A candid interview with the founder of Bowhunter Magazine
What got you interested in bowhunting?
Tell us about the first animal you shot with a bow?
The first animal I shot with a bow was a fox squirrel. As I've already
suggested, I used to be an avid squirrel hunter, and I mostly used a scope-sighted
.22, but taking
a daily limit of 5 bushytails was not all that tough. Hunting squirrels
with my bow and arrows was much more challenging. I loved it! The first
big game animal I killed was a whitetail buck arrowed in 1963 in Warrick
County, Indiana. It was the last November evening of the statewide archery
season. I jumped a small herd of deer not far from where I'd parked my
car. Trailing after the whitetails in hopes of seeing them again, I bumped
into a rutting buck that was acting goofy as he trailed a hot doe. I was
able to sneak up within 20 yards and shoot him as he grunted and herded
that doe though a briar thicket along a dry creekbed. I was shooting a
48-lb. Colt Huntsman recurve, cedar shafts, and Bear Razorheads. That
old whitetail wore a huge 6-point rack that made the Pope and Young record
book (the P&Y minimum was 115 back then and my deer's rack scored
118 3/8 with basal circumferences of nearly 7 inches). He was a great
trophy for a novice bowhunter and the first 6-pointer to ever make the
bowhunting record book. In retrospect, I realize that very little hunting
skill was involved. Lady Luck sure smiled on me that day. But from then
on I was a committed deer hunter.
I wrote a piece about that buck called "Beginner's Luck." It was
published in ARCHERY, the NFAA's official monthly publication, in 1965.
That started a friendship with Roy Hoff, the magazine's founder and a
future member of the Archery Hall of Fame. Roy encouraged me to send him
more of my hunting stories, and I did. I'd sold my first stories to national
magazines when I was 19 and worked part-time for daily newspapers while
going to college. My early writings were mostly pulp fiction, Westerns
and murder mysteries, but as I started going on more and more hunting
trips it was natural to write about my hunts. The money I earned from
selling those stories helped me buy more archery tackle and go on still
more hunts. Anyway, from the mid- to late-1960s I wrote numerous articles
for ARCHERY, ARCHERY WORLD, and BOW & ARROW, as well as other outdoor
magazines like FUR-FISH-GAME. I couldn't wait for each new magazine to
arrive in my mailbox, but in those days the three national archery magazines
devoted only part of their content to bowhunting. Since I didn't care
who won which tourney or which new bow was being tested, I found about
half of each issue of little or no interest. I wanted bowhunting stories
-- and so did most of the guys I hung out with. Archery was okay, but
bowhunting was great. It seemed a shame to me that there wasn't a national
magazine devoted exclusively to bowhunting big and small game.
What were some of the early days at Bowhunter Magazine like?
The early BOWHUNTER days were exciting. The timing for introducing an all-bowhunting magazine was perfect. An ugly looking contraption called the
"compound bow" was just bursting on the archery/bowhunting
scene. Also, interest in hunting with bows and arrows was growing, thanks
to Fred Bear, Howard Hill, Bob Swinehart, and other bowhunters who shared
their adventures with an eager, admiring audience of magazine readers
and television viewers. We printed 15,000 copies of that initial issue
and BOWHUNTER was well received from the outset. Our newsstand sales soared
and subscription orders poured in. Don, Bob, Steve, and I would work at
Magnavox all day and spend off hours putting together the next issue of
BOWHUNTER. I can remember meeting magazine deadlines by staying up until
3 or 4 a.m., taking a shower, catching a nap, and going back to my Magnavox
office. It's a good thing we were young back then (in our 30s) because
60- to 70-hour work weeks were the norm. It's a cliché to say it,
but BOWHUNTER was truly a labor of love for all of us. As each issue was
set to be mailed, we'd gather with our wives and kids (who helped us a
lot) and have a "magazine stuffing party" which amounted to
typing address labels and putting thousands of magazines into envelopes.
We soon outgrew such do-it-ourselves mailing methods, but as I said, the
early days were fun. We took considerable pride in having created a magazine
that was so widely accepted.
You've hunted all over, what would you consider to be your favorite game
animal to bowhunt and why?
I've had a number of memorable bowhunts, but one that immediately comes
to mind is a caribou hunt in the Northwest Territories back in '93. My
wife Janet, our son Dave, and daughter-in-law Norma had flown north of
Yellowknife ahead of the mid-August hunting season opener for some lake
trout fishing before Dave and I tried to fill our caribou tags. One day
Dave and I both arrowed bulls. As our Indian guide was field dressing
Dave's bull his knife slipped and he stabbed himself in his inner thigh,
severing the femoral artery. We worked together using hand pressure and
a tourniquet to staunch the blood spurting from the deep wound. We also
radioed for help rather than try to carry the guide several miles over
uneven tundra back to our boat. A helicopter from a nearby mining company
and a float plane heard the SOS calls and rushed to help us. The chopper
landed on the tundra within 30 yards and rushed the injured guide, Norma,
and me across the lake to camp
where the float plane was waiting. The plane immediately took off for
Yellowknife where emergency surgery was performed to save the guide's
leg -- and life. Afterwards, his doctor said we'd done all the right things
to keep our guide from bleeding to death. Our guide recovered and was
back in caribou camp the following year. I wrote a story about the hunt
called "A Very Good Day." It was. That near-tragedy was one
hunt none of us will ever forget. It makes you realize just how insignificant
hunting success can be when a man's life is nearly lost in the process.
That experience really put things in perspective for me.
How has bowhunting changed for you since those early days?
Bowhunting has changed dramatically from those early years when we learned
to bowhunt mostly through trial and error and we hunted deer from ground
level rather than climbing trees. But the biggest change, without question,
has been in the equipment used. The compound bow forever changed the face
of bowhunting, for better or worse. The replaceable blade broadhead was
another significant bowhunting invention and milestone, as was the widespread
use of tree stands. Also, there's a wealth -- or glut -- of information
available today. We didn't have good books, magazines, videos, seminars,
and websites telling us how and where to hunt. Back when I started bowhunting
it was said it took the "average bow and arrow deer hunter"
6-7 years to take his first animal, and the nationwide success rate was
less than 5%. We only had stickbows in those days, of course, but we still
did pretty well. Even today, with the advent of compound bows and a plethora
of how-to information, the national success rate still averages only a
bit over 15%. That fact underscores bowhunting's inherent difficulty.
Even with all the advancements in technology and information, it's still
not easy to take game with the bow and arrow. That's just how I like it,
too. Most serious bowhunters agree.
With such a long bowhunting career - have you ever been in a situation where you were in danger or your life was threatened?
I've received occasional death threats from hunter-haters off and on for over
30 years, but I've not taken many of them very seriously. As far as life threatening
situations, I've been in a few hairy places while goat hunting where I knew
that one wrong step could mean falling hundreds of feet. That's made me nervous
a time or two, especially when the rocks were wet or icy. And I've been in bush
planes and boats during bad storms when prospects of getting back on firm ground
in one piece didn't seem too likely at the time. On several other occasions
I've almost been run down by deer, elk, bears -- and that one Alaskan moose
my pal Larry D. Jones arrowed (anyone who has seen the footage on TV or in our
HUNTIN' ACTION video knows how close that bull came to bowling over the camera
and me). But all in all I've not had many close calls. I worry more about driving
to town and back than being done in on some bowhunting adventure.
One might say that you're in the middle with regards to equipment. You use and promote modern archery tackle, but you're also in favor of limiting technology and do not support the general use of crossbows during archery season. How did you arrive at that position and have your views changed through the years?
My all-time favorite bow is still a Black Widow recurve the Wilson Brothers
made especially for me over 30 years ago. And I have a couple of other
Widows I really like that my buddy Ken Beck made up for me. I just ordered
a new longbow although I still use and like the Bighorn Ram Hunter I've
had for years. At the same time, I just got a new Jennings compound and
I've been shooting Browning and Mathews one-cams for the last several
years. I use some bows because of the business I'm in; I use other bows
because I simply choose to use a certain make and model because I like
Only one hunt? I'd probably opt to hunt whitetails not far from home, alone
or with my son Dave or another good buddy. My corner of Montana has some great
deer hunting opportunities -- and some great bucks.
What bowhunts do you have planned for 2002?
I've got a couple of turkey hunts and bear hunts slated this spring. On one hunt I'll be with ol' pal Jim Dougherty chasin' gobblers. Later I'll be sharing bear camps with BOWHUNTER Editor Dwight Schuh up in Canada. In early August I'm off to California to chase blacktails, then I'll head to the Northwest Territories for a mountain caribou hunt. In mid-September I'll be in Wyoming for deer. Then it's more whitetail hunting in Nebraska, Saskatchewan, Illinois, Maryland, and a couple of other states, time permitting. I have invitations to hunt deer in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. And I'll hunt some here in Montana, too. All I have to do is find the time.
Where do you see bowhunting in the year in 2025?
I wish I had a crystal ball. It's possible we could be legislated out of existence
by then, but I certainly hope that's not the case. I want to believe bowhunting
will still be alive and well. If it is, it'll likely be more limited than it
is today because there's a finite amount of hunting land available and today's
public woodlands already are becoming increasingly crowded with each successive
season. More and more private land will be posted in the future as landowners
close their property to hunting or lease it to hunting clubs or outfitters willing
to pay top dollar for the privilege to hunt. Bowhunting everywhere will be more
pricey, too. Many guided hunts will be out of the price range of average folks
(that's already happening!), and everything from hunting licenses to tackle
to travel costs will be more and more expensive. Hunting as we know it today
will eventually end, but I hope not during my lifetime. I've been truly blessed
to see and be a part of what I call "The Golden Age" of bowhunting
which spanned the last half of the 20th century and continues to this day.