Conservation and Trapping Science

Mountain Monsters on passing of Trapper John and the brand new season
Dec 28, 2021 18:26 ET

[Reprinted from original]



Mountain Monsters is back for a new season on Travel Channel and Discovery in early January. The show is still coping with the loss of lead star Trapper Tice, but his daughter surprises the A.I.M.S. team with a special gift. Leading the way is showrunner Colt Straub, who may not have lived in the heart of Appalachia, but he was Appalachia-adjacent growing up in Ohio.

And those old stories about things that lurked in the woods resonated with him as a child and stayed with him, even until his producer days for the Travel Channel and discovery+ hit series, Mountain Monsters.

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Colt and his brother Duke traveled the world, filming and producing footage from South Africa to Alaska, searching for real-life characters and situations that made for great television.

Their instincts were always on point, and the brothers— along with Royal Malloy, their third partner in American Chainsaws Entertainment—hit gold with a crew of men who are as authentically West Virginia as they come.

Mountain Monsters was first a Destination America series, but now Travel Channel is its home, and a whole new audience has found them on streaming sister, discovery+.

In 2013 they started the series, introducing the viewing audience to the A.I.M.S. team, a self-made, cryptozoology research team founded by West Virginians John “Trapper” Tice, Jeff Headlee, and Willy McQuillian.

Sadly, the group lost Tice back in 2019. Travel Channel posted a memorial that reads: “We are sad to hear about the passing of John’ Trapper’ Tice, a founding member of the AIMS team and star of Mountain Monsters. Our heart goes out to his family and friends.”

The A.I.M.S. team are all working men who have a shared love for getting to the bottom of local mysteries. They set traps for mysterious creatures such as Bigfoot, Werewolf, Hellhound, Lizard Man, and Mothman.

The episodes typically begin with Trapper, Jeff, Huckleberry, and Buck getting intel from a local sighting. They then meet with eyewitnesses who have encountered the creature, giving the team information to begin an initial night investigation to find evidence of the beast. According to Colt in Monsters & Critics ‘ exclusive interview below, the two architects of the traps, Willy and Wild Bill, are masterful.

Their traps ostensibly will contain the creature while the rest of the team searches for more evidence.

Is it sound science? Not really, but recently the cleaned up and enhanced 1967 Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film has experts now believing there is likely something out there that is an evolutionary anomaly that does (or did) exist pretty recently.

As of this most recent season, as Trapper has passed on, the rest of the AIMS team continues to hunt creatures to honor his legacy.

Make sure to join the A.I.M.S. team members, Jacob “Buck” Lowe, Alfred “Huckleberry” Lott, Jeff Headlee, Willy McQuillian, and William “Wild Bill” Neff, under the guidance of Straub and the minimal crew. They hunt for the odd and mysterious things in America’s hollers and trails.

Exclusive interview with Colt Straub of Mountain Monsters:
Monsters & Critics: Recently, the Patterson Gimlin film from 1967 was verified by a University of Idaho professor who went on record and said he believed it was true.

Colt Straub: Yes, and Gilman’s still alive. And the A.I.M.S. guys know about it. But it is an interesting film for sure.

M&C: How did you and your brother Duke start doing your unscripted productions?

Colt Straub: Duke is older than I am and had a company he started before I was out in Los Angeles with Royal Malloy, who’s still our partner, called the Lumberjack Crew.

So we had worked for many different production companies and learned a lot. The way to do it in anything in life is to start on the ground floor and work your way up. So we had jobs from P.A. to associate producer to camera assisting and did some audio work to get the experience.

And we saw with unscripted television that if you found unique worlds and got into something, you could come up with a unique angle. And I think with anything in entertainment; it’s all about finding a unique angle.

We decided to pitch some stuff ourselves, so we put together some presentations. Some of them were good, some weren’t, and we partnered with other established production companies, and eventually, we were able to make a transition, and we did an H.G.T.V. show. It was a pilot, and they let us do it ourselves, which was a great experience.

And you learn that you have to get production insurance and all the things that come with doing a show that people don’t realize. And [financially] fund the show up top before you get your payments.

So it’s pretty wild, and luckily, we were able to make that transition, and we started selling shows and met with a wide variety of networks with different types of shows that we did by ourselves.

And obviously, Mountain Monsters is one of them. That show started in 2013.

Duke and I grew up in Ohio, and my father had a production company as well, so we grew up around video production and event production, and we have always worked very well together, we complement each other, and we’ve got a great third partner, Royal [Malloy] who comes with a different skill set than we do. So it has been a nice combination of working with your family, for sure.

M&C: One of you came up with the idea of Mountain Monsters and somebody connected with on the A.I.M.S. team. So tell me a bit of who it was from that team you first got wind of and when the idea took root, and then you had a pitch and a sizzle reel to show a network?

Colt Straub: What’s interesting is that many fans will see if they’ve seen the last year. We did something when the team leader Trapper passed away in 2019, and there was this Tribute to Trapper special that aired on Travel Channel and discovery+.

My brother Duke found Trapper in the A.I.M.S. team in West Virginia. Trapper start started that team in 2009. So Duke reached out to him, and he went and shot the sizzle reel. As you mentioned, he met the guys with the team and saw how great they were, and he thought, wow, this is a great angle.

He initially was looking for a fur trapping show. And thanks to a hit show, Hatfields and McCoys, a scripted show that did well, we started looking to make a fur trapping show.

And then we meet Trapper, no joke, that guy was as legit as it comes in regards to anything with hunting, trapping the outdoors. His outdoor knowledge was remarkable. It was something featured in the show.

Trapper was an endless well of knowledge when it comes to trapping. And he was able to take that interest in the cryptozoologist world and the crypto episode creatures and combine the two subjects, which is why it worked.

Trapper was such a charismatic, knowledgeable guy. Duke told me he was the real deal. So Duke shot that sizzle, and in the summer of July of 2012, we pitched several networks and ended up going with Destination America. A great decision on our part. They were great partners with it, and the show got picked up with the straight to six episodes.

At that point, I took over for and was showrunning, and I’ve run the show since then.

Funny story, when I met Trapper the first time, I sat down with him at his house, and he told me, ‘Cole. I just wanna let you know that I’m very disappointed that it’s you who is going to make this show, not your brother Duke.’ He had a connection with Duke, and he wanted to make the series with Duke.

Luckily, I was able to win his trust, and Trapper and I spent some time together, we got along very well, and things worked out very well. So we’ve done eight seasons. I know it’s officially the sixth season, but it’s the eighth time we’ve gone out and shot the show. So it’s going on for eight years.

M&C: Are you running out of monsters, or are you having to backtrack and revisit certain monsters?

Colt Straub: No, but interesting question. When you look at Mountain Monsters, the show had evolved from season one to the middle around season three; when Trapper got sick for the first time, it was always very obvious to everyone who watched the show how important of a role Trapper played, and then he fell ill. He had a blood clot in his leg, which we featured honestly.

We’ve always tried to do with the fans to keep them involved with what’s going on with these guys’ lives because Mountain Monsters is successful because of the A.I.M.S. team and how much the fans love those guys. So that’s the secret to the show.

Yes, it is a monster-hunting show, but there’s been a lot of monster-hunting shows that don’t work. And the reason this show works is because of how strong the cast is.

The A.I.M.S. team is phenomenal. And every single time they drove to the location, we met with an eyewitness. We did a first-night investigation, started building our trap. Then we met with another eyewitness, finished the trap, and did the final night hunt. It was a great format that worked well when he had all six of the original A.I.M.S. team members there.

But when we didn’t have that, the show had to evolve. When Trapper initially had a blood clot in his leg and almost died, it would have been a disservice if we didn’t include that, which would be disrespectful to the audience.

We decided to incorporate that [medical issue] and make that part of the show. And when you do that, you can’t have that same format anymore. So that’s how the show has changed.

Trapper was not even able to be there for a couple of seasons. And we tried our darndest to get him in there. Sometimes he could travel; we’re traveling all over Appalachia. Sometimes he couldn’t be there. Understandable as he was sick there for a bit. So, we made that part of the show, and we found different ways, as the A.I.M.S.team had other interests.

What was the team interested in investigating? What are they interested in right now? And that’s what led us to some of the different seasons we’ve had, and one season was in the Dark Forest.

And then, when Trapper passed away, he had something for them. He gave them a journal that he had been working on since the 1970s with all of his outdoor knowledge, experiences and he set up a special mission for them.

Trapper knew he was going to die. He didn’t know exactly when, but Trapper knew he would never come back to A.I.M.S. full-time.

It is a testament to his foresight as just the intelligent and caring man he was to set up for the rest of this A.I.M.S. mission. And it started last season. It led them on a heck of an adventure, and it spills over into this season, and whoa, does it get wild this season.

Now it’s been two years since Trapper passed away, yet he’ll always be there. He is still featured in the show. He’s still the backbone of the show. But, the mood’s a little bit lighter this season, which is nice.

M&C: Tap into the 12-year-old living inside of you, tell me which of this monster lore geeks you up?

Colt Straub: I think Bigfoot was what got me into it, but there was also that the Moth Man that creeped me out in a good way, I should say, growing up. I think my initial exposure to anything was Bigfoot. Still, I don’t remember when I first heard about Moth Man because I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, which isn’t far from where that bridge collapsed in the sixties attributed to Moth Man.

I remember growing up, and we went and visited, that the bridge is down, but we went to the location where it always seemed so creepy to me that this being was said to have been there when this tragedy took place. So I remember that grabbed me, but then I was very outdoorsy growing up, always in the woods, and always on this lookout for Bigfoot.

There was no doubt that a nine-foot-tall ape was up there near Alaska and Russia, tens of thousands of years ago.

And you can believe that perhaps, maybe in the vast wilderness, it could have survived. So even for the skeptics, when you start looking at this and look at how elusive these creatures could be, it allows for some belief.

M&C: I’m going throw some names at you from the A.I.M.S. team. Could you give me your impressions? Start with Jacob Lowe, who’s known as Buck.

Colt Straub: Buck. Wow. He is wise beyond his years. Buck is one of the nicest souls you could ever meet. He is absolutely hilarious.

He’s got a great skillset. He works in jail with under 21-year-olds. So he’s developed outstanding leadership [skills] by working in a world right there that I think carries over to the A.I.M.S. team.

So, Buck is a great communicator and knows how to talk to people. He knows how to diffuse situations. And combine that with his personality, he used to refer to himself as a husky ninja, but then he lost over 150 pounds. [laughs] so we can’t call him the husky ninja anymore.

Buck is the nicest guy, and people always say he is the team leader now because he plays a prominent role in the show. But, there’s not a leader. That role will always be Trapper. And, 50 years later, it will still be Trapper, but Buck does a great job communicating on the show and with the team.

M&C: Alfred Lott, aka Huckleberry?

Colt Straub: Huckleberry, he’s a gentle giant. He’s security and a badass. He looks awesome. He’s a Marine and can handle himself, but at the same time, he knows how to defuse situations with ‘the look.’

Trapper could not have found a better guy for security. He knows his way around the woods and knows his way around the bar. He owns a bar.

He stands six foot five and has to be at least 300 pounds. So he’s as big as he looks. But if one person has the most one-liners in the show, it’s Huckleberry. He’s a master of the simple deliveries, but I think he gets away with it because of his size, but he’s also the nicest guy you’d ever meet.

M&C: Jeff Headlee…

Colt Straub: Jeff Headlee, Jeff, the genius. Jeff takes his research on the team as seriously as he possibly could.

He’s pretty funny. We’ve got [all] these guys that, and when you first look at them, they wear overalls, they have huge beards. Jeff is often accused of looking like a garden gnome, which I think he will admit isn’t far off the mark.

And initially, outsiders and people that aren’t familiar with the area can dismiss them, but that’s why they’re so successful. It is because that’s how they dress 365 days a year. They’re not wearing outfits for the show. They’re the real deal.

Jeff told me the secret sauce to his successful research is that he can connect on the ground with these people who have these encounters. So if you think about it, the real people that see, and if there is a creature out there, it’s not going to live in the city, but where’s it going live?

It’s going to live down in these deep hollers and woods. That’s really where these monsters are going to exist. So the people who will see it are the people who live down in these hollers that spend their time out there. Even though I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, these hunters, trappers, and people who live out there will not open up to me. I’m too city to make the initial connection with these people.

People like Jeff that are the real deal, can use their authenticity to make this connection, so they open up to him. I think that’s why Jeff has been able to find some absolute, phenomenal eyewitnesses that we’ve had over the years on Mountain Monsters. I don’t know how many notebooks he has full of research. It’s remarkable.

If you ever go to Jeff’s house, it’s like a museum, how much material he has on every type of creature you can pull up. And when you asked, are we ever going to run out of monsters? We won’t because of how many are out there, how many settings there are. And you couldn’t have a better guy than Jeff finding hot, new leads, finding researchers, finding new monsters.

I don’t want [the show] to be a broken record. It’s a matter of what’s the A.I.M.S. team is into discovering. That’s what we’ve done every season. That’s been our north star, just being authentic with what the A.I.M.S. team is excited to find.

Jeff’s our go-to guy. There’s not a better guy in the game when it comes to research. And Jeff has also had some incredible successes in this new season.

M&C: Willy McQuillian.

Colt Straub: Willy, our hillbilly MacGyver. That’s Willy, in a nutshell, right there for you. I don’t know if you know this, and this is the behind-the-scenes scoop. I’m happy to spill the beans here. Willy builds those traps. People often think that we create the traps on camera, and then we hand it off to the team. Nope. That’s not how they get those traps to get done.

I’ll tell you exactly how those traps get done. They get done with Willy and Wild Bill building those traps. There have been some absolute monster traps these guys have built, and there are some monster traps they make this season, and they do it with hard work and Willy’s piece of st truck. I do not know how he rigs these massive trees and can pull up 2200 pound trees right up. They use their old rig.

Willy and Bill are both arborists who make their living cutting trees down. So they’ve got just years and years of knowing everything you could know about trees. He’s got his little journal where he sketches everything. Then as he is building or planning the trip, you can see there’s kind of a light that goes on. And it’s pretty magical because he is working out a problem.

I remember one time he was building the trap for the Raven Mock. It was a cool drop cage. It was this trap cage with these Raven wings on it, and instead of having a door, the whole thing collapsed. I remember he was trying to figure out the mechanics behind it and keep in mind; we’re also shooting these episodes basically in about a week.

We were doing a hot investigation. In the next 24 hours, the whole thing came together. He’s a mad wizard when it comes to concocting these traps, and if you see all the traps he’s built, you would think production has a team of guys, or an architect, coming up with these things. And it’s like, nope, that’s all Willy.

M&C: William Neff aka Wild Bill…

Colt Straub: Wild Bill. His nickname encapsulates Bill’s personality. Bill is also the most generous person I have ever met in my life. I want to say that up top. Bill would give me the shirt off his back, but at the same time, he is an absolute lightning bolt.

I’m not sure what’s going on in Bill’s mind, but I don’t ever want him to change. I think he’s 62 or 63 years old. No spring chicken, but he’ll climb up a tree. He’ll chase down anything in the woods, and he’s the best tracker in the game.

So, he’s the wild card the team needs and makes the perfect combination when you throw all those guys together in the mix. And with Trapper is still guiding them from above?

That’s the A.I.M.S. team for you, right there.