Freddy Harteis and his wife, talk-show host Jeannie Mai. (THE HOLLYWOOD HUNTER)
The following story appears in the December issue of California Sportsman, currently on sale now.
By Chris Cocoles
Freddy Harteis was once in his element growing up in Harrisburg, Pa. “It’s the most populated state in the country for hunters. There are over a million licensed deer hunters in that state,” Harteis says of Pennsylvania. “It’s the complete opposite of where I live today.” That would be in the Hollywood Hills, and L.A. is nothing like PA. “Back there if you don’t hunt you’re not cool. Now, if you hunt, you’re not cool. It’s been a unique transition.” Harteis and his wife, talk show host and celebrity makeup artist Jeannie Mai, are living the life of a hunting fish-out-of-water existence in Tinseltown. He’s the host of an aptly named Sportsman Channel show,
The Hollywood Hunter, which at first glance is quite the oxymoron. Anti-hunting sentiment is omnipresent among many celebrities and Los Angelinos in general.
But Harteis hopes his connections in his new home base will be educated and informed by what he does. “Hollywood may not like what he does,” Hollywood Hunter’s narrator says during episodes’ opening introduction, “but they will respect him.” And it’s winning over the skeptics in his adopted hometown. Harteis gives back to his local community in the form of donating meat from harvested animals to homeless shelters and other charitable endeavors.
And whatever backlash he receives, such opposition is business as usual for hunters, most of whom will never be able to convince some that they’re not the black-hatted villains. “You realize about perspective. All we have do is give them a different perspective and something different than what hearsay is,” Harteis says. “And that’s what’s been so powerful in building our network of friends out here who support us and will fight for us. Hey, there’s no way we’re going to take over L.A. and everyone is going to believe in what we do. But it’s pretty amazing how much progress we’ve made in our community.”
We caught up with Freddy and picked his brain about life in Hollywood, bonding with his late father, hunting with his wife and reflecting on the family’s cherished Colorado ranch.
Chris Cocoles You’re a long distance away – geographically and culturally – from Harrisburg, Pa. What was life like for you growing up?
Freddy Harteis I spent all my time in the woods. I was very fortunate that we had farms to hunt on. I ran around all the time with my BB guns and just started learning the trade of the game. I was very fortunate that my dad (see sidebar) took me to British Columbia when I was about 12 and started taking us on different adventures. And probably the highlight of it all was
going to Africa (Zimbabwe) the year I graduated college (Clarion University). I had lots of different experiences in the hunting world. But what I was most passionate about when it came
to hunting were the relationships. Everyone that we connected with in business would get involved in the outdoors with us. There’s a unique avenue to really cultivate and grow relationships by giving back to nature.
CC I’ve met and read about so many folks who have hunted for the first time in Africa and gotten so much out of it, and not just from a sporting standpoint but the cultural experience. Can you share some of your trip?
FH It was my dad’s 10th safari and he had taken myself and one of my sisters and we’d gone in July of 2000. It was something that, as much hunting as I did throughout North America, I had no idea what it was like to hunt in a third world country or hunt such a diversity of species of game. We had the opportunity to bring down an elephant apiece, a leopard apiece, a buffalo apiece, in the course of that month. What I remember most is I bonded with my father
and we took that to another level and understood each other’s passions as to why we were doing this.
CC And what was the cultural part of the trip like?
FH You see the villagers there and the (harvesting) of an elephant, and in the course of six hours there’s nothing but a spot of blood left. That taught me what it really meant to
take advantage of every piece of that animal and not waste it. There were a lot of lessons about how much we should appreciate living in America and the different perspectives you gain when traveling.
CC You have a marketing degree. What were your goals when you graduated from Clarion?
FH It was one of those things where I always wanted to work with my father. And that being said: he had become very successful, self-made, and built a great business. I was always wanted to follow in his footsteps. I went to college to not just get a degree but to grow up. I started building my own networking business and moved to Colorado. We started to expand it to the next level. I didn’t realize it was a steppingstone to teach me about understanding people and understanding people’s needs; and also about understanding goals and how to sell people on what they really need. When Jeannie and I got married and moved to Los Angeles in 2007, it was a turning point for me, and 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. 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.
CC I know you’re proud of getting some Southern Californians passionate about what you and others are doing in your industry.
FH It’s exciting to see hundreds of people who are now shooting archery because I wanted to teach a bunch of people how to do it. And to see people out here now part of hunting clubs growing in Los Angeles and the new ones going out into the woods. It’s just the ability to (positively) affect the next generation. I have 10 nieces and nephews between my two sisters, and I’m getting them involved. I have five of them going hunting this year. I have an (archery) event that I do in Ohio every year, the Deerasic Classic (740-435-9500; deerassic.com), and to me, I’m as passionate about that as I am about any of this. I don’t get the high of being on TV the way I do about seeing other people excited about what we do.
CC What does your family’s Colorado ranch mean to you?
FH Harteis Ranch is a massive passion of where my foundation is. That’s the place where my father and I created a big part of my memories. The fact that we’re moving forward and growing a legacy out there, that motivates me. It’s exciting to be a part of something that’s
much bigger than me or what I can do. It’s also rewarding that we can grow that and build it to the next level.
CC Can you share something special from your times in Colorado?
FH We had a pastor, Dave Gibbons of Newsong Church in Irvine, who came out to the ranch after my dad passed. He watched me work with clients and saw the whole ranch kind of come alive when I was there. And what he said was, “You know, Freddy, this ranch is not a hunting ranch; it’s a ranch that’s your mission. This is something that’s a calling on your abilities to be able to serve other people and give them that spirit.” I realize that hunting is not just about a kill; it’s about an experience that’s something bigger. When you research our property, it’s a five-star, high-end destination. People want to go, but few people are blessed enough to be able to financially go there. I say this very humbly, but the people who do are the CEOs of Gillette and California Pizza Kitchen. I understand who they are, what they want and what they expect.
CC And what about what you hope you’ve accomplished and will accomplish on Hollywood Hunter?
FH I didn’t realize what I know now, that in the beginning when I started Hollywood Hunter it was for all selfish reasons: to get back to nature and back to the outdoors – to do what I love. But over the course of the last seven years, the real reason I got into Hollywood Hunter was to influence kids, to help charities, and I think that’s why I’m so passionate about this. I look at it like what you can do, not what you can get. We’re acquiring things that are able to bless other people. I want to be able to do that for other people.
CC So I asked about what life was like in Harrisburg. How has Freddy Harteis handled Hollywood?
FH [Laughs] It’s a ton of fun. Now that we’ve built roots here Jeannie and I understand each other’s focuses – like her being a host of The Real and being (a top-rated talk show). She’ll bring me up and discuss the outdoors and that her husband is a professional hunter. She can share that through her panel of other women on the show. She brought me on the show and it was humbling to be able to give my two cents to people who are willing to listen and allow you (to reach) other demographics with your thoughts. I’ve also really enjoyed the black and white of living two different worlds. Because it makes life very interesting to be able to do it in a city with my No. 1 girl and enjoy things together – the food and the adven-ture. We’re into hiking and mountain biking, going to her show and different shows and attending cool dinners.
The atmosphere of being city-like is fun. She enjoys the outdoors now.
CC Are you friends with a lot of anti-hunting folks in L.A.?
FH Yeah, I can think of a few instances of that. But you’d be amazed how many of them are with us. It’s pretty mind boggling to think how many people keep quiet about it until they get around someone who is outspoken like me. I was sitting down with a very influential couple in L.A. through another friend who connected us with Jeannie and me. We started talking and I knew the husband was with me and I could tell his wife was not. And before you know it he was kicking
me under the table because he was so passionate about a lot of the things I was talking about. And (the man’s wife) is a great gal who couldn’t see herself going out and harvesting an elephant or the things we do as hunters. And we got into such deep discussion about this and we’d learn to respect each other’s views. She couldn’t help but accept and understand what we do even though she wouldn’t do it. Her husband has become a dear friend of mine and he’s coming on his first elk hunt with me next year.
CC Have you and/or Jeannie received a lot of negative backlash?
FH Here’s the thing – and I’m not saying I have it figured out, because I don’t – we have not had that much backlash, and the reason why I believe we have not is, I go the extra mile to share the good that goes with it. Compare that with the (anti-hunting side) that does nothing.
Doing nothing is way worse off than doing what we’re doing as hunters preserving the ground and growing the ground. I’m fortunate to be able to carry this.
CC One of those ways of doing something is I love that you distribute a lot of harvested meat for charity around Southern California.
FH We did a feed for the homeless in Los Angeles and fed them elk burgers down there on Skid Row (in Downtown). Just to hear people’s stories and be able to help them on a small level, it really taught us all about relationships.
CC Jeannie has been on some hunts with you, right?
FH I took her on an alligator hunt in South Carolina. It was something that created a lifetime of memories. We went to a hunt in New Zealand last year and she’s going with me to Africa next year. To be part of each other’s worlds and to grow together because we are so different, it allows us to stand behind each other.
CC Was it a reversal that she was the fish out of water on the gator hunt?
FH [Laughs]. No doubt.
Editor’s note: The Hollywood Hunter can be seen on the Sportsman Channel on Saturday mornings at 7 a.m.