The Journey to Finding Myself in the Big Two

It was a raw, rainy day in November of 1983 when I made my way to the junior high library. I had finished my homework for the day and decided to go to the library during study hall to read outdoor magazines.

When I entered the quiet room, I headed to the magazine rack with nothing on my mind except grabbing the current issues of Outdoor Life and Field & Stream magazines. I knew the November issue would focus on deer hunting, and I wanted to learn as much as possible so I would be able to show my dad I was ready to go with him on his adventures and prove to him that I had a small bit of my own useful knowledge that I had gained from sources other than him.

As I flipped the pages of Outdoor Life, I saw a hanging pole in front of a tent. The bucks on the pole were beauties, and the guys in the picture looked like rugged woodsmen, men that could survive in the wilderness for days on end.

Reading the article, I quickly learned that the men were from my hometown, and the picture had been taken at their camp in the Adirondack Mountains. Instantly, I longed to one day find myself in one of these mega-giant magazines. Outdoor Life and Field & Stream magazines were (and still are) the two magazines that every outdoorsman wanted to read throughout the year, but especially during November. If I could ever make my way into them, I would know I had accomplished something. It would be similar to a middle-school basketball player dreaming of being featured in Sports Illustrated, then seeing himself in it when he gets to college or the pros.

I read the magazine for many years after seeing that article, and that article stuck with me since that day. It was a defining moment in my life, something I will never forget. As many people in my era have never forgotten where they were and what they were doing when Mike Tyson got knocked out by Buster Douglas, I have never forgotten the day I read that article.

Amazingly, a few years ago, I was featured in an article about the rut in Outdoor Life, and my dream had come full circle. I still smile when I think about my journey through the years to complete that circle.

Well, a few months ago, Scott Bestul from Field & Stream contacted me, after being referred by Randy Flannery, and asked if he could talk with me about some of my tactics that have led to my success. Instead of feeling like an interview, Scott and I just talked a lot about deer hunting. In all reality, I guess I talked a lot about deer hunting. I’m sure I probably drove Scott crazy by the time we were done, but it felt good to correspond with someone who gets it; someone who could relate to the things I was saying and understood where I was coming from with everything discussed. When we finally finished chatting, I felt like I had a new friend even though I wasn’t sure Scott would be able to use any of the information I gave him. After all, I just talked willy nilly about all sorts of things, with no real rhyme or reason behind any of it. I guess that’s what deer hunting does to me. It puts me in another world and makes adrenaline surge into my bloodstream. After the conversation, I felt like I would be welcome in Scott’s living room, and I can assure you that he is now welcome in mine. My friendship with Randy started in similar fashion, and I’m glad he has thought of me in a number of different situations.

Recently, I saw that the October/November issue of Field & Stream magazine had hit the magazine racks, so I picked one up at the local grocery store and began flipping through it. When I came upon Scott’s article, I smiled to myself when I saw that I was referred to as an expert. In many ways, I wish I was an expert. Deer hunting, especially when you’re after mature deer, seems like it’s the ultimate mental and physical challenge.

As many of you know, I hunt all over the country. I can easily say that I’ve never had what I would define as an easy hunt. Although the article says my home state is Maine, it’s not. I call the Adirondack Mountains in New York my home, and that is where I cut my teeth on deer hunting. I return there every year to try my hand, always hoping to pluck a few good cards out of the deck… but it’s never easy. I love the challenge it brings. It tests my inner fortitude every season. It pushes my mental state to the limit, whether I tag out on the first day of the season or the last. It does the same when I’m in the Midwest on heavily hunted public land. I wish I could consider myself an expert, but it all comes down to the fact that I can usually outwork and outthink others. Hunting is a hobby for me, but I love the work I can put into the hobby.

As I read through the article, I saw that I was included with many great hunters in the industry. When I saw my name next to Mark Drury’s, I felt a sense of pride. He’s one of the most widely recognized TV personalities in the industry and has been in that position for many years. He’s the mad scientist of deer hunting…. yet in my mind, I’m still the seventh grader who is headed to the library to read the deer hunting articles in Field & Stream and Outdoor Life.

Although there are only a few tidbits from me in this article, to be in included with the other guys is humbling. I still see myself as the boy behind his dad while trying to learn as much as possible to be successful on his own in the deer woods.

Looking back at the days I trudged behind my dad, I’m now beginning to realize that all of those lessons, even the silent ones, taught me everything I know about deer hunting — and life.

On Saturday, I sat in my stand and listened to flocks of geese making their way south. Flashing back in time, I could remember a cool, crisp night when I heard one flock after another on that annual migration that still exists today. I could hear deer walking on the ridge above me but never saw them. When Dad came back to pick me up at dark on the way back to the truck, he told me I might want to think about moving onto the flat above my stand. It was a simple lesson, but one in which I learned a great deal. I learned quickly that I always have to adapt to the things going on around me. I can never be satisfied with being stagnant and hoping the deer find their way to me. Instead, I need to react and put myself in the right place at the right time.

I guess I just wanted to express how lucky I feel to have been able to live the life I’ve always dreamed of living. I don’t have much as far as material things go, but I do have an incredibly quiet mind and an unbelievably rich life. I’m also proud to know that I actually passed all of the tests that my dad put in front of me. I’ll never consider myself an expert, because if I did that, then hunting would be just as easy as grocery shopping. If deer had weapons, there wouldn’t be any hunters who would last very long in the woods. We would all be dead. Therefore, there are no experts in the field.

I’m thankful to have been recognized by some of the titans in the outdoor media world. It allows me to realize how lucky I have been on my journey. There are a gazillion guys out there who could easily outdo me in the woods. Somehow, members of the outdoor media found me; I didn’t go looking for them. I’m thankful for the friendships that have been created through these outlets. I will never forget the raw, rainy day I strolled down to the library and imagined being featured in either one of the outdoor magazines. Now, that I’ve seen myself in both of them, it still seems somewhat unbelievable, and it probably always will. I’m just an Adirondacker who has been able to travel across the country hunting with my dad and a few incredibly selfless friends, friends that have made it much easier to succeed. Those guys don’t get nearly enough credit, whether it’s Doug Vaughn, Brian Pino, Josh Morse or a handful of others. They deserve more credit than I do. They are the guys who push me to be better, and they teach me things that help me while I’m in the woods trying to figure the game out every year, for the game never stays the same from day to day, week to week, month to month or year to year. The game is always changing, which is why so few people find regular success. Being able to quickly adapt is what matters most.

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