Casting the web

Ben Moyer

Ryan Furrer prepares for a podcast interview in his home studio in Franklin Township. Furrer killed all the bucks in the background, hunting with bow and arrow, mostly in local woods.

Fayette County, Pennsylvania can make many claims to outdoor fame. Thousands travel here to paddle the Youghiogheny rapids at Ohiopyle or pedal 40 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage. The most rugged span of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail soars high atop Laurel Ridge here, and Laurel Caverns, the largest sandstone cave in the world, probes three miles into the earth.

Fayette is also the source of outdoor insight that reaches around the globe. From his home studio in Franklin Township, accomplished archer, hunter, and conservationist Ryan Furrer, produces Ryan Furrer Podcasts, a series of probing and reflective interviews with icons of the outdoor world.

A podcast is a series of audio programs focused on a consistent theme. Once produced, a podcast episode is “out there” on the internet for listeners to find, subscribe to through an app, or listen to on impulse by clicking a link. Listeners access podcasts through their smartphones, by routing through their car’s audio, or at a home computer. Furrer’s series is available through several apps or by searching online for Ryanfurrerpodcasts.com.

“I’d been on some other podcasts as a guest,” Furrer said. “And I just really like talking about hunting. Finally, I thought let’s give this a try.”

Furrer said learning the technology of podcasting was “a bit of a challenge,” but an hourlong chat with him revealed he can draw on a well of experience and contacts for the show’s content. His easy conversational tone and his background knowledge make him a natural host.

Furrer has no formal training in journalism or broadcasting, but he studied wildlife management at the University of Maryland and worked for 10 years for the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) (Now the National Deer Association), on deer habitat improvement and hunter recruitment across northeastern and midwestern states.

Traveling around the country for QDMA led to contacts with already prolific podcasters like Steve Rinella, also the host of the acclaimed MeatEater television series.

“Rinella was a big influence on me,” Furrer said. “He works really hard at this and it shows in the quality and variety of what he puts out.”

Furrer has produced nearly two-dozen episodes. The lineup reflects his own background in deer management, bowhunting, and competitive archery but he plans to broaden to series to seasonal topics in 2021. He is planning an episode for spring on searching the woods for morel mushrooms.

Spring plans also feature an episode with Michael Chamberlain of the University of Georgia, an expert on wild turkey biology. Furrer said he’ll discuss with Chamberlain the troubling recent decline in wild turkey populations across many parts of the country.

“I like being able to choose the topics,” Furrer said. “I’m trying to get a base of followers and, so far, shows about bowhunting for whitetail bucks have prompted the most downloads.”

As a National Field Archery Association National Champion (Male freestyle, 2002), Furrer has sought out the archery and bowhunting world’s most recognized authorities to share insights with his listeners. And he speaks their language, once hunting six consecutive firearms seasons with traditional archery equipment, for mature bucks only.

His interview with the Wensel brothers, Gene and Barry, “Brothers of the Bow,” lured 2,500 initial downloads, and sometimes attracts 300 additional downloads per day. The Wensels, twins at age 76, have hunted whitetails only with traditional long and recurve bows since their father bought them each a stick-bow at age 8.

“I like a traditional bow and arrow [as opposed to mechanically-aided compound bows] because there are just fewer things that can go wrong at the shot,” Barry Wensel said in his interview with Furrer.

Another episode features a nearby celebrity, known worldwide for his bowhunting exploits and contributions to wildlife science—Dr. Dave Samuel, Morgantown resident and retired professor of Wildlife Management at West Virginia University. Samuel discusses what bowhunting has meant in his life and how it enhanced his career as an educator and scientist.

Furrer’s podcasts can appeal to a broad range of listeners because, as host, he does not dwell only on the technical aspects of archery or wildlife management. His questions probe guests’ philosophical views on nature, environment, and passing on outdoor traditions and values to younger generations. Furrer is not shy about his own philosophical leanings.

“I’m concerned by how the intrusion of so much technology into the outdoors may be affecting the outdoor experience,” he said.

Furrer said online “analytics” enable him to track interest in each episode.

“I cannot explain this, because I’ve never been there in my life, and I don’t know anyone there, but my number one location for downloads in the United States is Lake Stevens, Washington,” Furrer said.

Lake Stevens is a community of 30,000 just north of Seattle.

Rounding out Furrer’s top three locations for downloads are Lancaster, Ohio and Manhattan, New York City, New York.

Something that puzzles Furrer is that no community within Pennsylvania is among his top 10 spots for podcast downloads. But Ryan Furrer Podcasts does get regular hits from Russia, Germany, and Australia.

“One thing I’d like to know,” Furrer said, “is whether the hits from Russia are from people there who speak English, or if the podcast gets translated somehow. Communication and media are so different now,” Furrer continued. “I could visit Lake Stevens, Washington and someone might buy me a coffee. But if I went out somewhere around here, nobody would know I was doing this.”

Ben Moyer is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

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