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Roughing It!

Roughing It: Camping in Alaska

by Christine Cunningham
Staff Writer, Alaska
Fish-focused Alaskans are...on fire from the earliest moment of the 24-hour day, and blaze on without sleep. In Alaska, June through August is the equivalent of a single wild day that takes the winter to sleep off.

A new definition of "grip and grin"

What’s your idea of a successful hunt?

Hunting around the country for television shows is a job many wouldn’t mind having. I will be the first one to admit there are worse ways to make a living than toting my Mathews bow from town to town in pursuit of the next trophy. I am truly a blessed woman! It goes without saying that I spend a lot of travel time contemplating how the next hunt will go. Most of my thoughts run the lines of the hunt not whether I will survive the trip.

Questions swirl around my head… Will I fill my tag? How well will it be captured on tape? Will it rain or snow? What about the hunters and guides at camp? What will the accommodations be like? Are there any really big trophies in the area? Then the biggest question of all….. Will I come home with a trophy? My imagination can soar for hours.

It’s easy to see how one gets wrapped up in the thrill of the hunt. No doubt just the thought of bringing down a monster buck is enough to elevate blood pressure to a highly dangerous level but what happens if we don’t fill our tag?  Is the hunt a success or failure?

To answer this you have to go back to what you feel is important in life. Occasionally there are times when we are forced to examine these things, normally occurring when you least expect it. That moment came for me on a trip to Legends Ranch in Bitely, Michigan. Shortly after being picked up for church by my cordial guide, Gary Weaver, the roads became super slick. The combination of freezing rain and snow sent the truck we were riding in slipping and sliding sideways, then flipping end over end into the steep ditch finally coming to a rest on its roof.

Being involved in a wreck like this not only gives “Grip and Grin” a whole new meaning. It turned this veteran hunter's idea of a successful hunt up side down.
It’s amazing what goes through your mind while dangling upside down from a seat belt. Suddenly things more important than trophy bucks or capturing great video come to the forefront of thought (although I do wish I had the whole thing on tape!) As I unbuckled my seatbelt and crumbled to the roof of the truck, it wasn’t the monarchs that wander Legends Ranch that I thought of, but the fact that we never know when we will experience our last day, our last hunting trip or hug our loved ones for the last time.

Miraculously, Gary and I emerged totally unscathed. Praise God for seatbelts! I believe everything happens for a reason. I also believe God has full control of every situation. In life, sometimes we find ourselves in a storm and may think that God has forgotten us because of the tough times we may be going through. I’m here to tell you that there are times God protects you from the storm and times God protects you in the storm. If you have trusted Him with control of your life, He is there all the time regardless of your present circumstance. I was protected in the storm this time maybe so I could bring you this message today. With all the articles written about trophy hunts, it is easy to think that the kill should be our main focus during the hunt but nothing could be farther from the truth.

This might be a good time for you to evaluate, what is your interpretation of a successful hunt? Is it whether you pose for a “grip and grin” shot with a monster buck in the end of the day or is the real meaning of success deeper?

I’ve found the real “trophies” are the people you come into contact with throughout the course of the hunt. Sharing the experience of a camp with family, friends or even people you don’t know is where the real trophy lies. It’s the dinner table jesting, early morning coffee and campfire stories that you will remember most. What you may ultimately tag is just icing on the cake. There will always be big bucks to chase but the memories of relationships surrounding the hunt will only come once. Cherish them like gold, place them in order of importance before the kill and you will go home with the trophy every time.
Tammy and daughter, Brittany enjoy a hunt together at Forest of Antlers in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Placing relationships above the kill make times like these all the sweeter.

To learn more about Tammy Koenig go to For an unforgettable whitetail hunt go to or call 231-745-8000.


My Sanctuary

Every person around me knows my passion for hunting.  Many of my friends or people that I meet constantly ask me “Why?  Why do you hunt?  How can you do something like that?  Isn’t that more of a man’s thing?”  I always have a few answers planned and ready to fire back with, but until recently, I never really stopped and thought about exactly what it was about hunting that I enjoyed so much.

On my last deer hunting trip, I had lots of time to think about that.  Most of you know how those trips are….nothing but squirrels and birds.  I suddenly realized that even though I hadn’t seen a single deer that day, I was perfectly content with that.  The reason for that, I realized, boils down to one single word...sanctuary.
Webster’s dictionary defines the word sanctuary as “a place where sacred objects are kept” and “a shelter from danger or hardship.”  Can’t hunting be just that?  I think it can.

Think about it.  When you are hunting, you have a chance to see something sacred no matter which way you turn.  You’re out in the beautiful world that God created for us.  You see all of the vegetation that provides oxygen and nutrition for us and the animals.  You see the creatures that God put on the earth.  You may not be standing in a church, but isn’t the world that God gave us just as sacred?  I feel so privileged to be able to see that every time I get out in the woods.  There are so many people that live in big cities that never get that opportunity.

Hunting can also be a shelter from danger or hardship.  I lead a very stressful life, as most women do.  We have to work full time and be full-time moms and wives all at the same time.  It’s a proven fact that stress is dangerous to your health.  It’s no wonder that so many people are on anti-depressants.  Hunting is my anti-depressant.  You get out there and take in a deep breath of that fresh, cool air.  You have that quiet time to yourself to think about things that may be bothering you and get your thoughts in order.  Beautiful scenery and fresh air can do wonders for a person’s state-of-mind.  I even like to take walks in the woods by myself and find little waterfalls or streams.  The sound of the running water is so peaceful.  Every time I leave the woods, I am at total peace with myself and my life.  It’s a truly amazing thing.

Of course, there are the times when your adrenaline has your heart racing as soon as you see that deer step out into a clearing or hear that turkey gobble.  I love that feeling, too.  You get so excited that you get shaky and weak in the knees.  You can hardly breathe and feel like you could hyperventilate.  One time, I had a big buck walk out, and I had the hardest time getting my scope on him, because I just couldn’t breathe.  I finally had to just put my gun down and close my eyes and breathe for a second, and then I was finally calm enough to take aim.  It’s so funny that it can have that effect on you.  Sometimes, I don’t know how I ever get out of my tree stand, because my legs are so weak and shaky from getting so worked up.

I can’t really think of any one single place or sport that you get these benefits from.  You get to see the beautiful world around you; you get stress relief; you get excitement and even a little exercise…all in one!  If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a good, steroid-free meal out of the deal!  Now, I know exactly why I am a hunter.  Now, I just have one thing to say when someone asks me why I hunt:  It’s my sanctuary!


Pocket Pets

A look back and down

It started years ago, following my Granny Erickson around observing her as she would vigilantly scan the ground then bend over and precisely pick up a small rock. She would hold it eye level and after careful consideration say, “Oh, isn’t this one pretty?” Each individual treasure would then join a collection deep inside her pocket. PLINK! I would hear as it fell among a dozen others huddled within. I still remember the swish, swish, swish sound of rocks in her pockets as she walked and how proudly she displayed them here and there around her home.

As my life unfolded it could hardly go unnoticed that my Mother, Shirley, and Aunt Antoinette passed time in the same way. It was not unusual to find them poking around in the driveway turning over  prospective “pocket pets” themselves. Before long I found myself nosing about the ground picking up interesting rocks and tucking them away for a tasks unknown.

There is something so captivating about a little rock that it will harness your concentration at the same time that bigger things clammer for your attention.
You can imagine how many rocks a person can end up with over a period of time. Just so many can make their way to windowsills and inside plant pots. Still more can fill glass jars and spill over into flower gardens. Soon they just must go somewhere else. Over the past two and a half years, I chose to give mine to my Mom who was fighting breast and pancreatic cancer. She didn’t get out into the wilds as much where the rocks live since her treatments so I wanted to bring the outdoors to her.

Over the two and a half years she battled cancer several hundred pounds of rocks sifted through my hands. Not all of them made the trek home however. Like the pocket full of rocks left on a Montana mountain after climbing straight up three hours (you see A LOT of rocks at eye level!) and having to lighten my load in order to chase an elk. Although we never did find the elk, somehow I found myself hovering over my castaway rock pile later that same day pocketing a lighter, more exportable load. 

Still more beauties lay scattered across a hillside in Idaho where buckets of black shiny rocks jumped into my pockets. So many that I was having trouble keeping my pants up. Since it is very hard to stalk Mule deer with the bow in one hand and holding your pants up with the other, most of my “pocket pets” had to be freed; allowing me to carry only a chosen few.

While bear hunting in Grand Marias, Minnesota, I wrestled with a rock that dug in its heels just out of reach on the shore of Lake Superior. As the waves crashed in and out it would appear and disappear. It was sparkling in the sun so beautifully that I knew my Mom would love how it looked after the rain in her flower garden. A carefully planned strategy had me chasing out a wave, tugging on the rock and trying to extract it like a tooth from its wet, sandy haven before the return of the next wave.

Shirley Dirks, at their 50 wedding anniversary March 1st 2008.

Twenty-five minutes later, soaked head to toe, the lake finally won. Defeated, I headed back to the truck but not before my eye caught the twinkle of yet another rock not quite as big or out of reach.

Chasing the waves, latching onto the rock, pulling with all my might, it broke free from the lake's grip. Soon it took its place in the back of my pickup along side my 400-pound bear. Later it would come to rest in my Moms flower garden where it is today among other rocks, each from a different place with its own tale of significance.

Look closer in my Mom’s collection and you may even find a piece of petrified wood or odd chunk of tree. Where there were no rocks on my journeys a field, there were other interesting treasures. Elk hunting in Colorado didn’t only generate my first bow bull elk. It produced an interesting piece of wood from a very old tree located high in a mountaintop. A piece of garbage to most, to me it was beautiful and I knew my Mom would like it. My horse gave me an strange look as I wrestled it into my saddlebag. Unfortunately, it grossly offset my saddles balance for the long haul five-hour haul back to camp but it was worth it when I saw my Mother’s eyes light up and heard her say “Now isn’t THAT a pretty piece of wood?”

I have learned that it’s not the monetary value of the gifts you share with others that is important. It’s the thought behind it. Yesterday I buried my Mother. It wasn’t until now that I realize the value of the lessons she taught me. Including the one buried in collecting rocks: it’s not how many you collect that count; it’s the beauty you enjoy and the dear ones you share it with that make a difference.

Shortly before she passed away, my Mother cut out a poem she especially could relate to and shared it with me. In her memory, I would like to share it with you:

Collecting Rocks

I think that there shall never be an ignoramus just like me
Who roams the hills throughout the day
To pick up rocks that do not pay,
For there’s one thing I’ve been told
I take the rocks and leave the gold

O’er deserts wild or mountains blue
I search for rocks of varied hue.
A hundred pounds or more I pack,
With blistered feet and aching back.
And after this is said and done
I cannot name a single one.

I pick up rocks where ‘ere I go
The reasons why, I do not know
For rocks are found by fools like me
Where God intended them to be.
~Author Unknown

With heavy heart and empty pockets. I will miss you more than you know...



I finally just had to close my eyes in order to focus.

There are times when many distractions obfuscate reality.   The obvious could be right under our noses but other things blur or block it.

It was a perfect early fall morning, Minnesota deer archery opener.  I was so excited to be back archery hunting whitetails.   I woke without my alarm at 4:30am, made coffee, geared up, and was quickly and quietly in my tree stand without incident.  The path in was damp from the evening tule fog so the trek was silent, as was the ascent to my stand.  As the sky began to lighten, the fog gradually condensed on the forest canopy, creating the effect of light sporadic rain.  The morning thermals and light wind became variable at 5 mph, swirling in all directions.    My eyes were searching hard for movement and the whitetails I was almost certain I heard.   Acorns were abundantly falling and with the wet ground, their plopping sounded like .22 rifle shot.  My ears were perked for any noise out of the ordinary.  My bow was at the ready in the event that a deer appeared suddenly.  The woods were relatively quiet, but the impossible low decibel din of dripping leaves, falling acorns and wind tossing the treetops, made seeing or hearing any sign of deer a virtually impossibility.  So, I closed my eyes and listened.  Within several minutes my subconscious was able to filter out the ambient noises and focus on the cadence of deer walking in the distance.   They did not come under my tree, but I could finally discern them.

So it is with the voice of God.  Life is rife with distractions.  Sometimes they are unpleasant, like illness, stress, strife or anxiety.  Sometimes they are good like vacations, family, schedules or planning.  Sometimes they are just “doing life” like chores, work, deadlines or activities.  Sometimes they are addictions, like substance abuse, gambling, internet or hobby addictions.  No matter what the distraction, the urgencies, busy-ness and margin robbers of our existence can block out the truths that our Creator God wants us to know.  Sometimes in the chaos of life, we cannot discern what God wants for us.  There comes a time or times when we must stop, retreat, cleanse, relax, be quiet, pray, stop hurrying, take time away or time off, and allow God’s still small voice to be heard.  We need to close off the distractions that drown Him out.   God wants to lay on us the balm to our souls that refreshes our spirits.   But we cannot receive Him if we cannot see, hear or feel the reality of God's voice.  In our humanness we have limited ability to focus on the important when we are immersed in distraction.

Revelation 3:20 says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”  So extract yourself, listen and open the door.  The God of the Universe wants fellowship with you.  Close your eyes.  Let the voice of God in, and then bask in His message to you.


"Give it to God"

You can’t have a positive life with a negative mouth…

There I was alone, really alone, in an area I had no idea about.  Frustrated, annoyed, discouraged, and down right mad.  And then, He reached out to me.  God was there when nobody else was.

For 17 years I have been with the man that I thought would be my life partner.  After  learning so much from him, giving him so much of my life and loving him deeper then I thought possible, he decided he didn’t want to be married any longer.  This was a man that I attribute so much of who I am, to.  When we met, I was a young girl that knew nothing about God, hunting, or life’s real struggles.  Since, I have become such an independent, God fearing-woman because of him.  And I won’t forget to include that this once-almost-anti-hunter-little girl, has come to have a passion for hunting.

After the divorce, I was struggling so much to even get out to hunt anything.  I had an early season Mule deer archery tag in a new area that I was originally looking forward to hunting with my husband.  Hunting was always such a good time for us; no matter what else was going on.  But it was very clear at the beginning of the season that the togetherness that I always looked forward to was not going to be there.  After years of hunting really big, high country, by foot, I found myself so unmotivated and even depressed that I was trying to road hunt for an archery tag.  Pretty sad, huh?!  I found myself in one pity party after another and finally started questioning why I like hunting so much.  This was no fun.  I had nobody to share my adventures with anymore.  I was so alone.  I was doing more soul searching (or I thought I was) than hunting.  But one problem was that I kept feeling sorry for myself.  Almost mourning what I had lost:  my best friend.

I had gone out for a couple days by myself.  A friend had let me stay in her cabin about 2 hours from home.  It had no shower but it did have phone and satellite TV.  I headed out at 4am for my first morning, with four wheeler on the trailer in tow.  As I was taking a turn that was heavily embanked by a rock face to my right, I felt the trailer jump and saw sparks flying in my rear view mirror.  I turned around to find that one of the loading ramps that stores on the side of the trailer had come loose, slid out enough to catch a road marker and be ripped the remainder of the way out of the trailer, only to hit the road, slide and get a bit bent out of shape.  As I loaded it up, my only thought was that this was gonna put me behind for the day’s hunt.  The morning went pretty well, didn’t see many deer, but I did see a few, just very hard to put a sneak on.  Nevada is pretty much a spot and stalk hunt area.  Heavy trees and a whole lot of really noisy skunk weed can really inhibit a hunt.  Anyhow, about 2 in the afternoon, my period unexpectedly started.  And I was completely unprepared.  Augh!  I head off the mountain early to try to get to the general store before they closed to get the supplies I needed for such a visitor!  I drove frantically for 20 minutes to arrive at the store 15 minutes before their closing time, which apparently is not strictly followed.  They closed early!!!  The only place for hours and they closed early!!! AUGH!  As I turned to walk back to the truck and trailer, I noticed that the trailer had a flat tire.  No biggie, I’ll just change it.  There was NO SPARE!  Oh my, can things get much worse?!  Not having any choice, I drove the trailer back to the cabin and figured I would drop it and just load the 4 wheeler in the pickup bed and get the flat repaired when I head back home.  After dropping the trailer and backing the truck to a small hill, I was ready to load the 4 wheeler up.  I drive an older standard Ford F250, and sometimes the parking brake does not hold, so I have to turn off the truck and park it in gear, which I did, so I could get out to load the 4 wheeler.  When I got back into the truck to start it, nothing happened.  The truck would not start.  The battery decided it was done, just like that!  I was gonna freak!  Here I am, in a hunting unit that I know nothing about; I destroyed a trailer ramp; had a flat tire; the truck died and my period started.  And it was all my ex-husband’s fault!!!  ALL of it, even the period!  My logic was that if he hadn’t walked out, I would not be alone in this.  Pretty selfish, huh?

After a half hour of crying and pouting, I pulled myself together and went inside.  I flopped myself on the couch and turned on the TV.  Joyce Meyers was on.  (Joyce is a Christian evangelist that gives some of the most powerful messages I have ever heard and they always seem to be the right ones at the right time.)  One of the first things she said was “you can not have a positive life with a negative mouth.”  That caught my attention.  Then God proceeded to thump me on the head with more of her message about not being able to move on with your life if you are stuck in the past and feeling sorry for yourself.  WOW!  Did that hit home.  God came in just when I was loneliest and ready to throw up the white flag.  I realized that Satan was working very hard to take one more thing that I love dearly away from me.  Hunting.  He was trying to make me resent it.  I was not gonna let that happen.  I might have sold the guide service in the divorce, but I love hunting; I have not sold my passion for it.  I love picking up my bow and knowing that I can get 10 yards from a Pope and Young deer.  (I may not always remember that I am supposed to shoot it when I get there, but I still can get there!  HA!  (I need a cheat sheet that I can paste on my bow so I can refer to it when the buck fever hits and the brain fries!!)

I can’t say that I really know the point I am trying to make with this story, but I feel like I really needed to share it.  I guess it doesn’t matter what is going on in your life, let God control it and comfort you.  God brings peace.  When your life seems totally chaotic, remember to get on your knees and let God have it.

To me hunting is so much more than what animal you can bring home.  I never did fill my tag during this season, but I have truly brought home so much more than a Mule deer that I could mount on a wall.

God Bless

Julie Hughes


"On-Hold" Hunting A Personal Journey

All summer long I thought about the upcoming fall hunting season. Did I remember where I had put all my hunting clothes from the previous season? Are my broadheads in the garage or in the back of the pick-up? Is my bow’s serving string in tip-top shape for the first hunt? Where did I put those topo maps that’ll I need this fall? My mind was kept active with thoughts of my days on stand. I often looked at my calendar to see just how many days were left before hunting would commence. It was Countdown Time!

Sept 18th was the archery opener in my home state and for the first time since I can remember, I wasn’t out in the deer woods. What on earth could keep a hunter so passionate about hunting, away from the deer?? Matters of the heart.

When the most important woman in my life, my mom, was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer less than a month before the archery deer season, my priorities quickly shifted. Hunting would be put on-hold to be with the woman I owe my life to and love more than any other.

Mom was scheduled for surgery Sept. 10th. The ultimate would have been to remove all cancerous tissue and then do a round of chemo. The ultimate didn’t happen, as upon opening her up, it was discovered that the cancer had rapidly spread.

"Sorry. There’s nothing that we can do", were the words from the surgeon that cut like a knife.

"When she gets stronger, we can try chemo, but it won’t do anything for the cancer that is already there. It’ll only prevent new cancer cells from growing."

When the surgeon was asked how much time she had left, the reply was "If she doesn’t respond well to chemo, she has about a month. If she does respond well with chemo, than she has maybe six months, and that would be on the high end."

That response was a real sobering slap in the face. My mind began to race with all the things I needed to tell her before I could tell her them no more.

Mom never did get strong enough to even attempt chemo, but rather spent ten days in the hospital in the hospice ward. Her ninth day there was the hunting opener. It came and went and the world kept revolving. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t able to sneak away for a sit in the woods. I knew that time would come soon enough. Now was a time that would be more special than any deer kill could ever be.

On the eleventh day of her journey towards another world, we were able to honor her wish of bringing her back home. The next ten days my sister Jody and I became instant nurses. I spent many nights at their house, sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the den, checking on mom every 20 minutes or so, as she was in eyes view.

I was at my house only long enough to take the kids to school and bring them home in the afternoon. I would head back to moms every evening also, often with the family along. My kids were very aware of what was happening to grandmama and would sit next to her bed and hold her hand, rub her back, or just give her hugs whenever they could.

"I love you grandmama", they’d say, as my mom would give them her best smile and ever so softly say, "I love you too."

No P&Y buck could ever replace the tender words and feelings that were shared those last days. After losing my dad suddenly to lung cancer nine years previously, I was determined to spend every moment I could with my mom.

When the deer season was two days shy of being two weeks along, it was the tenth day my mom was at home. It was also her freedom day.

"She’s free", was all I could say. "She’s finally free."

I am comforted in knowing that her last words to me were, "I’m so proud of you" and after telling her that I loved her, "I love you too".

At that point I could have thrown away all my hunting tags for the season and it wouldn’t have mattered much. What mattered most was the time I was privileged to spend caring for my mom, realizing that things have come full circle. She cared for me in every way when I was a wee baby, and now, I had to care for her in all the same ways.

After her death, it was time to make arrangements for her service and take care of all kinds of things one wouldn’t normally think of when one is still alive. There was also a house to clean and get in order, (along with my own house!) which took more time out of a hunting season that was just getting shorter.

As I write this, almost a month of hunting season has past, with me no where near the deer woods or fields. I know my time is coming, but if I don’t ever make it out this fall, there’s always next season. Anticipation can be a very good driving force.

I am beginning to think about hunting once again, as I read through incoming hunting magazines and view photos of other hunters’ recent harvests.

I’m going over my mental hunting "to do" list, even though it hasn’t become physical yet. Soon.

I just hope that never again any time soon, will I have to put my hunting on hold for the reasons that I did this season. But when a loved ones life is cut short, even an addicted hunter as I, know that my heart will still keep beating, the sun will rise again and the circle of life will continue.

Treasure every moment with friends and family that you have as though it may be your last. The hunting can always be put on hold.

Happy hunting to all, when ever that season may be.


October © 2004

From Physical Limitations to Life in the Limelight

Todd Craighead started life with one hand behind his back – literally. Arthrogryposis, a condition resulting from restricted movement in the womb, had stiffened his joints and left him with poorly developed muscles and bones. Weighing a mite four pounds, his feet were deformed, hands cupped, right hip out of socket and right arm was twisted behind his head.

Today, he sits in his office at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation surrounded by photos of family and friends, honors and treasured mementos from favorite hunts. Driven by the stalwart resolve of his parents and his inner desire to persevere, Todd turned his love for the outdoors into a rewarding vocation and ultimately became the host of the wildlife department’s award-winning television show.

A Chance at Life

“Back in 1969, like most women, my mom did not undergo an ultrasound during her pregnancy, so it was truly a surprise that I came out different than other babies,” Todd explained. “Doctors didn’t expect me to make it through the night.”

The doctors’ prognosis the following day was equally grim. Parents Donna and Max were told their newborn would forever be a burden, needing constant care and possibly institutionalization. At her hospital bedside, Donna’s mother echoed their concerns.

“You’ll probably have Todd with you always. He’ll have to be kept at home,” Donna remembers her saying. “But I knew he’d be worse off I gave him up and I also knew that I couldn’t sugar-coat Todd, his life or his challenges.”

Surgeons performed a lengthy series of corrective surgeries on Todd as an infant and into his grade school years. They replaced his out-of-socket hip and inserted pins into his arm to hold it in proper position. He required a tendon and ligament transplant so that his muscles could pull his wrist up and to flatten out and straighten his feet.
“Those surgeries gave me the abilities I have today,” Todd recalled. “We considered other types of surgeries, but they were either experimental or had definite tradeoffs – I would gain one function but lose another.”

His mother recounted a particular touching moment when Todd became despondent over a procedure’s apparent failure. “He asked me, ‘Mom, what are we going to tell all the people at church who are praying for me?’ I told him, ‘If you and I can stand it, then they can, too.”

Despite his physical challenges, Todd’s parents realized that when faced with an issue, Todd figured out his own unique way to deal with it. Max was a hobbyist woodworker and often made special “tools” for Todd.

“I cut up a lot of clothes hangers,” Max laughed. “Todd would come up with the idea, and it was my job to make it.”

Together, they developed configurations of hooks and loops to help Todd fasten his clothing and even turned an old soccer shin guard into what Todd jokingly called his ‘sock-put’er-on’er’.

“My parents were miraculous, insightful people and realized early on that given time and space, I could figure out how to do things. That made all the difference in my life.”

A Boost of Confidence

Todd did not grow up in a sporting family that hunted or fished. But on the weekends, he was allowed to choose an activity for the family to enjoy.

“I was always torn between shooting my B-B gun or fishing,” he said.

Soon, he discovered that hunting and fishing improved his self-image.

“When I started hunting and fishing, even though I held the gun or fishing pole differently than others, I realized that I could become more than an equal to my peers; I could be a contender. Hunting and fishing became that arena where the first time in my life I could do something as well as anybody else and sometimes even better.”

Honing his outdoor skills became not only a physical challenge, but more importantly, a mental game.

“If you don’t have your wits about you, then you’re not going to be prepared when that covey rises right under your feet,” Todd said. “Or, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to never see or hear a turkey in the woods because you’re just bumbling around.”

“I couldn’t letter in football, and I couldn’t play on the tennis team, but I could be one of the best at deer or turkey hunting. I grabbed tightly onto that idea. I loved it at an early age and probably love it even more today.”

A Triumphant Moment

Todd vividly recalls one occasion when, much to the chagrin of his parents, he went deer hunting by himself. He shot a doe on opening day, leaving him with an unfilled buck tag on the last day of the season. As the sun began to set, he shot a buck.

But the real challenge had just begun. Alone in a soft, muddy wheat field with his jeep a half-mile away, Todd considered his alternatives: Go home for help or find a way to load the deer himself.

Determined to return home triumphant, Todd devised a plan. “Darkness had fallen,” he said, “so I lassoed the deer’s head and secured the rope to me, and for the next hour I drug that deer a half-mile across the wheat field to my jeep. Then I had to figure out how to get a 130-pound deer into my vehicle.”

Drawing on the same ingenuity that he used to design his “tools”, he stacked his jeep’s toolbox and a plastic storage tub to create steps from the ground to the back of the jeep. After tying the deer’s legs together, he ran the rope through the jeep and around the steering wheel.

“I turned the steering wheel all the way to the right and turned the jeep on,” Todd said. “I then turned the steering wheel all the way to the left, wrapping the rope around the steering wheel column, which would gain me about 8 inches with the deer. With the deer hanging off the back end of the jeep, I went back and stuck the toolbox under it to hold it up. Then I returned to unwrap the rope around the steering wheel, repeat the process and gain another 8 inches.”

Todd’s eyes flashed jubilantly as he finished his tale. “I did that about five or six times until I got the deer up far enough to crawl underneath and lift it up on my back and into the jeep. I did it!”

Band of Brothers

Todd went to Oklahoma State University and majored in wildlife ecology with an emphasis in communications. Like many college freshmen, he pledged a fraternity – Farm House – and commenced another life-changing period.

Todd gives credit to his fraternity brothers for fostering his self-confidence.

“I really owe a lot to those upperclassmen, because they knew they weren’t doing me any favors by setting me aside and not letting me experience pledgeship to the fullest like the others. And they knew my pledge brothers would lose respect for me if I wasn’t required to do everything that they were required to do. It was all very liberating.”

Todd remains close to several of his pledge brothers, including fellow Oklahoman Jim Evans, who admitted his skepticism when he first met Todd.

“I thought, great, we’re going to have to carry his load too, but there was never a time that Todd wasn’t willing to jump in and help,” Jim said.

Today, as a father, Jim values his friendship with Todd even more. “My girls have grown up interacting with Todd and it’s helped them when they encounter other handicapped people. They don’t recognize them as disabled; they recognize them as people.”

After graduation, Todd worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado as a natural resources interpreter. For more than three years, his duties included public speaking in the campgrounds and running a visitors center. Again, he credits his fraternity experience for his success in this new endeavor.

“I was always somewhat self-conscious and worried about first impressions because I looked so different,” Todd said. “My experience in the fraternity helped get me over that as well. As a pledge you’re required to learn about your house and university history and “regurgitate” that history on command before your peers. Once you become used to it, it almost becomes a comfort zone for you.”

In the Spotlight

In 1995, Todd began working for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation as a publications specialist, responsible for desktop publishing the state’s hunting and fishing regulations.

“That’s when it all clicked,” Todd said. “I realized that everything else in my life had been leading me up to this point. I truly had found my niche.”

Todd also was given the opportunity to write scripts for the department’s television show “Outdoor Oklahoma”. Eventually, the TV show needed a new host and after a trial run, Todd took over.

Todd shakes his head as if he still can’t believe his good fortune.

“For a kid who was too insecure to even talk to the cashier at Wal-Mart, today, be in 250,000 homes a week - that’s quite a leap. I have to pinch and remind myself that I do have the best job in the world.”

Finding Love and a Family

In 2001, Todd’s life entered a new phase when he met his wife, Jill.

“When I moved back to Oklahoma and got the job at the Wildlife Department, I joined a church and became a Sunday school teacher in the singles department,” Todd said. “Jill came to our church with her week-old daughter, Emily, and joined my class. We’ve been happily married for six years now and I adopted Emily.”

Jill laughs when she remembers their courtship. “My granny used to tease me, saying that Todd married me for Emily.”

Todd shares his love for the outdoors with Emily, now nine.

“She’s a girly-girl, but I’ve taken her turkey hunting and she’s deer hunted with me. She has her own camo. She tried shooting a shotgun back before she turned eight, but it was a bit much for her, so she’s going to wait a while before she tries that again. I feel my role is to give my child a broad foundation so she can choose where and how she builds her life.”

Emily already has become an outdoor personality in her own right.

“I got to be on the cover of the Oklahoma fishing regulations, holding a bunch of worms,” she giggled. “A man recognized us in the Florida airport when we went to Disney World. That was neat!”

As Todd’s life evolves, so do new opportunities. A few years ago, he started a Christian Sportsmen’s Fellowship group at his church.

“The group essentially uses hunting and fishing as a platform to evangelize to men,” he said. “Because I’m outspoken about my faith and visible in the hunting and fishing community, I regularly speak at their events.”

Todd also serves as the state’s regional director and oversees the activities of eight new chapters across the state.

In addition to his time on camera, Todd also enjoys working behind the lens as a freelance videographer.

“I work with Drury Outdoors, providing footage for their video series. Being behind the camera may be the next thing for me.”

Words of Wisdom

When reflecting on his life, Todd offers advice to others with disabilities. “You may require extra help. You may need somebody to build you a ramp or accompany you on your hunting or fishing trips. But don’t forget that helping you is just as rewarding, just as much of a blessing to them as it is to you. They need those types of opportunities to be able to give back to the sport. If that’s sacrificing a weekend to take you out, then they’re going to be a much richer person inside for having done that. So don’t feel uncomfortable about asking for help. And don’t sell yourself short – where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
© September 2007

Be Still and Know

This perfectly still and overcast winter morning, I sat nestled in my tree stand 17 feet off the ground. It was an hour before sunrise, but the snow covered forest floor provided a white canvas backdrop against which each tree stood black in contrast. As cold as it was, the warm blanket of darkness was peaceful, and made everything surrounding me seem close. The silence was stark. "Be Still, And Know That I am God". In solitude and on such mornings, this verse and others resound in my mind as I let the presence of God wash over me and as I revel in fellowship with my Creator. Except for here in these woods, there is very few places in my life where enjoying quiet or being still are even possible. The sky blushed to gray in varying degrees of dawn and the fabric of morning rippled as a red squirrel leaped from his hole to the bark of an oak tree near me. He hesitated upside down, head cocked in my direction, tail twitching. Deeming me harmless, he skittered down the tree and across a log to burrow in the snow for acorns. A nuthatch landed six inches from my face, exploring the bark for edibles. As if in a chain reaction, the woods came to life just as a cold sun pierced orange through the naked trees. A volley of bird calls caught my attention, familiar since this call was one I mimic to beckon my hunting buddies in the woods. I rose slowly to call back to them. Whistling was a challenge through my soggy face mask, but when I did make my first noise, my cohorts went silent. I called again, and got a response, and then another. For five minutes we called to each other. Crows cawing overhead sent the birds to flight and I realized I was standing there with my bow at my side, quite unprepared if a whitetail were to present itself. I closed my eyes and gave thanks. God's creation is a living signature to his awesome and incomprehensible glory. Hours later, the predicted winds stirred the Aspen crowns, so I quietly crawled out of my tree and crunched through the snow back to camp. How very wise is God's word to "Be Still". I thank God that my hunting provides those times to "Be Still and Know".

How Awesome

I slowly open the door of my cabin and step outside on the front porch. The night is black, with only starlight shedding a subtle glow. I could cut the humid air outside with a knife. With the entire inside of my cabin lined in various kinds of wood, it stays fairly dry. The stark humid contrast to the outdoors is a sensory blast. The woods are dead still, and the constellation Orion is in the southern sky as it always is for my hunting in October. I stare up at it for a few moments and think. How awesome is my God.

As I began my northward walk to archery hunt, there is a faint setting crescent moon in the east but nary a hint of sunrise yet. The occasional rustle of popple leaves breaks the silence. They and the oaks are the only trees that still have leaves.

The leaves underfoot are silent with the damp heavy air. I decide to turn right back around and go back to the cabin to remove an underlayer of clothing since it is 65 degrees. The walk northward is totally silent, but even so, I jump two deer who snort at me several times as I stand still listening. I have clicked off my green Stylus flashlight. The deer wait silently, wanting to hear my noise again so as to identify me, but I do not accommodate them. Soon they are walking again. As I stand here in the dark, I think again, How awesome is my God.

That encounter busted my chance of getting to and at sitting in the south food plot undetected, so I continue further to a new tree stand I just put up, nestled in a fallen oak tree on the north 40. It is more of a firearms seasons stand than an archery stand, but I want to test my various stands to see where and when deer are moving so when I have hunter guests I can put them in good spots.

I stand at the base of my tree in the dark and grab hold of the tree. I can smell the moist oak bark of the tree and the wet leaves around me as I inch up, step by step. Ascending in silence, I settle in and watch the sunrise. I lean my head back and close my eyes. How awesome is my God. the thought comes again.

There are no deer today, but plenty of squirrledge. By 9am it appears as though nothing is going to happen, so I still-hunt back to camp, taking one hour to creep slowly rather than the usual ten minutes the walk to camp would usually take. Besides flushing several grouse and sneaking up on a couple of squirrels, the trek back is uneventful. The air is uncharacteristically heavy for October and the sun is beginning to poke hazily through the horizon of soaring trees all around me. The forest floor last week was brilliant yellow and red with the fresh fallen leaves. Now it has aged to that amber monochrome of fall. I walk softly, like a bear, testing each step to avoid snapping a twig underfoot. I have an arrow nocked in the event I jump something worth shooting.

God's creation is a signature of how awesome He is. There is not a time I am out in it, that I am not stunned to appreciative silence of every nuance and smell of it. Every tiny detail, the magnificence of the heavens, the majesty of aged oaks, the gnarled roots of trees toppled by tornadoes, tiny orange mushrooms or a squirrel staring me down in uncertainly of what I am. There are times when I am led to simply fall to my knees in the middle of the woods with my arm upstretched to my Abba Father, in praise and thanks to Him for the privilege of partaking in His creation. Being an archery hunter means mostly being in this nature wonderland alone, but what better way to worship my Awesome God.
© November 2007

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