Out West Outdoors' Masterful Storytelling
By Melissa Mendonca
Thrill of the HuntOctober 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Kara Stewart
When you see yourselves as blue collar hunting guys, you skip the fancy dinner at the hunting expos you find yourself lucky enough to be attending. Such was the case for Luke Griffiths, Dustin Janc, Jason Kohler and Zach Wusstig, four Shasta County friends in their late 20s and early 30s who work at Redding’s Costco and have formed Out West Outdoors, an outdoor media production company.
The quartet attended the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City in February as entrants in the Western Big Game category of the Outdoor Film Tour competition sponsored by Sportsman’s Warehouse. “This was like a $200 per plate banquet, so we weren’t going,” says Griffiths, flatly, of the awards ceremony.
It was quite the shock, then, when a cell phone rang and the presence of the friends was requested immediately at the gala event. Their film entry was about to be announced as a Top 10 Winner, and they needed to be there to be recognized. “That was a major turning point for us,” says Wusstig. Their 11-minute, 30-second film, “Experiences,” has been part of the Outdoor Film Tour this spring and summer as a result and has been shown throughout the United States.
It's a rite of every hunter and fisher to come home from an expedition with a good story to tell. For the men of Out West Outdoors, the stories were proving almost impossible to tell properly with mere words.
As Griffiths describes it, the friends were finding themselves “miles and miles in the middle of the wilderness, where a lot of people don’t want to go.” Regardless of whether an outing could be considered a success, it entailed an incredible amount of preparation and endurance to experience, and was always something they wanted to share with family members and friends. When words failed, they decided to start documenting with cameras, first still and eventually video.
“We just started out with a point-and-shoot camera,” says Wusstig, “mainly for the experience of capturing what was going on out there and showing it to our families.” Eventually, however, the challenge of relaying the experiences via multimedia became as passion-filled as the hunting expeditions themselves. Out West Outdoors was born. “It’s all self-taught,” Janc says of the video production skills he and his friends have developed.
“Our original goal when we started was to make a film worthy of the Full Draw Film Festival,” Griffiths says of the Oregonbased bowhunting film tour that screens throughout the western
United States. The friends haven’t met this goal yet, but they’re on their way.
The goal of Out West Outdoors videos isn’t to show a kill, but rather the work that goes into an expedition. For the friends, hunting is a passion for many reasons. “It’s in effect a conservation tool and a way to get clean and wholesome food,” says Griffiths. The desire to share the passion through media production has developed as “art for art’s sake,” he adds. “It’s an outdoor media company, but more than that, it’s four guys that have a passion for hunting and want to share the experience of it.”
Although the men are proud to showcase the rugged backwoods of Northern California, they will be expanding their reach by filming mule deer hunts in Nevada and Colorado. A member of their team, Kohler, has also pulled the hunter’s version of the Golden Ticket, a California Elk
tag, this year. “Essentially, it’s like drawing a lottery ticket,” says Janc.
“A lot of people want it and don’t get it so we’re excited to film that as well. It’s pretty unreal.”
While the four are ever on the hunt, whether it be for wild game or a slot in the Full Draw Film Festival, they know that, as Janc says, “You have to have the balance with your family time.” “We all work full time and have kids and families,” adds Griffiths. “We do this on the side because we love it.”