Chuck Adams is perhaps the greatest bowhunter of all time. That’s a bold statement but consider this. In 1990, Adams became the first archer to harvest all varieties of North American big game—a feat called the Super Slam. In August 2022, he has more than 210 Pope and Young record-book entries, more than any other hunter in history. In addition, he’s racked up six bowhunting World Records. Adams turned 71 in May 2022, and I spoke with him before he headed back to Alaska to hunt solo for Sitka blacktail deer. Here’s what he had to say.
You started bowhunting in California when you were 13. Why bowhunting?
The minimum age you could hunt big game there was 12, and both my grandfathers and dad had great hunting spots. As a young kid, I would think about hunting deer all year. Using a rifle, I got my deer down in a few days, and I thought it was a lot of anticipation for the payoff. I took up bowhunting so I could hunt more and kill less. I got my first deer with a bow at 16. It took me three years to do that, just like my hero Fred Bear.
How do you continually get out there and get it done? What’s your secret?
It’s probably genetics. My dad was packing deer on his back in his 80s. And I live a healthy lifestyle. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t eat domestic red meat—it’s all wild game. I’m out there hiking around and doing something all the time. I can tell you I still feel like I’m 30. I carried three deer back to my camp [last season] about five miles. The average Sitka deer is about 60 pounds of boneless meat.
How often do you practice shooting your bow?
I talked to a doctor about 20 years ago because my friends had shoulder issues. My doctor said that I would be better off shooting less. So that’s what I did, and I’m one of the few guys over 60 that I know who has had no shoulder problems. And I usually shoot a 75-pound bow.
I’ll usually start shooting 20-30 arrows twice a week in May. Then in July, I’ll shoot about 60 arrows each week. I always warm up with about five minutes of shoulder rolls. I also take time between shots to re-oxygenate my muscles. When I shot tournament archery, I watched people shoot too fast, and they didn’t let their muscles or minds recoup between shots.
Did you ever go on a hunt and thought you wouldn’t make it back?
I wrote about the “Death March” in one of my books about a hunt in British Columbia back in the 1970s. We had 29 horses and mules when we started, and nine of them died on the trail because of malnutrition. The hunt was set up with one of the companies I worked with, and they didn’t do their research. It started snowing, and we didn’t dare ride the horses except to cross the streams, which we did 28 times—I counted. If we all hadn’t been in good shape, I’m not sure what might have happened.
How much does luck play into hunting, bowhunting in particular?
It’s huge—sometimes. For example, I didn’t expect to kill the new World Record typical velvet Sitka deer last year, and it was the first deer I saw on the trip. Overall, though, luck is fairly small when it comes to planning. The most important thing in bowhunting is persistence. If you’re persistent enough, you will overcome anything.
Do you ever kill anything without big antlers? Do you take all that meat home?
I love the meat, and I pack it all out. I eat the heck out of wild game. In Alaska, the excess baggage fees have gotten so high that I donate some meat to the local mission there on the island. Sometimes if my bush pilot needs meat, I’ll sign it over to him. And the laws are pretty clear about wanton waste. I applied for a cow elk permit in Wyoming this year, which I’ll probably get. And one in Montana, too.
Most folks can’t say they hunt for a living. Can you say that?
No, I make a living so I can hunt. I write, do seminars, TV shows, and rep for a few companies that I like so I can go hunt. If I felt any pressure to hunt, I think I’d quit. I hunt for fun. I don’t do it to make money.
Any hunt that you would never want to do again?
Polar bear. I was 1,000 miles away from my outfitter, and it was a rodeo from start to finish. My guide said he had the best dogs, but they had supposedly run away, so he had another set of terrible dogs. They ran away from the first bear we saw. I ended up stalking that bear myself.
You wear the same faded camo and old boots in every photo I see of you. Why not upgrade to some high-tech camo?
I don’t think that all those new camo patterns work as well as merino wool and traditional stuff. I think it’s a stunt. That stuff is too expensive. You can fade a pair of black Levis and be just fine. Today, I would say there is a cult following of all those camo patterns. I laugh when guys show up at hunting camp wearing the same fancy camo.
Any plans to hang up your bow and take up golf?
I’ll hang up my bow when I can’t put one foot in front of the other. I’ve got 211 Pope and Young animals, the most of any hunter, and my buddy Frank is trying to catch me. That’s not the reason, but I am challenge-oriented. I can’t stand the thought of running a race and seeing anyone close. I hunt because I love it. The bottom line is that I enjoy bowhunting as much as I ever have. The glitter has never worn off for me.