Honoring A Deer Hunting Icon

Posted on January 9, 2018


Honoring A Deer Hunting Icon

Charles J. Alsheimer

5/1/1947 ~ 12/30/2017

“I am still convinced we need heroes. The imperfections of humanity notwithstanding, our hearts hunger to be stimulated by examples of great character being modeled in everyday life. We are fortified by exemplary lives, especially those who have earned the right to be respected by their character.” – Charles R. Swindoll



In January 2000, Deer & Deer Hunting conducted a poll of its readership to determine the most inspirational whitetail deer hunting personality of the last century. Charles Alsheimer, the son of a potato farmer living in rural New York, finished third behind only legendary pioneer archer, Fred Bear and conservationist, Aldo Leopold. Not bad company for a guy who one day decided to leave the security of corporate America to chase a fragile, yet passionate dream of making a living in the outdoor field.

Although Charlie would not have considered himself a hero, being far too unpretentious for such accolades, the achievements he has made throughout his nearly 40-year career say otherwise. The underpinnings of this man’s credibility to an audience of devoted deer hunting followers lies in a Winston Churchill quote he used in introducing a 1995 article entitled, The Journey: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”



And give he did. One night, as Charlie and I traveled along a dark highway returning from a speaking engagement, I asked him, “Why are you providing so much help in shaping my career if one day I could be competing with your own?” The response my friend gave was humbling: “You’re an investment.” He then went on to say, “The worth of a life is to invest in something that will outlive you.”

I could not fully grasp that statement from more than twenty years ago, but today, as I sit and type with a heavy heart and tear stained face, it now makes perfect sense.



In the past four decades, Charlie generously shared with eager audiences his incredible whitetail imagery, insight to the animal’s secretive world, behavioral characteristics from first hand observations and hunting solutions that meet the demands of a hunting community ever-thirsty for insight. This information was provided with surprising candor and at times, became controversial. Nevertheless, even at the risk of alienating himself from those with whom his discoveries differed, he felt personally responsible to report his findings in a clear and concise manner using terminology that was readily understood by hunters thirsting for such knowledge.



Through countless hours, rolls of film, memory cards, sweat, toil, sacrifice and personal inquisitiveness, Charlie provided deer hunters across the country with a greater understanding of the animal they pursue, precluding them from the investment of time and energy to gain that insight. His thirst for answers to mysteries surrounding the whitetail remained unquenched, “I still love to hunt, but during the past ten years my focus has changed from the hunt and the kill to understanding the whitetail’s many mysteries. This quest for knowledge has taken me down many side roads and, for the most part, all have been fascinating. Some have turned out to be dead ends, and some just faded into the forest.”

Let’s now travel back in time with this unique individual and find out what key elements helped shape his career and positioned him as a deer-hunting icon.


The White-tailed Deer



For Charlie Alsheimer, the whitetail was much more than just an animal. Although he had advanced as quite an accomplished hunter by taking bucks of immense proportion throughout North America, his insight into deer behavior gained far more attention than his hunting prowess. This, quite frankly, speaks volumes about his selfless attitude and enormous desire to share all that he has been fortunate enough to witness in the field. “My desire to know everything about whitetails became far more important than hunting tactics. The more I learned, the more I kept coming back to one thought: The white-tailed deer is far more than an animal made of skin, bones and antlers.”


When you begin to amass the number of hours, days, weeks and decades that this man dedicated to the whitetail, it becomes obvious that he was passionate about the animal. With well over one million photos of deer under his belt, including images taken through a variety of situations and conditions, Charlie had the ability to capture this incredible animal in ways unequaled by his peers. I can still remember him saying when I questioned him about why with already having so many snow images of deer was he photographing throughout an entire bitter cold, snow-filled day, “Someone is out there in this snow, wind, and cold getting images, you can’t rest on yesterday’s shots.”



Charlie best summed up the importance of this animal to his life when he wrote, “I would hate to think what my life would be like without white-tailed deer. Deer introduced me to nature. When I was a boy, my love for whitetails was fueled by the graceful figure of a mature buck running across a plowed field on our farm. That image has kept me heading back to the woods for more than 45 years.”


The Hunter



Much has changed from the early days when as a 17-year-old lad Charlie purchased his first real deer weapon, a .16-gauge Ithaca Deer Slayer. Ten minutes into New York’s shotgun opener Charlie shot a seven-pointer that tied for the heaviest buck in the local deer contest that year. “Overnight I thought I was a deer expert.” But as Charlie was to learn the hard way, whitetails seldom come that easily.

Although he aggressively pursued whitetails on the family farm in western New York for more than a decade, absorbing many lessons from each hunt and conquest, the quality of the deer available for him to hunt became unsatisfactory. In Charlie’s mind there were two options, take suitcase hunts to far off locations where bigger deer exist (a solution that he indeed exercised by hunting in Texas, Alabama, Idaho, Wisconsin and Saskatchewan to name a few), or create an environment that would eventually produce whitetails of age and quality on his 200-acre farm. In typical Alsheimer fashion, employing his ingenuity, he rolled up his sleeves and began building a whitetail utopia for the animals residing on his spread. Taking his direction from pioneer quality deer managers Al Brothers and Murphy Ray, Charlie cut trees, planted food plots, established sanctuaries and set up rigid harvest requirements for himself while he patiently waited for the payoff.



Today, in large part because of his exhaustive effort, Charlie routinely harvested mature, trophy class bucks off his property where once only spikes and fork horns were available. Throughout this process he willingly shared these methods with an eager audience of food-plot farmers, which culminated in his book, Quality Deer Management, where he wrote, “The days of dreaming about hunting quality bucks on our New York farm are over. In the past decade, our area has gone from the ‘land of yearlings’ to the ‘land of possibilities.’”





Loyalty is a trait that is all but vanished today, but certainly defines the measure of this man. Deer & Deer Hunting gave Charlie his first true break in the industry and in his own words he stated, “I’ll forever be indebted to the magazine’s founders, Jack Brauer and Al Hofacker for investing in a farm boy from rural New York.”

















His resolve was to be tested when a competing magazine offered him a position as their whitetail columnist, a very lucrative deal that would have provided more money, exposure and TV time. At that time, according to Nikon Charlie was, “The hottest outdoor photographer in the field today.” Most people would have immediately jumped at such an opportunity, but Charlie Alsheimer was not like most people. After mulling it over for a few days, Charlie declined the offer. The reasoning behind his bold decision? “My heart and loyalty has been with Deer & Deer Hunting for 20 years. They gave me my first big break and I couldn’t turn my back on them and walk away. I learned long before this event that life is far more than dollars and cents.”


Family Ties



As passionate as Charlie was about the white-tailed deer, this devotion pales in comparison to the real priorities he exemplified in his personal life. “When I’m perched in a tree stand, I think about what matters most in my life. Needless to say, the white-tailed deer isn’t even close to the top of the list.” These intrinsic values have formed and defined his character and integrity and provide the necessary credibility to keep his vast audience coming back and thirsting for more.



Charlie was careful to credit his success to his Creator and Savior for allowing him to be one of the few who has been able to make a career of hunting, photographing and writing about whitetails. “My journey has been a trip scripted in Heaven and I thank God every day for not only allowing me to experience it but also for being my Guide.”


(Christmas 2017)

Second only to his faith in importance, was his family. He was married for 45 blissful years to his wife Carla, whom Charlie called ‘the greatest.’ She is the person he considerd to be his best friend. I asked Aaron, their son – who really needs no introduction to anyone that has faithfully followed Charlie’s career – how being the son of Charlie Alsheimer impacted his life. “My dad’s influence on me goes far beyond the times we have shared together in the outdoors. He is my best friend and my most important role model. He has always made time for me, no matter how busy he was with his work. Because of his commitment to be a father first and an outdoor writer/photographer second, he has had a positive impact on virtually every aspect of my life.”

Third was his friendships. In the course of his career, one of high visibility and notoriety Charlie met lots of people, many of who he called friend. From within that vast storehouse of friends is where some of his closet relationships came. There was never any doubt about his generosity when it came to the way that he genuinely poured into the relationship, relishing the intimacy that association brought and valuing each interaction. Charlie was indeed a loyal friend!


The Impact



“The worth of a life is to invest it in something that will outlast it.” More than any other outdoors personality in the modern era, Charlie Alsheimer has consistently demonstrated that investment into each of his readers’ lives. Hunters have benefited from his moon/rut research; naturalists from his land management; whitetail enthusiasts from his incredible images; and the magazines he wrote for, primarily Deer & Deer Hunting as a field editor for 38 years, and Whitetail News, as contributing writer for 25 years where he was a faithful ambassador.



According to Deer & Deer Hunting editor, Dan Schmidt, “Charlie Alsheimer is truly one of a kind. He is not only an incredible whitetail hunter; he is perhaps the most enlightened deer behaviorist of our time. I believe his uncanny hunting abilities and insights into deer behavior are several rungs above any of his peers. Because he doesn’t always subscribe to scientific theories on how deer are ‘supposed’ to behave, but rather obtains those insights the hard way: By working with deer on a daily basis and has done so for more than three decades. He is not just a hunter, he’s not just a deer watcher and he’s not just a deer photographer. Charlie Alsheimer is the complete package.”



Steve Scott, VP of Whitetail Institute added this,
“There are so many things to say about Charlie, where do I begin. It was an HONOR to call him a friend. He was a mentor. He was a class act in every way. He was a Patriot who loved our country. He was a legend in the hunting industry. He was a huge asset to the Whitetail Institute as well as the entire hunting industry, and the world in general. His writing and photography skills were phenomenal. I could go on and on.
With all of his accomplishments and the accolades he received for his achievements, of which there are many, I’ll miss him most for the MAN HE WAS. He was among the best I’ve ever known.”





The opening quote reads, “I’m still convinced we need heroes,” and in my opinion those heroes are never more needed than today. As a fitting tribute to a man who has given so much for so many years, asking nothing in return, the following words from his son Aaron aptly describe just such a hero:


(Charlie with son, Aaron with Aaron’s buck)

“Most people know my dad as a gifted photographer and a skilled deer hunter. My unique vantage point has allowed me to see him as a man of deep faith and exceptional integrity. I’m continuously impressed by his loyalty and his selflessness. I’ve also come to appreciate his wisdom; he’s offered me some great advice through the years, and I’ve watched numerous people seek his guidance when they faced major decisions or adversity. – The respect others have for his opinion says a lot about the type of person he is.”




(Charlie & Carla – 45 years)


To sum up a man’s life in 2,000 words or less seems trivial and to share what has, to this writer, been a personal journey with him as a friend, mentor, teacher and coach is even more difficult. As I sift through the thousands of e-mails we shared, recall some of the nearly daily phone conversations it seems so surreal that he is no longer with us. I expect my phone to ring at any moment: ‘call from Charlie.’ It’s been difficult to come to terms with the fact that there will be no call coming, no more responses to my inquiries, no more lessons, no more critiques on my photographs or personal conversations. The road has become a bit more lonely; my circle has shrunk. I miss him terribly!


(Charlie’s final buck, killed 16 days before his passing)


Charlie, although you have departed to that home prepared for you by our Lord and Savior, your memory will live on in all you gave to so many of us. Until we meet again on the other side my friend…


(Editor’s note, unless stipulated, all images included in this tribute were taken by the late Charles J. Alsheimer and have been used exclusively for the purpose of illustrating the above. They are all copyright protected)

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Posted in: Inspirational