Rightfully so, Scott Stevens’ name will forever echo in the hallowed castle halls of hockey’s royalty. “Scotty” (as his friends call him), the 13-time NHL All Star, three-time Stanley Cup champion and 2000 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility—a feat not accomplished by many, in any sport.
Scott retired in 2005 after 22 seasons, with the most games ever played by an NHL defenseman. He left nothing for deliberation about his greatness on ice.
Every NHL player or fan knew the result of making a casual entry into Scott’s zone without an eye on where he was. His ability to out-check, out-muscle, out-think, out-skate and out-play so many great athletes is the reason he is so respected by peers, so loved by fans and so well immortalized as one of the all-time greats to ever skate.
Off the ice today, fans mob him with praise as they block his way across a back street in New Jersey to get an autograph or shake his hand. But for all of the inconvenience of being an iconic figure of toughness and intensity, he rewards each fan or person he meets with genuine humility, patience and a thankful smile … signs of what make up the man, as much as what made the fame he built from blade marks and shavings of ice.
Since retirement, Scott works as a coach with the New Jersey Devils, but became as passionate for hunting, fishing and the outdoors as any of us. We caught up with Scott recently to ask how anyone who spent every fall for the past 3 decades, completely committed to hockey, could wind up being so interested in (and so good at) another fall/winter sport.
NAHC: Scott, thanks very much for taking time to speak with us. Tell us a bit about your childhood and how you got into playing hockey.
Scott: Hockey is a huge part of Canadian culture. I grew up playing hockey with my two brothers, whether it was on the street, the backyard rink and at times, on our knees in my mother’s living room with mini sticks. It was hockey 24/7.
NAHC: So you played 22 years in the NHL with an 82-game season from October-June. Did you ever have time for hunting then?
Scott: I have loved the outdoors since I was a child, and loved to fish in the off-season. My dad was a big moose hunter, but I was only able to participate one fall because of hockey. When I came to New Jersey to play for the Devils, a friend introduced me to bowhunting. I was hooked from the first time I sat in a treestand with a bow. I truly loved playing hockey, but having time to spend in the treestand now that I am retired is very special to me.
NAHC: How did you get interested in the outdoors, and when did it become such a passion for you?
Scott: The outdoors were a big part of our family life. We spent a lot of time snowshoeing, fishing, canoeing, camping and waterskiing. I grew up in the country surrounded by cornfields and woods, with a couple of horses in the backyard that I loved to ride. I always had a passion for wildlife, and spent many hours in the woods observing birds and animals as a child.
I met my wife, Donna, at 17, and found out she also had a love for the outdoors. She spent many summers on her grandparents’ farm in Ontario, and went camping with her family. On one of our first dates, in the middle of summer, I took Donna to the family Christmas tree farm to help prune trees. It was a tough job, considering the heat and the nasty deer flies, but Donna never complained. At that point, I knew we had a lot in common; not many guys would have considered that the right plan for a date, and not many girls would have gone and not complained!
NAHC: So, we assume Donna enjoyed that first date. Does she share your love of hunting?
Scott: Donna is not a hunter, but she supports my passion for the outdoors. She understands that hunting is necessary in sustaining a healthy deer population, and even though she doesn’t hunt, she sure knows how to cook with venison and other wild game. Her venison dishes, especially her chili, are a favorite at deer camp; one hunting buddy in upstate New York routinely offers to fight me and the other guys for the rest of our chili after finishing his bowl first!
NAHC: What animals have you hunted in the past, and in what states?
Scott: Whitetails in Illinois, Ontario, New York and New Jersey; Elk in Colorado; and moose in northern Ontario.
NAHC: So, what’s your favorite of all those hunts?
Scott: I like them all, in different ways. But it’s all just hunting, and that’s what makes it great. The best part of hunting for me is getting together with friends, both on my land or theirs, planning the hunt, and trying to outsmart a mature white-tailed deer. I love the camaraderie with friends at camp, enjoying good food and talking about each other’s hunt. I enjoy being a part of nature, sitting 20 feet up and watching the wildlife go about their business undisturbed. Bowhunting is a release from the everyday grind. I always come home recharged and feeling at peace after an early morning or evening hunt.
NAHC: Scott, for someone who has only been hunting seriously for five seasons, you have harvested some amazing animals with your bow. To what do you attribute your success?
Scott: I think there are several factors. Patience comes to mind first. I believe in harvesting does for meat, balancing the deer herd and allowing the smaller bucks to grow up. A one-to-one doe-to-buck ratio is how fawns are born, so why not manage our herd to that ratio; someone wanted them born that way, so I figure it must be right. Today, in most states, the majority of the bucks on the land are 1-1/2-year olds, and most of them get shot every year. So, not many make it to an older age, or even close to maturity at 5-1/2 years or older. I don’t shoot the first buck that walks by, and if I have to wait a season or more, in order to get a chance at a mature animal, then so be it. I will be patient for the herd’s sake, and I can help the herd in the meantime by harvesting and eating does.
Next, I just personally enjoy the challenge of hunting the biggest, smartest animal on the land. I just love the strategy and process involved in trying to harvest the most elusive bucks. The harder they are to get to see, for me, the better the reward when I finally do see one, or get a shot. I think because I commit myself to trying to harvest these animals, and setting the goal, I am able to succeed more so than if my goal was just to shoot the first one I see.
Lastly, I would say luck. Sometimes you just need to be in the right stand at the right moment, or have the right doe run to the right spot and tow that buck in for a shot.
NAHC: Luck, yes, but you still have to make the shot when it counts, and you seem to do a good job of that. Do you think your life of dealing with high-pressure moments in hockey has helped you with that?
Scott: I would like to think that being in big-pressure games all my life would help me manage the adrenaline rush of the hunt, but I am not sure it translates that way. My hunt in New Jersey this year, when I harvested a 150-inch 11-point, was a prime example.
I was hunting the “beehive” stand (named after a natural hive living in the hollow of a nearby ash tree). I had hunted it once the previous fall and was busted by a group of does. I told myself that I would never hunt here again because the cover was not good and the wind seems to swirl in the river bottom.
My friend, who manages the farm, convinced me to hunt it one afternoon, despite my hesitation. It wasn’t long before deer began moving, and right on cue a doe began blowing in the distance downwind. So immediately, I was discouraged again, and not at all confident about the rest of my evening. Just then, I looked to my left and saw a six-point, a spike and a big 11-point coming my way. The two smaller bucks came quickly, but the big boy hung up 70 yards out. It looked as if he was staring right at me in that sparse hardwood stand, and my heart began to feel like it was going to blow right out of my chest. I had to start talking to myself to calm down and get it together to make the shot; at that point, with the nerves up, the thought crossed my mind: “Gee, I hope I can pull this bow back”!
Finally, the big buck started moving cautiously, and I could see his split brow tine now as he closed in. My heart raced even faster! As the buck’s head disappeared behind the trunk of a tree, I pulled the 70-pound bow back. It felt like 170! Just as I came to full draw, the buck stopped just on the other side of the tree … as if I needed to have to hold back any longer!
It was a long wait for him to take one more step, and the pressure was as much as I have ever felt, but somehow I managed to focus, pick a spot, look the arrow all the way in and make a successful shot. I think it’s the little details that make the difference between a good shot and a bad one. Just like “keep your head down” in golf, we hear it 1,000 times, and it’s so easy to say, but it’s hard to do sometimes when the pressure is on. I still feel the pressure just like everyone else, though!
NAHC: So, what’s more nerve-wracking: seconds before the puck drop during game seven of the Stanley Cup, or coming to full draw on your 150-inch buck last season?
Scott: No contest. The buck!
NAHC: You mentioned hunting with friends. Do you ever go on guided hunts, or is it mostly do-it-yourself on land you have permission on?
Scott: I have been on a couple of guided hunts to Illinois, and once for elk in Wyoming, but I love the challenge of doing it myself. To grow, scout and harvest a mature whitetail all on my own with my friends is the greatest thrill of all.
NAHC: You joined the pro-staff of ScoutLook Weather this past fall. Do you plan on working with other companies to become more involved with the hunting industry?
Scott: I don’t have any sort of plans for that, but if I’m ever approached by companies with products that benefit me in the field, companies that positively influence the growth of the hunting community, then I’m open minded.
The reason I joined the ScoutLook pro-staff is because they have a creative product that’s truly useful in the field. By creative, I mean just the way they present the weather—solunar times and other stuff—in a way that hunters need to see it. But things like their ScentCone map really show what ScoutLook is about. ScentCone lets me map all my treestands and see how the wind will take my scent during the hunt, or in advance for 72 hours. I can zoom right in on the treestand and see the trails it’s set for and rule it out if the wind looks bad for the way the stand is situated. It is just an amazing and useful tool. And it’s free, which I like, too. I used it every day I hunted this fall.
I take pride in being involved with ScoutLook because I know that everyone in the outdoor community will benefit from using it, and that’s the type of product I want to be associated with.
NAHC: What hopes do you have for your personal future as a hunter? Is there anything you really want to accomplish? Places you want to hunt?
Scott: I would like to shoot a bull moose with my bow some day, and would love to hunt in Ohio for whitetails. One thing I would like to accomplish is taking a turkey with my bow—something I have yet to do.
NAHC: If you could give one piece of advice to hunters out there to improve their success, what would it be?
Scott: Well, success means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but across the board, I believe that true hunting success starts with proper game management. If the animals aren’t there on the land, then you can’t harvest them, regardless of what you want to shoot. With deer hunting, game management practices right now are causing access issues in states that don’t have buck harvest criteria or don’t manage their deer herds ideally. Access to good hunting areas is becoming more of an issue for many hunters because private landowners are trying to manage certain ways, and the general hunting public can hunt to statewide standards. I think landowners (especially large ones with deer management plans in effect) fear that giving permission to hunt leads to people just “taking” anything they see, and not caring much about the land or the overall herd management.
So, I would say start with understanding deer management, and be willing to meet the criteria of any landowner you approach—even if that means shooting does only for a few seasons. Then, prepare a plan to free up some time to work or help at planting and stand set up time. This will allow you to approach landowners with the right attitude and message to them, and I think you’ll find it will work.
I think it’s easier for me to get permission to hunt than a lot of people because people know me from hockey. But with good management skills and the right attitude about being willing to work to help landowners develop their land and execute their plan, you can find some tremendous places to hunt. I have friends who nobody knows, and they have the proper attitude and approach, and work ethic to help landowners, and they seem to find better places to hunt than I do.