When you imitate someone worthy of imitation, you can pride yourself in being an imitator.
Roy Roth and I share a mountaintop experience. Roy is the toughest guy I have ever known.
Most of us know what the term "wannabe" means. For reference, a quick search online at Urban Dictionary defines wannabe in part as: "Poser, follower, a charlatan of sorts. One who copies or imitates all or most of the aspects dealing with their idol. They may wish to have certain clothing, skills, vocabulary, etc. of their idols instead of their own."
While in high school, most of my friends and I grew up as Michael Jordan wannabes.
Maybe looking up to larger-than-life sports stars is a thing of the past, but I am still a wannabe of sorts. A hard-core, backcountry bowhunting wannabe to a guy who walks the walk. His name is Roy Roth.
The opposite of flashy, Roy is a hard-working general contractor in Alaska. He is the ultimate grab your lunch pail and get to work type of guy. He has killed some great animals -- Dall sheep, grizzly bears, brown bears, mountain goats -- on hunts that would be high dollar to anyone not living in Alaska, but Roy is as blue-collar as they come. Just the other day he called and asked if I had any broadheads I could spare. "Yeah, what are you shooting?" I asked. "Whatever you gave me last time," Roy responded.
When I first started hunting with Roy over 20 years ago, he was the toughest guy I'd ever met. That hasn't changed. He is also the very best outdoorsman I've ever known.
Unflappable in times of high stress, Roy is the perfect hunting partner and a guy who has taught me many valuable lessons. But even more than his woodsmanship and hunting success, I admire and aspire to achieve his toughness, approach, and attitude. As a self-labeled Roy Roth wannabe, I am not afraid to share that. Here are some examples that stand out.
Back in the early 90's, Roy and I wanted to hunt the backcountry, but we couldn't afford to hire a horse packer. Thankfully, his dad decided to buy some llamas, which we trained to haul our gear. During one scouting trip deep into Oregon's Three Sisters Wilderness with the llamas, Roy was heating some dinner on a single-burner propane stove, using a pot with a handle that would hang down on the bottom side of the pot -- essentially right in the propane flame.
We were boiling water to make a little mac & cheese, so once it came to boil Roy gingerly lifted the handle and grabbed it to lift the pot off the burner. Well, that handle was branding-iron hot, and when Roy began to lift the pot, the handle melted into the skin on his fingers. He couldn't throw it down because boiling water is a precious commodity in the backcountry. So he set it down as fast as possible while exclaiming, "Jimmy Christmas that is hot." (As a side note, in close to 30 years of knowing Roy, I've never heard him utter even one cuss word.)
Anyway, he had a deep burn, seemingly to the bone, on the back side of his second knuckle where the pot handle had rested as he lifted the pot. We stayed in the wilderness for a couple days after that, and he never mentioned it again. He just wrapped his fingers in duct tape and kept on keeping on.
Taken in 2010, this brown bear is one of many Roy has killed on self-guided hunts.
No mountain is too high or challenge too great for Roy to overcome. Back in 2001, Roy and a couple of buddies and I were hunting spring bears on Prince of Wales Island. To hunt the way we do there, we need a decent-sized aluminum boat with an outboard capable of handling big, rough, open water. Early on in our hunt, the outboard went gunny bag. We had a tiny inflatable raft -- an eight-footer, I think -- with an equally tiny eight horse outboard. We'd hauled it along just for emergencies.
Well, Roy knew the success of our hunt was in jeopardy. Without the big skiff and 40-horsepower motor, the four of us simply could not cover enough country. Roy decided to do something. Just as dark was falling he hopped into the inflatable raft, fired up the little outboard, and took off toward the closest town, 15 or so miles away. Mind you, most of his travel would be in the dark. Even worse, the front of the lightweight raft constantly tried to lift off the water, seemingly ready to blow over. So, for about three hours, Roy had to operate the throttle while leaning toward the front to keep the raft from blowing over backward.
He got to town late, slept for a while, and somehow, someway, found an outfit that would fly a new motor out from Ketchikan -- on a Sunday, no less. The next day, the other guys and I hung around camp, shooting our bows and wondering what was going on, when we spotted a fishing boat in the distance. As it got closer and closer we could see Roy on board. He had hitched a ride with a commercial boat operator, new outboard motor and all! We were in business again, and we all ended up killing big POW black bears, which would never have happened without Roy's over-the-top effort.
I could fill a book with stories to illustrate Roy's positive attitude, but I'll have to settle for a couple that drive this point home. On a recent Dall sheep hunt together I made a terrible shot on a ram, and with what many hunters might have considered a superficial wound, certainly less than lethal, Roy and I were on the same "it might take a week but we'll get him" page. Without him there I may have wavered at times (I think I would have stayed fast on the mission), but with Roy on the scene, there was never any doubt. That makes a big difference. As it was, we put together one of the best, most committed blood-trailing efforts of our bowhunting careers, and we recovered that ram, my first and only P&Y sheep.
Another time, again while hunting Dall sheep, Roy knew of a band of sheep up on the mountain but couldn't really figure out a way to get to them. He ended up leaving his bow strapped to his pack for almost three full days as he cut his way with a machete through brush before breaking out into the open. Every day he'd roll out of his sleeping bag, load up, and start hacking through a sea of devil's club. The effort eventually paid off, and Roy arrowed one of his many Dall rams.
Roy doesn't bowhunt for glory. Through the years and all the bowhunting success he's experienced, Roy has never once sent in a picture to a magazine for publication, never once written an article telling of his experiences, never once tried to reach out to a TV network about putting together a show. And as crazy as it sounds in this day and age, Roy has neve
r once made a hunting-forum or Facebook posting! E-mails? He's sent a handful in his life. If I hadn't written a few articles about Roy and his exploits, his bowhunting accomplishments would be largely unknown.
All that being said, Roy does bowhunt for something other than punching tags and filling freezers. In an article called "It's Not about the Bow," which I wrote a few years ago, I asked Roy how he is so successful on some of the toughest bowhunts in the world.
"Not 100% sure what is my key to success," Roy answered. "I think it is probably a lot of little things. Above all, I always stay positive!
"A few random thoughts I think sum up my approach," Roy continued. "I try to learn from people who know more than me and I try to make my own luck by doing the extra stuff. Above all, I believe God blessed me with certain gifts to use for His glory."
Personally, despite the somewhat negative connotation of the Urban Dictionary definition, I don't think being a wannabe is necessarily a bad thing. The way I see it, looking up to people who stand for the right things, do things the right way, and stay true to themselves is nothing but positive. I don't have any problem being a Roy Roth wannabe. How about you? Do you know someone who makes you a bowhunting wannabe? I hope so.