Four miles from the Canadian border and 15 miles east of the Idaho Panhandle – the northwest region in Montana known as the Yaak – is most definitely a wild place suited for those who want to call themselves mountain men.
A longtime resident of the secluded, sparsely inhabited area found a huge audience recently, when he made his debut as a star of the new History Channel series, “Mountain Men.” The show, which was conceptualized and produced by Missoula-based Warm Springs Productions, aired its first episode last week.
“I’m a fella that lives in the mountains and I make my living off the land,” says Tom Oar during his introduction spot for the show.
“Mountain Men” follows Oar and two other “mountain men,” Eustace Conway of North Carolina and Marty Meierotto of Alaska, through their daily lives of living off the land so they can stay mostly off the grid.
At first glance, all seem to fit the stereotype of the grisly mountain man, with unkept hair and graying beards and less-than-straight, gritty teeth. Oar is often shown walking through the woods of the Yaak, gun in hand, his German short-haired pointer, Elli, by his side.
Along with tanning hides with animal brains, Oar was filmed skinning a rattlesnake, slitting off skin for eventual sale and preparing the meat to eat. It’s still-poisonous head goes into the wood stove.
Oar and his wife, Nancy, have lived in the Yaak for 32 years. They built their house, which they own outright, and supplement their income with a natural hide-tanning business.
Roughly 3.9 million viewers tuned in to watch the debut “Mountain Men” episode “Winter is Coming” that aired May 31.
“A lot of people were just amazed people lived like this and that there’s people out there that live out in the wild, living off the land,” said Chris Richardson, president of Warm Springs. “It’s hard to judge for us in Montana, we kind of live it, we come from an outdoor, hunting background. But you have to think of the people in New York City, living in a skyscraper.”
Warm Springs found the Oarses through a mutual friend of Richardson. The camera crews and the Oarses have become fast friends.
Oar, a former rodeo star who rode saddle broncs until he was in his 40s, says in one of the promotional videos that the Yaak was “the wildest place we could find.”
It’s not completely wild, though. Oar and Nancy have electricity, satellite TV and a phone. However, they lived for almost 17 years without running water.
The Yaak is a place where he can be free, and make a living where there are no jobs, Oar said during a phone interview.
Does he consider himself a mountain man?
“Kind of. It all depends on what you call a mountain men. Like we make our total living off the woods, we kind of live off the land, we don’t make very much money. But I own the house I live in, I don’t owe anybody anything which is really neat for the small amount that I make,” Oar said.
Oar said the money was the biggest incentive to agree to having cameras follow him for days at a time, because the schedule does interrupt his daily routine.
Founded by Marc Pierce and Richardson in 2007, Warms Springs began shooting the hunting show “Duck Commander” and quickly expanded its outdoor-themed offerings. The company soon grew from four employees to 26. Since then, Warm Springs has made a name for itself outside the outdoors genre, producing a series for Travel Channel.
With “Mountain Men,” the exposure for Warm Springs has grown further. Richardson credits the growth to a hardworking local production staff and crews.
He’s happy to show the world that not all the moviemaking talent is in New York City or Los Angeles.
“It’s definitely a prideful moment for us; it’s a big thing. Everyone works so hard here. We’re kind of proving it can be done,” he said.
Richardson is also happy people across the country will be introduced to the “spectacular, different” world of the Yaak.
“What is unique about all these guys, it’s the special and unique places they live. They’re out there. You can do it if you can live off the grid, you can live as a mountain man,” Richardson said.
The show’s second episode, “Mayhem,” in which Oar tries to save a friend’s water supply and hunt his winter’s meat surrounded by grizzlies, airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on the History Channel.
Oar was pleased with the first episode, although he had to complain about one scene where Elli got “lost.”
“It made the dog look bad,” he said.
Despite that scene, Oar is looking forward to seeing what’s next on “Mountain Men.”
“It was quite an experience, whether if goes on again or not, you know, it was surely an experience.
Surely ... they filmed so much for so long, I have no idea what’s going to be next. You know, I’m very curious, too.”
Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.