Dave Shuffett, the host of Kentucky Life and Kentucky Collectibles, has climbed his last on-camera tree, shuffled through his last on-camera cave, floated in his last on-camera boat.
The Kentucky Educational Television host, who is beloved throughout the state for his personal take on the places and characters that distinguish Kentucky, has announced that he will retire in November.
One of those characters might well be Shuffett himself.
Born and raised in Green County, early on Shuffett, 56, earned himself a lifelong nickname: "Mudcat."
"As a child I was already a wilderness explorer," Shuffett recalled in an interview at his KET office. "I would wander into the woods behind our house." When he came home, he would be covered with leaves and mud from his adventures.
A graduate of Murray State University, Shuffett was host and producer of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife television series, Kentucky Afield, from 1989 to 1995.
Shuffett took his skills to the national level as owner and host of Outdoors with Dave Shuffett, airing on broadcast stations and The Outdoor Channel.
He returned to Kentucky in 1999 to become host and segment producer for KET's weekly series, Kentucky Life, replacing host Byron Crawford. He has spent 15 years on Kentucky Life, which began its 20th season on Oct. 4.
Over the years, Shuffett has had nine regional Emmy nominations for on-camera performance and producing and was named the 1994 Kentucky Conservation Communicator of the Year by the League of Kentucky Sportsmen and the Kentucky Wildlife Federation. He won the 2012 Barbara Hulette Award from the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.
KET's Craig Cornwell, executive producer of Kentucky Life, hired Shuffett.
"I watched him in Kentucky Afield and he had spirit and spunk," Cornwell said. "Kentucky Life has been popular with people because they can watch it and see places they can't get to or small towns they've never been to."
It helped that Shuffett was "a good outdoorsman," Cornwell said.
Shuffett has gamely plowed through any challenge put before him, both on his current shows and specials and on Kentucky Afield. Pounding shingles, learning to climb a tree with ropes, driving a river barge, finding out how to survive in the wilderness, researching his family's Civil War history.
"We put him through a lot of physical paces," Cornwell said.
Shuffett is proud of all he has done, but especially of the six-segment special Kentucky's Last Great Places, inspired by the book of the same title by naturalist and photographer Thomas Barnes.
His admiration for the show is twofold: It's the most watched special in KET history, and "we went through hell trying to get them," he said.
The nature specials resulted in six trips to the emergency room, counting himself and his crew.
He is proud of this rather than deterred: "I'll try about anything."
Nonetheless, he had an occasional moment of anxiety. On the Wild Cave tour at Mammoth Cave, Shuffett said, he encountered squeezes so tight that he had only nine inches side to side to maneuver — and a low ceiling bearing down from above.
"Right there are tons and tons of limestone just inches from your nose," he said. "That made me realize, 'I wouldn't mind getting out of here.'"
More subtle moments also stand out for Shuffett, such as his interview with Lera Williams of Campbellsville, who at 111 was the oldest living Kentuckian. Williams died in November 2011.
On TV, Shuffett's various dogs — his "on-camera dogs," he calls them, because on his Central Kentucky farm he has six dogs — have their own set of fans. They include: Sam and Charlie, both golden retrievers; Sadie, a border collie mix; and Toby, a rescued golden retriever and the current star.
He also has three Great Danes and a mountain cur, and he owns three Tennessee Walker horses. Shuffett has a 22-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son. He is engaged to Dr. Sandra Bates, a Lexington physician.
"I just need to breathe," Shuffett said of his retirement. "I've be working for a long time."
Shuffett has picked up some hobbies — including metal detecting and rock hunting — during his outdoor adventures, but he has found them hard to keep up with.
Many days at work, Shuffett said, he simply felt grateful to Kentuckians for showing him the wonders of the state.
"I have always looked up to the audience, realizing that the viewers out there are probably smarter than I am," Shuffett said.
KET's Kentucky Life will continue airing, but no decision has been made yet about who will replace Shuffett, Cornwell said.