Coyote Peterson Talks New Book, YouTube, and Intentionally Getting Stung and Bitten

As a child growing up in Ohio, Coyote Peterson found an interest in animals and catching them in the pond behind his house. He says he’s always been particularly fascinated with the snapping turtle—and tells an epic story about the time he caught a giant snapping turtle as an 8-year-old in his book for kids of all ages, Coyote Peterson’s Brave Adventures, which was released Sept. 12.

After graduating from college (he studied film and television screenwriting, production, and directing), he combined his passions for wildlife and film to create Brave Wilderness and produce and star in five series on YouTube. “Breaking Trail” focuses on large-scale adventures and getting up close with mammals, reptiles, amphibians; “Beyond the Tide” focuses on marine creatures; “On Location” focuses on the behind-the-scenes life and other interesting things experienced while on location; “Dragon Tails” is a series based on Peterson’s search for a new world record sized snapping turtle; and “Coyote’s Backyard,” in which Peterson takes audience members out in the wild to explore either their backyards or a local park near their house (see an episode of this series below).

Though he never intended to be in front of the camera, “once the producing team I was working with realized that I knew how to catch animals and knew a lot about them, it just kind of made sense for me to be the one then that was in front of the camera, and it kind of just took off from there,” Peterson says.

We chatted with Peterson before he kicked off his East Coast book tour, and he shared his thoughts on exploring the great outdoors, turning your passion into a career, and why he intentionally gets stung and bitten. 

Growing up in Ohio, you had plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors. Do you have any advice for parents who are trying to get their kid to discover the outdoor world beyond smartphones and social media?
Absolutely! It’s always sort of a little ironic that we distribute our content on these mobile devices that kids are so attached to, but we always try to remind them that you have to put down that device and get outside to explore at some point. 

When it comes to parents who are in cities, or even rural areas, there are so many amazing opportunities, not only in our National Parks, but also the local metro parks that you may have right down the street from your home that you don’t know about. It’s a matter of looking into your community and finding out what are the natural areas that exist for animals and plants, and then going out there, following the rules and regulations, sticking to the trails, and putting yourself in the position where you can naturally see some of these animals in their environments.

We certainly never want anyone to go out there and emulate anything that they see me doing and accidentally catch a venomous snake or be bitten by something. So we’re constantly telling our audience it’s always best to safely admire these things from a respectful distance and leave catching things and whatnot up to me. 

What are some other things anyone who is out exploring should keep in mind in terms of safety and respect for the outdoors? 
I know I’m guilty of going out and exploring and going on an adventure by myself, but it’s always best to have somebody with you. If you can’t, always let somebody know exactly where it is you’re going and when you expect to return. With that in mind, somebody will always at least have an idea of your whereabouts, so that if anything does unfortunately go wrong, they know exactly where to look for you. And again, following the basic rules and regulations of your parks will certainly help to keep you safe. And I know people love to make their adventures as grand as they possibly can, but make smart decisions in the environment and don’t take too big of risks.

You combined your passions for exploring the outdoors and wildlife and movies to create Brave Wilderness; what advice do you have for kids about pursuing their passions as a career?
I can tell this much: There were a lot of “no”s and a lot of doors closed to us early on when we were pitching this concept. And it becomes very discouraging when people say, we don’t really think people want animal shows anymore, certainly ones that are hosted by a single person, especially during a time when reality television has the ensemble cast. We just refused to believe that people didn’t have an interest in what this was, and we continued to go after our dreams.

I was sort of raised by my parents with the notion that you always go for it. No matter what: You risk everything when you truly believe that it is the right path for you, and eventually it’s going to pay off. And for everybody out there that watches our show, especially the younger generation in the way that not only technology but also social media has advanced, all these tools are right at our fingertips now. Those people have at least a smartphone with a camera and you can go out and film frogs in your backyard on your smartphone and upload it to YouTube, and before you know it, you may have a hit animal channel yourself. So it’s just a matter of having that drive and passion to go out there, be adventurous, be smart about what it is you’re doing, take opportunities with the tools you have to enjoy nature, and share it with the world.

Any insider tips for becoming a YouTuber?
It’s funny because we certainly don’t look at ourselves as celebrities in any way in the general sense of the term. We just look at ourselves as artists that have been given this amazing platform to freely create the art that we want to show the world. And that’s a great opportunity for kids these days. If they can go out there and have this opportunity to create a YouTube channel themselves, it’s just a matter of staying committed to it. One of the most difficult things that people find when they start a YouTube channel is to just keep producing content. Because the way YouTube kind of works is, the more you create, the more audience you reach; the more audience you reach, the more they watch and that audience wants more and more and more. Just know that if you’re going to do it, stay committed and keep going and eventually it’s going to grow.

coyote petersons brave adventures book

Your book came out this week. What prompted you to tell your stories in another format?
Having gone to school for screenwriting and film production, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I actually write all of the voiceover scripts that are in the episodes on the Brave Wilderness channel. We were approached by Mango Publishing…and I was like, I’m in. No matter what: If I get to write it, I’m in. So I wrote this book, and of course my producing team helped me a little bit. We worked creatively on the stories to make sure we were getting across all the concepts we wanted to share with our audience.

For me, the whole idea of being able to write a book was such an amazing opportunity and getting to share my stories and a lot of the elements you don’t get to see in the actual episodes on the channel, that I could cinematically get out through prose on the pages of this book. On top of that, we had an amazing team of illustrators that did all these hand-drawn pictures for the book—we were real big right from the get-go with the publisher that we didn’t want to just use photographs or stock images or screen grabs from our episodes, we wanted to have old-school style field guide illustrations and full narrative illustrations. I could imagine myself as an 8-year-old picking up something like this, and I would have absolutely loved to see these drawings. Another really special thing is my mom is actually one of the illustrators. She’s been an artist for a very long time, so to have this opportunity to get my mom involved in a project like this where she could bring her illustrative skills to the book is pretty amazing.

What’s your favorite story from the book?
I would have to say the first chapter, The Dragon. Chapters 1 and 2 are from when I was younger—I was 8 years old in chapter 1 and 15 years old in chapter 2—and then it segues into the Brave Wilderness years, which are interesting because they are based on actual episodes that we shot. But it was very fun to recollect back on those experiences I had as a kid and write those stories and see them come to life with the illustrations. For me chapter 1—the snapping turtle is my favorite animal, and I’ll never forget that day that I actually caught that dragon.

Are there any stories you wish you had included in the book?
Yeah, there are about 25 of them, which will be saved for subsequent books. I’m actually in the process of writing the outline for book number two, believe it or not. It was real hard even for this first book to narrow down the adventures we had. How do we get this good mix of reptiles, creepy crawlies, mammals, epic adventures? How do we work in good themes throughout each story and, of course, educational bits that we wanted people to take away? There’s a lot of careful orchestration to how that book was laid out chapter to chapter.

You have videos of you getting bitten and stung by different animals. What prompted you to start doing that and why?
The whole bite-sting phenomenon thing was never planned, which is kind of what’s crazy. It started with an episode we had done in Arizona in 2015 where I was stung by a bunch of harvester ants, which is a very common species in Arizona. It has a very potent sting, and we tried to see if I could last for 60 seconds with my hand in the harvester ant mound. The reason I did this, it was actually my mom’s backyard, and she said, if you’re going out there looking for stuff, watch out for the harvester ants. I got stung by one, and it was a crazy welt. Whatever you do don’t get stung. So, you know, as soon as your mom tells you not to do something, the first thing you do is make a beeline for the harvester ant mound, and I just plunged my hand into it.

Well, of course, we thought about this a little more in advance. We did some research, and we thought it could be really interesting to show these facts of the sting and how to treat the sting. From there, once we released the episode, the audience just piled on and said, get stung by this, get stung by that, you have to work your way up to the bullet ant. We eventually found what is called the insect sting pain index, which was created by an entomologist based out of Tucson, AZ, named Justin Schmidt. He had been stung by over 80 different species of bugs, and he created this chart that gauged everything on a scale of 1 to 4, which was least painful and which was most painful, and we said, well, here’s our roadmap, lets start getting stung by stuff, and see how the audience reacts to it. 

The more episodes we released like this, the more excited the audience got and the more they wanted to see. We kind of created this roadmap that last year built up to the bullet ant and this year built up to the warrior wasp. What most people don’t know is the warrior wasp [episode] has been filmed, it is coming out, but then we actually discovered another insect that has possibly, I’m not going to give it away yet, an even more painful sting than the bullet ant and the warrior wasp. So there’s a whole big grand finale coming toward the end of this year, but at that juncture we are actually calling it a quit with the bites and stings. The whole ride and phenomenon is going to come to and end, but because it’s coming to an end, we’re going to segue into bigger, more elaborate episodes, things like great white sharks, komodo dragons, anacondas, stuff like that.

As to why? Honestly at the end of the day it was so we could provide a solid education to our audience to show them what would happen if you are bitten or stung, and then ultimately why you want to try to avoid that to the best of your ability and admire animals from a safe distance. If you see how much pain I’m in and the swelling and stuff I had to endure with these bites and stings, it’s likely going to encourage you to keep a safe distance.

Main image: Courtesy Wilderness Productions 


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