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The Hunter's Hunter heading

By Michael Byrne - January, 2014

For Rick Kiely, archery hunting for white tail is more than a hobby or an obsession; it is a way of life that has profound meaning and deep seeded roots into a story that began with childhood awe and curiosity and embodies a man that lives for the hunt 365 days a year.

My first experience meeting Rick was through the online Facebook forum, Long Island Deer Hunting. Like many of the other group members, I was impressed by his depth of knowledge, consistent ability to take big deer and his ever present excitement and encouragement for other hunters. Rick exemplifies all of the traits that a hunter should possess: honesty, Integrity, humility, respect and patience. I had numerous conversations with Rick about deer hunting and without ever having met him, I could tell he was the kind of guy who would be willing to give the shirt off his back to help a complete stranger.

I had originally planned to simply interview him for this story, but at his suggestion, Rick instead invited me to join him in the midst of a brisk January cold front, and spend some time in the woods looking for sheds together.  Before I knocked on the door of Rick’s Ridge home, I could clearly see that deer hunting runs through his veins. While most Long Island homes are adorned with finely manicured hedges and mulched flowerbeds, Rick’s yard was decorated with deer skulls that hung from back yard gates and various antler sheds scattered throughout the flower beds.

He greeted me at the door with a warm welcome and the kind of firm handshake one would expect of an old friend. Although we had never met in person, I felt as if we had known each other for a lifetime. I suppose you could say it’s an unspoken bond and a sense of brother hood that is shared by many hunters.

rick with mounts

I stepped through the doorway, watching the stoop for any obstacles as one does when entering a house for the first time and when I lifted my head for the initial glimpse of the inside of Rick’s home, I was awe struck. The walls were consumed by monster buck mounts that would make even the most seasoned deer hunter green with envy. I proceeded to wander about the house taking it all in; each mount was seemingly larger than the next! I have deer hunted for a number of years and had my share of success, but felt like a mouse among men in his trophy room.  Rick explained that he has taken 12 impressive Pope and Young bucks during his many years of hunting; his largest that grossed 173 with a 163 net. He also showed me his favorite mount, a massive 8 pointer which grossed 163 and netted 150-1/2.  I‘m sure I could have stood there for hours as Rick replayed the stories of each of those trophy hunts, but we had planned to do some shed hunting and quickly got to the business of getting to the woods. 

Rick with biggest buckAs we departed, Rick started to explain his philosophy for a successful season. Simply stated, his upcoming bow hunting season begins the same day the previous season ends. He believes that in order to be successful; he needs to spend countless hours in the woods in search of signs that will lead him to trophy whitetails the following season. Rick also spends a lot of time cultivating relationships with private land owners and hones his skills by shooting archery during the off season at Thrill of the Hunt Indoor 3D Archery in Calverton, as well as The Archery Forum in Medford.

Joining us for the day was Sage, Rick’s six year old daughter, who was excited to seek out a trophy shed of her own. Sage often joins Rick in the field and is interested in learning the art of hunting whitetail deer from her father.

We made it to the first location and the shed hunt was on. I had never hunted for sheds before, so I was keen on following Rick’s lead. He explained to me what I was looking for and where I should be searching. Rick has a knack for seeing what the untrained eye does not. I observed him as he studied his surroundings and searched for clues that would lead him to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

rick with sageI use the term “Pot of Gold” subjectively. For each of us, it has different meaning. For Rick, his pot of gold was the special memory he was creating with his daughter that day. It was quite apparent; the time spent with Sage was more precious and meaningful than any shed, rub or run trail that we were searching for. As we made our way through the brush, I would fall behind and catch intimate glimpses of Rick and Sage sharing a special moment as they walked through the woods hand in hand. As a father myself, I can understand what drives him to do what he does. He is intent on passing his legacy to his daughter and sharing the knowledge of the woods that was taught to him many years ago by his mentors, when he was a young kid. It is clear to see, Rick is a man compelled to pay it forward! We searched the woods for a few hours, encountered many deer and turkey, but decided to head back to his house to delve into the back story on what makes Rick the passionate outdoorsman he is today.

We settled into the living room alongside a warm hearth and I felt very much at ease and welcome in his home. Rick explained that his introduction to hunting came via his childhood neighbors, Bob Seimasko and Doug Kampher. At the young age of 13, Rick would see them return from their hunting trips upstate and was enthralled with the deer that they had harvested. Little did he know, at that time, the seed had been planted and nurtured with boyhood curiosity and wonder. Bob and Doug recognized Rick’s ambition and taught him the way of the woods, how to shoot a bow and how to safely master the climbing tree stand.Rick and bob They even went as far as buying Rick his first bow – a PSE Pulsar Express.  They would take Rick for hunting trips upstate and continued to mentor him on the proper and ethical way to hunt. In 1987, at the age of 16, Rick killed his first deer upstate with a bow. It was a 4 point buck; a small deer by comparison to what he kills now, but a trophy none-the-less. Rick also attributes much of his current success to two seasoned hunters – Rich Jensen and Lou Lipira, a couple of old school masters and big buck hunters.

Rick killed his first deer on Long Island in 1988. It was a doe that he had harvested in Middle Island. This hunt had special meaning for him because it was the first deer he had taken on his own. He did not have his driver’s license yet, so he rode his bike to his hunting spot and when he arrowed the doe, he had to field dress it and drag it out of the woods alone. No small task for a young kid. To make matters more challenging, he had to drag the deer about a mile home on the side of the road.

Rick continued to hunt with Bob and Doug until about 1995. At around the age of 25, he began to spend more time hunting with Richard, his father. These hunting trips with his father strengthened their relationship and solidified a bond that drew them closer together. Rick continued to hunt with him for the next 15 years and shared many great memories.

John with DoeAs we recollected, he was reminded of a particular story about the time his father helped out a man by the name of John Hoffman, a family friend and fellow deer hunter. In the Spring of 2010, Richard found out that John’s son Shane was diagnosed with Leukemia. He recognized that John needed help and encouragement with deer hunting, as well as a well needed distraction from his son’s illness, so he bought John a brand new Summit tree stand, safety harness and hunting clothes.  John was a novice hunter at the time and needed someone to mentor him, so Richard put Rick up to the task of taking John hunting and showing him the ropes. That season John killed his first deer – a doe. Rick’s father tragically died of cancer in December of that same year.  While visibly fighting back his emotions, Rick explained that when he hunts now, he feels a strong spiritual bond with his father. The woods have a tremendous way of healing emotional wounds and connecting us to the ones who have walked them before us. Rick often visits his father’s favorite tree stand to reminisce. He continues to lead by the example set forth by Bob, Doug and his father. He has mentored many less seasoned hunters on Long Island by offering his knowledge and experience or by simply lending a sympathetic ear.

As the conversation progressed, Rick re-called a particular experience he had in 2011 during a hunting trip on the east end. He was set up in a spot that he had permission to hunt and had scouted for some time. He had arrived early in the morning, was all set in stand for the day’s hunt and saw a flash light coming down the trail. It was another hunter who had permission to hunt the same property. Rather than give away his location, Rick sat silent and watched as this other hunter proceeded to ascend his climber not more than 25 yards from him. At around 7:30 am, the 8 pointer Rick had been scouting came meandering down the trail and walked under his stand. In true sportsmanship fashion, he passed on the buck and allowed the other hunter to take the deer. Rick was content to watch the hunter take the buck. He explained that he was happy to experience watching the hunt unfold and share in silence of the other hunter’s success. His unselfish attitude is a clear picture to the kind of gentleman hunter Rick is. Incidentally, the other hunter never knew Rick had been near by watching the whole hunt transpire.

rick with big doeRick’s best hunt of 2013 was not a buck, but an old 8-1/2 year old cunning doe that he was dead set on conquering. She had eluded him on a number of hunts, but with patience and persistence, he would emerge victorious in the end. He explained, out smarting her in her own element was what made it special. It was not about the kill… it was about the “hunt!” His most memorable hunt of 2013 was when he harvested a nice 7 point buck and was able to share the experience with his daughter Sage.

I asked Rick what he thought was the most challenging thing that plagues Long Island deer hunters today. He told me the question was a tough one, but the answer managed to find it’s way to the surface. He explained that there is a lot of fighting, distrust and jealousy among Long Island deer hunters, which can give way to bashing and ridicule. The lack of cohesiveness has a terrible way of dividing rather than uniting. He also said, there are not enough seasoned hunters mentoring less experienced ones. He says he has lost a lot of friends because of his deer hunting success due to jealousy, but on the other side of the same token, he has gained a tremendous amount of close personal friendships through deer hunting. Rick says hunting has taught him a lot about who his true friends really are. I suppose it’s like the old saying goes, “acquaintances will come and go, but true friendships will last a lifetime.”

Rick is truly a hunter’s hunter, as is evident by the way he conducts himself both in and out of the woods.  To sum up Rick’s character in a simple phrase, I quote the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin - “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn.”

   
     
     
     

 

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