EMPORIA, KAN. NASCAR star Clint Bowyer has no trouble remembering the first time anybody was able to get him to slow down long enough to spend a day in a tree stand, hunting deer.
Growing up, he was too busy with motocross and stock-car racing to have time to hunt, even though he lived in one of the best areas in the nation for trophy whitetails. But that all changed when Bowyer performed well on the NASCAR Busch Series in 2004 and his owner at the time, Richard Childress, gave him a bonus an all-expenses-paid trophy hunt.
I thought we would go to Africa and hunt for lions or something like that, said Bowyer, 33, who now drives the No. 15 Toyota Camry for the Michael Waltrip Racing team. Instead, he takes me 40 miles from where I grew up for a Kansas deer hunt.
I had to laugh, but it made me realize what I had been missing. I had great hunting right out my back door but I didnt really know it.
He does now. Though Bowyer didnt shoot a deer that first year, he developed a passion for the sport. As one of the regulars on the Realtree NASCAR Outdoors television show, he began traveling the country to hunt. He has pursued everything from big bull elk in Wyoming to alligators in Georgia to ducks in various locations.
But when he wants to get serious about his hunting, he makes a trip back to his roots and spends a week in his deer camp just miles from his hometown of Emporia.
I go other places and see their deer and they look like greyhounds running around in a pasture, he said. Thats when I realize how lucky I am to be able to hunt in Kansas.
Ive taken big bucks here, and every year I cant wait to get back here.
Even now that Bowyer is a star on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he hasnt forgotten his roots. After enjoying his best year of racing, finishing second in the Chase for the Cup, he found time to get back home last week to the town he loves.
He spent time in a brand-new cabin that a friend built for him, and relished his time with childhood friends.
To be able to go to deer camp with eight of my childhood friends and catch up on things, that was great, he said. Theres a lot more to hunting than just pulling the trigger.
Im just coming off a hectic season, and this is a chance to wind down. I can get out here with friends and just relax.
Bowyer hunted hard for one specific buck a huge 12-pointer that he had seen on his land. He passed on other deer that walked under his stand, waiting for a chance encounter with the big boy.
He did spot it one day, but it was way out of range, he said.
So, he continued to wait. Meanwhile, the trip back to Emporia gave him a chance to take part in another of his passions preparations for his Clint Bowyer Youth Deer Hunt, which will take place Jan. 1-2.
During the event, Emporia-area kids are paired with guides and hunt on land that area residents have opened for the participants. In the past, many of the youngsters have taken their first deer there.
Dave Hollond, the long-time owner of Dry Creek Outfitters and a friend of Bowyers, spearheads the event. An advocate of getting kids involved in the outdoors, he came up with the idea several years ago to honor his late father, who took him hunting and fishing constantly.
He teamed with Bowyer to see that the event got off the ground, and three years later it has become a huge success. Bowyer, Hollond and more than 100 others, including the participating youth hunters, guides and landowners, attended a kickoff dinner Tuesday at the Olpe Chicken House near Emporia, and as usual, enthusiasm ran high.
Bowyer signed autographs and posed for pictures with each of the 18 youth hunters. Hollond and his wife, Kim, who also plays a big part in organizing the hunt, sat back and watched with satisfaction as the event unfolded.
Clint hasnt forgotten where he came from, Dave said. He has been absolutely great to this community.
While home, Bowyer looked up old friends, made a surprise visit to a nursing home, and dropped by the Clint Bowyer Community Center that he funded.
With this youth hunt, we want to give children here in the Emporia area a chance to do some of the things I didnt get to do when I was younger, he said. I was all into racing. When I wasnt at a race somewhere, I was working on cars.
That was great, but I missed out on some of this. Were trying to get the kids outdoors so that they can appreciate nature.