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Pierce puts a harness on his hunting passion

5/13/2006

Ron Pierce has long been one of the top drivers in harness racing.

In 1999, he won the Pacing Triple Crown with Blissfull Hall. Six years earlier, he nearly claimed the Trotting Triple Crown with American Winner, who won the first two jewels — the Hambletonian and Yonkers Trot — but came up short in the Kentucky Futurity.

Pierce has won more than 4,700 races and $77.5 million during his career.

Moreover, Pierce, 47, has been an outdoorsman most of his life. A native of Livermore, Calif., his roots in hunting and fishing can be traced back to family ties, and necessity.

"I think it comes from my mother's side of the family," said Pierce, who now resides in Clarksburg, N.J.

"My grandmother was Blackfoot Indian from the Oklahoma territories. It's just kind of in my blood. And I grew up in a poor family.

"Whatever my brother, Keith, and I could bring home, as far as meat goes, was appreciated. We had five younger brothers and sisters to look after. My mom would make her own bread and butter, and we had our own garden.

"For me growing up, (hunting) was important so everyone could have dinner."

Pierce still brings home dinner, but now it's out of enjoyment, not need. His sons, Jesse, 9, and Keith, 8, are getting more involved in the outdoors. His wife, Lulu, doesn't share in their enthusiasm, however.

"It's not hard to get out of bed to go hunting," Pierce said. "I'm up before my alarm clock goes off. It's my R & R to get out and relax and watch the animals. The outdoors offers so much, so much to see. A lot of people don't realize it. It's just so relaxing."

Pierce recently agreed to an interview, which formed the latest entry in the ESPNOutdoors.com "Athletes in the Outdoors" Q&A series.


ESPNOutdoors.com: "You're on the road quite a bit, in both the U.S. and Canada, and there are times when you're racing both day and night. How does that affect your ability to get into the woods?"

Ron Pierce: "I've been so busy on the road that I haven't hunted in New Jersey once this year. I was in Lexington (Ky.) for three weeks and I hunted almost every day out there. I'll hunt mornings, which is a beautiful time to hunt, or evenings. It depends on my schedule."

EO: "What type of hunting do you prefer?"

RP: "I love bow hunting. I remember when I was around 4 years old making a bow and arrow out of a stick and string. I'd say 80 percent of my hunting is bow and arrow, and that's for anything I'm hunting. I like the challenge.

"You have to get within range and downwind of whatever you're hunting. There's usually a lot of branches and leaves between you and whatever you're hunting. To thread an arrow through all that
foliage isn't easy, especially with turkeys because they're lower to the ground."

EO: "Is there any type of hunting that doesn't interest you?"

RP: "There are quite a few animals I have no desire to shoot, like elephant or hippopotamus. If I'm not going to eat it, I have no desire to shoot anything I'm not going to use. I'm not going to shoot something just to put it on my wall. I definitely want to make use of it."

EO: "What are your favorite things to eat?"

RP: "Probably cottontail rabbit. There's a breed of deer on the eastern shore of Maryland, the sika deer, that's very tasty. Not too many people know about them. It's actually a member of the elk family, but looks like a deer. Their meat is so much more tender and tastier than a whitetail deer. They're little, but very meaty.

"When I was young, we found that rattlesnake was good to eat. There's a strip of meat going down the vertebrae that's very tasty. They're easy to clean and you just fry them up like chicken."

EO: "Where has been your favorite place to hunt?"

RP: "That's a tough one; I've been to so many great areas. I would say the best hunt I ever had was in Hawaii, the island of Kauai. The climate is absolutely perfect.

"There's no poisonous snakes or insects and the game is very plentiful — whitetail deer, wild pig, pheasant, dove, wild chickens, wild goats, it just goes on and on.

"I went there for two weeks and stayed five, and still didn't want to come home. That was probably my favorite, but I've hunted one end of this country to the other, and parts of Canada, and I've enjoyed it all."

EO: "Where would you like to hunt that you haven't, yet?"

RP: "I haven't done an Alaska trip, yet. It's America's last frontier. When you get off the beaten path up there, you're really off the beaten path.

"Time is a factor because most of our (racing) stakes season coincides with most of the good hunting dates out there. I'll make it; it's just a matter of time. Now, I'm limited to two or three days here or there. I'm going to go out and do it right.

"I'd also like to go after the Rocky Mountain bighorn while I'm still in shape to get up those mountains."

EO: "You also do a lot of fishing. What kind of fishing do you enjoy?"

RP: "We do all kinds. I have a boat for freshwater, and we'll fish for trout, large and smallmouth bass, shad.

"I have an offshore boat that we can use for fluke, striped bass, sea bass, porgies, flounder. If tuna are in, we can fish for them, or mako shark.

"In New Jersey, they do a great job managing the fisheries. Up and down the East Coast, really. Whenever I go sharking or tuna fishing, I take a buddy who wants to catch one. I'll drive the boat and let them fish.

"I don't really care to be on the end of the pole when you've got a 200- to 500-pound shark out there. I go out to relax; you take a pretty good beating on that. I've caught my share of them. People don't know what they're in for. They realize halfway into the fight that those fish can kick your butt.

"What I really enjoy is fishing for little trout, like five to eight inches, in a small brook. You've got to sneak up on them and present the bait just right."

EO: "Does hunting help you on the racetrack in any way?"

RP: "It keeps me in shape. It definitely keeps my muscles toned and helps my sense of balance. It helps me relax, which in turn helps me focus."

EO: "What do you tell people who might not look upon hunting in the most favorable way?"

RP: "I just try to explain to them that hunters are not just out there to kill; they're out there to help fish-and-game people balance the wildlife and keep numbers in check.

"There are so few natural predators these days; there's no wolves or mountain lions or coyotes in this part of the country. So these animals would multiply to the point where they would die of disease or starvation.

"In New Jersey, there are too many deer and not enough hunters. You could look at us more as game managers rather than hunters. In effect, that's kind of what we do.

"And I don't go out just to kill something. Last year, I probably let 40 bucks go by. I'll let the deer walk by 99 out of 100 times just to watch them. I've shot enough deer where I don't need to shoot them to prove something. I only do it for the meat.

"It's not about killing, it's about getting out and enjoying what God gave us."