By Brent T. Wheat
Former Oakland Raider offensive guard, eight-time NFL Pro Bowler and NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee Steve “The Wiz” Wisnewski has a simple policy: when his friend Mike Pawlawski, host of Gridiron Outdoors on the Outdoor Channel, calls him the answer is always ‘Yes!’ Fortunately, that shoot-first-ask-questions-later philosophy is giving viewers a chance to watch the former gridders take in some high-intensity nighttime hunting action using FLIR thermal technology.
Now in its seventh season, Gridiron Outdoors pairs college and professional football’s biggest names with Pawlawski to pursue off-the-field adventure in the outdoors. However, the choice of The Wiz was initially somewhat of an accident.
“Mike was supposed to do an episode of the show and the guest cancelled, but he (the guest) said ‘Hey, you might talk to this guy, Steve.’ That’s how I was first introduced to him,” Wisnewski says, laughing at the fact he was playing second-string on the guest list – something he rarely did during his 13-year professional football career with the Raiders.
The relationship blossomed from that first hunt, and Wisnewski has since appeared in several episodes including a pair this season where they stalk hogs and predators in east Texas. “Mike’s one of those characters who you never go wrong hanging around with,” Wisnewski said, “He and his crew are such fun. We just laughed constantly during filming!”
Even though Wisnewski loves hanging around with Pawlawski and company, filming a hunting TV program isn’t all fun and games; it can be as difficult as a two-a-day football practice. “You hate to call it work,” Wisnewski admits, “but when you’re with six or seven guys out in the field, it is a challenge. You have to take your time and make sure the camera is getting the shot because if it isn’t caught on camera, it didn’t happen.”
The experience for the Wiz was even more exceptional this year, because his son Cole was also along on the production. “That is such a thrill for me, I can’t even put into words,” Wisnewski said. “My son and I have a great relationship and it was so special to hunt with him in east Texas,” Wisnewski noted.
The gridiron great also dismisses any idea that the men’s ultra-competitive nature might have proven a challenge during the hot nights of taping. “Honestly, he’s a far better shot and hunter than I am,” Wisnewski modestly claimed in reference to Cole. “I just tried to shut up and listen to Mike and my son.”
Regardless of who was the best shot in the group, all three scored on big lonestar hogs during overnight filming. Using FLIR thermal imagers for both spotting and shooting duty was eye opening for Wisnewski.
“Hunting with thermal was a huge thrill,” Wisnewski said enthusiastically. “I was giddy. It’s such a fun thing to do,” the former lineman, ordained minister and hunting enthusiast explained. “If you like to hunt or you love to spot animals as most of us outdoorspeople do, how could you not love being out there with a thermal scope?”
Wisnewski continued: “My favorite time of day is sunset, but sadly that is the time you have to get out of the woods and the hunt is over. Now, if you’ve got a thermal scope (where legal), you can stay out and keep hunting. It’s a gorgeous time to be in the woods and the scope opens up limitless possibilities if you just want to spot, track or hunt animals. You can literally see into the night while safely hunting, harvesting and recovering animals… and have a ball doing it whether you pull the trigger or not.” Indeed, the trio pulled the trigger a considerable number of times during the trip and dropped a number of nuisance hogs raiding fields and pecan orchards.
With tight schedules and non-stop action, one thing Wisnewski loved about the FLIR units was the fact that the learning curve was minimal. “I’m one of those guys who can’t read an owners manual,” Wisnewski noted. “They literally handed me one (FLIR scope) and I needed no instruction; I was comfortable in minutes. I said ‘I want one!’”
One of the features that most impressed Wisnewski was the on-board recording capability. The FLIR ThermoSight Pro Series PTS233 scopes mounted on the team’s rifles could capture up to 2.5 hours of thermal video, and it made the difference in following up the potentially dangerous hogs. “My son took a shot and knew he hit the animal,” Wisnewski explained. “But the guide thought he missed. By reviewing the video from the FLIR, we were able to confirm the hit and also track it in the right direction to recover it. It’s such a cool tool!”
Ultimately, after his experience with FLIR thermal sights and monoculars, Wisnewski is sold on the value of thermal sights for hunting. “A FLIR optic,” he said, “is easy to use, simple, reliable, functional and gets you hunting when you otherwise couldn’t be hunting. I’d say ‘save some money on your rifle, save some money off the scope and buy a FLIR!’ You’ll use the heck out of it and when you’re not using it your buddies will want to borrow it!”