In April of 2006, Outdoor Life Network (OLN) aired its first episode of Mantracker, a Canadian reality series that, well, if you’ve chosen to read this article, you’re certainly familiar with. faster than producers would come to realize its potential. In each episode, contests would try their best to outwit and outrun Terry Grant, the iconic cowboy at the center of the ground-breaking concept.
Then, seemingly out of the blue (for viewers anyway), Mantracker was no more. After a tumultuous journey with production, Terry Grant rode off into the sunset and the series immediately floundered. In 2017, Terry Grant confirmed that there would be no further production of Mantracker.
Terry Grant, 'on set', 2007
And so, as the dust settled over the shuffled tracks left by the series, fans had half-expected the return of Terry Grant to their TV screens in some form or another. Years later, nothing had materialized. Interestingly, the Rocky Mountain cowboy was in no hurry to rejuvenate the series, nor was he keen on starting anything else – he simply and quietly got back to normal life.
It’s this that I wanted to pick his brain about, and this that he was willing to discuss as he drove through a dozen plus inches of snow through Alberta, no unusual thing out West. For it’s rare to come across someone who doesn’t desperately try to chase the spotlight, who doesn’t cling to any cultivated fame like it’s their new way of living.
In my conversation with Terry, we touched upon the importance of self-truth, how the show originated, his various other endeavors, the real manhunt of Kam McCleod and Byrer Schmegelsky that took place earlier this year and, of course, tracking – which Terry now teaches to anyone interested (http://themantracker.com/)
MW: The Terry Grant that we’ve seen on OLN’s Mantracker – you’ve said before that it’s the same Terry Grant that we get in real life. Now, everyone’s already asked you about what it’s like to have been Mantracker, and then get back to normal living.. But I want to dive a little bit deeper into that because there’s this funny thing that happens to people who get caught up in the celebrity frame of mind whereby they adopt a new persona or make do with two interchangeable identities – but not necessarily the case with you - you sort of kept true to who you were. How do you think you were able to do that?
TG: I think it’s always been a case of, you know, who you really are. If you tried to put on a different face for the camera or something else, then you’re not being true to yourself. I’m me, I grew up this way. I’ve been formed to be this person and I’d be a damn fool to change it. Me, the way I am, has gotten me to where I am - so why change it?
MW: Yeah and that’s what I was getting at, because self-truth is crucial virtue for everyone to have. I mean, especially social media floating around, it’s almost like everyone’s trying to sell some version of themselves nowadays..
TG: Yeah, and you know, it’s so evident on social media - you’ve got people that are saying they’re one thing on there and they’re really not. I’m where I don’t want to change, you know, I’m kind of stuck in the mud the way I am, and I don’t mind being me. When he [the producer for Mantracker] wanted to do certain stuff on the show, he asked me to do a couple of things and I was like “no”; he looked at me and went “why not?” and I said “because a cowboy would not do that” and I said “as a person, I wouldn’t even do that”, you know, because it’s phony and it’s fake - it’s not me and it’s not a cowboy. I put the kibosh on what he wanted to do real quick.
MW: I appreciate that and that’s why I was eager to talk to you, because its not often you come across someone who doesn’t let the cameras infiltrate their self-identity. Did that ever come up as a thought though, where you came to a crossroad and wondered, you know, “Am I turning into this?” or was it just, from the get go, that you’re definitely not that kind of person?
TG: Oh no, I never ever entertained the idea of changing or doing something the way I wouldn’t do it, or saying something that I wouldn’t normally say. Everything I did was exactly the way I would do it if there were no cameras, and if I was miles from nowhere, by myself.
MW: And that’s admirable, because in 2013 you were indicted into Scouts Canada as a Chief Scout, quoted with saying that the kids are able to learn some of values and the same morals as you’ve learned - that you were able to teach them honesty and integrity, ambition to go out and do things. So I want to get an idea for how important those sorts of virtues are to you, as you’ve said that those values have done you fairly well throughout life. I’m wondering if you can elaborate on what sorts of virtues, to you, are crucial?
TG: There again, you’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to be honest with yourself. That’s the biggest thing. Work hard – the harder you work, the more easily things are going to come to you. In this day and age, that’s kind of a lost thing now because kids don’t have to go out and spend twelve hours a day stacking hay or running a tractor fourteen hours a day, then come in and chop wood and haul water. Things have changed, but it’s the same old thing in my book.. You know, the harder you work, the better you’re going to be as a person, the more you’re going to be respected by everybody else around you and the easier things are going to come to you.
I spent a whole lifetime being a cowboy because that’s what I wanted to do. I never expected anything more out of my life than being a damn good cowboy. Along came this TV show and it’s like, wow, showcase the cowboy and showcase the skills I’ve learned over 40 years cowboying... If you do what you love, then you’ll never work a day in your life.
MW: For sure, I totally believe that. Now, you’re originally from Ontario - what made you move out West?
TG: I wanted to see the mountains. I got pretty lucky, again, I drove out in ’76 and had a look at them. I spent a week out here just bumming around and then I just drove back home. In December , there was another guy, another neighbor that got a job on the Bar U [Ranch – now a national historic site in Alberta], when it was a working ranch, and he offered me the job. So I got a couple months’ work at the Bar U and then, from there, I thought this was pretty cool – I got to do the cowboy thing I always wanted to do.. So I got a job on another ranch and away we went.
MW: And that turned into 40+ years of accumulating a myriad of experience in the bush I guess, right?
Taken during Grant's last season of filming, 2011
MW: That sort of brings me to my next question - about our place in nature. Do you look at humanity as being a bit vulnerable or more resilient than we can be? I mean, we had the whole episode over the summer with the manhunt for McCleod and Schmegelsky and, as you know, the lights and camera turned to you again to provide some insight on that. Were you surprised at how things played out with them?
[Kam McCleod and Bryer Schmegelsky had been sought in the connection of three murders on the West coast of Canada; the nation-wide manhunt ended with the discovery of their bodies in the Manitoba wilderness]
TG: Umm, no. It played out exactly as I thought it would.. Well, part of it. I figured that they would not come out under their own steam. But I really expected them to have a bit of a showdown with the cops.
MW: As many people did. Everybody sort of knew, from the get go, that it was tough wilderness out there and it’s not any sort of environment that’s conducive towards any kind of sustained survival.
TG: Oh god no. And I kept asking everybody, when they did an interview with me, did anybody actually see them go in the bush? If they did, what did they have on them? Did they have an ax and a book of matches or did they have a 40-50 pound pack? Cause if they had a big pack, then they had a chance. But obviously, they walked in there without much at all.
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MW: Well that’s just it. With your own personal experience in the wilderness, whether its assisting recue teams or tracking cattle through the Rockies, what would be the deepest lesson you’ve learned or the most insightful experience that you’ve had in terms of what nature can teach us about ourselves?
TG: Be prepared. With Search and Rescue, there are so many times we’ve gone out looking for people because they were going to go out on a two-hour hike in a loop. Little loop, two hours. Well, a day later, they still haven’t come back. It turns out they take a short cut, and they’re planning on a two-hour trip so they’ve got no rain gear, a water bottle, maybe a granola bar. When they end up getting lost, it’s like: water runs out, granola bars long gone, they’re cold and they’re grumpy and, you know, they’re not going to have a fun night at all. If it’s one thing I can tell people – if you’re going in the bush for two hours, plan on spending the night.
MW: Have you ever had any close calls yourself? Any expeditions that wrong?
TG: Umm, well, nothing that really went drastically wrong. I’ve spent the night in the bush a few times. When I was hunting and stuff, just because I was far enough away from my vehicle that I didn’t want to walk back, it was getting dark and I figured to just stay there, build a little shelter, live off my backpack for the night.
Grant watching his horse, Nickel, 2011
MW: With technology nowadays, it’s a little bit different and with fewer and fewer people today having the ability to actually navigate the wilderness - do you see tracking as a dying art?
TG: Oh it always has been.. Tracking is one of those things that, unless you’re taught how to do it and you actually practice it, it just goes away.
MW: And that’s what you do now, right? You train people how to track?
TG: Yeah, I teach tracking and I try to give them an idea of what they’re looking at and where to look for it. The whole human psychology part about tracking is absolutely amazing. You know, all the stuff we do without thinking about it. That’s probably, in my book, 75% of tracking people – understanding what they’re thinking, what they’re going to do and knowing what they’re going to do before they even know they’re going to do it.
MW: It’s like the FBI profiling somebody..
TG: Exactly, exactly right. We’re going to do certain things in the bush, we’re going to gravitate downhill, we’re going take the path of least resistance. You know, we’re lazy. When we come to a river, we’re probably going to follow it downstream.. The path of least resistance.
MW: So how many years would you say it took you to develop that sort of intuition and instinct?
TG: I took my tracking course for humans with Search and Rescue in about 1993. Ever since then, I’ve kind of paid more attention to what I do in the bush. And that gives me some insight into what somebody else will do. With all the profiling as a Search Manager, you profile people and stuff, and I’ve taken it to the next level – figuring out how the person is thinking. There are so many things going through their head, and if they’re lost, they’re half-panicking anyway and they’re going to walk in a circle, so you kind of pay attention to that. The land is going to dictate where they go.
I’ve taken it to the next level and, even in an urban situation, we’re left and right footed.. So when you step up on the curb, you’re going to always use the same foot. You take that stuff and apply it to someone in the bush – they’re always going to step over the log with their left foot. So if you lose the trail, you find a log that’s close to the trail and you should then see a left foot. There’s a ton of stuff to learn if you just go out and pay attention – do it for 30 years!
MW: Do you find there to be either a drastic similarity or a drastic difference between tracking humans and tracking animals?
TG: Huge difference. Animals are, more or less, predictable – they’re going to water, they’re going to a feeding ground. They’re going to get somewhere, a favorite spot that they want to sleep. For humans, they walk down a trail and they go: “oh look at that tree, that’s cool” and they walk over to the tree; they see another thing and they go to that, and then they’re like “oh where’s the trail?” People in the bush, we wander around like goofballs when we’re lost.
When I was with Search and Rescue, we went to schools and taught a thing that was called ‘hug a tree’. If you’re lost, if you’re on a trail, stay there - we’ll use that trail to find you. You may be cold, you might be hungry, you might be scared, but we will find you.