University of Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pedersen took some time off from calling turkeys and preparing for next month’s NFL draft to talk with Deer & Deer Hunting about his passion for the outdoors and hunting whitetails. Pedersen, who grew up hunting and fishing with his family in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, hauled in 17 touchdowns over his four seasons with the Badgers. He is projected to be a mid- to late-round pick in the draft, which begins on Thursday, May 8.
Deer & Deer Hunting: This has to be a very busy time for you. How are you preparing for the draft? And how has that whole process been so far?
It’s been pretty crazy the last couple months. After our season at Wisconsin, I went down to Miami and was training in Miami for about two months until the Combine. After that, I came right back up to Madison. Our pro day was right away. I trained for that, did the pro day. Lately, it’s just been going home, talking with different teams, working out, trying to stay in shape and really just waiting for the draft coming up on May 8. It’s starting to wind down a little bit, but after that, it’s going to go right back to being crazy.
D&DH: Do you have any plans for the draft? Are you having a party with your family or will you just wait for a call?
I’m from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m from a small town, so we’re going to go up there. There are a lot of people I know there. On Thursday, I think we’re going to have a little draft party at my best friend’s parents’ restaurant. Anyone who wants to come can come hang out. We’ll have pizzas and stuff like that out. And then on the Friday and Saturday, we’ll probably just do a smaller get-together at home with close family and friends and just kind of wait and see how stuff turns out.
D&DH: We imagine your fall hunting plans are probably on hold a little bit until you find out where you’re going to be playing. Are you hoping you’ll land somewhere where you can get out hunting after practice?
I’m pretty fortunate being up here in southern Wisconsin. We’ve got a lot of good hunting down here. The last couple of years, I was always able to get out on my days off. While it’d definitely be nice if I was able to go somewhere where there’s hunting close by and I can get out, I’m really just hoping that one team is going to come down and want my services. Once I find out where I am, then I can try to figure out if I’m going to have the opportunity or not. Right now, it’s not a main worry of mine.
D&DH: Have you been hunting your whole life? When did you get started and who were some of your mentors?
I’ve probably been hunting since before I could remember, probably whenever my mom would let my dad start taking me out. My dad was who I first started hunting with. He would just take me during rifle season. He would take me out to camp. We’d go a whole bunch of times. I quickly got into it. I remember always wanting to go up to camp, ride four-wheelers, be outside, shoot bows, no matter what it was. I’d say my whole life I’ve been an outdoor kid.
D&DH: It sounds like you were hooked on it pretty much right away. Is there one thing that you enjoy most about it?
For me, in the Upper Peninsula, going up to camp with family and friends is huge up there. That’s one of the things I miss a lot down here. Normally I’m kind of going out by myself. The camaraderie when I was younger is definitely what got me hooked. Going up to camp, like I said, hanging out with your friends, you’re running around outside, you’re four-wheeling, you’re going out with a .22 looking for squirrels. No matter what it was, you’re always hanging out with friends. You weren’t sitting on Facebook and everything else. You’re outside enjoying nature.
D&DH: Do you have a preference as far as bowhunting, gun hunting and muzzleloader hunting?
I enjoy them all, but if I had to pick one, I would do bowhunting, hands down. I love to bowhunt. I’ll bowhunt as much as I can. The only time I’ll take out guns is maybe a couple times a year to say I used them, but I’m definitely a bowhunter.
D&DH: What would you say your proudest moment as a hunter is so far?
Probably when I shot my first deer. I remember my dad and I went up to camp. We walked in and the guy who owned the land we were hunting on, his dad was like, “Hey, I got that north blind all set up for you. It’s ready to go. Just drive up there, and you’re good.” So, we went up there. I remember that we were looking at a doe kind of off to our left. I looked back out in the field and I was like, “Dad! Dad! An 8-pointer!” He let me shoot it. I got to watch it fall out in the field. I think I probably sprinted up to the deer. It was nuts. That was definitely one of my favorite memories of starting to hunt.
D&DH: And how did that feeling compare to winning a Big Ten title? Was it similar?
I think they’re both similar. Anyone who is a hunter knows what it’s like to have buck fever or any other kind of animal fever depending on what you’re hunting. The same thing goes with winning the Big Ten Championship or playing in the Rose Bowl. Your heart just starts to race and you feel the anxiety. It’s just a great feeling. I hope that feeling never leaves me, and I don’t plan on it leaving.
D&DH: Being a football player and a hunter, it has to be tough to manage your time in the fall. How did you balance school, football and hunting while you were at Wisconsin?
For me, I’m a guy who just loves to be in a routine. So, during the week, when we have practices and everything, I basically have a set schedule. Whenever you have homework, you’re taking care of that when you get done with practice. I would try not to put off my homework, so that when I got a day off — last year, our day off was Sunday — I always tried to do everything I could to not have any homework or any responsibilities on that Sunday so I could get out to the woods. I’d try to sneak out on a morning a couple of times. I wasn’t always able to. I knew when my time off was going to be, and I would try to work as hard as I could during the other times so I would be able to keep those free and enjoy getting out to the woods.
D&DH: Were your teammates and coaches supportive of your hunting?
Yeah. Being at Wisconsin, there are a lot of Wisconsin kids and a lot of other kids who hunt as well. I’ve actually taken a couple of my teammates out. I have one teammate who’s from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I took him out I think two years ago here. He took hunter’s safety and everything. He loved archery too. He was able to shoot his first doe. Another teammate is from Chicago. I took him out last year. With the mentor program they’ve got in Wisconsin, he was able to shoot a nice buck. There are a whole bunch of other guys that want me to take them trap and skeet shooting. A lot of guys who have never experienced it are interested in it, and I have a good time taking them out and introducing them to it just because I know how much it means to me. I think they’ve definitely been supportive, almost more than supportive. They’ve almost wanted to join in.
D&DH: You had a pretty great year with Russell Wilson at quarterback in 2011. I think you had eight touchdowns that year. What was it like playing with him?
Russell is just a great player. He’s a great person off the field. He’s everything you want at quarterback for your program. Working with him was phenomenal. You got to see the work ethic and the drive that he has. That’s why he’s successful and where he is now. I think a lot of people at Wisconsin knew he was going to be a good quarterback in the NFL. A lot of guys kind of rode him down right away. His work ethic is unbelievable. You can learn a lot from him about life in general and how to handle your business and become successful. It was definitely an honor to play with him for a year, and hopefully one day I can play alongside him again.
D&DH: So you weren’t as surprised as some others at his NFL success?
No, I wasn’t at all. When I saw him get drafted by Seattle and got to see the other quarterbacks he was going to be competing with, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he was going to win that starting job.
D&DH: You finished your college career with the most touchdown receptions ever by a Wisconsin tight end, a school known for producing NFL tight ends. What did it mean for you to reach that mark?
Honestly, I keep hearing about it, but I didn’t even know I did it. Honestly, I’m really honored to be able to do that. My time here at Wisconsin, I’ve got to learn from a lot of great tight ends. They’ve taught me so much about how to play the game and how to do things right. I have to give a lot of credit to them. I came in probably one of the most raw tight ends. I had to change everything about my technique, everything about my style of play. A lot of those guys, like Garrett Graham (of the Houston Texans) and Lance Kendricks (of the St. Louis Rams), I watched a lot of film on them and Owen Daniels (of the Baltimore Ravens) and Travis Beckum (of the Seattle Seahawks). Those guys taught me so much about how to be successful in college that I owe that record to them especially.
D&DH: Is there some pressure to carry on that Badger tight end tradition in the NFL?
Yeah, I think so. Those guys have all gone on to have very successful careers in the NFL. If you look back through the years, there’s almost been a tight end every going to the NFL from Wisconsin. If I’d be able to go in and even have some of the success that those guys have had, I’d feel like I would have had a successful career.
To read more interviews with high-profile deer hunters who support our time-honored tradition, read the “I’m a Deer Hunter” column in each Deer & Deer Hunting issue.