ARTEMUS, Ky. — Like many people in eastern Kentucky, Kendall Gray of Knox County started hunting and fishing almost as soon as he could hold a gun and walk through the woods, but this 17-year-old is no ordinary outdoorsman.
Gray started making videos of his outdoor adventures in the summer of 2016 to pass the time, but his YouTube channel has since blossomed into a dedicated online community with nearly 190,000 subscribers and more than 34 million views.
His fans even sport their own hashtag, #GrayGang.
“I started it because I was just so bored and there wasn’t anything to do,” he said. “So I was like, hey, why not just try YouTube and see how it goes. Obviously, it’s done pretty good.”
The channel’s popularity blew up after a video he posted called “A Trappers Worst Nightmare…” went viral. The video has more than 1.5 million views, and shows a red fox’s escape attempt as Gray tried to put it in a box trap.
His channel focuses on hunting and fishing, but he films just about every outdoor activity imaginable. Whether he is looking for squirrels or frying catfish, Gray addresses the camera as if it were his childhood fishing buddy, making viewers feel as though they are by his side.
Gray’s YouTube adventure quickly became more than just a hobby. He has sold more than 3,000 pieces of merchandise — branded shirts, wristbands and even fanny packs — to people all over the country, giving him an understanding of business management not common among many people his age.
“I’ve just had so much experience,” Gray said. “Even if it ends tomorrow, it’s been a really good time.”
There is no indication that his channel will end any time soon.
Gray said he works up to 35 hours a week editing and shooting video, and managing merchandise.
When Gray’s YouTube endeavor started, his mother, Brenda Gray, said she was against it because she worried that too much online publicity could put her son in danger.
Now, she is more supportive — even helping manage the merchandise business by shipping packages and taking calls from customers.
While she still worries about her son, she feels proud of how hard he works and the impact he has on his fans.
Many of Gray’s fans are young — between 10 and 16, he said — but he gets mail from all kinds of people.
Beneath the desk where he edits his videos sits a basket filled with hundreds of letters, photographs and drawings.
Most fans send letters, but others send fishing tackle and hunting equipment — one even sent an engraved buck knife.
Another person, Gray’s mother said, sent a letter saying he lost his legs in the military, and that Gray’s channel helped him during difficult times.
Other notes come from parents who thank Gray for inspiring their kids to get off the couch and become interested in the outdoors.
“I just try to be the best role model possible, because I know they look at me and they watch every move I make,” he said.
Gray said his favorite part of the job is his “Verse of the Week” segment, when he reads a Bible verse and asks fans how it impacts their lives.
“It’s just great hearing their feedback,” Gray said. “God gave me the channel and I’m definitely going to give back to him through the channel.”
While narrating his hunting and fishing expeditions has not made him a better outdoorsman, Gray said he has more fun now than ever.
When he goes out with his camera, he knows thousands of fans are right there with him, experiencing the outdoors through him.
“I’ll take it as far as it wants to go,” he said. “I’m going to have fun and let other people have fun through my videos.”
Gray said he plans to go to college, and is considering studying business.
In the meantime, his channel will likely continue to grow, and the mail will keep stacking up.
“I’m nobody different. I’m just a little old boy in southeastern Kentucky just doing what I do, hunting and fishing everyday,” he said. “The only difference is that I have a camera.”
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com