His legal name is Rugged Dude Carson.
First name, Rugged Dude. Last name, Carson. That’s what it says on his driver’s licence, social insurance card, passport, and of course, his firearms registration.
“Rugged means anything to do with fishing, hunting, power tools, hunting dogs, chainsaws and warm, steamin’ gut piles,” Carson says.
Rugged Dude, or RD for short, is the go-to guru on all things, well, rugged. He has published books, taught training seminars and hosted his own television show, all the while preaching his gospel of “ruggedtivity.”
“You have to make a commitment to the whole lifestyle,” Carson says. “There’s a certain amount of ruggedness in you when you’re born, but anyone can become rugged. There’s a possibility we could ruggedize you today.”
Carson’s brand of ruggedness is a somewhat illusory quality — a specialized brew of survivalism, outdoorsmanship, humour, and most importantly, suspenders.
In his public appearances, Carson wears a uniform of a plaid shirt, a baseball cap, muddy boots and various hunting or fishing accoutrement. It’s all a part of the Rugged Dude persona, crafted to appeal to your diehard deerstalkers as well as novice anglers.
For eight seasons, Carson hosted and produced Officially Rugged with RD, which he says was distributed to 60 million households worldwide. The show featured buck hunting, bass fishing, arm wrestling, drum solos and dogs with cartoon thought bubbles.
Carson says the show was in part a reaction to the dry instructional tone of many self-styled wilderness experts.
“As much as I do live that lifestyle, the whole thing is really a joke,” Carson says. “A lot people are intimidated by fishing rods and shotguns and how to use a chainsaw, but if it’s going to be fun, people can kind of dig that.”
The series began as a VHS video, filmed on a second-hand camera with his buddies and circulated in a handful of specialty stores.
After passing hands, the tape somehow found its way to the right people, landing Carson in a boardroom of television executives. “It was like when the Beverly Hillbillies first arrived in Beverly Hills,” he says.
In 2002, Carson legally changed his first name to “Rugged Dude” on the advice of a marketing agency.
Over 160 episodes, Officially Rugged developed a niche following, with a fan club composed of other camouflage-clad rugged dudes, geese-hammerin’ rugged dudettes and even young “rudlettes” with Barbie-themed tackle boxes.
The show ended in 2009 due to issues with production. Carson fell off a ladder at 20 feet, putting him in a wheelchair for eight months. One of the distributors went bankrupt, and Carson says his management firm bungled the show’s finances.
Carson says he had also grown tired of the commercialism end of things, sponsors pressuring him to push more product placements, which struck him as very unrugged.
Around two years ago, he moved from Thunder Bay, Ont., to the backwoods of rural Nova Scotia, where he lives on a 90-acre property with a couple of beaver ponds and a tree stand from which he can hunt.
Carson is living off the land, and he’s trying to make a living off ruggedness. He’s currently pitching a fish and game cooking series as well as a scripted comedy. He came to Nova Scotia because he heard Halifax was a good production city, but since the province’s film tax credit cuts, the industry has been struggling.
In the meantime, Carson says he has everything he needs.
“I do like being 100 per cent self-sufficient,” he says. “As long as I’ve got firewood, I’ll always be warm.”
Ruggedness is perhaps best defined by what it is not: desk jobs, crowds, morning traffic, neckties and tofu, or any other trappings of modern-day metropolitan existence.
Carson believes city life is incompatible with ruggedness. But for all the latté-sipping urbanites out there, Carson recommends you strap a canoe to your Smart car, get out of town for the evening and join him on the lake. He has a 15-day training seminar coming up.
You never know when ruggedness might come in handy.
“Society is spoiled, let’s face it,” Carson says. “Sometime in the next 20 or so years, people are going to be surprised, when this whole grid thing collapses … people won’t have a clue what to do.
“I’ll be fine.”
Think you may be rugged? Take this quiz to see for yourself.