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Local woman guest stars on hunting TV show with Traci Hatcher

Leighton McDaniel got to travel and bow hunt last fall for four months filming the show “Huntin’ on Empty.” Utah, Arizona, Kansas and Iowa are a few of the states McDaniel traveled to for the show. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — As Natchez-native Leighton McDaniel was checking out the booths at the National Wild Turkey Federation banquet in Nashville, she had no idea that the opportunity to become an on-air TV personality had her in its sights.

McDaniel was approached by the hosts of the TV show “Huntin’ on Empty” at the February, 2011 event in Nashville, and they offered her an opportunity she could not refuse.

“They came up to me and talked to me about hunting. It was out of nowhere,” McDaniel said. “They asked if I liked hunting, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been doing it my whole life.’

“They asked if I had any filming experience, and I told them I had filmed myself and my friends. Then they asked me if I would like to do a show, and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I jumped on that.”

McDaniel said she was definitely an amateur camerawoman, but the show’s other cameraman, Josh Catogni, gave her a crash course before the group started filming in August.

“He just showed me what everything did, went over it a couple times and told me I was a natural,” McDaniel said. “It took me probably the first hunt to get used to it. We were in Arizona in the desert.”

They were on the road for four months. The show follows the Hatchers on different hunting excursions across the U.S. McDaniel said her two favorite places were the desert in Arizona and the mountains of Colorado.

McDaniel usually filmed on-camera star Traci Hatcher while Catogni filmed Traci’s husband, Mark. McDaniel said the group went all over the country in the couple’s RV, and she got several opportunities to hunt on film as well.

“Me and Traci swapped. I got to hunt, and she filmed me,” McDaniel said. “It was nerve wracking. I didn’t like being in front of the camera too much.”

Leighton McDaniel, right, with “Huntin’ on Empty” star Traci Hatcher after Leighton killed her first buck with a bow while filming the show. (Submitted photo)

McDaniel said there is more to hunting TV shows than meets the viewer’s eye.

“There’s a lot more going on than people think, especially when you’re hunting,” she said. “It mostly depends on the cameraperson. The hunter is not going to be able to shoot the deer unless the camera is on it, so it takes a lot. You have to wait for the right moment and right time. Everything just has to come together.”

McDaniel said a 30-minute show could take up to four hours of film.

McDaniel said one highlight was getting to hunt with country-music singer Chuck Wicks.

“He kept us rolling all the time. We got to go to his concerts and go back stage,” she said.

McDaniel said she still gets butterflies watching herself on TV.

“I just look at it, and I still get nervous,” she said. “I hated being in front of the camera. It still makes me nervous. It’s a different perspective.”

But McDaniel said if any producers are looking for their next TV star, she would be willing to get over her anxiousness.

“At first I was scared of the camera, I guess,” she said. “I didn’t know how to act. As the shows go on you get used to it, and you forget the camera is there.”

The Hatchers told McDaniel they would refer her to producers of other shows if she is still interested in continuing her career as a TV personality/camerawoman.

“They said if anybody calls them, they will definitely give them my name,” she said. “It could open a lot of doors for me. There’s no telling what will happen.”

McDaniel said she started hunting as a little girl with her father, David McDaniel Sr., and her brother, David McDaniel Jr.

“My dad and my brother have always been hunters, and I would ride around and sit in the stand with my dad and probably sleep the whole time,” she said.

McDaniel said she finally killed her first buck in 2006 when she was 20, but she had killed does hunting with her father when she was younger. She said her father was excited to find out she was going to be on the show.

“My dad was going nuts,” she said. “He was happy for me.”

She said she killed her first buck with a bow while hunting on TV in Kansas.

“That was pretty awesome,” she said. “I started shooting in 2007 I want to say. I had killed does and coyotes and hogs and all that, but it took me a while to kill the first buck. And to be on camera for the first time, I was a nervous wreck.”

McDaniel said the show can be seen on the Pursuit Channel at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, 9 p.m. Thursday and 8:30 a.m. Saturday. She said she is on all the episodes, and the second season is currently on episode four of at least 10.

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