Live Action! Our chat with Animal Planet’s Turtleman

By Jeff Pfeiffer

If you missed the sneak preview of Animal Planet’s new series Call of the Wildman this past Sunday (I’m still disappointed it didn’t keep its original title, Turtleman of Wild Kentucky, but, hey, what do I know about the TV titling biz?), don’t worry. The series officially premieres in just a few days, this Sunday, Nov. 6, at 10pm ET/PT. And it’s a lot of fun, from what I can tell from the first episode. What sets it apart from similar shows in the “hillbillies-going-into-swamps-to-catch-dangerous-varmints” genre is the likability and personality of its main character.

 

RELATED: “CALL OF THE WILDMAN” SEASON 2 BEGINS JUNE 2, 2013

Now, let’s clear up a few things. While the show is titled Call of the Wildman, the character in question is actually nicknamed “Turtleman,” and his real name is Ernie Brown Jr. He is a resident of backwoods central Kentucky who has become a local legend in the past 15 years as an animal rescuer, the guy people call when they have problem animals they can’t get rid off. As you can probably tell from his nickname, he is most noted for catching turtles, which he has been doing for the past four decades, since the age of 7. And not just your average, cute little turtles — we’re talking huge, 50-plus-pound snapping turtles with a bite force stronger than that of a great white shark. How do he and his trusty dog Lolly catch these critters? The old-fashioned way — by hand and other natural methods. (In the premiere episode, even when he finds that he has a mouse problem in his wilderness home that features no running water and an outhouse, he forgoes a traditional mousetrap and instead sets a snake loose in the home to gobble up the rodent. And it apparently works.)

Turtleman’s exploits began to become renowned outside of his home state when some YouTube videos of him in action went viral, receiving more than 3 million views since 2008. And now, with this series, his legend is ready to spread across the country. Animal Planet might have their next cult hero on their hands akin to “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. While it might be hard to carry a series just watching Turtleman jump into ponds every week (the first episode is particularly nasty, as he finds himself literally up shit creek, diving into a pool of fermented cow manure in search of a monster turtle that has been nipping at cows that go in that water to drink), Ernie Brown’s apparent sincere desire to entertain people and help animals stands out in the show. Plus, he’s a humorous, down-home kind of guy. After plucking the offending turtle from the depths of that filthy “cow pie” pond, he promptly plants a smooch on its mouth, then quips: “This is why the Turtleman doesn’t have a girlfriend right now.”

This passion and humor came across in a recent phone interview I had with Ernie. It was a little difficult at times keeping up with the excitedly quick speech (it didn’t take much to get Turtleman out of his shell) and thick Kentucky accent, but what came through was an honest, devout, proud, modest man (I could almost sense him blushing over the phone as he discretely tried to relate a story about a snapping turtle biting him in the crotch) who, regardless of whether this series becomes a hit or not, will likely be back jumping into the filthiest of swamps and ponds and catching the critters no one else can. We chatted about what sorts of creatures he confronts in the first season, about his unique war cry and “Live Action!” catchphrase that you’ll hear in the series, and more.

Why did the name of this series change from “Turtleman of Wild Kentucky” to “Call of the Wildman”? Your nickname is still “Turtleman,” correct?
Ernie Brown Jr. (A.K.A. Turtleman):
To let everyone know that I can travel all over the United States instead of just one state. I catch anything! … I told everybody one year I was going to cheer up Kentucky, and I did that for three years. And this year I said I’m going bigger than that, and I told them we’re going to cheer up the United States, and that’s what I’m doing.

How did you start catching turtles?
Turtleman: I was looking for a talent anyway since I was 5 years old. I started tracking down and trying to find my talent. We ran out of food one day, and my uncle came over and took me and my dad to these old farm ponds, and he goes, “I’ll show you how to get some meat on the table.” So he went out in that pond and turtles started bubbling up. I was amazed, and I said, “Daddy, let me try.” … My uncle showed me the bubbling technique. [watching for the bubbles turtles make when underwater]

What are the most serious injuries you’ve sustained capturing turtles or other animals?
Turtleman:
I’ve been bit by turtles 33 times now, and every one of them hurt like heck. One of the snapping turtles bit me on the thumb; it gave me seven stitches. And one of the snapping turtles bit me on the pulse, where your wrist is, which I had to get cauterized and I couldn’t work for like seven months. I almost bled to death. They have a vicious bite. They don’t fool with you when they bite. The closest I’ve ever been bitten — I might not be able to say this in front of public ears [laughs embarrassedly] — but, I had about 15 people there, a whole bunch of us, and we done caught like 16 turtles. And one turtle bit me in the place down yonder. And I said, “Ohhhh noooo!” and tried to get it off me, and rolled on the bank with it and finally slung it off me, and my pants were crotched out, and everybody on the bank just bust out laughing. I think I got bit in the butt twice. I was sitting in the mud catching this turtle, and I said, “This is a baby turtle, where did the big one go?” And I sat down in that mud, and that thing latched on to me and I thought I was Jesus for three seconds walking on water!

In the premiere episode we see you going after turtles and a raccoon. What other creatures do you confront in the first season?
Turtleman: Rattlesnakes. Other kind of snakes that I think might be poisonous but wasn’t, thank goodness. Armadillo, a 200-pound alligator snapping turtle.

You have a pretty unique “war cry” when you go on the hunt for critters. How did that come about?
Turtleman: [As a kid] I used to dress up like Davy Crockett, and we used to play Cowboys and Indians. I’d be the Indian; it’s in my heritage; I’ve got a quarter Shawnee, and a quarter Cherokee. And I’ve got a quarter Confederate, a quarter Union/Yankee. I’m for all people, everybody, no matter what color, what race. Don’t matter.

You also have a catchphrase that you use when you are on the job — “Live Action!” Where does that stem from?
Turtleman: “Live Action” means there’s no faking. People have been calling me fake, and there ain’t no fake. Go ahead and try it! We’re doing it live action. We’re there, doing our thing. I’m catching animals, that’s the way it is.

What would you hope people take away from this series, and from what you do in general?
Turtleman: I love making people happy and letting them have some fun with it and making them feel spiritually attached. Make them feel like they don’t need drugs or alcohol or whatever bad habit they got. When they are in my presence, they feel like their soul is lifted. When I make a person laugh, I’ve done my job. You can always get high on life. Just go out there and be yourself. To conquer fear is the most awesome thing in the world, and that’s what I live by, that’s why people love me, because they know I’ll never change. And I tell everybody, just because you’re rich it don’t mean nothing. And I’m not rich, I don’t wanna be, and I’m not gonna be now. I’ve got a little bit of money; they’re paying me a little bit. But fame and fortune I ignore — action and turtle ponds are my only reward. That’s what I go by.

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Photo credits: Jonathan Hanson/Animal Planet


21 Comments

  1. hope the show will come back my son and I like turtle man . we miss you turtle man. love from Miami Florida

  2. ME AND MY BOYFRIEND AND MY SON TONY LOVE YOU TURLE MAN… NOW EVERYTHING WE SAY AT TIMES IS LIVE ACTION WE WANT TO VIST HIM LOVE LOVE THE SHOW PLEASE DON’T TAKE THIS SHOW OFF HE IS GREAT JUST A SIMPLE MAN WE R PLANNING TO MAKE OUR MISSION TO FIND HIM. YOU GO TURTLE MAN WE LOVE YOU. FRIENDS FROM PHILLY

  3. hey tutle man do you chat on here? Because i wanna meet you your to far though i live in wisconsin and you live in the back woods of kentucky thats cool do you see bears? I like bears… Whats the biggest animal you caught rather then a turle? do you know or just a turtle i bet so. in ponds in wisconsin is there snapping turtles i watched boot camp its cool well because you only have to grab its tal as hard add you can i can open my eyes under water to so see ya eyyeyeyeyeyye.

    • Hi, Mitchell, Turtleman doesn’t chat on here, but you might want to check out his Facebook page at facebook.com/turtlemanliveaction. Updates about Turtleman and his show can be found there. Thanks!

  4. Love me some turtle man lives of the land catches critters bare hands that’s live action man if we had more people like him in the world it would be better place no phony or fakeness in the turtle man just live action eeeeee!!!!!!!!

  5. My husband and I love the show! However, we feel that people are taking advantage of the Turtleman and ripping him off for very dangerous & normally costly work.
    We just saw the episode where he removed tons of rats from this families house and all they paid him was 4 jars of green beans! That’s ridiculous! These people should feel bad making such a sweet person use his gas and risk his life to make their homes safe and all they pay him is eggs, potatoes, green beans, arrow head, pies, etc! Have yall seen his house!? PEOPLE HELP THE TURTLE MAN LIKE HE’S HELPING YALL!!! PAY THE MAN CASH $$$$$

    • My husband and I were just talking about the same thing… for the danger he puts himself in, he doesn’t get paid well at all. 🙁 but…
      Turtleman really does seem to enjoy helping others, and I’m sure he gets some kickback from Animal Planet. Perhaps it’s a lesson we could all learn… not always looking for the final $, but doing something just for the sake of helping others.
      Just a thought… as this is something we have struggled with too!!!
      Take care, and God Bless!
      Dana

  6. we have the turtleman on TIVO that way we don’t miss a show. but we have a problem, we keep hearing scratching in ur home,(dblwide trailer) in Wesley Chapel Fl. we don’t know if it is a mouse or possom. my husband has Chrons and i am worried if he get;s bit, he will be really sick. Turtleman said the put a bucket 1/2 full with water and put cornmeal in it, we put jiffy cornbread mix in water. it is driveing me nuts the scrstching is going to make me tear this place aprt. ll afraid to sleep when it start’s. can Ernie email me and tell us what we can to do. it already ate my graham cracker crust &plastic . i put it in sparebedroom on bed cauwe pantry was full. and we saw a mouse drop n bed. eek. help in Fl please. micki & Dale Nixon.

  7. Love this show. A down to earth guy
    Him and his partner seem like they are genuinely nice people. ld pick this reality show over the fake Kardashians or Real housewife shows.

  8. Love Turtle man! Just found the show today and my husband and I were immediately hooked. I love that he really cares about the critters and doesn’t do anything to hurt them. He’s an amazing man.

  9. i love watching the turtleman hes so funny, is there a way to talk or get in touch with the turtleman.”Live” Action baby”

  10. I am a big fan of the turtleman. It makes me laugh and anything in life that brings so much fun should be shared with everybody. I love his call live action. Very educational with nature and he is really down to earth. Who else would take a bath in a rain barrell except a old show way back called dirty Sally. Keep up then good work and entertainment.

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