Thirty-seven years ago I set out on a journey that even I could not comprehend. My story truly is a blessing scripted from above. In the spring of 1979 my wife and I had to make a decision. Was I going to remain in the corporate sales and marketing profession, or would I move into the totally different world of becoming a full-time outdoor writer and nature photographer? At the time my wife was nearing the end of a two-year leave-of-absence from public school teaching, following the birth of our son Aaron. Part of the agreement was that she had to tell her school well in advance if she would return to teaching in the fall.
By Charles J. Alsheimer
After wrestling for weeks over what to do we decided she would return to teaching, I’d resign my sales and marketing position – with at the time the largest producer of wood office furniture in the world – and jump head first into the unknown waters of the hunting world. To complicate the situation several friends and family members told me I was crazy. After all, why would a person trade in a great paying job with many benefits to pursue the unknown. A couple people even said I had lost my mind.
At the time there were only five or six hunting-related magazines to market to and only one magazine, Deer & Deer Hunting, that was totally dedicated to white-tailed deer. Couple this with the fact that in 1979 America was in the throes of one of the worst economies since the end of World War II. Yes, it was a pretty scary time to throw the career dice and hope they’d come up snake eyes. So, why would I do such a foolish thing?
As I pondered making the decision I thought about a lot of things. I deeply loved America, her traditions and was concerned with the direction my country was going. As a Vietnam vet, I had seen first-hand what third world countries engaged in war were all about. Though I could see myself making a career in the corporate business world I had come to realize that it was not a perfect fit for me.
Yeti Coolers has a great slogan, “Inside you there is an outside you.” That was me. Suits and ties were not my favorite way to dress. I was more a blue jeans, boots and camo guy who loved the outdoors more than corporate board rooms. In 1971, I had also fallen in love with photographing God’s creation, eventually everything from chickadees to grizzlies, but mostly the animal I admired most, the white-tailed deer. So, at age 32, with the prospects of no weekly paycheck for the foreseeable future, I entered into the outdoor world.
I’m often asked about my career and how I kept it all going for three-plus decades. My answer is simple: the challenge, how it benefited my family, the fascination I have for the whitetail and the passion I have to share God’s creation through words, photos and speaking engagements.
Many have accused me of being a risk taker. Perhaps, but not to the degree that I’m willing to make foolish decisions. Certainly my 1979 career switch had its risks. That said, I did not jump into the outdoor career field blindly. Prior to making the move I studied the market carefully and felt the hunting industry had the potential to be dynamic. For starters, whitetail hunting was a huge tradition in rural America, so the lure of the hunt was strong. Secondly, the baby-boom generation was just coming of age (20 to 40 years old), which meant more hunters with expendable income taking to the woods. At the same time whitetail populations were expanding at a rapid rate. So, in my mind these three reasons, along with several more caused me to feel the stage was set for great things to take place in the hunting industry, and I wanted to be a part of it. My assessment proved right.
I believe every person has a God-given gift. I’m no computer geek, electrician, auto mechanic, math whiz or whatever. I come from a family of business owners and have always been fascinated by the business world. When I went off to college I majored in business and fell in love with the intricacies of how business works. So, I used this background to study the outdoor industry. I quickly realized that if I was going to make a living in the hunting world I’d have to focus on white-tailed deer because 80 percent of America’s hunters were avid whitetail hunters. At one point in the early 1980s I did a market analysis of the hunting magazines available and found that for every 10 photos and articles published 6-plus were of white-tailed deer. Though I’ve photographed nearly all of North America’s big game, it’s the whitetail that has been my main focus because of my passion for them. That’s where the money was and is to this day.
As I progressed through the ’80s and ’90s I realized that if I wanted to take my career to the next level I needed to do more than just hunt, write about and photograph whitetails. That move came over 20 years ago when I decided to raise whitetails to study their behavior. It turned out to be one of the smartest business decisions of my career.
It’s one thing to glean information about whitetails from hunting and photography, but neither can come close to the education you get from being with them on a daily basis year round. To say I’ve had an incredible education raising whitetails for more than two decades would be a vast understatement.
The center of my earthly existence is not the whitetail, it’s my family. In the spring of 1972 I married a special woman who has been my best friend and soul mate for 43 years. She’s been an incredible wife and mother to our son and understands my business more than she lets on.
To make it in this business every family member needs to understand what it takes to be successful. Traveling to hunt and photograph can be stressful on a family. So, rather than be away from home for extended periods of time I planned things so that I was seldom away from home more than a week at a time.
While growing up my dad was a successful businessman who put his business ahead of his family. Consequently, we were not as close as I felt a father and son could be. Because of this I vowed that if I ever had a son (or daughter) I’d be a big part of his or her life. Throughout my career our son Aaron and I have been about as close as a father and son can be. He’s traveled with me on photo and hunting trips from Florida’s Everglades to Alaska’s tundra. Along the way he’s become an excellent hunter, and next to my wife, my best friend. Without them I never could have made it in this business.
I’d hate to think what my life would have been like without the whitetail. It was what truly introduced me to nature. As a little kid the graceful figure of a mature buck running across a plowed field on our farm was what lit my fire, a fire that has kept me heading back to the woods for more than 50 years.
Words cannot fully share with you my love for the whitetail. I’ve seen them being born and I’ve seen them die. In between I’ve witnessed and photographed about every behavior they can exhibit. The late giant in the hunting world Erwin Bauer once said, “The white-tailed deer is the greatest game animal in North America.” I ditto that and add this: The whitetail is hands down nature’s decathlete. No other big game animal can think, run, jump, hide, smell and live in man’s backyard like the whitetail. It is the whole package. When you couple this with its stunning beauty, it is easy to see why millions of hunters spend over $50 billion dollars annually pursuing them.
When you put together all the physical attributes a whitetail possesses, is it any wonder that they can survive unlike few animals on Earth? They are incredible creatures and in spite of the many advances in hunting technology over the past 30 years, man is still at a disadvantage when it comes to outsmarting the whitetail.
Whitetails, wherever they are found are the real deal, ultimate survivors. Their athleticism and physical attributes have allowed them to outmaneuver and outsmart the cagiest creature for centuries, and this will no doubt be the case until the end of time.
The Bottom Line
I sometimes wonder about people’s values. There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Sadly, too many in America are swept up by this mentality. Gadgets, toys, bricks and mortar are nothing more than things. Personally, I think Chuck Swindoll’s quote has more meaning. “Life is like a coin, you can spend it anyway you want, but you can only spend it once. And then he said, “The greatest things in life are not things – the greatest things in life are experiences and relationships.”
Life is sacred, and one of the greatest relationships in my life is my walk with the God of this universe. After taking over a million photos, hunting whitetails throughout North America, lecturing to over a half-million sportsmen, and witnessing God’s creation up close and personal all I can say is that I’m humbled and in awe of the platform God has given me. I learned a long time ago that a hunter’s life is not about antlers, it’s about the joy of the journey.
If I were to die tomorrow I’d have no regrets. Thanks to God and one of his creatures – the white-tailed deer – I’ve been blessed beyond measure. A man can’t ask for any more.
From Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, the 2016 Whitetails Wall Calendar features the work of deer researchers Wayne Laroche and Charlie Alsheimer, who reveal the 2016 whitetail rut prediction, based on years of lunar cycle research. Utilize this deer moon phase calendar to find out which days the deer will be seeking and chasing so you can time the rut for the best time to hunt.