Feeding the Addiction

Feeding the Addiction

After nearly 15 years at the helm of “Addicted to the Outdoors,” one of the Outdoor Channel’s top-rated hunting and fishing shows, Jon Brunson is still hungry for more

By the time he was 15 years old, Jon Brunson had defined an unlikely career path — professional outdoorsman.

If the key to happiness is to build a profession around one’s greatest passion, the young Brunson reasoned, then he’d hunt, fish and camp his way to success. Or go broke trying.

Fortunately for Brunson, reason prevailed. Nearly 35 years later, the business model he developed on a teenage whim has provided many times over, not only as a source of financial stability supporting Brunson, his wife, Gina, and their six children, but as a means to keep them rich in a currency far more important to the outdoor-obsessed family: It’s equipped them with a wealth of opportunities to explore their natural surroundings.

As hosts of one of the Outdoor Channel’s signature television series, “Addicted to the Outdoors,” now in its 14th season, the Brunsons have captivated audiences with their no-holds-barred, reality-based depiction of their marriage and family life, infused with heavy doses of outdoor adventure, hunting and fishing, which hews closely to both their upbringings in Florida.

Jon Brunson wearing the Men’s Crew Long Sleeve Top in Exposed camo.
Gina Brunson wearing the Women's Deep Space Base Layer Crew Long Sleeve Top and the Puff Embroidered Camo Cap, both in Exposed camo.
“I grew up a nut for the outdoors,” Brunson said. “I come from a big family of 10 children and everything we did was outdoors. My dad was a Southern Baptist preacher. His side of the family fished and dove hunted, and my mom’s side hunted, so that’s all we did. I started shooting a bow when I was 8 years old. I met Gina when I was 19 and I was already outdoorsy to the extreme. She was 17 when we got together and I was a hunting fool. I had hunting leases and camps all over the place, and she jumped into the lifestyle with both feet. Our earliest dates involved building deer stands in the Florida heat.”

The opportunity for Brunson to launch his own outdoor television show finally came in 2004, when he began hosting “Jon Brunson Outdoors” on the Outdoor Channel, which quickly drew a devoted fanbase as he animated his no-frills hunts in the southern U.S. with his charismatic personality and hard-earned hunting chops, as well as occasional cameos from Gina, who became a favorite among viewers.

“It didn’t start out as a couple’s show. It was kind of my dream to do a couple’s show, or a reality-based family show, but we didn’t envision it being a full-time couple’s show when we first launched it. So it was just ‘Jon Brunson Outdoors’ at first,” he recalled. “But as Gina started getting more involved, we got a stronger response. I think Gina and I are a better product together than I am by myself. I think people enjoy us more than me, it got a good response, so it didn’t take us long to rebrand the show as ‘Addicted to the Outdoors.’”

Today, the entire Brunson clan is involved with the show to some degree, even as Jon and Gina took care to shelter their brood from the television industry and not push their own passions on their children.

“It’s been amazing as parents to see our kids become full-fledged hunters...

...but we wanted them to develop their own interests. We never forced hunting or fishing on them, so what you see in the show is the real deal.”

The show’s authenticity, the couple said, is a big part of the allure.

“When we launched ‘Addicted,’ we made a couple decisions that we stuck with,” Jon said. “The first was that regardless of how successful we became we were always going on hunts that the average person could afford. We grew up hunting hard in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. We were hunting swamps and thick woods and working our asses off to see a deer. It’s why you don’t see Gina and I killing a 200-inch whitetail. That’s not how we grew up and most of our demographic isn’t going to go on a $40,000 outfitted hunt to kill a 200-inch deer. It is very important for us to relate to the fans. The other thins we’ve stuck with is nothing is scripted. We show it like it is. We show the good, the bad and the ugly. We have episodes that depict every trip that bombed during a season. We often get our strongest feedback when show ourselves fighting because our audience can relate to a normal couple out hunting in the woods bickering. People saying, ‘you’re just like my husband.’ There is no fabrication, no staging, and if we are frustrated we show it. You will see missed shots, you will see mistakes, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Jon Brunson and his sons are wearing the Men’s Crew Long Sleeve Top and the Puff Embroidered Camo Cap, both in Exposed camo. Gina Brunson and her daughter are wearing the Women's Deep Space Base Layer Crew Long Sleeve Top in Exposed camo.

As “Addicted to the Outdoors” grew in stature and success, Brunson was enlisted to help produce other shows, prompting him to launch JBO Productions, his Tampa-based full-service production company.

Two years ago, however, the strain of his profession began interfering with his passion, and Brunson decided to reevaluate.

“In 2019, we had been growing like crazy,” Brunson recalls. “The production company was growing, we had 12 shows, multiple network contracts, and a stacked payroll. I just reached a point where I was not having fun.

For years, Brunson had been toying with the idea of launching a second brand dedicated to his passion for spearfishing, but all his time was being consumed by turnkey productions. So he decided to trim some fat and economize.

“I just said, ‘I have got to adjust my life.’ I was too busy, too stressed,” he said. “‘Addicted’ was rocking but the majority of my time was going into building brands for other people, and producing a show for someone else is a lot of work. I reached a point where I wanted to simplify my life.”

He sold his production building and built a 2,700-foot home studio on his two-acre waterfront property in Tampa, which not only cut down on overhead, but also afforded him the opportunity to court clients at home rather than in a hotel bar at tradeshows. His five full-time employees transitioned to a freelance arrangement, allowing them more professional freedom, and Brunson engineered a new server system that enabled his production crew to work and edit remotely.

“We basically built a Brunson compound, almost a mini-resort with a state-of-the-art studio on 300 feet of waterfront, a white-sand beach, boats in the backyard,” he said. “And then Covid hit and we already had this slick work-at-home system in place. It’s funny how things work out.”

Things worked out so well, in fact, that Brunson was finally able to launch “Spear Life,” an unscripted documentary series that follows Brunson and his two lifelong friends, Gary Zumwalt and Coby Treasure as they chase monster fish and explore notable shipwrecks underwater.

“Everything was really falling into place.”

One notable exception was the dissolution of a longtime clothing sponsor, with whom the Brunsons had worked to design their own line of outdoor apparel, leaving a sizable gap in the equation, although fortunately not an urgent one.

“We just said we are going to hold out until we find what we feel is going to be the next big thing,” Brunson said. “We’ve only had two big clothing companies in our 18-year career, so we didn’t want to rush anything, and integrity is extremely important to us when representing a brand. We believe in the products we use, which is why we are also very effective in moving product. So we didn’t want to rush into anything.”

Enter FORLOH, the Montana-based, Made-in-America brand that’s been quietly redefining the outdoor apparel industry through a winning combination of technical innovation, cutting-edge technology, field utility, and style.

“We’d been holding out for the right partner to come along when a good friend of mine, Harold Ross, a businessman I highly respect, said, ‘you should meet this guy Andy in Montana. He’s really sharp, he has technology that no one else has, I think he has a product that could be the next big thing,’” Brunson said, referring to FORLOH founder Andy Techmanski. “So after talking to Andy, he sent me some gear and I read every sales sheet they had. I read up on every garment. In a very short period of time I realized this was a very sharp company. It almost reminded me of working with Apple in terms of their innovation.”

Not only did FORLOH’s line of all-weather camo apparel provide a seamless fit for “Addicted,” its line of SolAir UPF long-sleeve hooded sun shirts are redefining the market for wicking, quick-drying, cooling garments, which Brunson immediately integrated into “Spear Life.”

“I am beyond impressed,” he said. “I truly, truly believe, based on all my experience in the industry, that FORLOH the future of outdoor clothing. It’s been a long time since anyone came close to occupying that space for me. And the sun shirts are the most comfortable shirts that I have ever put on in my life. I’m not a guy that’s going to be over-the-top excited about a company, but I am blown away with FORLOH. From the product to the company to how they run their business to how everything is American made, every single aspect has exceeded my expectations.”