It’s been said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But when you examine the bowhunting pedigree of a seasoned hound such as Art Heinze, it becomes obvious the old tricks work just fine.
At the ripened age of 73, Heinze is still planning to arrow more big game. He’s hunted with stick and string for nearly five decades and tagged more than 30 Pope and Young and six Boone and Crockett records encompassing a dozen species. His brown bear still ranks among the top in the world.
Heinze was a pioneer in the outdoor video industry, a state barebow broadhead champion and national barebow 3-D champion. Heinze was a National Field Archery Association Master Bow Hunter, both Big and Small Game, and with a total of 32 kills scoring a minimum of 125, holds the most archery-only whitetail deer in the Illinois record books.
While the numbers alone are impressive, there is more to this story than a guy who killed a bunch of critters. Heinze was born of a different time and amid a unique era few today can comprehend and none will ever experience again.
The game has changed, and with it, the opportunities to repeat this lifetime of success.
A Lifelong Passion
Heinze was born in April 1940. World War II was but a fledgling conflict, yet the entire globe was about to undergo catastrophic death and destruction of the likes never before seen.
While good and evil battled on distant shores, the folks in America lived out their days under an umbrella of scarcity. The minimum wage was a whopping 43 cents per hour, and only half the homes in this country had indoor plumbing.
Kids today can’t survive without cell phones and social media, but those from Heinze’s neighborhood enjoyed a simpler life that paid high dividends of self-reliance and personal initiative.
“My dad taught me how to hunt,” Heinze said. “We always hunted with shotguns for rabbits and squirrels.”
His home state of Illinois didn’t allow deer hunting during Art’s early childhood, but after having been closed for 50 years, initiated a firearms season in 1957. Art jumped at the chance. “I’ve had a deer tag in Illinois ever since,” he said. Hunting was, and is, a natural part of his life.
After the war, the United States entered a season of prosperity. The 50s saw the average annual salary climb to $2,992–more than twice that of the 40s. Black-and-white television broadcasts went color, the first corporate McDonald’s opened and Disneyland became a family destination. Affluence brought more leisure time and a fascination with outdoor sports.
In 1952, Fred Bear (aka “The Father of Modern Archery”) introduced the Grizzly bow through his young company, Bear Archery. It was the first truly mass-produced bow in archery history. At about this same time, Heinze was getting his first taste of archery. “I went to YMCA camp when I was probably 12,” he said. “They had an archery contest, and I’ve still got the little (first place) patch that I won.”
A lifelong passion was born.
“Everything I did was self-taught,” Heinze explained of his bowhunting education. “There was nobody to really teach me how to do something. I stumbled around, trial and error, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way.
“Back in those days, there were no sights or anything like that, and everybody just shot barebow.
Keeping It Simple
Even to this day, technological bowhunting gadgets are of little interest to Heinze. “You can take any good bow, even a second-rate bow,” Heinze explained. “As long as you’ve got good arrows and they’re flying well out of that bow, they’ll do the job. Everybody today wants a lighter arrow and a drop-away rest and everybody is speed conscious, but I was never speed conscious. If you can put an arrow through an animal, who cares if it will go 16 inches into the dirt? If it went one inch into the dirt, it still did its job.
“Technology is not that important to me. That’s why I never went to sights. I guess I give the animal about as much chance as you can give them. I’ve always shot barebow, I’ve never used a rangefinder, and when you shoot barebow you actually have to get a lot closer.”
Heinze simply came from an era where folks did with what they had. “I can remember back in the day where there were no treestands,” he said. “We used to just shimmy up a tree and stand on a limb.”
That simplistic approach has translated to an attitude about hunting that can only have aided his success. Because the driving force behind his bowhunting career has been every bit as simple, yet every bit, as important, as the equipment he’s used.
“I just enjoy going out with a bow and arrow,” Heinze said. “I think about all the times I was out during bow season, instead of gun season, and of all the animals I could have shot if I’d had a gun in my hand. But I just love to hunt with a bow and arrow.”
In fact, Art has never gone on a big-game hunt with a rifle. “I don’t have anything against gun hunting,” he explained. “I’ve got my own farm, and I’ll shoot a buck with a shotgun and be proud of it. But these guys who shoot out to 1,000 yards, the animal doesn’t even know they’re there. With a bow, now, you’re up close and personal. You’ve got to do everything right.”
The up-close nature of bowhunting has taught Heinze a great deal about the game he pursues and nature in general.
“You know, I just like to sit there, and I might spend hours watching the squirrels and chickadees and raccoons. There’s always something going on. A turkey might wander by and you can whack him–or whack at him,” he laughed. “You might not get him, you know!”
Experiencing the wild on a regular and relaxed basis has also helped him maintain his psychological control when actions count most. “I’ve learned that once I see a buck I want to shoot, the horns are out of my mind. I’ve just trained myself to forget about them horns and concentrate on taking that animal. Because if you get him, you can look at them horns the rest of your life but if you choke, you’ll never see him again.”
Heinze is an old dog with simple rules, a simple life and old tricks that have helped him achieve what may be out of reach today. Those basics can be a lesson to any hunter in this hectic world.
“I’m like a dinosaur. I tell everybody I’m 35 … twice,” Heinze joked. “But I’m in really good shape. A lot of people my age are dead!”
A Record of Success
Heinze has lost track of his numerous Pope and Young records. From Missouri to Idaho and Wisconsin to Colorado, he has hunted in numerous states and six Canadian provinces. His trophies include two species of moose, three of caribou, mule deer, whitetail deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain lion, brown and black bear and bison.
In addition to making “the book,” a black bear, mountain lion, barren ground caribou and brown bear each ranked in Pope and Young’s top 10 all-time at the time they were taken. Additionally, the black bear ranked as the Minnesota state record for more than a decade, and the brown bear, when taken, was No. 3 in the world.
About his brown bear, Heinze said, “As a young kid, I always thought, ‘Man, I’d like to get one of them.’ And it only took me 40-some years and three trips to Alaska, but I finally got one!”
Through all his adventures and accomplishments, Heinze has never lost track of the simple fun of archery.
“These guys today can shoot 75 yards, and they’re shooting six-inch groups. I can’t do that,” he said. “But I guess I’ve always enjoyed seeing how close I could get to where I could see their eyelashes. You know, I’ve shot animals at 20 feet. I think it is just so cool to get that close.”
Getting “that close” does have its drawbacks, however.
“A moose presented the worst situation I ever got into,” Heinze said. “I shot him at 35 yards and he put his head down, jumped over a brush pile and came straight for me.
“I turned and ran like a son-of-a-gun. I had hip boots on, and I was running for the guide. I stumbled after I’d covered 20 yards and fell down. I got up and, the guide, he’s laughing like crazy.”
“He was gaining on you, Art,” he yelled. “Then he fell dead right over there!”
Even for a bowhunter of legendary success, the most embarrassing experiences are often the most memorable.
And that brings it full circle. For Art Heinze, a lifetime of record-setting bow hunts starts and ends with common sense and practical application. Set a goal, work hard, enjoy what you’re doing and don’t quit until you simply can’t do it anymore.
Among all the accomplishments, what was the greatest honor?
“To have had the pleasure to meet and be on a first-name basis with the likes of Fred Bear, Ben Pearson, Pete Shepley, M.R. James, Bill Krenz, Bob Barrie, Jim Dougherty, Ted Nugent and many, many others,” Heinze said.
Surely there were some regrets.
“No, I really don’t think so,” Heinze mused. “Although I look back now and I think, ‘Well, maybe I should have spent a little more money and tried to go hunting a little bit more …'”