John McCoy is the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s award-winning outdoors writer. His "Woods & Waters" page appears weekly in the Sports section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
In 32 years of outdoors writing, John has had articles published in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Hatches and other publications. His works have earned more than 50 state, regional and national awards for writing and photography.
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This weeks main Gazette-Mail outdoors feature told how Chuck Adams, the first man to take all 28 North American big-game species with bow and arrow, narrowly beat a West Virginian to that goal:
To bowhunting aficionados, the words “Chuck Adams” and “Super Slam” go together like — well, like “bow” and “arrow.”
In 1990, Adams became the first hunter ever to attain the Super Slam by killing all 28 North American big-game species exclusively with archery tackle. Had circumstances been just slightly different, though, West Virginian Jimmy Ryan would have beaten Adams to it.
Adams, visiting the Mountain State this weekend for the Chief Logan Hunting and Fishing Expo, recalled just how close the race really was.
“I finished the Slam in early January of 1990, when I finally got my mountain lion,” he said. “Ryan completed his Slam about six months later. If I hadn’t gotten the mountain lion when I did, I would have had to wait until late fall to go on another hunt, and Ryan would have had the first-ever Slam. It was that close.”
Adams, an outdoors writer from Cody, Wyo., said he started working toward his Slam 23 years before he finally finished it. “I developed the concept, and I was quietly working toward it, trying to enjoy it, trying not to feel any pressure,” he recalled.
The strategy worked well until 1988, when a single magazine article abruptly changed the dynamic.
“Petersen’s Hunting found out that I was just a few animals away from completing the Slam, and they published an article to that effect,” Adams said. “As I understand it, Ryan saw the article and decided he was going to try to get there first.”
Ryan, a coal operator from Madison, had already taken about half the animals require for the Slam by the time the article came out. For the next two years, he devoted as much of his time and considerable financial resources as he could to the task.
“About a year after the Petersen’s article appeared, I got word that Ryan was racing to beat me,” Adams said. “I didn’t change what I was doing. I had all the remaining hunts planned, and fortunately I was able to get almost all the remaining species with just one attempt apiece.”
That “almost” nearly cost Adams the chance to be first.
“It took me four attempts to get a mountain lion,” he said. “That’s sort of ironic, because mountain lions are considered one of the easiest species for a bowhunter to get. But on my first three attempts, something always went wrong. Things finally went right, though, and just in time.”
Adams readily acknowledges that his road to the Slam took far longer to travel than Ryan’s.
“I didn’t have a lot of money, so I had to take it at a much more gradual pace,” he said. “I did a lot of the hunting on my own, without guides. I only used guides when the law required it. As I understand it, Ryan got almost all of his animals on fully guided hunts.”
Despite the two men’s widely divergent approaches toward the Slam, Adams said he has “a great deal of respect” for Ryan as a hunter.
“I’ve been in some of the same hunting camps Ryan has been,” Adams said. “I’ve heard he was a very hard hunter, and a heck of a shot with a bow. To attain the Super Slam, you need to have drive and you need to be able to hit where you’re shooting. Ryan definitely earned his Slam.”
Adams said it irritates him when he hears someone try to demean any of the hunters who have completed the Super Slam.
“I hear people say that if they had enough money, they could get a Super Slam too — that it’s no big deal. Trust me, it is a big deal. You need a big bag of tricks to take than many animals.
“To those who say anyone can do it, I would invite them to go up to Canmore, Alberta and hunt for sheep in subzero temperatures. My guide and I spent nine days in a little tent way back in the mountains just to get a single shot at a sheep. The warmest it got during those days was minus 25 degrees. The coldest was minus 52 — and that was without wind chill. The guide and I were watching each other every minute to make sure we weren’t getting frostbite.”
As a widely published writer, Adams already was well known before he accomplished the Super Slam. But afterward — well…
“It was like the booster rockets kicked in,” he said. “The Slam became my biggest claim to fame. Not many people know just how close the race to the Slam was. Trust me, it was nip-and-tuck.”