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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

There was a time when Nick Hoffman seemingly reached the apex as a musician, spending 12 years as Kenny Chesney’s fiddle player playing in sold-out stadiums before tens of thousands of fans. It was a wild ride.

But it wasn’t enough.

While his fiddle brought him success playing to enormous crowds across the United States and Canada with Chesney, Hoffman was restless. He yearned for more challenges and adventure, so he looked up.

With his career as a musician firmly established, Hoffman was now ready to conquer the sky.

The farm kid from Minnesota leads a life dictated by a dizzying schedule and a lengthy bucket list, and it all falls under three pillars: music, the outdoors, and aviation. 

Taking Flight…Again

Right now, the latter has become a major focus. “I left aviation for a bit as things got so busy on the road touring, but it was always an inevitable thing for me to jump back into the left seat,” Hoffman says of his 15-year hiatus from being a pilot. “Aviation isn’t one of those things you can do half-ass. To be a good pilot, you have to have the time to devote to it. When I could commit that time, I dove back in.”

nick hoffman

Even when he was too busy to stay current as a pilot, Hoffman still took to the air on flights with friends. Much like the outdoors, aviation served as an escape from the hectic, public life he was leading on the road with Chesney. “Everything is so busy, and you’re surrounded by people all of the time. Aviation and the outdoors offered me solitude, they were the opposite of being on the road,” Hoffman says. “Aviation was a counterweight to the hectic life I was living.”

Today, Hoffman owns his own plane—a yellow and black Glasair Sportsman he calls “Pikachu” after the Pokeman character of the same color. Just like a family taking a leisurely Sunday drive, Hoffman takes his wife and 12-year-old daughter into the airplane for a drive in the sky.

nick hoffman

But that’s not the only time he flies. Basically, any reason that Hoffman can think of to fire up Pikachu is motivation enough. “Sometimes it’s just to get up and slosh the oil around with a quick flight. Other times it’s a mission—go and pick up some rescue dogs and transport them, visit my family in Minnesota, or load up the dog and go to duck camp,” he says. “An airplane opens up the world in ways you can’t understand until you do it.”

Nick Hoffman’s Wild Ride

Best of all, it expands hunting and fishing opportunities. Hoffman is obsessed with backcountry flying, accessing places that are only reachable by airplane. While he’s still honing his skills as a backcountry pilot, Hoffman has flown himself on hunting and fishing trips to Alaska, British Columbia, east Tennessee, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. “Flying in the backcountry is a thrill because it tests the limits of your skill as a pilot. It is special to me because it’s where two of my passions meet, hunting and flying,” he says. “Often, you’re landing on places that are unimproved. It can often be a challenge, but it is always unforgettable.”

Aviation is also a major part of Hoffman ‘s show on the Outdoor Channel—Nick ’s Wild Ride—now entering its seventh season. For Hoffman, the show is a complete capture of his life—hunting, traveling, music and, of course, flying. “Nick’s Wild Ride helps me scratch a lot of itches all at once. It involves everything I love and it’s basically a camera following me around doing what I’m going to do on a hunting trip anyway,” he says.

nick hoffman

As if there wasn’t enough on Hoffman’s plate—musician, outdoorsman, television show host, author, husband and father—aviation recently opened yet another career path. Hoffman is developing an aviation-based travel show called Runways—a version of Nick ’s Wild Ride takes to the sky—where he flies to different locales to explore the local history, food, and culture. The show will be out next fall, according to Hoffman, who has no qualms about adding another endeavor to his already crammed schedule, which also includes a solo album coming out by the end of 2022 and a book about his life.

“For me, music, outdoors, and aviation are the three pillars. They’re all intertwined, but all roads in my life lead back to the fiddle,” he says. It’s the thing that connects it all.”

Where it All Began

Hoffman began playing the fiddle when he was four after his grandparents bought him one as a gift. As Hoffman joined his family for their weekly Saturday night jam sessions, he had no doubt that, one day, his fiddle would lead him to Nashville.

And it did, but there was a detour along the way. After some misguided career advice from his high school principal who said he could never make a living as a musician, Hoffman ran away from home at the age of 17 and landed in Branson. He had nothing but a sack of clothes, a guitar, fiddle, and a dream. And once he got off the bus in Branson, reality sunk in that he had nowhere to stay and no job.

“I had this wonderful amount of youthful arrogance that carried me through it,” Hoffman says. “Looking back, I marvel at the lack of concern I had for myself.”

His stay in Branson was rather brief, but before returning home to Minnesota Hoffman became friends with a member of Chesney’s band. The connection led him to being hired as Chesney’s fiddle player and an eventual move to Nashville when he was 19.

nick hoffman

On Tour

During the next 12 years, Hoffman played with Chesney and other major acts, including Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Ted Nugent, and fellow fiddle icon Charlie Daniels. “There’s not many people that fiddle players have to look up to, but if you’re a fiddle player playing in a band, you damn well better know every Charlie Daniels’ song,” he says. “I got to play with him in one of his very last performances, and it was nothing short of a full circle for me.”

Still, while Hoffman became established on the music scene as Chesney’s popularity soared in the early 2000s, little did he know a new career awaited as host of his own hunting show.  

Hoffman didn’t grow up in a hunting family, and ironically it was music that actually introduced him to the sport. While he toured with Chesney, he met people involved in the hunting industry and made a few guest appearances on outdoor shows.

But when he left Chesney’s band in 2012, it wasn’t with the intent of pursuing his own hunting show. Hoffman left out of an innate fear of missing out on chance to check another item off the bucket list.

He wanted to do it all.

nick hoffman

“Going from a kid in Minnesota to being in Kenny Chesney’s band was a dream come true. But the one thing it didn’t provide me was the opportunity to have my own songs on the radio, which is why I moved to Nashville,” he says. “If I was going to check that box, I had to leave.”

Since then, Hoffman has continued to check off boxes almost as fast as he adds new items to the bucket list.

But for someone who went from runaway to top musician, outdoorsman, and pilot, Hoffman will never be complacent with his career or life. “I live in fear of feeling the way my grandfather felt on his deathbed,” he says. “As a guy who’s been divorced, remarried, and made some mistakes, I’m going to have some regrets. But to be honest, life is pretty good right now.”

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