The Greatest Living Hunter
Aug 29, 2018 01:34PM
You’re an outdoor person. You hunt. You fish. You hike or camp. And you dream. You imagine an African safari, a guided Alaskan hunt, a record book bear. And you dream. You’ve read the magazines—Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Petersen’s Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, New York Outdoor News. And you dream. You’ve heard about, maybe even read about, Teddy Roosevelt’s African safari, or his hunt for a grizzly bear. You remember those Hemingway stories—The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. And you dream. You recall Robert Rouark’s Horn of the Hunter, the tops in outdoor writing. And, still, you dream. And wonder. Can those things be done by the average Joe? Well, in the late 1960s, a kid from Troy High School had those same dreams. He always believed that one day he would be Hemingway, or some version thereof. Guess what? That kid is Bob Foulkrod and he is a world-famous hunter. Getting there took drive, determination, and a large dose of belief in the possibility of making a dream come true, but Bob Foulkrod is living his dream, the outdoorsman’s dream.
In the early 1970s, when Bob was barely out of high school, he opened a deer camp on Armenia Mountain on land that snuggled up to the Tioga State Forest. It was a modest start. He lived in a small cottage and bedded the hunters on army surplus cots above his garage. They ate downstairs. His mom prepared the meals and saved money by buying food on sale.
“Three week deer camp, buy three turkeys on sale, and so on,” he recalls. He worked nights while he tended his hunters. His competitive prowess in archery shoots led to his beginning an archery camp. To this day, he holds the professional archery finger release record score, a score he shot in New England. (Most bow hunters now use a trigger release and a compound bow. The finger release is done with fingers rather than a trigger release—much more difficult to maintain accuracy. Think Robin Hood with a bare bow. It ain’t easy.) He shot the first 440 target score at a shoot in New England and, while competing, he held several state and national archery titles.
Bob’s tournament success with bow and arrow led him to the establishment of an outfitter business. His first venture was a bear camp in Ontario, which he operated for several years. He then became the U.S. marketing manager for a caribou camp on the Delay River in Quebec. With some degree of pride he notes, “We had the first archery-only caribou operation. We allowed no rifles in camp.” He moved to his own caribou camp on the Leaf River above the 57th parallel. It was true wilderness north of the timber line.
“What a grand experience,” Bob says. “This was land that was totally untouched. Wolves came up to us like they were German shepherds because they’d never seen a human. We were catching world-class brook trout in the seven- to eight- pound range. We were told that no Atlantic salmon were in the Leaf, but on my very first cast I caught a huge salmon. The Inuit natives were shocked; I just smiled.”
Asked how he survived financially, he says, “I was lucky. I had a set schedule. I’d leave the first of May to run the bear camp. July and August, I ran the bow school back home. Then, I’d leave the middle of August for the caribou camp and stay until the last week of September; then back home for four weeks of deer camp on Armenia Mountain. In November and December, I was a guest on television shows with all the big sporting names. January, February, and March I did sport show seminars—the SHOT Show [organized by the National Shooting Sports Foundation], the NRA Great American Outdoors Show in Harrisburg, several Reed exposition shows, National Wild Turkey Federation conventions, SCI [Safari Club International], and others. Then I came home to guide hunters for spring gobbler.” Bob gives a wry grin and asks, “Sound kinda busy? It was. It was too much. I began to weed out. I had become too busy with TV and writing. I let go of the bear camp and sold the caribou camp. I wanted to end the deer camp, but I had clients who had come for twenty years, guys who had seen me through the lean years. I was able to cut the deer camp to one week. After twenty years of the bow school, I let it go. Besides, I started to have shoulder problems. I couldn’t draw the bow string, and I had to switch to rifles. “Browning Arms, along with the SCI, allowed me set up my Obsession Quest,” he continues. “The SCI has a North American Fifty-Five, a list of big game animals that they keep records on, like the bison, the polar bear, grizzly bear, brown bear, black bear, Kodiak bear, Dall sheep, mountain sheep, pronghorn, seven species of deer, etc. I came up with the name Obsession Quest to help market my show.
“At the same time, I started as the first professional for Bass Pro Shops with Walter Parrot, a renowned turkey hunter. [Sporting companies like Bass, Cabela’s, Remington, Leupold, etc. pay well-known hunters, outdoor writers, etc. to use that professional’s name, i.e. “Bob Foulkrod always gears up or hunts with Bass Pro.” Being the first says something about just how highly he was regarded.] Working on the North American quest, I convinced SCI to allow me to add the Africa Seven to my quest list. That led me to Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe in search of a lion, caped buffalo crocodile, hippo, leopard, etc. The quest took me five years. I spent 275 to 300 days per year away on hunts. At home, I was spending every day ling for hunting permits and setting up hunts. That quest opened the doors for the Winchester Legends TV show. So I was busy again.”
Asked how his wife put up with his time away, he grins. “Sheila? She’s pretty independent herself. She’s a doctor with a practice.” That, however, does not preclude her from appreciating her husband’s presence. She perched on his lap a couple of times during Bob’s conversation with a visitor, and was clearly glad he was home.
Bob reflects that his Obsession Quest allowed him to put life in perspective. “One day, I was flying to the Yukon for a moose hunt. I had two small plane jumps and two major airlines to connect. I was running through the airport, seeming out of control, working up a sweat. I stopped and sat down. I pulled out my handkerchief and wiped my brow. I didn’t move for fifteen minutes. Then and there, I realized that there are some things you can’t control. at was the last time I ran through an airport. It gave me a new perspective.
“That’s why I like sheep hunting—the perspective,” he continues. “It’s like a microcosm of life. You’re at altitude.The breathing’s hard. The sheep you spot may be a mile away and you have to climb three miles to get within range. It gets dark and you bivouac on a rock. In the morning you ache. You don’t want to put those boots on because you know it will hurt. You don’t want to leave the tent because you know it’s cold and windy outside. But you do, and that’s what life’s about. Prepare the best you can. Control what you can. Don’t sweat what you can’t control, keep pushing, don’t ever give up and quit.”
Bob has hunted on seven continents and in numerous countries, including Russia, New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina. He’s hunted in every Canadian province. He is several years beyond eligibility for Social Security but he looks like he’s a forty-year-old in the prime of life.
“I stay in shape,” he acknowledges. “When I have a hunt coming up, I start out walking a four-mile course over, up, and down rolling terrain. Then I start adding weights until I can cover the course carrying fifty pounds without sweating. I’ve been called the most prepared hunter in the industry. I try to make sure there are no surprises. If I get a tent to use on the hunt, I practice putting it up over and over. When that bush plane drops you off in the middle of near-Arctic conditions in the rain, and it’s getting dark, you don’t have time to read directions. When that animal charges, you better have practiced quick reloads.”
He points down the hill and continues, “I’ve got a target down there that activates after the first shot. I was going to hunt with a large caliber single shot rifle. I set that target up to race towards me at fifty miles an hour. The first time I tried it—by the time I reloaded and aimed, the target hit the end of my barrel. I thought to myself, ‘I better practice reloading faster.’ Eventually, with practice, I was able to reload and shoot twice.”
Bob’s online presence includes photos of his worldwide hunts as well as streaming videos. People, mostly fans of his television show, Bob Foulkrod Hunting Adventures, occasionally copy photos and post them elsewhere. A photo of his trophy African lion reached some non-hunters. Over 1.5 million people saw it, and not all of the resulting comments were positive. Bob contacted one woman who had been critical, and relates that she was willing to listen and understand the hunters’ conservation efforts.
“Poaching is the real problem, not hunting through conservation,” he says. “We all want the same goal: Knowing that the African lion will still be here fifty years from now. For my hunting friends—we tracked this lion down and he charged me at ten yards. I was lucky to stop him.” Of his interaction with the disapproving lady, he says, “She was willing to listen—willing to learn. Common sense conservation turned her completely around.”
Bob went on to discuss the political situation in Zimbabwe, where he hunted for lion. Robert Mugabe, an African Nationalist, ruled Zimbabwe for thirty-seven years as prime minister and then president. He was noted for saying, “The only white man you can trust is a dead white man. We must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man!” Eventually, he encouraged the violent seizure of white-owned land and the white farmers were driven out. The natives suffered through years of famine and drastic economic decline. In addition to the lion meat, Bob gave the meat of every animal he harvested to the villagers. There are photos of him passing out rice to children—forty-pound bags. Perhaps the biggest treat for the kids was the gift of hundreds of soccer balls.
“I bought every soccer ball that Bass Pro had,” he says, softly. “Then I had to deflate them to be able to get them on the plane. Once in the village, I had to show the kids how to inflate them. While they worked with the air pump, I passed out the rice. After every kill, I went back to the kids with meat.”
Bob is a kind, gentle, and unassuming man. Getting him to talk about his exploits in the wilds—the trophy animals, the record fish—getting him to list his honors is like trying to pry open the clamped snout of a twelve-foot gator. Pressed, he smiles and quietly admits, “If you can get a permit or a tag for it, I’ve hunted it, successfully, maybe two or three times.”
He is a bit more forthcoming about his grandchildren’s exploits when a visitor comments on a long, wide wooden beam covered with “smallish” deer racks (small in comparison to Bob’s as his hunting mementoes are all true trophies.)
“They’re deer my grandkids took,” he says “with me and with a bow, of course,” adds proud grandpa.
On several television personality websites and on SCI, Bob is characterized as America’s greatest living hunter. The only smile of satisfaction he shows is when talking about other outdoor legends he has met—men such as Grits Gresham, Leonard Lee Rue, Chuck Yeager, and Clair Connelly of Outdoor Life.
“When they point me out to others, I’ve overheard several of them say, ‘He’s the real deal.’ That means a lot,” he acknowledges. It takes an Internet search to learn that he has been inducted into the National Bowhunter Hall of Fame, the International Bowhunter Hall of Fame, and has earned the Ishi Achievement Award of Outstanding Achievement in Bowhunting. He has been inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame. Bob has been honored with the Red Head Excellence in the Outdoors achievement award. SCI has added more honors to the list of Foulkrod accolades.
He is a man who is comfortable in his own skin, at peace with where he came from and with where he’s been. He still lives just a few miles from Troy, on Armenia Mountain. He still jokes with his high school classmates, now, like himself, seasoned seniors. A pair of high school buddies chuckle, “You know, he always said he was going to just hunt and fish and think about getting a job when he got old. By God, he’s done it.”
Bob laughs in mock denial. “Lies! It’s all lies! They tell stories. Don’t believe a thing those guys tell you about me.” Then he makes himself comfortable at the desk in the Armenia Township building, where he has put on his township supervisor hat and is waiting on a bid for a truck the township needs. Bob Foulkrod is a world-famous hunter and television star who has met all the legends of his peer group, who has become a legend himself. But to lifelong friends and neighbors, he’s still just Bob, the kid from Troy who followed his dreams.