BLOOMINGTON, Ind. What did you do when you were 12 years old? Indiana nose tackle Russ Richardson shot a bear and a mountain lion.
With a bow and arrow.
"A lot of people in the Midwest think of hunting as sitting in treestands and shooting deer and turkey," Richardson said.
"We bowhunt big game in the mountains. You could be hunting a deer by following its tracks and a mountain lion, which kills a deer a day with its bare (paws), could be following you."
What was your biggest teen-age thrill?
Richardson went to South Africa and shot warthogs that featured 14-inch tusks on each side of their mouths. He dodged black mamba snakes that are so poisonous, "One bite and you're dead," he said.
What do you do for dinner? The Richardsons eat big game, sometimes big bear.
"Bear meat isn't like deer or elk, where it tastes really good," Richardson said. "It's greasy. You have to eat it in stew. We make tamales out of it."
What's your idea of a family vacation?
The Richardsons go to Hawaii for the fishing. They catch 330-pound halibut in Alaska. Next summer, Russ and his father will hunt bear in Saskatchewan. Black bear. Grizzly bear. The kind of animals that would snack on your average football player.
"When you hunt bear," Richardson said, "you've got to get down wind of them. If they smell you, they'll come after you. That's why you never hunt alone."
Some families have game rooms. The Richardsons have a trophy house next to their Phoenix, Ariz.-area home.
Its 1,100 square feet is filled with a taxidermist's delight. Sixteen world-class elk heads are mounted on a 15-foot wall. There's a stuffed jackal, killed in Africa, with a bird in its mouth. There are stuffed bears, zebra rugs and couches made with zebra hides.
"It's a very masculine room," Richardson said, "but a very beautiful room."
Mom appreciates it. Cindi Richardson joins her family in hunting animals that sometimes hunt them.
"I had an experience the other night," she said.
Cindi Richardson went eye to eye with a mountain lion. No weapon. No help. She was stuck in a tree for a couple of hours, waiting in the dark for the animal to leave. She finally walked half a mile to her vehicle, armed with her wits and a pair of binoculars.
"I was going to whack it with the binoculars," she said.
An accomplished hunter, Cindi Richardson is the first person to get all 10 of Arizona's big game animals bison, desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, coues deer, turkey, javelina (wild pig), antelope, elk, mountain lion and black bear with a bow.
Dad is just as tough. He's Corky Richardson, whose bowhunting expertise has landed him appearances on ESPN Outdoors and ESPN2. He has the world trophy hunting record for bison, mule deer and pronghorn antelope. He can hit a paper plate from 80 yards. But who bowhunts paper plates?
"When you shoot at something with fur, it's a little harder," Russ Richardson said. "That spot gets real small. Dad can hit it. He's one of the best hunters in the world."
Grandpa ain't bad either. George Richardson, the man who started it all, once shot an 11-foot grizzly in Alaska. He has hunted big game all over the world.
Even Richardson's sisters Amy and Amber bowhunt, although they avoid animals with claws and fangs.
Family bonding, it seems, has its limits.
Russ Richardson was raised on mountain man toughness. He was bowhunting with his father by age 3, shooting a 350-inch-class elk by age 10. By 15, he had won the first of his two Arizona Cochise awards, given to a person who has "collected" seven of 13 designated animals, with at least one big game.
"Russell always kept up with his dad," Cindi Richardson said, "and that's saying something because when my husband goes hunting, he's focused. You'd better keep up because he hardly ever looks back.
"Russell has his drive. Part of being a successful hunter is putting in the time, pushing yourself to the limit, not quitting. Just like football."
No football game could match the rite-of-passage rush Richardson got at age 12 by staring down a snarling mountain lion.
"That was the scariest thing," he said. "Mountain lions are the only thing you hunt with hounds, because they're so smart you could never get close enough by yourself. The dogs tree the animal for you."
But this lion wouldn't tree. Richardson and grandfather, George, climbed up and down canyons, scrambled over rocks, trudged through snow. The lion finally wedged itself into a crevasse. Richardson went after it looking to make personal history. Grandpa was backup, holding a pistol just in case.
"When you bowhunt mountain lions or bears," Richardson said, "you bring a gun."
Richardson balanced himself with his legs on the crevasse's rocky sides so he could draw his bow. Gramps steadied him from below with one hand on his grandson's backside, the other clutching the gun.
"When I shot," Richardson said, "I was so scared. The animal was looking at me growling really loud."
And then it wasn't.
Wolverine tops Richardson's must-get list entering Saturday's Big Ten opener at Michigan. For a guy who lists his priorities as God, family, bowhunting and football, adjustments sometimes happen.
"Football is third right now because it's paying for my education," he said.
Richardson has gone from an undersized starting freshman nose tackle to a 6-1, 278-pound sophomore backup. His four-game total of 11 tackles puts him on pace to surpass last year's total of 21. His position puts him in the line of Michigan's offensive fire.
No matter. Archery hunting season starts Oct. 1 and Richardson can't wait.
"I love it," he said. "It's dangerous, but it's a safe sport as long as you know what you're doing."
Figure Richardson to give it his best shot.
This article has been republished with permission from the Fort Wayne (Ind.)