Keith Mark’s Excellent Adventures
The Mark & Burkhead lawyer’s never-ending hunt for bigger game
Published in 2016 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers Magazine on November 18, 2016
Keith Mark has been tied to hunting his entire life. As a young boy in Kansas City, Kansas, he watched his father and grandfathers leave the house to go catfishing and hunt birds, wishing he could go. He tagged along even before he could legally shoot. After he got his license, he hunted quail and pheasant with his dad. At college, he began turkey and deer hunting, and once he began practicing law, he sought out bigger game.
“I went on a black bear hunt, and then started elk hunting,” says the Mark & Burkhead workers’ compensation attorney. “One thing led to the next, and I wanted to shoot the largest antlered animal in North America—the Alaska-Yukon moose.”
So Mark took a trip to MacMillan River Outfitters in the Yukon, which facilitated the hunt. “I had such a good time I actually bought the place—that’s how it really started,” he says. “I changed the name to MacMillan River Adventures, and now we guide [hunts for] moose, grizzly bear, Stone sheep and caribou. I outfit every year.”
One of Mark’s best friends is classic-rocker and outdoorsman Ted Nugent. One night, after a gig in Kansas City, Nugent—who has a hunting show, Spirit of the Wild, on the Outdoor Channel—watched footage from some of Mark’s hunts. “And Ted’s like, ‘Damn dude, you’ve got the best video no one’s ever seen,’” Mark remembers. “‘You need to give me some of that video and let me put a pilot together.’
“And the next morning he goes, ‘I’m not kidding,’ during breakfast; he’s reaching over my wife’s shoulders, stealing bacon right out of the pan. He’s like, ‘Dude, you need to give me that video.’ And I did, and he put a pilot together. The next thing I know, I’ve got a television show on the Outdoor Channel.”
This year marks the show’s 10th on the network; Mark is contracted through 2018. The show was called MacMillan River Adventures until Mark met legendary pro wrestler Shawn Michaels at a Las Vegas trade show.
Both men were star struck.
“I said, ‘My wife and I are huge fans,’ and Shawn said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m a fan of yours. I watch you every Sunday.’”
Due to the WWE’s strenuous work schedule, Michaels’ hunts couldn’t last longer than a day or two. But it just so happened that his next match, at WrestleMania XXVI, would be his last. “He said, ‘I’d love to go on a hunt with you,’” Mark says, “so we exchanged numbers and, lo and behold, come April he retires.”
This led up to the pair’s first hunt at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles South and North Dakota. They hunted buffalo together—“an unreal spiritual event,” says Mark—and became MacMillan co-hosts shortly thereafter.
The partnership inspired a name change, propelled by Mark: Shawn Michaels’ MacMillan River Adventures. “I think that’s why our ratings are better now,” Mark says.
In 2012, the duo took home the award for “Best Conservation Show” at the Golden Moose Awards—the outdoor TV version of the Emmys. The winning episode addressed the reintroduction of the gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park. Mark says they looked at both the advantages and drawbacks that came with the reintroduction, and discussed the topic from constitutional and conservational standpoints. They ended the episode on an ambiguous note, not pushing a stance onto viewers.
Mark was adamant that the episode feature no hunting.
“People are going, ‘That’ll never sell on the Outdoor Channel because people turn it on to see hunting.’ We did it the way I wanted to do it, against a lot of advice, and [that episode] was very popular.”
Mark says the wolves are far from endangered in Yellowstone now, which in turn has made the elk and moose populations plummet. He worked with BigGame Forever, a nonprofit based in Utah, to gather stats on wolf, elk and moose populations in an effort to make it legal to hunt the gray wolf again.
“I went to Washington, D.C., sat down with some Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and the House, and we were able to play a small part,” says Mark. “We showed them the science behind what was going on in Yellowstone, and we were able to get at least a partial de-listing out there.”
For Mark, his show is about much more than hunting—“There’s a hell of a lot more to what we do than just shooting an animal,” he says—but it is a hunting program. This season’s first two episodes feature Mark shooting a moose on a dead charge at four yards away, as well as a quest to get Jeff Foxworthy his first of the species.
Mostly, though, Mark wants to introduce the young and old to the outdoors if they haven’t been acquainted. And every season, Mark and Michaels film an episode with a child who’s battling cancer, or with a veteran.
“We try to do the show to get people back to spending more time with their families, their buddies, outdoors, where they might have a chance to find out a little something about themselves,” Mark says. “And maybe about the person that put this all together originally.”
Mark is known so well for his hunting and outdoor adventures that people often ask why he still works in the courtroom representing organized labor unions.
“Because, when I get to the pearly gates, I don’t think St. Peter’s gonna ask me how many moose I’ve killed,” Mark says. “I was in court today for one of my union guys, in a knock-down, drag-out deal; I’m pretty confident that’s where I’m supposed to be. I’ll never stop representing the blue-collar union guys, and I’m really lucky I get to work with them.”