery store meat just comes from a grocery store … Believe it or not, a few generations ago everyone did what we are doing. So get off your high horse and accept the reality that this is the world we’ve come from.”
He fit right in when he went to Alaska and filled tags for black and brown bears.
“You hear a lot of places around the country and the world that they say are ‘God’s country.’ Well, I believe (Alaska’s) the ultimate,” says Harteis, who has hunted in Africa and throughout North America. “Just the freedom of wide-open space – and you have some of the biggest mountains in the world there. You see the eagles flying so free everywhere. And so much wildlife beyond belief – I couldn’t believe how many animals we saw in five days of hunting. Just an incredible place.”
AN ALASKA HUNT has always been on Harteis’ bucket list. He grew up in Harrisburg, Pa. His father, businessman Fred Harteis, was a also a hunter who made three bear pilgrimages to Alaska, finally harvesting a brown bear on his last trip (Fred passed away in June 2013). Freddy listened intently.
“He told me many, many stories about the terrain, the intensity, the wide-open wilderness. And really, specifically, he told me about brown bears,” Harteis says. “As I saw him go up to Alaska and hunt Kodiak Island and many other places, he would come back unsuccessful, yet so thrilled and excited to be out there in the middle of it.”
What really stuck out for an adrenaline-chaser like the younger Harteis was Dad’s tales of charging bears racing through the brush and how to stay safe in such a frantic scenario. The thought of such a visual – dangerous and all – was mesmerizing, so Hollywood’s hunter was obsessed with making it to Alaska.
An old high school buddy from Pennsylvania, Dave Kiser, moved to Alaska in 2005. He and his wife, Joni Kiser, own Full Curl Archery in Anchorage (907-344-2697;fullcurlarchery.com).
“They started talking to me about coming up there. As we started discussing the idea, I got more and more excited because, No. 1, I could connect with old-time friends; and No. 2, I knew I would be in good hands,” Harteis says.
The trio hunted with two guides in a secret location about an hour’s flight from Anchorage. Nonresidents were allowed to hunt brown bears in that zone for the first time, so it was a completely new experience for the guides, for Harteis and for the crew shooting footage for his show.
And given the setting and the unpredictable nature of bears in Alaska, it was a humbling experience.
“I think if we’re honest with ourselves, there is always fear and in the back of our minds the what-ifs?” Harteis says. “But as I prepare for trips that are very intense and dangerous, I try to prepare in a fashion that becomes instinct – to be able to shoot on instinct and think on instinct. To do the things so repetitively before I get there, the odds are in our favor to do the right things. But it’s healthy and good to have a little fear, because it’s a respect; fear keeps you on your toes.”
FRED HARTEIS TAUGHT Freddy a lot about hunting, dating back to their roots in rural Pennsylvania. The area around Harrisburg is full of outdoors enthusiasts, and as a boy Freddy carried a BB gun around the property and hunted plenty of deer and birds with his dad. The two made their first big trip to British Columbia when Freddy was 12, and after he graduated from Pennsylvania’s Clarion University, father and son went on a safari hunt to Africa. Harteis knew he wanted to be a professional hunter even with his business degree in hand and after starting his own networking business in Colorado.
When he met his future wife and eventually moved with Jeannie to Southern California, in 2007, it was time for a change.
“I realized if I was going to live in the city as a country boy who’s not belonging, then I was going to have to get back to doing something that I was passionate about,” Harteis says.
“One of the greatest things I’ve been taught is to chase my passion and not my pension. I thought this was the chance to build something and stand out in a culture and a city that doesn’t get it, and I’m tired of it not getting it. And I didn’t care if they were with me or not, but they’re going to have to respect the fact that I was going to stand out, which was kind of the vision for Hollywood Hunter.”
The show has taken him to various points on the map, and he spends whatever free time he can at Harteis Ranch (harteisranch.com), a lush forested Colorado property that hosts big game hunts for bull elk and mule deer.
Arriving in Alaska and embarking on a similar brown bear to his father’s adventure was an experience dripping with nostalgia. And the stories he’d heard were about to come in handy.
“One thing that (Fred) said rung in my head every day I was in Alaska: ‘One grizzly, one bear; one wounded grizzly, 10 bears.’ It was just the idea of being extra cautious,” says Harteis, who has tried to push the envelope when it comes to the hunts that appear on his program.
This excursion, hunting with guides who were more experienced chasing black bears and opting to use bows rather than high-powered rifles, was sure to test everyone’s skills and nerves.
“We knew it would be a challenge,” Harteis says. “We knew it would be intense; and we knew we would be up against elements that we’d never experienced.”
THE EPISODE PROFILING the hunt will air in the third week of July, and it was highlighted by what everyone who hunts or fishes tends to experience: expecting the unexpected.
Without spoiling too much, the black bear portion of the trip was particularly harrowing for Harteis, who injured his knee in a confrontation with a black bear that was more aggressive than anticipated. The pain has lingered to the point where Harteis will probably eventually go under the knife to fix the problem.
“I realized I let my guard down too much; I’ve hunted black bears a lot and have always thought they’re pretty docile and you can chase them away,” he says. “To see the one time that did not happen, I didn’t respect the intensity of a black bear and what it could be in its personality. So definitely the black bear encounter was one of the most memorable pieces of that hunt.”
It’s safe to say the overall experience and brush with the bruin – watch the episode when it airs for more details – “will probably save my life in the future, as I run into black bears,” Harteis says with a laugh.
Another lasting memory he’ll have is his persistence. The long hours of daylight allowed for long stretches waiting for bears to come within range of his bow. Toward the end of the hunt, someone wasn’t ready to go back yet with the brown bear tag remaining unfilled.
“At midnight, we had sat there for 12 hours, and my cameraman, ‘Thunderpants,’ and the guides were getting anxious,” Harteis says. “So I called him off and said, ‘Hey, boys, go ahead and leave the gun. I’ll stay and I’ll be here until tomorrow noon. Pick me up, because the floatplane is coming in at 1. My deal is, I can’t kill that bear if I’m not out here. So I need to maximize that opportunity,” he says. “They said, ‘You know what? You’re crazy, but we’ll stay.’ And about a half-hour later, that (brown) bear was standing beneath our tree.”
At that point in the trip, Harteis was tired, ailing from his knee injury, wondering if, like Dad, his elusive brown bear harvest wasn’t destined to happen on his first trip to Alaska.
More than once during his journeys around the globe, Harteis has been called obsessed with the sport he loves. Perhaps that’s the secret to his success.
“It almost gets personal to where I have to figure this out. It’s one of those things where you want it so bad and when your mind’s telling you no, you find it and stay anyway. It’s kind of in my DNA and one of those things that I grew up with,” he says.
“I didn’t realize as a hunter how it would have come full-circle and be a big part of why I do succeed in the field.”
With the clock ticking and his knee aching Harteis was in his tree stand, waiting for the brown bear it took Fred so much patience to finally put down; so Freddy turned spiritual.
“I said a little prayer to my dad and said, ‘Dad, if you could send a brown bear … I don’t need to kill it; just prove to me you’re listening.”
Fred Harteis would have been proud of Freddy’s big brown he bagged, despite some distressing moments.
“It definitely goes down as one of the top hunts that I’ll forever cherish,” he says. “And that’s because Alaska is so unique to its own. When you go to Alaska it’s not only views and not only wildlife; it’s just wild. It’s so free and untamed and uncharted. You just feel so small and so insignificant against such a massive wilderness.”
Harteis and his wife, talk show host Jeannie Mai
THERE ARE MYRIAD lands on earth Freddy Harteis hopes to hunt on someday. For a future episode of Hollywood Hunter that will be filmed later this year, he’ll head to South Africa to pursue lions. On the 2016 docket is water buffalo safari to Australia.
He wants to go back to Alaska and bring Jeannie along to share the Last Frontier with his wife. But any to-do list will be difficult to top this Alaska bear adventure, if for no other reason than it fulfilled Harteis’ dream of matching what it took Fred so long to accomplish: the conquest of a
Hunting Alaskan bears for the first time won’t soon leave the memory banks.
“One thing I learned from this hunt that I have not learned from any other hunt is that if you pay attention to other people’s stories,” Harteis says, surely thinking back to Fred’s tales of disappointment before finally metaphorically sipping from a Stanley Cup-like trophy brown bear victory.
“You take your life experiences alongside of others. You can walk into situations of hunting animals that you’d never hunted, and figure it out yourself. To see it all kind of work when things were not working, that’s rewarding.” ASJ
Editor’s note: New episodes of Hollywood Hunter will air later this summer on the Sportsman Channel on Sundays at 7 p.m. Pacific, Mondays at 1 p.m. and Saturdays at 12 a.m. Check out hollywoodhunter.com and follow Freddy Harteis on Twitter (@FreddyHarteis) and at Facebook.com/hollywoodhunter1.