“Sorry, Michael couldn’t make it, he’s busy building a dirt bike track,” Ryan Wakenigg says as he climbs down from his large, white pickup truck. Bone Collector’s marketing manager and I were slated to meet Michael Waddell for lunch at the Whistling Pig Café in Pine Mountain, Georgia. But Waddell’s morning had other ideas.
It’s a clear, cold afternoon a few days after Christmas, and Waddell had just given his six-year-old son Waylon a dirt bike. So, he did what any dad with 500 acres and access to a skid steer does: He woke up and built him a dirt bike track.
This was my first indication that Michael Waddell—champion turkey caller-turned hunting show host—was every bit the guy you see cleaning his own kills on TV. He’s a diligent, honest, legitimate southern boy who despite his success still values hard work and doing the job right. Even if that means doing all the work himself.
After a lunch of smoked brisket and chicken taters, Wakenigg and I roll through a pair of gates with “DD” emblazoned in iron. The letters stand for Downton Dixie, the name Waddell and his wife Christie gave the 500-acre farm they call home. It’s a tribute to their favorite TV show Downton Abbey.
We slowly creep through a meticulous grove of barren Georgia pecan trees before arriving in front of the dirt bike track. Waddell drives a skid steer as it bounces over freshly graded jumps and ramps, while boys on bikes and buggies speed around him. Waddell looks up from his morning’s road work, waves at us, and jumps out. “We’ve been waitin’ for ya!” he says, greeting me like I was his best friend coming into town for the weekend, even though we’d never met. “Glad we got that water pipe fixed for you, boy, woulda hated to have you have to get a room out in town.”
He is referring to the water pipe in his guest barn that froze over Christmas weekend. The “barn,” designed for the Waddells’ house guests, is an elevated apartment that he has graciously invited me to stay in for the night. It stands over a work bay where Waddell, his sons, and his father work on the farm’s heavy equipment. When consecutive days of freezing weather caused a pipe to burst, he and his father spent the day after Christmas repairing it. No one was hired. Like everything on this farm, it was a family effort.