EMPORIA, Kan. – 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 didn’t really know it.”
He does now. Although Bowyer didn’t shoot a deer that first year, he developed a passion. 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. “That’s when I realize how lucky I am to be able to hunt in Kansas.
“I’ve taken big bucks here, and every year I can’t wait to get back here.”
Even now that Bowyer is a star on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. After enjoying his best year of racing, finishing second in the Chase for the Sprint 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. “There’s a lot more to hunting than just pulling the trigger.
“I’m 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 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. Many youngsters have taken their first deer in the event.
“Clint hasn’t forgotten where he came from,” said Dave Hollond, the long time owner of Dry Creek Outfitters and a friend of Bowyer’s who spearheads the event.. “He has been absolutely great to this community.”