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Deer Hunting Legend: Stan Potts

Now a star on “North American Whitetail TV,” Stan Potts’ career started with humble beginnings

Stan shot this 200-class buck with a muzzleloader in Ohio. All photos courtesy Stan and Brenda Potts

Stan shot this 200-class buck with a muzzleloader in Ohio. All photos courtesy Stan and Brenda Potts

You’d think Stan Potts would be a bit calmer after he makes a good shot on a buck. With nearly 50 years of bow hunting experience under his belt and countless bucks to his credit, you might think shooting another 150-inch buck would be just another day in the woods for the 65-year-old Illinois resident.

Potts, however, never holds back. He can’t.

The fist-pumping, the hyperventilating, the trembling, wide-eyed look as if he’s balancing on the precipice of a cliff pours out on its own. It’s not scripted, he insists. It’s what he does even when there’s no video camera around.

“It’s all real,” says Potts. “I love what I do and I still get just excited seeing a buck walk through the woods now as I did when I was a kid.”

A Lifetime Of Passion

That passion took hold in the late 1950s when he tagged along behind his father in the Illinois woods in pursuit of squirrels, rabbits or whatever else happened to be in season.

Stan's first velvet buck taken with a bow in Kentucky.

Stan’s first velvet buck taken with a bow in Kentucky.

Potts, however, has done what millions of others only dream of doing: turning that love of all things outdoors into a successful career. Thanks in part to his over-the-top exuberance, his eternal grin and his snow-white mustache, he’s one of the most recognizable personalities in the hunting industry.

Potts admits that part of his success was simply being in the right place at the right time, a time when the hunting industry was undergoing some rapid and dramatic changes.

More magazines were showing up on newsstands, many of them dedicated to niche markets, like whitetail deer. It also helped that he grew up in the heart of Illinois’ big buck country.

Potts, however, didn’t put much thought into trophy-class bucks when he first picked up a bow in the 1960s. Deer populations were low and tagging a deer (any deer), was success enough. In fact, he traded his bow for a shotgun when Illinois’ pheasant season opened on November 1, never giving much thought to whitetails after that.

“I deer hunted hard the whole month of October, but I wasn’t much of a buck hunter. I usually shot the first legal deer that came along,” he recalls. That changed around 1982.

A Career Is Born

Stan credits much of his success as a whitetail hunter to his early days as a trapper.

Stan credits much of his success as a whitetail hunter to his early days as a trapper.

Back in Illinois after a two-year stint as a long-line trapper in Wyoming (He went “for the adventure”), Potts decided to put his energy and effort into Illinois’ growing deer population and the huge bucks that were becoming more common with each season.

As luck would have it, he arrowed a giant buck in 1983 that got the attention of the editors at North American Whitetail and Potts and his buck were profiled in a feature. Other big deer fell to his arrows in following seasons.

Potts quickly earned a reputation as a skilled woodsman with a knack for finding and killing big bucks with a bow. He started giving seminars at various outlets and he eventually worked as a manager for a Pike County, Illinois outfitter.

What was just a murmur within the deer hunting community gradually turned into a roar. More hunters learned of the giant bucks coming out of the state and wanted in on the action, including Mark and Terry Drury, who spent a week in camp.

Stan’s first (top) and second (bottom) 200-class bucks taken with a bow in IL.

Stan’s first (top) and second (bottom) 200-class bucks taken with a bow in IL.

A Mossy Oak crew also hunted with Potts. What happened during those weeks turned out to be the beginning of a career.

“I did some filming with them,” he recalls. “Being in front of the camera just came natural to me. I ended up doing some more films and I then started doing ‘North American Whitetail TV.’”

Although still in its infancy, it quickly became obvious to Potts and other industry pioneers that the interest in watching others shoot big deer was more than a fad.

Hunters couldn’t get enough. They snapped up every deer hunting VHS cassette they could get their hands on. Then cable television gave personalities, like Potts, even more exposure and entire networks, like the Sportsman’s Channel, pushed the industry over the edge.

A Philisophy of Effort

Success doesn’t come through instinct or luck alone, however. Potts’ philosophy in the woods and in life revolves around dedication and effort.

“You get out of it what you put into it with everything you do. Go early, stay late,” he says. “Deer hunting is no different.”

He held a number of jobs before he started working in the hunting industry. Hanging drywall between trapping seasons in Wyoming, building grain bins, working in a factory, and selling ads for a local newspaper in Clinton, Illinois, his hometown.

Stan shot this 220-class non-typical in central Illinois with a bow.

Stan shot this 220-class non-typical in central Illinois with a bow.

“You really have to sell yourself and the companies you work for in this industry, so his job as a salesman was probably a good background,” says Brenda, Stan’s wife of 22 years. “Stan is very good at that and he’s very people-oriented.”

Personality only counts for so much, though. Stan credits much of his success to Brenda, who came from a long line of hunters and who had an equally strong work ethic before the two met.

She would spend five hours at a check station at the Clinton Nuclear Plant, which held permit deer hunts on its grounds, before opening her framing shop in town, where she’d then work a full day.

Brenda shot this caribou in Quebec in 2008, one year after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Brenda shot this caribou in Quebec in 2008, one year after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Stan would come and wait at the check station every morning hoping he could get in as a stand-by hunter. We just started talking while he was there waiting and we hit it off,” recalls Brenda. She manages Stan’s schedule and their marketing company when she isn’t in the woods. “He kept coming out of that place with monster bucks.”

She admits Stan’s ability to shoot giant bucks added to his attraction. So much, she asked him to take her in the woods and teach her more about deer behavior when they first started dating.

“He’s a natural,” she says.

Just like the excitement that jumps out of Potts every time his arrow finds its mark.

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