Think of him as Daniel Boone for the digital age.
Mike Reed tans hides, sets snares, throws knives, sparks fires, explores caves, eats tadpoles, grills opossums, hammers metal, hunts flint and gets lost but – unlike his pioneering predecessor – captures all of it on video.
While the Bland County, Va., resident has been honing his outdoor acumen for many of his 56 years, it’s only in the last year or so that his woodsman wiles have been recorded for posterity and introduced to a worldwide, wired audience via YouTube.
Thanks to his technically savvy daughter Rachel, who has a communications/marketing degree, Mike Reed – aka Bland County Survivorman – has 61 videos posted to the popular site that urges you to “broadcast yourself.” The episodes – many of which have graphics, music and introductions – have been watched thousands of times.
“There’s the brains, and I do the work,” Mike said from the country workshop/studio along Wilderness Road where Rachel uses a common digital camera to record some of the roughly 10-minute long videos. The backyard and the forest serve as other backdrops.
Wanting to give his daughter a chance to get more experience behind the viewfinder, Mike – a gregarious, good ole boy with a gift for gab – consented to becoming her on-air talent.
“Then I liked doing,” he said. “I like to give instruction and see the result of that instruction.”
Modeled after such reality shows as “Man vs. Wild” and, of course, “Survivorman,” Mike and Rachel’s cinematic concoctions typically feature Mike talking about and demonstrating various survival techniques and traditional mountain ways.
“We’re not doing fake stuff; we are realistic in what we’re trying to do,” said Mike, a former soldier who went through the Army’s survival school at Fort Bragg and reads all he can about subjects ranging from edible plants to wildlife.
Video titles have included “Tanning a Deer Hide Part I,” “Dad Eats a Dandelion,” “Hiking in the Snow,” “Blacksmithing with Bland County Survivorman” and “How to Load a Muzzleloader.”
Then there was the “Trap It and Skin It” episode that Mike said “really started people watching more.”
After catching an opossum that had been digging around under his outbuilding, Mike used a piece of flint to skin the animal and then – with some wild onions added for flavor – barbecued it on the grill.
“A couple of people called us barbaric,” said Rachel about online reaction to the demonstration. Even the pairs’ accents aren’t immune from commentary.
“Hey, we’re hillbillies and we’re proud of it,” said Mike about the occasional redneck joke.
YouTube allows users to comment on videos, and the father-daughter duo monitor the feedback.
“We’ll respond and answer their questions,” Rachel said. “We get comments from all over the world.”
Regarding the reporter’s question about what it’s like to eat a creature that resembles a cross between a grinning rat and a kitten, the Survivorman offered the following:
“It basically tasted like fat groundhog,” said Mike whose father routinely hunted and trapped the family’s dinner when Mike was a child.
“It felt oily and stringy,” Rachel added. “It didn’t taste bad at all.”
If mountain marsupial doesn’t tickle your taste buds, then what about tadpoles or water cress? Mike addresses both forms of wild fare online, and even explains numerous unconventional ways to get your cooking fire started.
In fact, the first official BCSM episode – titled the “Bow Drill Revolution” – shows how a stick and some string and a lot of muscle and patience can get the flames flying.
Whether their subject matter is fire or flint, the videos are typically edited and tweaked using iMovie on a MacBook, Rachel said.
“He’s so good, he can get things in one take,” she said.
Their goal is to post something new at least once a week.
Upcoming segments will address water purification, hypothermia and more hide tanning – the most popular topic based on YouTube viewing.
“I love history,” Mike said. “If I could’ve been with Daniel Boone, I would’ve been there.”
With the YouTube – and more recently Facebook – exposure, the BCSM is becoming a celebrity of sorts.
According to Mike, two people, including a Japanese man, recognized him when they visited the Bland County plant where Mike works as a maintenance technician.
There are even three Bland County Survivorman T-shirts in existence – Mike usually wears his when his recording – and Mike has autographed at least one photo. Rocky Gap High School’s online history archive is also linked to the YouTube site. Rachel picked up some of her production skills while working on the student project that features photos and interviews with county residents.
While viewers from as far away as South Africa have tuned in to his exploits, Mike also has his local fans.
Ryan Havens, a Rocky Gap High School ninth-grader who likes to hunt and fish, picks up tips from the various videos.
“They’ve got a lot of information in them,” he said. “…I watch his videos pretty much every night.”
Made specifically for Havens, one recent episode is called “Steel Trapping for Ryan Havens.”
For Mike, it’s the opportunity to teach and share his wisdom that makes the whole effort worthwhile. It’s also a good way for a father and daughter to bond.
“I like just hanging out with Dad,” Rachel said. “It’s just a good excuse to hang out.”
Jeffrey Simmons can be reached at 1-800-655-1406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.