Marty Meierotto’s life and adventures in the wilderness as shown in History Channel’s “Mountain Men”, earned him the admiration and perhaps even the envy of many who longed for such a lifestyle. The long-time Alaskan trapper and hunter had been in the show for eight seasons since it made its television debut in 2012. He was as authentic as they come, giving trappers a positive image, so it was understandable that his absence from the show was felt by many.

Get to know Marty Meierotto

Marty Meierotto was born on 19 July 1960, in Superior, Wisconsin, the second son of four children with the youngest as the only girl. He was six when the family moved to a rural community in Foxboro, 20 miles south of Superior. His father, Thomas, loved the outdoors and turned their 80-acres of land into what he called a ‘hobby farm’ with a few horses, chickens and a garden. He was a patient teacher who exposed Marty to the wonders of nature and the thrill of the hunt, instilling in his son the respect and love of wild places and all that inhabited them.

"It isn't all about catching animals; it's about living the lifestyle." -Marty MeierottoSHARE if you're tuning in TOMORROW at 9/8c to watch Marty and the rest of the Mountain Men stay wild on HISTORY.

Posted by Mountain Men on The History Channel on Saturday, September 14, 2013

Marty said, ‘The one over-riding force that shaped my life was my love of trapping, and all things wild.’ He fell in love with hunting when he was a young boy, but it was trapping that set his heart on fire. It was on the small walking trapline for foxes and raccoons that he first realized the course that his life would take, because it was there that he came alive and felt that nothing could compare to that experience.

There might be a lot of distractions growing up, but one thing that remained constant for him was trapping. As he reached his 20s, his trapline, the route in which the traps were set, had become more extensive, encompassing a wider area, and involving a road system and a vehicle. Soon, this wasn’t enough for him, and he felt the call of the wilderness, a place that was more remote, and he believed that the real deal could only be found in Alaska.

He along with his brother Jeff eventually moved to Alaska in May 1985, first in Anchorage, but it was too much of a city for them, and so they went further until they reached Fairbanks. It was more to their liking so they settled in the area, found jobs, and later bought a trapline for sale on the remote Squirrel River. From what was left of their meager funds, they purchased what they thought they might need, and just planned on living off the land. He said that the thrill of the unknown, of what awaited them, and of the adventures that they would have was beyond description.

In 1987, the brothers chartered a plane to get to their new home. They were isolated with no way to contact those from the outside world, but for Marty, this was living his dream. He earned money by selling the furs or pelts of martens, lynxes, wolves and anything else that he caught in his trapline. To make ends meet, he had summer jobs, and was a commercial fisherman before he started working for the Alaska Fire Service in 1988 as a wildland firefighter. He was a “hot-shot” first until 1993 and then a smoke jumper for 21 years, before serving as their pilot in 2015.

His wife, Dominique

Marty was all praise for Dominique for her countless sacrifices just so he could pursue his passion in life, even if it meant being separated for months, saying, ‘How many women would stand for a kiss on the cheek in October and a promise that I might be back for Christmas?’ She had no way of knowing if he survived the arctic wilderness until his return. For most women, he wasn’t a good bet – he had no full-time job and was away during the holidays. It boggled his mind how and why she did it, and said that he was humbled by her faith in him.

Dominique was the first woman he brought with him to his happy place. He thought that since they had been dating long enough, it was time for her to see how bad his lifelong addiction to the bush lifestyle was, and what being with him really meant. She must have been so into him that even if she wasn’t used to roughing it, she stuck with him. He let her into his world and adapted to the changes she brought into his life. She spent her winters with him in the wilderness, at least until she gave birth to their daughter, Noah Jane.

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Learned to fly a plane for Dominique

Getting sick in the bush was said to be life-threatening, especially if a first aid kit or over-the-counter medication was not enough to treat the condition, because there was no way for a person to ask for help from the outside world. Marty and Dominique landed on Squirrel River in mid-October, and the days passed by smoothly until about mid-November when Dominique fell ill, and was worried that it might be a bladder infection.

The responsibility of bringing her to the bush weighed heavily on him – ‘I had finally found that special person to be with, and I have taken her to this place and it was killing her. I was killing her.’ The plane was expected to return for them in the first week of December, and he feared it would be too late for her. He only had a handheld aircraft radio, but its range was line of sight. Dominique was getting worse each day, and despite his efforts to head to the hills whenever possible, he couldn’t contact anyone. Finally, an aircraft passed by and he was able to ask for help via the radio. Dominique was taken to the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. This ordeal made him realize that he needed to own a plane and learn how to fly it, especially if he would be bringing Dominique with him here. He bought one in 1994.

Came close to dying in the Bush

Marty was fully aware of the dangers that living in the bush entailed. However, it never occurred to him that he would come close to dying not by hypothermia or an encounter with a bear or other predators, but by pancreatitis. It began with a stomachache, and thinking that it was a case of food poisoning, he took medication to induce vomiting. However, the pain intensified to the point that he was screaming out loud. Despite the excruciating pain, he drove his snowmobile to ask for help from his friend Jay and his girlfriend who were staying at one of his trapline cabins, 15 miles from the main cabin, before he became incapacitated.

The couple did all they could to make him as comfortable as possible, and at the same time figure out how to get him to a hospital. As several days passed with no hope in sight, Marty asked his friend to write something for him – his last will and testament. He didn’t have much, but he wanted to give his girlfriend, Dominique, what he had. When they heard on the radio that Dominique and Marty’s brother Jeff were coming over, Jay and Amy created a big S.O.S. sign on the snow. Finally, when the plane taxied on the strip by the cabin, Marty knew he would make it. He was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, bowel obstruction, and dehydration. He underwent surgery, and was released from hospital after 20 days, and 40lbs lighter – Dominique nursed him back to health.

Saved a reporter’s life and it led to his being cast in the show

Warm Springs Productions of Montana reached out to the Alaska Trappers Association, as they wanted to cast Marty Meierotto in a reality show for an accurate portrayal of a mountain man. This interest was brought on by a 12-page feature article on Marty written by Bill Heavey for “Field and Stream” magazine, which had a circulation of 1.5 million. It was about his life in the most remote part of Alaska, and running a trapline.

Marty ran a 120-mile trapline, and had one main cabin and four smaller ones situated at various points along the line, using a snowmobile to travel his line. He brought Bill along with him as he covered about 20 to 30 miles, and left the writer in a cabin to wait for him while he ran spur lines. On the third day, Bill could no longer keep up with Marty, and just wanted to get back to the main cabin, following a map drawn by the expert trapper, but took a wrong turn and got lost on a trail that was quite steep. After falling off his ride twice, the snow machine got stuck, and he was too exhausted to move it.

In the three hours that he was alone at 30 degrees below zero with only a small fire to keep him warm, he couldn’t help but think that he would be dead by the time Marty found him. Marty, who was more amused than alarmed by Bill’s situation, had said, ‘It wasn’t a life or death thing; I was going to find him regardless, but from his perspective it was.’

Marty Meierotto in “Mountain Men”

The reality TV series featured mountain men, and Marty Meierotto was one of them. He was around 5ft 9ins, about 170cms with a medium-stocky build, shaggy red-gray hair usually corralled by a bandana, and sporting an unruly beard. He wore eyeglasses that others said made him look a bit on the goofy side. Marty lived in a small community in Two Rivers, about 23 miles or 40kms outside of Fairbanks. Come wintertime, he would fly his two-seater mono-plane to his cabin on the Alaska North Slope, as he made a living as a fur trapper.

As a precaution, he gave Dominique a rundown of his plans, so if she didn’t hear from him at a certain time, she would know that something was wrong, and had a good idea of where to send a search party for him. After he landed his plane, he had a 30-minute walk ahead of him to reach the cabin, and had his rifle ready in case he encountered wolves or bears. He checked on the cabin and the snowmobile before he chopped down dead trees for firewood, and hauled in fresh water from the Squirrel River. Next, he geared up to cover 150 miles to set up his trapline. He would later check on those traps to see if he caught anything, or if he had to reset them. After three months of running the trapline, he would bring the furs for auction.

Marty didn’t have a quit bone in his body. He taught himself everything he needed to know to survive the isolation and the wilderness in Alaska. When faced with obstacles, he found ways to overcome them. Upon realizing that his life depended on a snow machine, he learned not just to operate it, but also to fix it. He learned carpentry, welding, and electrical skills, and studied wildlife biology so he knew the best ways to catch them. Marty prepared for worst-case scenarios because he said that it would happen eventually – out there, one couldn’t afford to make a mistake or overestimate one’s abilities, because it was always a matter of survival as the cold made everything more difficult and dangerous.

Marty’s exit from the reality TV series

In season eight of “Mountain Men,” Marty said that it was time for his 13-year-old daughter to learn the family business hands-on. He would teach her all about trapping full-time, and surviving in the wilderness. It was important for him to show Noah this lifestyle; however, what she did with her life in the future would be totally up to her. She might not become a trapper, but at least she would better understand it and him.

He had been preparing to head out to his trapline with his daughter when he suddenly told someone from the production team that for Noah’s sake, he didn’t want cameras following them. He thought a lot about this before making this decision, and felt that this was best for Noah. Marty explained that he’d been doing this his whole life, and for the past eight years, he’d had cameras on him, but he wanted this experience to be just a special time between father and daughter. He figured that if he was lying on his deathbed, he wasn’t going to think about how much money he made, but what he’d done with his life.

His fans were saddened by this unexpected development, but at least they knew the reason why he opted to not be part of the show any longer. He was last seen in season eight’s “Final Farewell” episode – many wondered what happened to him after that.

Retired from the Alaska Fire Service

Marty retired from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Alaska Fire Service after 31 years, and flew his last mission on 30 July 2019. His family, friends, and co-workers had a surprise for him at the tarmac in Fairbanks. As he was taxiing on the runway after landing, he was given a water salute by two fire-fighting vehicles. He could only laugh, as he was embarrassed by all the attention he was receiving.

Published a collection of his stories

Some said that Marty could easily pass off as a bumpkin, but he was far from it. He’s a voracious reader and a good writer. Over the years, he submitted articles related to trapping and the outdoors to the Fur-Fish-Game and Alaska Trapper magazines. His book, “In the Land of Wilderness,” published in 2020, is a collection of stories of his adventures in the Alaskan Bush that previously appeared in those magazines. Marty credited his ‘book team’ from the Alaska Trappers Association for this project, with special mention of its president, Randy Zarnke, who could decipher what he called his rough ‘trapper speak’, and make it more intelligible to the readers. Randy said that his old friend had an engaging writing style, and had given a great insight into the world of trapping and hunting in the wilderness.

To live the life of a mountain man was never easy, and the work was never done. The price of fur has its ups and downs, and when it’s too low, many put their operations on hold to wait for better days, but not Marty; fur trapping was more than just a means to earn money for him. Regardless of the financial gain or loss, he carries on as this lifestyle is part of who he is, of the very fiber of his being. At times out of frustration he would say that it wasn’t worth it, but upon reflection, the experiences he had from the challenges, which tested the limits of what he could endure, to the unexpected thrills, still fired up his blood after years had passed.

Alaska is still his home, and when not in the wilderness, he lives with his wife and daughter in a log cabin they built in Two Rivers. His joys in life remain the same – his family, hunting and trapping.

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