Rob Keck, the longtime CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation who helped rebuild turkey populations across the U.S., is now Conservation Director on the RedHead Pro Hunting Team at Bass Pro Shops. His work with the NWTF earned him a position among the Hunting's 25 most influential personalities of the 20th Century. Following is his detailed recollection of his first hunt:
In 1962, in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, I was hunting with my dad. You had to wait until you were 12 years old in Pennsylvania before you could hunt, but of course, I went on many hunts before as just an onlooker.
It had snowed that day. Doe season was two days long and followed the regular gun buck season. Dad placed me on the point below some grapevines in about 8 inches of snow, and there was a heavy crust on top of it. When you walked through the snow, it just crunched.
As was so often the case in the opening of that doe season, you could hear those distant shots starting and some of them were close. It was almost like a war, and there it was in Pennsylvania.
All of a sudden, off to my left, I could hear the crunching of deer coming through that snow. As a kid waiting and wanting to have that very, very first deer, I thought, "Man, the first doe that's in here, I don't care how big she is, I'm gonna get her."
But as I saw them, and they were in the distance, and it was pretty open hardwood below the grapevine tangle that I was in, I noticed the lead doe was a monster. She was coming.
I had a 7.65 Argentine Mauser that we had taken and sporterized. We bought it in military condition for 15 bucks. We had the barrel cut and had the stock cut down. My dad helped me with all that. We put open sights on it. I knew that gun to a "T."
Anyway, she stopped right at 30 steps just slightly downhill, and she was looking all around. You could tell that other hunters had pushed her. When I squeezed that trigger I saw a spray of blood on the white snow as those deer just exploded in every direction.
My eye was on her alone. She turned and went downhill, went about 75 yards. I could see her to the point where she dropped. The adrenaline rush, the excitement that was going through my body at that time was just unreal.
And, of course, Dad was just above me. He stayed there as I went down to look at my trophy. As I was going down, I saw another person that appeared to be a hunter. I didn't see a gun though; he was just walking toward the deer.
I thought it was strange, and so when I got up to the deer, I was so excited and it ended up this fellow was a Pennsylvania game warden. He asked to see my license and then congratulated me on my kill, even helping to fill my tag out.
My dad joined us there and it was quite an experience. It was exciting, but I was thinking, "Oh my gosh, is this guy going to take my deer, my very first deer?"
I can tell you that taking a doe was one of the best things that could have ever happened. I hear a lot of hunters wanting to take their kids out to kill a muy grande to start with.
I think you've got to start at the basement, at the bottom level, so that you've always got something to shoot for, something to look forward to, maybe taking that Boone and Crockett buck some day. I can tell you that thrill, that trophy experience, I think is what we've got to share today.
So many times I think our messages are wrong, that we talk about the trophy animal instead of the trophy experience. Let me tell you, that very first trophy experience will last me for a lifetime.