Clay Hayes has spent plenty of time in the backcountry where he had only himself for company.
He’s a seasoned primitive bow hunter who relishes trips deep in the mountains of Idaho and swamps of the Southeast. But this was new.
“This challenge is different because there is no ending, there is no foreseeable end,” he said. “You are out there as long as you can stand it or until you are the last person, and you don’t know how long that is going to be.”
Hayes, of Kendrick, Idaho, is a contestant on Season 8 of the History Channel’s “Alone” TV show. The premise is simple: Ten people are dropped off alone in remote wilderness. Each picks 10 survival items to take with them. The person who lasts the longest wins. In this case, the prize is $500,000.
They must secure the basics — shelter, food and water. They must survive the elements and any wild animals that may be in the area. During it all, they film themselves and treat the camera like a diary and their only companion.
The third episode aired Thursday. During an interview a day earlier, Hayes was able to talk about the basics of his experience but not allowed to reveal how long he lasted or details of anything that hasn’t already aired.
“You just have to wait and see,” he said.
Season 8 of the show was filmed last fall and was the first to be set in occupied grizzly bear country — Chilko Lake in British Columbia, Canada.
“There were bears all over that place. There was just bears everywhere,” he said. “I think everybody ran into bears.”
But his first wildlife encounter was with another predator, one he knows well. Hayes was cooking on his first day when he heard a twig snap and soon spotted a mountain lion only about 30 feet away. The experience was shown on Episode 1 of the show.
“I was shocked. There is lions all over these mountains. North Idaho is full of lions,” he told the Lewiston Tribune. “I have spent a lot of time in the backcountry, and I have never seen a lion like that, so close and just doing his thing.”
Hayes is a wildlife biologist who was formerly employed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Now, he works for himself making YouTube videos focused on hunting, woodcraft and natural history.
He also teaches people how to build primitive bows and other archery equipment.
He and his family — wife Liz and sons Coye and Fen — live near Kendrick, but spend part of their winters in Florida.
They frequently are outdoors, and both professionally and recreationally; Hayes has had run-ins with cougars.
But not like this.
“The only time I’ve seen mountain lions that close was in trees above dogs. So to have one, on Day One, walk up behind me, yeah I was in shock,” he said. “But you know, I also wanted to eat that cat.”
Securing food is one of the primary concerns of contestants, and Hayes is thin.
“My body is just not designed to hold weight,” he said.
He viewed the the animal as an opportunity to put on protein. As he turned to grab his bow, one of his 10 chosen survival tools, the lion melted into the forest.
“When I saw him turn to leave I tried to run at him to try to get him to tree,” he said. “But it was too late.”
Hayes viewed being on the show as a way to learn something about himself and to test the craft he has long practiced.
“It’s something that I have always wanted to do, to put all of your knowledge and skills to the test. This is the test, the ultimate test. Like can you do it? I wanted to know that.”
He said he also felt the wilderness and the isolation held lessons.
“I knew the solitude and the challenge, all of that stuff in combination, could reveal things that maybe I hadn’t seen before,” he said.
So what did he learn?
“You just have to wait and see.”
People aware of his appearance on the show often ask him if he enjoyed it, if it was fun.
“Fun is not a word I would use to describe this. It had its moments, for sure, but there was a lot of suck,” he said. “You can imagine. You are hungry like you have never been hungry before; but in the end there were definitely lessons out there that I kind of knew before but you never really know until something like that just really drives it into your bones. And I think that will come through in the series.”
Hayes releases related videos on his YouTube channel before each episode. A recent video featured a fishing rod he built and used in Episode 1, and another details which 10 items he chose to bring and why.