Eight Questions with MeatEater's Mark Kenyon

April 8, 2020 | Hunt

We chat with MeatEater’s Mark Kenyon about the Back 40 project, raising a hunting family and more.

We recently sat down with Mark Keyon to talk about MeatEater’s Back 40 project. In 2019, MeatEater purchased a 64-acre farm in the heart of Michigan with the goal of transforming the ordinary farm into a haven for both wildlife and hunters. The team spent the first year assessing the land, getting a feel for it and seeing what work was needed to kick off the project.

Now MeatEater is heading into the second season on the Back 40, and we sat down with Mark Kenyon, the Founder of Wired to Hunt and MeatEater’s resident “whitetail guy” to talk about what’s next for the property.

Mark, How did the Back 40 project come about?

For a long time I’d dreamt of buying a small whitetail hunting property and documenting the process from beginning to end for the Wired To Hunt audience, but I never had the resources or team to bring it to life. But in the winter of 2018, things began to change when the MeatEater team and I began brainstorming about what this idea could look like if we expanded it to be even more far-reaching and conservation-focused. After many weeks of research and spitballing, this concept crystalized into what we now call the “Back 40,” a project focused not only on documenting the transformation of a small hunting property, but also the conservation and habitat projects that can be implemented to promote a diverse and thriving natural ecosystem on our 64 acres.

Mark Kenyon walks though a field with his onX Hunt App on his phone.

How did you find this specific property?

We were looking for a small property that had a diverse landscape, room to make improvements, the potential for quality deer habitat and a neighborhood that had similar management objectives as we did. To find something that fit these criteria I spoke with multiple real estate agents, searched dozens of online listing databases and visited more than 13 different properties. But ultimately, I found the Back 40 by accident. While driving to a property I’d found listed online, I passed a “For Sale” sign on a neighboring farm. I pulled up onX Hunt, looked at the property borders and immediately recognized that this farm looked better than anything else I’d seen yet. I immediately called the listing agent and got permission to tour it. My boots-on-the-ground tour confirmed what the maps told me and after another week of researching the surrounding area, I decided this was the one.

Talk us through the 2019 season on the Back 40.

2019 was mostly about learning the Back 40. We closed on the property in the late spring, but due to the logistics of setting up and documenting a project like this, we weren’t able to get to work essentially until August. That last month of summer was a whirlwind of visits with various conservation and habitat experts, working to garner ideas for managing the farm, followed by work on a handful of quick projects we could execute in a week or two that might help us in the short term. A few small food plots, trail camera placements, tree stand prep and ground blind construction was about all we could fit into that time. And from there it was into the hunting season. We hosted a handful of guests throughout the season, some new hunters, some old friends, researchers; even my dad. Having all of these people in to hunt was at times challenging, but also a lot of fun. And ultimately, we still managed to have some success filling a couple tags too. So all in all, not a bad first season and a great stepping stone for 2020.

A man putting a tag on a deer he shot while hunting in the Midwest.

You got your first big buck on the property last season; can you walk us through that hunt?

That was a pretty wild day. I’d been hunting for almost three straight weeks preceding that day, some on the Back 40 and some elsewhere, and the exhaustion was catching up to me. I’d also not seen a single mature buck while hunting on the Back 40 to that point either. So in short, I was getting a little down. That morning I moved to a new location I hadn’t hunted yet that year, at the inside corner of one of our old fields where a swamp and ridge all come together. It seemed like an ideal pinch point for cruising bucks and close to good bedding cover as well. A couple hours into the sit, I spotted movement behind me in the old field and upon glassing him with my binos I saw that it was a deer I’d come to know as the “Wide 8.” I had more trail cam pics of this deer than any other, so I knew him well. I grunted, then snort-wheezed at him, which stopped him in his tracks. Then he turned on a dime and walked right in to me. It was a shocking turn of events and, as they say, the rest is history.

You’ve been able to hunt this property a few times with various folks. Does any particular hunt stand out to you—for the company, or otherwise?

We had a lot of great guests, but the time I got to spend with my father stands out. Getting to essentially guide my dad, just as he did for me as a child for so many years, was a fun reversal of roles. With us both having busy schedules, getting to spend three full days together was a rare treat. And while we weren’t able to get him a deer, it will still go down as one of my favorite experiences of the whole year.

The #1 GPS Hunting App

Try the Hunt App for Free.

Get the App

What’s coming up for 2020? What are you most excited about?

Lots and lots of projects on the farm. We’ll be planting switchgrass and pollinator patches, burning native prairie, improving wetlands, expanding our food plot and even embarking on some pretty expansive tree planting endeavors. A lot of sweat equity will be required, but I’m most looking forward to sitting out there in early October for the first time and seeing how vastly different the property looks and feels after all that work. I’m confident our hunting and wildlife viewing experiences will be just as drastically transformed as the property itself.

Can you give a quick synopsis of what got you into hunting? How do you think we can help introduce hunting to a larger audience?

My dad and grandfather took me along for just about all of their hunting and fishing adventures, even when I was as young as three or four. I soaked it all in and simply couldn’t get enough. I think that simple act of inviting people to be a part of these experiences is the key to bringing more hunters into the fold, whether that means kids or adults. Giving time is the ultimate gift and we can do that by being a mentor to new hunters young and old.

Mark Kenyon with his son looking at a whitetail deer shot while hunting in Michigan.

You have two sons; how are you planning on introducing them to hunting?

I plan on doing exactly what my family did. The boys will be with me as much as humanly possible. I’ve already taken my two year old on uncountable shed hunts, scouting walks, fishing trips to the river and weaponless “turkey hunts.” We watch hunting shows, practice grunting and rattling deer and shooting Nerf bows. At this point it’s all about making these things fun for him and so far it seems to be taking. Just the other day he grabbed his Nerf bow, ran up to one of my shoulder mounts, made a loud “mehhh” sound to “stop” the buck and then fired his arrow right at the deer. It was a perfect shot and this dad couldn’t be more proud.

Header Image: Captured Creative