April 22, 2016
By Curt Wells
Editor's note: It was late winter when I got a call from a mutual bowhunting friend who told me Donald Trump Jr. was a serious bowhunter and he might agree to an interview. I decided it would make an interesting article so I accepted the opportunity and that article appeared in our April/May issue.
In that editorial I clearly stated this was not a political endorsement of Donald Trump Sr. Some readers were skeptical. But, the fact is, if Donald Trump Jr. were not an experienced bowhunter the article would never have appeared in Bowhunter Magazine — or here now at Bowhunter.com. Take a look and let us know what you think.
Q: So, how does the son of a wealthy New York real estate developer find his way to the woods carrying a bow and arrows?
A: Well, my love for the outdoors came from my grandfather, Milos Zelnicek, a blue-collar electrician who lived in the Communist Czech Republic. He saw the lifestyle we lived here and understood both the good of that life, and the pitfalls, and he wanted to make sure we saw the other side of life. As youngsters, my brother Eric and I spent six to eight weeks every summer with him. He would say, "There's the woods; go have fun," and my brother and I immersed ourselves in the outdoors. He taught us how to shoot homemade stickbows, and we were amazed how much amusement we could get out of those crude bows and arrows. I just had a knack for it. Since then, most of my bowhunting has been self-taught, so the learning curve was slow because I made every mistake possible. The good thing about that is those lessons are well-learned. By the time I went to college in Philadelphia, I was driving back and forth on the weekends to go bowhunting, and I've been into bowhunting ever since.
Q: I know you hunt with firearms, but what would your bowhunting resume look like? Do you have a favorite species to hunt?
A: Well, favorite is subjective, and what I love about hunting is it is seasonal. So about the time I've had enough of sitting in a whitetail stand, I get a bit of a lull and then I go right into turkey season. Then summer comes, and I've been fortunate to have done quite a bit of bowhunting in Africa, and I've taken 15 or 16 species there. Then fall comes and I'm out west, where I've taken elk and numerous mule deer. I've also hunted sheep and caribou, but mostly with a rifle. Of course, whitetails are big for me because they're the most accessible. I can roll out of bed at my cabin and choose from five treestands within 500 yards of the front door.
Q: What kind of archery tackle and gear do you hunt with?
A: Well, I shoot both traditional and compound bows — mostly traditional around home, and then a compound when I hunt out west. Right now I'm shooting Mathews compounds, and I have a number of recurves, including DAS bows from 3Rivers Archery and a couple of Black Widows. I'm a do-it-yourself kind of guy. I cut and fletch my own arrows, especially the traditional shafts. I think tuning is just as critical on traditional gear, because you have to tune the arrow more than the bow. A 25-grain change in point weight, especially with broadheads, can make a huge difference, and I'm always tweaking my arrows to get the best flight. With a compound, I'm tuning the bow more than the arrow. I have a bow press, so I do all that stuff myself.
I shoot fixed-blade broadheads with my traditional gear, and mechanicals out of my compounds. Twenty years ago, when mechanicals first emerged, I had problems shooting deer broadside and having the arrow almost bounce off. The technology has improved, and now I'm having great luck with Rage Hypodermics.
Q: Your knowledge of all things archery and bowhunting tells me you're a detail-oriented guy. That is also very important in the corporate world. Which came first?
A: Certainly it came from the outdoors, because I started so early. In archery, if you want to be good, you have to pay attention to details. I'm not satisfied with a six-inch group at 20 yards. If my fletchings are not all touching in a tight group, I'm working to find out why. Archery has taught me so much discipline, and a willingness to accept a challenge, and all that translates into the business world.
"My friends here in New York City call me the 'Fifth Avenue Redneck.' "
Q: Is your brother as passionate about the outdoors as you are?
A: Yes, he is. We work two offices down from each other, and every weekend we're doing some kind of shooting together. He's my number-one hunting buddy, and we don't do anything halfway.
Q: You and your wife, Vanessa, have five children. Does she get out in the field or on the range with you?
A: She will, but she is Mama Bear to the extreme, with five kids under eight years old. She's an incredible wife and mother, but she is a freakishly talented shooter, especially with a high-powered rifle. She has a PSE bow, and she shoots it well, too. I will say the archery industry has done a better job than any other industry in getting women into the game and encouraging them to participate, whether it's on the shooting side or the hunting side. And that interest filters down to the kids. My four-year-old knows a caribou from an elk, and a trout from a bass. It's amazing what they will absorb, and the whole family benefits.
Q: Some hunters say they just don't have time to bowhunt. How does an ultra-busy New York real estate developer find the time to grab his bow and go hunting?
A: Listen, it's about prioritization. The outdoor lifestyle is very important to me. We head for our country place every Friday night. With mobile technology, I can work anywhere in the world, and I don't think we've spent a weekend in the city as a family since my daughter was born.
I'm not exaggerating when I say I am doing some form of shooting 48 weekends out of the year. I don't get that much vacation time, but I make sure I get in at least one major hunting trip every year. And there are times when I'm working on a deal and I decide I am done for the day. That deal can wait until I am out of the tree and back on my computer. I make time for hunting and fishing.
Q: What other benefits has hunting given you over the years?
A: Well, the anticipation of an upcoming adventure keeps me sane, it helps me work harder when I am working, and it also helps keep me in shape. I don't work out because I love working out. If I have a sheep hunt coming up, I work hard to get in shape. Usually the guide will figure, yeah this guy talks a good game, but he's from the city, he's Trump's kid, and he'll never hold up. My goal is to show the guide I can handle myself on the mountain. If he knows I'm up for it, he'll take me into places he may not take everyone else.
Q: I imagine in your business life you run into antihunting types. How do you handle them?
A:I'm certainly not loved by a lot of those people because I don't apologize or renounce hunting and fishing, and I don't back down. That's not my style. Of course, they will never let the facts get in the way of their campaign against hunting, but I hit them back by saying, "Here are the benefits for conservation, and here are the facts about wildlife and hunting." I'm a big believer in the hunting and conservation mindset and the value that hunters bring, not only in this country, but all over the world.
Q: How is your relationship with your father, and what does he think of your love of hunting?
A: He's been very supportive, but he grew up in Queens, New York. He's an avid golfer who spent his life building a company. That was his focus. He takes pride in my accomplishments, but it's probably too late to introduce him to hunting and fishing. That said, my brother and I are good sounding boards for him.
My father knows what he doesn't know, and he will defer to those who do know. You can bet Eric and I will be in his ear when it comes to things we value. And my father is a very vocal supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Maybe it's because he's a New York guy, but he doesn't get the credit he deserves for that support.
Q: Do you think your father is surprised by how well he has done in the campaign?
A: My father would never do anything that he didn't think he had a good shot at. He has done everything he wanted to do in his life and could sit back and play golf every day. But that's not his style. He's a true American and a true patriot, and he's sick of the lies and nonsense in Washington and the crony capitalism, which is why he's funding his own campaign. He doesn't want to be bought. He wants to do what's right for the country — not what's right for some lobby group.
Q: Some would say that with your "resources," wouldn't it be easier to just spend all your time hunting and fishing? Why work?
A: It's not so simple. Part of what makes me the person I am is we were not spoiled financially. We had to work. We were not just given everything, and I know it's hard to say that in America today. People throw out the old "Silver Spoon" thing, but that's not the way we were raised by my father and grandfather. We started work young, and my dad often made sure we had to earn whatever we got. Being a trust-fund baby is not my style.
I graduated from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, then moved to Colorado and spent 18 months working as a bartender and fly fishing and hunting all the time. I wanted to take a break before I started my career in the business world. I'm just not programmed to not be working.
Q: You once said, "Hunting forces a person to endure, to master themselves, even to truly get to know the wild environment. Actually, along the way, hunting and fishing makes you fall in love with the natural world." Every hunter can identify with that quote. Do your nonhunting acquaintances "get you?"
A: I'm a pretty vocal proponent of the outdoors. I've introduced dozens of New Yorkers to the outdoors who would likely never be exposed to it. I've taken them shooting for a weekend, or hunting upland birds, and every one, even the ones who may have been squeamish about the idea at first, has said it was one of the most fun weekends of their life. My friends here in New York City call me the "Fifth Avenue Redneck."
They no longer call me when they have something planned in the city on the weekends, because they know I'm in the woods somewhere. The outdoors has been good to me, and it kept me out of trouble. I believe in the outdoor lifestyle and the benefits it brings to my life, and I want to make sure it is still there for my children and other people's children in the future.
Q: So what would you say is your most memorable bowhunting moment?
A: I've been really lucky to do some cool stuff all over the world, but I would have to say the first elk I got with a bow. It was during my time in Colorado when I had two friends who were U.S. Ski Team members. We spent 28 days hunting elk on public land. It was a DIY hunt, and we were in great shape and hunted hard. One of my buddies tagged his elk on the 15th day, and the other on the 20th day. We packed their bulls out on our backs, and had a great experience. On the very last day, the day before I was to drive back to New York to start my career, we were hiking up a very steep slope toward a bugling bull. Suddenly, I saw a hoof step down through the brush 10 yards in front of me. I couldn't see the bull, but I signaled to my buddy to start cow-calling. When the bull started moving toward an opening I drew my bow, and when the vitals cleared at seven yards, I took the shot. Luckily the bull ran downhill, which made the pack out quite a bit easier. But after 28 long days of grueling hiking and hard hunting, that 4x4 raghorn is still the greatest animal I've been able to take because of the intensity of the hunt and the effort expended. The three of us defied the odds by all tagging out on bow-killed elk. It was an unforgettable experience.
By now you know preconceived notions do not always translate into reality. Yes, there are plenty of big-city businessmen who are serious bowhunters, but prior to this interview Donald Trump Jr. would not have appeared on my list.
He and his brother Eric are two great examples of the transcendent nature of hunting with a bow and arrow. This passion we all love casts a wide net across every walk of life from rich to poor, young to old, city to country. The flight of the arrow is capable of capturing the imagination of anyone given the opportunity to experience it.
We can all learn from the late Milos Zelnicek. If you share the outdoors and archery with a youngster, or anyone for that matter, the magic will happen on its own.
You just never know who will become one of us.