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A CONVERSATION WITH JAY CUTLER
INTERVIEW & PHOTOS BY Tyler Sharp
From the beginning, Modern Huntsman has strove to be a bipartisan forum, and bring in diverse perspectives from often opposing viewpoints, in hopes of having constructive conversations where they are otherwise not being had. Whether it’s debating the nuances of hunting ethics, dietary choices, or especially politics, we feel that the future of hunting depends on our collective ability to broaden the range of people in these conversations, and find common ground. To seek the greater good, expand horizons, and be empathetic towards those who might think, act, or live differently than you, rather than continue the destructive cycle of divisiveness that has turned so many away from this community over the years. It is our intention with this new interview series to continue that mission, to pull the curtain back for those willing, and cultivate an open space to have real conversations. Which leads to our first interview.
TYLER SHARP – Many folks know you from your NFL career, appearances on TV, or sensationalized headlines, but most people probably don’t know about your passion for hunting. Tell us about your upbringing. How were you introduced to it?
JAY CUTLER – It started with my dad. We were raised lower middle class in Indiana, and hunting was a way for him to bring meat to the table. Every single dollar was either going toward the family, the kids, or some way to make our lives better. He could subsidize meat that way, and that’s how it all started. I just remember my mom saying, “We need to get a deer this year. We need something in the freezer.” It’s evolved from that point, but it was a means to an end. We needed that protein and that food. I started going out with him more, and I remember the first time that I actually shot at a deer, a doe. I think I was probably nine or ten. My dad took two-by-fours and built almost a tree house. We’re sitting in this damn thing, in the snow, and it was freezing out there. Deer hunting, for a kid, can be really tough sometimes. If you’re not seeing a lot, it’s cold; it’s just hard. I took my first shot with a 20-gauge 870 Remington shotgun. I hit low, and we never found her. It really affected me negatively, and from that point on, I didn’t really hunt that much. I was playing sports, doing a million other things, and it just took a back burner.
When did you re-discover it?
Growing up, I just wasn’t really allowed inside that much, I was always outside playing. It was always in me, and there has always been a draw to the outdoors, and something I find being out there: peace and tranquility. After that first doe mishap, it just wasn’t my main focus — sports were. It wasn’t until later in my career, when I was about 30, and we were starting to have kids, that it came full circle. I was looking at the quality of food and meat in the US at that time, and our family was really getting into organics, non-GMOs, and all that stuff. It took me back and I thought, Oh, I remember. That’s why we first started hunting. That got the engines pumping again and I realized how much I’d missed that part of my life.
During demanding times in your career, how has hunting served you? What does it mean to you?
Playing sports is a performance, it’s entertainment. That’s what you’re doing. From the time that I was eight or nine, I feel like I’ve been putting on a show. To have found this other passion in hunting, something that brings me peace and allows me to get away from stress, has been great. The more that I get back into it, the more joy I find in it, especially in the past three or four years. To me, it’s not really about just going out there to harvest an animal, or even just to find peace. Now it’s more about getting to enjoying different interests in my life, things that took a back seat for so long. I never really had a backup plan. It was never, “If football doesn’t work out, I’m going to do X, Y and Z.” That never crossed my mind. I was committed to, and 100 percent involved in that, for 20 years.
I know that hunting can have a healing effect, but with all of the public scrutiny in the media, is that a part of your life that you’ve tried to keep quiet?
No, I didn’t keep it quiet. Personally, I just felt that I wanted to have something that was private, that was mine. Playing football comes with a lens into every part of your life. On the field, off the field, you’re being watched and scrutinized. I did a reality show with who I was married to at the time, and there were many aspects of my life that were very open, and were very public. That was part of the job, and I understand that. I just wanted to have something that was mine, that I could live in, have fun with, and breathe a little bit.
This issue is themed around resilience, and that’s definitely a word that you must’ve relied on during your career. What does that word mean to you?
Resilience? To me, it’s vital. Not everyone has it, and not everyone goes through the same trials and tribulations. There’s a lot of people that would look at my life, and say, “He has everything he could ever want. Why is resilience even a part of his vocabulary?” From my perspective, I feel like I’ve been through a lot. I’ve overcome a lot, but I’m sure not everyone can see that, because I don’t talk about it much. I think that’s what the outdoors, and hunting, and that whole world has given me — an escape from those types of things, and a chance to reset.
You were faced with a lot of criticism in the NFL. Your character was attacked, and often painted in a negative light. You were someone people loved to hate, because you didn’t really fit the mold for a typical NFL quarterback. How did you navigate those detractors or public slanders and stay focused on your goals and your happiness?
You know, I’ve ignored it for so long, because I didn’t want to bring that energy into my life. I was concentrated on football, and it just felt like it was a distraction. I never wanted to be famous. I wanted no part of that. I don’t like the attention. Early in my career, social media wasn’t a thing. You could kind of hide, especially in Denver. But going to Chicago, all the social media like Twitter and the press just made the world a much smaller place. Being in that spotlight, everyone wants a lot of you. They want to know who you are, and know everything about you. They’re going to cut down certain things, and attack your character. There’s just nowhere to hide. Being out of football, and being in a different phase of my life, I find myself wanting to face those criticisms, and show a completely different side than when I was on the football field, or what people may have read in dramatized headlines. Being an NFL quarterback for 12 years, and trying to lead a group of guys on offense, I think you have to have a little bit of a stoic personality. You’ve got to be able to let those things go, because you’re going to hear them regardless. But for me, I just felt that for the other 10 guys out there, I had to try to be above all that. I just ignored it all, and let that rhetoric go. Whether it was true or not, I didn’t really respond much at all. Now, as I’m getting older, I find that some of those stigmas bother me, because they aren’t true, and they’re not who I am. Going forward, these are things that I want to face. I want to show different aspects of my personality, and different interests that I have. Because for whatever reason, I think I’m going to have a platform to do that.
We’ve received a lot of criticism for trying to do something different, and affect long-term change in terms of inclusivity and diversity. There is a toxic mentality that prevails, where if you are not part of “the club,” then you are chastised, and I think it has a lot to do with the reason why the hunting industry is shrinking. What are your thoughts on the divisiveness within the industry, and how do you see a path forward?
Honestly, I think it’s the best thing you have on your side. I think the traditional hunting world is dated, and that’s part of why we’re losing so many hunters every year. There’s a million other things to do in the world right now: camping, fishing, hiking, climbing, or just being out in nature. I think Covid, and everything that’s happening, has pushed people in that direction. I think there’s a chance to take that momentum, and build on it. But to me, it’s not going to be done by the old-school hunting types. It’s just not. It’s going to be done by Modern Huntsman, yourself, and everyone that’s involved. Folks that are a little bit more worldly, have different interests, who are into food, travel, and even fashion and clothing. To me, that’s what the future of hunting looks like.
I know you have interest in culture and style, but those are words that aren’t usually related to a lot of things in the hunting and outdoor industries. Where do you see room for those things to be brought in, and create an environment that improves the culture around hunting, and makes it a little more approachable?
I think approachable is the word. It’s daunting for someone that is interested in hunting, but maybe they’re a CPA in Chicago, and they just don’t know the first thing about actually doing it. They want to go out there and harvest something, but they’re stuck in a city. Personally, I want to help bridge the gap for them, and be a conduit that says, “You know what? I love being in cities too. I love New York. I love Dallas. I love Chicago. I love going to these cities, and eating the food, and going shopping, and seeing the fashion. But I also like to hunt. There’s also a side of me that loves being in Montana.” I don’t think you have to pick one or the other. You just don’t. I think you can do both really well, and at a high level.
Apart from helping bridge that gap, you were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which is rare for professional athletes. It was late onset, right?
Yes. I think it was 10 years ago now. It was my second year playing in the NFL, I was in Denver, and I lost 30 pounds throughout the season. The last game, I played at 202 pounds, or something crazy. We were playing the Vikings, and a couple guys from their team came over and asked, “What is wrong with you, man?” I honestly had no idea.
I know that being an athlete, there’s an emphasis on performance, fitness and eating healthy, especially with the added complexity of diabetes, but how does that all cross over? What’s the importance of it to you now?
It’s obviously really important in my life, because it’s something I think about, literally every single day with type 1 diabetes. When we started having kids, we went down the rabbit hole of processed foods, and white flour, and white sugar. How that affects your glucose, and your sugar. Protein is one of those things that’s overlooked. I think we’re in a huge gluten phase, carb phase, sugar phase. But some of the proteins, they’re injected with all kinds of stuff. Not everyone is capable, I realize that, but hunting is a way to bring home healthy meat for your family. That is either often overlooked, or too daunting of an experience for people to try to undertake. Going forward, it’s something that I think is important, to find a way to make that more accessible to everybody.
Tell us a little bit more about your love of food, and where hunting overlaps. Do you value your time in the kitchen?
I love food, and I love going to restaurants and tasting new stuff. I love the artistic nature of it, because it is absolutely an art form. It blows my mind to see some of the things that chefs create. But I really love trying to take some of those recipes, and trying to put some of the wild game I’ve harvested into it: elk, turkey, pheasants, white tail, whatever it is. The health benefits are really important to me, especially with my diabetes, and I want my kids to grow up as healthy as they possibly can. We didn’t eat great growing up, and that’s not on my parents, we just didn’t know, the science wasn’t there. They were doing the best they possibly could, and I don’t blame them at all. But we’re just so much more knowledgeable now, and for me as a parent, it would be a crime not to try to do that for my kids. I’ve got two sons and a daughter, and I love to cook for them. I think it’s really important for my boys, and my daughter, to understand that the kitchen space isn’t just for women. That’s not the case at all. I can get in there, and mix it up, and I definitely want my boys to know how to cook, and be able to take care of themselves. If they have a family someday, I want them to be able to step into that role, because that’s the future. Women aren’t going to take a back seat anymore, and neither should they. They should be chasing and doing whatever they want to do. I think relationships in general are going to have to be much more equally weighted, in all aspects.
You talked about helping bridge the gap for hunting for the mainstream public. In your opinion, where do you feel like that disconnect is between the natural food sourcing you’re talking about, and the negative connotations people make when they hear the word hunting?
I think it’s just a lack of knowledge. I think it’s going to take groups like Modern Huntsman to bridge that gap. I was just talking to somebody today about how over in Europe, many hunters dress in green and brown tweeds, and asked them, “What do you think about hunters over there?” They said, “Well, I think they’re really classy.” That can be done here in the US as well, so that less people think we’re just a bunch of rednecks out there, firing off rounds. I think you have to portray it in a different way. Which, apart from you guys, just hasn’t really been done much. That doesn’t take away from anything that anyone’s done in the past, or what they’re doing right now, but I think the focus should be less on the current hunters, and more on how we recruit new people to this lifestyle. I think there’s so many aspects that could help better their lives: being outdoors, getting lean protein, being in touch with nature, putting phones down. I think there’s a huge array of positives that can come from it.
We’re launching this new series, Huntsman At Large, to highlight a diverse range of folks who have hunting as one of many aspects of their life. What does that term mean to you, and what sort of people do you feel like would be interesting to feature?
Well, I think we’ve touched on it briefly through this. I think “At Large” are the key words there. I don’t want to be labeled as just a hunter. I love hunting, and I would never shy away from that by any means, but there’s so many more aspects to my life, and my interests. But like we talked about, the food part. The travel part. The outdoors part. The camping. The fashion part. Sports. There’s a litany of things that make up who I am, and hunting just happens to be one that I have a huge passion for, but I don’t want to just be limited to that role. I think going forward, you’re going to find some amazingly talented people that undercover hunt and don’t tell anybody about it. Maybe they’re an artist in New York, and they’re going upstate or to Maine or something, and shooting stuff. I think that’s going to open up some doors for people to express their love for hunting, and show other interesting aspects of their lives. But to accomplish this, you have to show people. They have to see it. Everyone can read stuff, but I think going forward, you have to provide examples: “All right. We’re interested in this. We’re doing this other thing. We’re part of this world. Hunting is also a part of our life, and it’s not a bad thing, it’s just something else that we do.” It can’t be just about hunting, because it needs to appeal to more people. The bigger your range, the bigger the audience is going to become. But you will also face much bigger challenges.
I knew when we started that it was going to be a difficult journey, and it has been. But it’s also been very rewarding, and that keeps us marching onward. In the spirit of resilience and pushing ahead, what would your advice be for somebody reading this who might be going through some challenging times?
It’s hard. It’s really hard, but I think that’s also life. I’m sure there’s a handful of people out there that never really had a lot of tribulations, but I think 99.9 % of people have some sort of hardship. That’s part of it. I’m currently going through one now. If you don’t learn anything from it, I think you’re missing the boat. You have to learn from it. You have to grow from it, or it’s going to happen again sometime later in life. It just is. You have to take your responsibility: “Why am I here? What did I do to get myself in this mess?” You make 1,000 choices every day. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re the wrong ones, and they lead to something that hurts, or puts you in a bad spot. But you can learn from those and say, “I would do this differently. I wouldn’t do this differently. I learned patience, or some other virtue.” But you can figure out your own mindset, and make choices that are going to put you in the best position possible. If you can do that, and keep moving forward, you’re going to be better off.
We were dealt a pretty heavy deck of obstacles this year, and I’ve been working on trying to remove myself from making that a personal thing. Obstacles or challenges don’t care about you individually, and they’re going to keep coming. All you can control is the way you react to them, and focus on what you have to do to persevere.
For sure. There is going to be another one around the corner. Nothing’s going to go smoothly all the time. There’s definitely going to be times where you’re just blessed and something falls in your lap, but the majority of times, it’s going to be a battle. Especially whenever you’re trying to do something that’s against norms, or there’s a backlash, or people that disagree with you. You’ve just got to follow your heart.
Metaphorically, if you had a representation of, let’s call it an event that would illustrate progress toward that goal. Who are some of the types of people that you’d want to have in that room, having that conversation?
I think you would take a mom of four. I think you would take some sort of impressionist artist that works in a studio. I think you’d take a Wall Street banker. I think you’d take someone from the South, that has grown up killing hogs all the time. I think you’d take someone from California or Oregon, or something like that, who hates the NRA, and despises guns. I think you can make a mixing pot of all these different people. That maybe they don’t hunt. Maybe they see it differently. I think if you can start accomplishing that, then you’re on the right track.
For those people that maybe aren’t hunters, what do you say to them to get their interest piqued, or gain their respect?
I think actions speak a lot. Doing things the right way, and showing them through various media, is going to be huge. Having an open mind as a hunter and listening to what they want to say. How they want to say it. What their concerns are. That’s also important. You get into a certain stigma as a hunter, of saying, “What we’re doing is right. You’re not taking away our guns. We’re going out there. We’re doing this. We’re doing that.” That’s not the world. You have to have some sort of middle ground, and have empathy for both sides. Because I don’t think I can tell them anything, and I’m not going to convince them of going against the grain. I’m not trying to do that. I just want to have an understanding. “I’ll understand your side. I need you to understand my side. Watch my actions. See how I do this.” You can take that any way you want, but that doesn’t even have to be hunting. It can be the farthest thing from hunting. It could be that you know where to find wild mushrooms. It could be being vegan. I think that’s the narrative. That’s the direction of where this thing has to go. You have to educate people. You have to show them what you’re about.
I think, if anything, ethical hunting is part of that natural order. Sure, the tools and the technology have changed a little bit. But more so, making sure that there’s an understanding. Even with somebody who maybe is vegan or vegetarian, they’re going out to forage, making sure that they at least have an understanding of the natural cycle. Hunting plays a role in that, regardless of what their dietary choices are.
I think that’s why it’s important to focus on the word “modern.” Because it’s not the 1980s. It’s 2021. The world has changed. People have changed. I think that the more the dialog heads in that direction, the more people are going to take notice, and think, Okay. They’re talking about this in a different way. Which I think is the starting point. Then you have to show them a different way. I think it’s an exciting time for Modern Huntsman. You guys are on the forefront of a lot of change. Going forward, your company and the people you have on your team are going to help lead that charge. It’s going to be a wild ride, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
You’ve accomplished a lot, and now being retired from football you can pretty much go any direction you want in this new chapter. Fast forward 20 years — what do you want your legacy to be?
That’s a great question. Like I said earlier, I’ve played football and sports for so long. That was it. That was Plan A. There was no Plan B. The past year has given me an opportunity to think about where my passions are, and what I really love. Football obviously was one, and replacing that is going to be really, really hard because I started at such a young age, and I did it for so long. But now I’m thinking about what I really liked doing as a kid. What gave me a sense of freedom? What did I wake up in the morning, and think, I’m excited to go do this? Some of the hunts that I’ve been able to experience the past few years have brought me to the conclusion that it’s something that I want to do in the future. I just don’t want to do it the same way it’s been done the last 20 years. I want to be on the forefront of how we change the culture and mindset of hunting. How do we get some people that you never would have thought wanted to hunt into this world? I would also like to address current hunters and talk more about other aspects to life. How do we change the whole mindset? The whole organization?
It’s interesting. A lot of hunters face challenges with how they’re perceived, and they don’t know how to talk about it. They don’t know how to share the fact that maybe they’re into Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe they’re into Lady Gaga. Whatever it is. In that regard, it’s important to find ways to give people comfort and confidence to diversify.
It’s huge. I think you have to be open about who you are. I don’t care how big of a hunter you are. It doesn’t matter to me. You could be the most hardcore western ram or goat hunter in the world, but you’re also doing other stuff. You just are. You’ve got a job. You’ve got hobbies. You’ve got kids. You’ve got something else going on in your life. It’s just a fact. Wrapping yourself in the hunting world, and saying, “I’m a hardcore hunter. I have to be just hunt, hunt, hunt, hunt” — it’s not realistic, or real. I would rather be with people who are more practical and be able to say, “Yeah, I definitely enjoy hunting. But I’m going to be in New York in two weeks, and I’m going to be in the meatpacking district, walking around in whatever I’m wearing. It’s not going to be hunting clothes, I can tell you that.” That’s part of my life. I think that we just have to open up to that reality here, really soon.
It’s an interesting opportunity for you. Where previously you weren’t very vocal, now you have this platform with a lot of people listening and watching, and have an opportunity to take the mic. Whether you like it or not, you are influential to a lot of people. I think that it’s an interesting opportunity, to be able to take what you’ve learned and share that with a larger audience, and be an inspiration.
For sure. That’s exactly what I want to do. I want to help bridge the gap between the current hunters that live in this bubble, and the rest of the world — people that might look down on hunting, or are scared to get into it. Whatever it is, I’m ready for that role. Going back to the word resilience, and overcoming things; what I did, going through all the media, the scrutiny, has given me the ability to face those challenges. I don’t know if confidence is the word, but it’s not daunting. It doesn’t bother me. That history of what I’ve done is going to serve me well going forward.