Photos by Lee Kjos
“Yellowstone,” the number-one watched new cable series in 2018, was a Western-style American drama launched last summer by Paramount Network production. The first season kicked off with a plot, cast and storyline befitting the immensity of Montana, The Treasure State. It highlights wildlife conflicts, ranching, water rights, high-stake politics while involving corrupt land developers and mountain-sized deception under Big Sky Country. Staying true to Montana’s culture, the cast doesn’t shy away from hunting, fishing and the use of guns throughout the show’s storyline. To wit; the first scene opens with rancher “John Dutton,” played by Kevin Costner, walking up to a fatally injured horse. He calmly talks to it and reassures it before regretfully pulling out a single-action revolver to end its life.
Ahead of the second season, which premiers on June 19, Guns & Ammo was offered an exclusive interview with Costner’s co-star, Cole Hauser, who plays “Rip Wheeler,” the ranch foreman. Wheeler is Dutton’s pseudo-adopted son and an everyday bad ass. We brought Hauser back to Montana to shoot guns by day and drink bourbon by night. He opened up and talked guns, hunting, acting, and mused on the American way of life.
Mike Schoby: Cole, fantastic first season of “Yellowstone.” Being a Montana resident and living a few miles down the road from this location, of course I was interested with the premise and was hooked from the first episode. You have done so many major movies, what drew you to this role?
Cole Hauser: The number one reason was the two creators: Taylor Sheridan, writer of “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” and John Linson. I wanted to do something with them and help tell the story they wanted to tell. Then looking at the character and going “wow.” He is quiet, cool and breathes everything that is Montana. Rip Wheeler is someone who is not very modern, who is more old school in his loyalties and in the way the he acts. I realized this is something that needs to be portrayed, and I wanted to do it.
Schoby: What makes “Yellowstone” interesting to most Westerners is that it is not a Western in the typical sense, but it delves into many of the modern issues Westerners face: private land ownership, water rights, cattle grazing, federal-versus-state control of land, wildlife conflict with a growing human population; will this continue in season two?
Hauser: For sure, expect to see more of all this. And at the same time, season two delves deeper into John Dutton and Beth Dutton, played by Kelly Reilly. Rip Wheeler also becomes a lot deeper and you learn more about his values, loyalties and what makes him tick.
Schoby: You were born in California, but you mentioned you have some really deep ties to Montana personally; explain.
Hauser: Yeah, my family has been in Montana since 1862. My great grandfather, Samuel T. Hauser, was the seventh governor of the Montana territory. So, it’s an honor to do a job and work in such a historic and great state. We spent most of our time shooting in the Bitterroot Valley around Darby and Hamilton, but I like spending time anywhere in Montana and have been all over the state from Whitefish to Bozeman to Helena. It is all great.
Schoby: I didn’t realize your ties to Montana ran that deep. Do your children know of their history here?
Hauser: I took my oldest son, who is 14, to Lake Hauser outside of Helena a couple of years ago. I made him put his damned cell phone away for a few precious moments while we soaked it in together. He sat there, and we looked at each other and he realized how much history we have here. It was a cool experience. It made a pretty big impression on him.
Schoby: Rip Wheeler comes across as authentic as hell, riding and shooting all seems natural. Where did you learn to ride and shoot?
Hauser: I was a novice rider before “Yellowstone.” Taylor Sheridan, Ross Coleman and all these cowboys put me through the works. They had me on horses every day, different horses, different saddles and after a lot of work I can say now I am a “rider,” but before I was not. I now know about my feet and ankles and what they should be doing versus yanking a horse around by his neck. So that was amazing.
As far as shooting, I grew up with it. My grandfather, Milton Sperling, gave me an old Winchester ’94 .30-30 years ago and I have been shooting that gun with iron sights ever since. I used to shoot everything with that gun. Since then, I have gotten to do a lot of shooting and when I was over in Afghanistan with the USO, I got to shoot with some of the greatest military guys in the world and shot in some really cool pieces. I just fell in love with shooting at an early age and I still love it today, as well as hunting.
Schoby: Everyone has a different opinion of what hunting should be all about. What is your idea of a classic hunt?
Hauser: To me, hunting it is not riding around in a truck. It is walking. That feeling of really hunting something for days, and when you find the one you really want then taking him cleanly and quickly. It is hard to explain to people how difficult it is to actually hunt. When you hunt at the highest level, without bait, feeders, etcetera, and you finally get the one you are after, after walking miles, there is a certain amount of respect you have for that animal as well as respect for the process. I don’t think non-hunters really understand that. They may go to Whole Foods to buy meat, and they don’t really think about where it came from. When you walked for it and really hunted it and butchered it and stocked your freezer with it and now your kids are eating it, it is just a different feeling. It is the entire process that makes it so worthwhile.
Schoby: Hunting is one of the hardest things to explain to people who don’t participate. It looks totally different from the inside as it does from the outside.
Hauser: I agree completely. The last elk I shot was in Montana. After three days of hard hunting, we caught a huge herd coming out of mountains. The actual hunt was as exhilarating as it was difficult. Miles of walking up and down steep mountains and, hey, I’m 44 now. My back is a little tweaked and it was a straight up workout. But in your mind, the whole time you are thinking, I’m going to get something for my family. I am going to not only have a great experience, but I am going to fill my freezer. I love having people over and not saying I bought the meat at the store, but that I shot it myself. How does that taste?
Schoby: Are you the game chef in the household, or is it your wife?
Hauser: Man, I love cooking, smoking, grilling game meat. I get a ton of enjoyment from the whole process, field to the table. So yes, I do a lot of the game cooking around the home.
Schoby: Does your son hunt, as well?
Hauser: Yes, I took him to Texas a few years ago and he shot his first animal. He was impressed by the experience and I’m sure it is something we will continue to do together for life.
Schoby: You mentioned you have hunted in Montana, Texas and various places around the West. What is left on your hunting destination bucket list?
Hauser: There are so many new adventures I would love to experience, so it is hard to say, but I would like to see Africa. There are some great photos of my grandfather Milton Sperling hunting in old East Africa, so I have that dream of going over there. But my biggest thing is if I am going to shoot it, I’m going to eat it. I won’t put anything on my wall unless I eat it as well. I’d like to shoot some of the plains game species, just to see how they taste. I would like to go back to where my grandfather hunted and retrace some of his steps. Hunting, like family guns, has a way of reconnecting us with our past and keeps us grounded. It makes us remember from where we came.
Schoby: Do you keep your hunting and gun ownership quiet in public?
Hauser: Nope. I am very open about hunting and gun ownership, even in Hollywood. Listen, my right as an American is to own guns. Responsibility is a big deal to me. Have we as a community forgotten a little bit about responsibility? Possibly. But in my household, no. All of my children know how to shoot and handle firearms safely. They will always know how to shoot, and they will be able to protect themselves, in every way they can. But gun ownership really all boils down to personal responsibility.
Schoby: Do you think talking guns can be detrimental to your career in Hollywood?
Hauser: Don’t care. [Laughs.] But seriously, I really don’t care. I think being an American and exercising our rights far outweighs my personal achievements and career goals.
Schoby: That is a refreshing answer when so many high-profile people shy away from the topic of guns and hunting.
Hauser: I have always felt, go and be who you want to be as an American and if you want to own firearms or go hunting, do it. Wherever it is, enjoy it. It is your right.
Schoby: What guns do you own and enjoy?
Hauser: I previously mentioned my grandfather Milton Sperling. He was a Marine, was on Iwo Jima and also produced the film “To the Shores of Iwo Jima.” He gave me my first rifle and I treasure it above anything else. But I just got a Dan Wesson 1911 .45 ACP. It’s really an awesome gun. I like the old stuff. How can you beat a gun that was designed over 100 years ago, the same basic design carried by our soldiers in World War II that’s still going strong today?
Schoby: Any guns you still want to own?
Hauser: Of course. There is always another gun. As I mentioned, I like the old stuff, and after shooting a bit out here, I’d like to get a cool big-bore lever action, maybe a Winchester 1886 or a Marlin 1895 in .45-70. But as much as I like the old stuff, technology is interesting, too. I have been looking at possibly getting a Blaser R8. Pretty cool rifle and, for the traveling hunter, being able to take it down into a small package is awesome.
Schoby: What can viewers expect to see from you in the future?
Hauser: Well, if “Yellowstone” continues to be as popular as it started off, I’d be happy working on that project for years to come. Like Montana, it is a big story that will take a lot of telling.