By R.G. Bernier
It's been five years since D&DH polled its readership to determine the most inspirational deer hunting personalities of the last century. Call it home-team pride, but readers stood tall in their support of long-time field editor Charles Alsheimer. When the thousands of votes were tallied, Alsheimer, the son of a New York potato farmer, finished third, trailing only legendary bow-hunter Fred Bear and conservationist Aldo Leopold.
That's pretty good company for a guy who left a high-paying corporate job in 1979 to chase a fragile dream of making a living in the outdoors.
Alsheimer is way too humble and far too unpretentious to consider himself a hero. Whatever the case, the underpinnings of this man's credibility to an audience of devoted D&DH followers lies in the famous Winston Churchill quote, "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give."
To the delight of readers, Alsheimer has given far more than he's received during his 25-year stint as a D&DH field editor. From his incredible photography to his keen observations of deer behavior, Alsheimer has a true gift for providing evergreen insights to whitetail enthusiasts.
Through countless hours, rolls of film, and personal inquisitiveness, Alsheimer has provided deer hunters across the country with a greater understanding of the animal they pursue, precluding them the investment of time and energy to gain that insight. Perhaps most amazing is the fact he's as active at age 58 as he was 25 years ago.
"I still love to hunt, but during the past 10 years my focus has changed from the hunt and the kill to understanding the whitetail's many mysteries," he said.
What key elements helped position Alsheimer as a deer hunting icon? Many.
Deer are much more than just an animal to Alsheimer. Although he has killed many large bucks, his insights on deer behavior have gained far more attention than his hunting prowess.
"My desire to know everything about whitetails became far more important than hunting tactics," he said. "The more I learned, the more I thought, 'The whitetail is far more than an animal made of skin, bones, and antlers.'"
When one considers the hours, days, weeks and decades that this man has dedicated to the whitetail, it becomes obvious that he is passionate. Despite having taken more than 1 million photos of deer, Alsheimer continues even today to capture this incredible animal in ways unequaled by his peers.
"I would hate think what my life would be like without the whitetail," he said. "When I was a boy, my love for whitetails was fueled by the graceful figure of a mature buck running across a plowed field. That image has kept me heading back to the woods for more than 45 years."
Much has changed from the early days, when a 17-year-old worked hard and then purchased a 16-gauge shotgun. Ten minutes into New York's shotgun opener, Alsheimer shot a 7-pointer that tied for the heaviest buck in the local deer contest. "Overnight, I thought I was a deer expert," he laughed. Of course, he learned in a hurry that big whitetails seldom come that easily.
Although he aggressively pursued whitetails on the family farm in western New York, the quality of the deer available for him to hunt became unsatisfactory. In his mind, there were two options: take suitcase hunts to far-off locales where bigger deer exist (a solution that he indeed exercised), or create an environment that would eventually produce big deer on his 200-acre farm.
In typical Alsheimer fashion, he rolled up his sleeves and built a whitetail utopia. Alsheimer took his direction from pioneer quality deer managers Al Brothers and Murphy Ray, and cut trees, planted food plots, established sanctuaries and set up rigid harvest requirements while patiently waiting for the payoff.
"The days of dreaming about hunting quality bucks on our New York farm are over," he said back then. "Our area has gone from the 'land of yearlings' to the 'land of possibilities.'"
Loyalty is a trait that has all but vanished today, but it certainly defines the measure of this man. D&DH founders Jack Brauer and Al Hofacker gave Alsheimer his first true break into the industry and he is "forever indebted."
His resolve was tested when a competing magazine offered him a position as a whitetail columnist - a very lucrative deal that would have provided more money and exposure. After mulling it over for a few days, Alsheimer respectfully declined.
"My heart and loyalty has been with D&DH for 25 years," he said. "I couldn't turn my back on them and walk away."
As passionate as he is about the white-tailed deer, this devotion pales in comparison to the real priorities Alsheimer exemplifies 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."
Alsheimer is careful to credit his Creator for allowing him to be one of the few who have been able to make a career of hunting, photographing and writing. And then there's his family. Married for 32 blissful years, he calls his wife Carla "the greatest," and considers her his best friend. They have one son, Aaron, who avid D&DH readers will readily recognize as the model in many of Alsheimer's hunter set-up photos.
"My dad's influence goes far beyond the times we have shared together in the outdoors," Aaron said. "He is my best friend and my role model."
More than any other hunting personality, Alsheimer has consistently demonstrated an investment in each reader's life. Hunters have benefited from his lunar research; naturalists from his land management techniques; and whitetail enthusiasts from his photography.
"Charlie is truly one of a kind," said D&DH Editor Dan Schmidt. "His insights into deer behavior are several rungs above any of his peers. He's on top because he doesn't always subscribe to scientific theories on how deer are 'supposed' to behave. He obtained those remarkable insights the hard way: by working with deer on a daily basis for more than three decades. He is not just a great hunter; he's not just an astute deer watcher; and he's not just an award-winning photographer. Charlie Alsheimer is the total package."
His son provides a fitting tribute. "Most people know my dad as a gifted photographer and a skilled deer hunter," Aaron said. "My unique vantage point has allowed me to see him as a man of deep faith and exceptional integrity. I'm continually impressed by his loyalty and his selflessness. I've also come to appreciate his wisdom. I've watched many 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."