GRAFTON, Ill. – As he sat in a stand at Deer Camp, Bob Richardson could feel his feet. They were cold. That was a good thing.
He hadn’t felt that sensation for 15 years, hadn’t felt anything normal from his knees down since the last millennia. Extensive spinal fusion surgery in August was a must if Richardson wanted to continue his lifestyle with Outdoor Channel shows “ScentBlocker’s Most Wanted” and “Outdoors in the Heartland.”
“I had sit for the last 15 years with these guys in tree stands and it could be 15 degrees and my feet never get cold,” he said. “The problem is they were cold, but my brain registered hot.
“I didn’t have a back problem. I had a lower extremity problem. The vertebrae were cutting off my spinal cord, causing all the nerves to crossfire. With that, they told me within two years, because I was losing mass in my legs, I’d be in a wheelchair the rest of my life.”
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Doctors told Richardson hunting in 2013 was out, but with the help of partner and co-host Larry Woodward, who owed him big-time, he made Deer Camp and has scored big bucks, albeit while taking things gingerly.
“The doctor told me if I messed it up, I wouldn’t like the surgery the second time any better than the first time,” Richardson said. “A lot of titanium in there -- that way it gets me through the airport.”
Along with a couple 10-inch titanium rods, there are eight 2 ¾-inch screws. He’s wearing a stiff back brace and walking on egg shells. Since he won’t be doing anything more strenuous than he was at home, Richardson chose to not only go to Deer Camp, but to climb a ladder stand and hunt the gun opener.
“The good news is the shows that I’m filming right now won’t till air next year, so the doctor won’t know what I’m doing,” he said. “If you had a regular job, you’d milk this thing and take off for six months and get paid.“In our world, I was back in 10, 12 days later and, unfortunately, after the surgery, ended up with double pneumonia and that didn’t help and then ended up with vertigo. It’s been pretty crazy.”
Richardson has since been cleared by his doctors as his bone growth has been excellent.
Home Deer Camp
While Richardson and Woodward literally take their show on the road throughout deer season, their home Deer Camp is an hour from headquarters in Granite City, Ill. Richardson follows the Mississippi River past the Illinois River confluence and up into cuts in the bluffs.
Woodward is closer as the crow flies, maybe 10 miles, but his route from Winfield, Mo., is convoluted. He can go the short route requiring ferry rides across the Missouri and Illinois rivers, or drive nearly two hours around via the river bridges.
The river bottoms are rich corn fields and the farmed valleys lead into the wooded hills where acorns are king. They made a reciprocal deal with landowner Darrell Kanallakan (See Family, Friends and Frying) to hunt the land while giving his family gear and taking them on hunting trips.
“For us, this is deer camp, where we enjoy it,” Richardson said. “Larry and I started hunting this property probably about 8 years ago. At that time, we had a pretty good deer population. It’s located close to 8,000 acres of state forest.”
Since hunting isn’t allowed on state lands, a number of deer in the area die of old age. But the “drought of the century” two years ago knocked back the herd, as have blue-tongue and EHD.
“We’ve lost 70 percent of our deer population in the last 7, 8 years here in the Midwest in counties like Jersey, Calhoun and Pike,” Richardson said. “But we hunt all over the world, and I think Larry would agree, if a guy asks -- ‘where do you think you could go kill a big deer?’ -- it’s literally still in our backyard.”
Woodward said shed hunters find big antlers in the area and sometimes dead bucks with Boone and Crockett racks. They say cars take out more big deer around there than they do. They enjoy the prospect of a big surprise.
“With that park, you never know,” Woodward said. “Something gets transient and decides to move a little bit. The potential is always here for one to show up that we don’t know about.”
‘Most Wanted’ bonus
Trail cam images are vital to the “Most Wanted” show format. They create a storyline of the bucks on the property and how they hunt them.
“The thing with ‘Most Wanted’ that’s a little different than most TV shows,” Richardson said, “we have Lauren Thomas open the shows, ‘Here’s five deer on the property and we’re going to shoot them.’
“We kind of know the deer we’re hunting. When you see the deer, it’s got a name – Droptine buck, Wintergreen buck. Here’s our list and we go after them.”
Richardson said they usually bring a big board to camp with 8x10 photos of the bucks they are targeting. They’ve documented the deer frequenting their property and give them names according to their attributes or the stand they visit, but a surprise visitor is more than welcome.
“Now on the other side, if another mature deer walks out, that’s even better,” Richardson said, “because if you shoot him we still have our five most wanted.”
Field producer Josh Hill said he likes the excitement a bonus buck brings to the show.
“Josh hit the nail on head when he said it’s fun to go out and be surprised, because it’s literally unique. I look at it as a football game, any given Sunday. We’ve seen 250-inch deer killed off of this property -- world class deer. There’s 8,000 acres and anything could show up.”
A limb and a miss
Woodward targeted his Droptine Buck after seeing it first in person during bow season, but he’s since gotten game cam shots. He said a decoy drew the buck uphill to him.
“We’re on a real steep hill, he gets 20 yards but he’s facing me, so I can’t shoot him because his nose was in the way,” he said. “He’s turned and looking at this decoy and when he went behind a tree, I draw. He’s facing me, facing me and I’m holding, holding, holding. Finally, he pins his ears and he’s half-turned but his vitals are open.”
Up 30 feet in his stand, one small tree top blocked his arrow’s path. Knowing the buck was heading out of range, he decided to shoot, but the deer put its head down and he shot right over him.
“I normally don’t miss at 20 yards,” he said, “but he never knew we were there. He just walked off smelling the ground. He’s still here. It will make the show that I missed him. I’ve missed before. I don’t miss very much, but it happens to anybody who hunts a lot. That little bitty limb is all it took to shoot over him.”
The crew ended up with 30-plus Cuddeback images of the buck, which had broke off a 13-inch G-2 a few days before Woodard killed it in gun season.
“Some were saying it was a Mule deer with the way its antlers fork, but he’s just a gnarly whitetail,” he said.
The crew’s Deer Camp quarters is a 100-year old schoolhouse that’s been renovated. They call it the Little House. Inside the two-room structure are beds, a kitchen and a table. With five hunters, it’s tight and cold weather clothes dominate the scene.
First-time hunter Patrick Rebmann, who’s edited the shows for so long he’s become proficient at eyeball scoring bucks, was prepping to head out to the stands with the crew on a chilly, grey afternoon. Plans revolved around Richardson’s back.
"If he shoots a doe, which I think will be out there immediately, I’ll leave it lay,” Richardson said, “because they’re used to hearing all these duck hunters shooting around here in the bottoms. A shot goes, they won’t pay no attention.”
“Every time I’ve been in that blind, there’s deer in it no sooner than you sit down” Woodward said. “He’s got an antlerless, so we ought to get some tender and juicy pretty quick.”
“You hear me shooting, you need to come help,” Richardson said, then turned to his guest. “The good thing about being all crippled up, I get all this help. I’m going to milk this for as long as I can.
“I can climb a ladder. Now I would not go get 30 foot in one of our stands. On a regular ladder, I feel pretty comfortable.”
“The worst part is, you’re kind of at the mercy of me,” Hill said. “If something happens and I don’t help you out … ”
Richardson cuts him off.
“On Friday, when I write checks, you’re at the mercy of me, so remember that.”
“Touche,” Josh said to laughs for both.
Larry owes Bob, bigtime
Woodward didn’t mind making special accommodations for Richardson. They’ve been working together for close to two decades and have gone through some stuff.
While spending much of his time in sales, marketing and studio work, Richardson counts on Woodward to be the field workhorse, managing the lands.
“He’s out plowing and liming and fertilizing and putting in food plots,” Richardson said. “We’ve kind of built about a 40-acre plot inside of our property, what we call a Candy Store. What we’ve tried to do is take these deer that basically are dying of old age in the park, and motivating them to come into our property.
“My success is all the work Larry does. He puts me on these deer because I’m back in the studio doing my thing. In a lot of cases I’ve killed some big deer that really should have been his.
“He’s felt sorry for me. I’m kind of milking this back issue. He built me ground blinds, nice comfortable seat. He’s got some ladder stands that I can’t fall out of. He’s probably put me in one of the most productive spots on the farm right now.”
Woodward then admits paying back Richardson was probably overdue. He simply said Richardson helped him out when he hurt his hand real bad about six years ago.
“A month later I still couldn’t use it and it still ain’t the best,” Woodward said.
Richardson divulged the gruesome details.
“He severed his thumb off and it had to be reattached,” he said.
Woodward said Richardson did him a solid by helping the one-hander with a variety of tasks, including relieving himself. Yep.
“Unbuckle his pants, zip his pants,” Richardson said. “Hey, a guy can’t do much with one hand with a thumb that don’t work.
“I think the only thing that kept him going when they put that thumb back on was he knew he couldn’t shoot a bow, and that drove him as much as anything.”
“I owe him,” Woodward said.
Bob’s back in the game
Woodward also felt obligated to help a lifelong hunter. He knew the prospect of missing out on his first deer season in probably 50 years weighed on Richardson.
Richardson didn’t see a shooter on opening weekend of Illinois gun season, then during the week got the OK from doctors for light duty. He killed a decent buck at the camp on the second weekend, although it wasn’t on their list.
He then went to Kansas and busted a brute on Friday the 13th, saying it was bad luck for the buck. With almost 7-inch bases, it was the thickest-racked buck Richardson has taken. He shot after 2 ½ days with outfitter Gene Pearcy. Woodward was happy for Richardson.
“He was practically beside himself not getting to hunt,” Woodward said, “but now he’s got two in two weeks and is on a roll.
“He saw another one in the corn fields in Iowa. He and Josh were debating if it was big enough. It was getting near dark and it didn’t have long G2s, so they passed. I would have shot it. He would have had three in like 10 days.”
While he’s traveled and killed an Oklahoma buck, Woodward said his season in Illinois hasn’t gone as well. He’s only seen two mature bucks in 15 days, missing on one. Richardson said them’s the breaks.
“It’s a lot of work to kill a big deer,” he said. “You turn the Outdoor Channel on and almost every show you have two, three guys hunting and shooting mature bucks in 15 minutes.
“What most people don’t’ realize is sometimes we’ll kill one in 15 minutes, and sometime we’ll hunt 15 days and never fire a shot.”
And some people listen to their doctors, and some just do what they’re going to do.
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