Adam Vinatieri may be known more for his clutch field goal kicks in the National Football League, but not everyone knows that "Automatic Adam" enjoys a good hunt about as much as he does drilling a 50-plus yard, game-winning field goal. Vinatieri, a 15-year veteran in the NFL, has won four Super Bowls — three with the New England Patriots and one with the Indianapolis Colts — with two Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro selections. He's nailed 373 field goals throughout his career with an 82.5 percent success rate, hitting game-winning field goals in the 2001 AFC Championship game, as well as Super Bowls XXXVI and XXVIII. An avid hunter, Vinatieri has been after big game all over the world, traveling to South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the arctic, hunting everything from whitetails to grizzly bears, and mountain sheep to musk ox. In a Petersen's Hunting exclusive, one of the NFL's greatest kickers talks with Skip Knowles about three of his biggest loves: family, hunting and football.
Skip Knowles: How'd your season go last year?
Adam Vinatieri: I was very pleased. I struggled with injuries the year before€¦ this last year I was healthy and strong and kicked really well€¦
SK: No, we don't care about that season, we meant hunting season.
AV: (laughs) Right, right. I killed a nice buck with a muzzleloader in Indiana that I'd seen during archery, and a 158-inch buck in Ohio. Got him with the bow, super cool, and I had about five states lined up for turkeys — if my wife doesn't kick my butt for going too much. Family, football and hunting, that's my thing.
SK: When did you start hunting, and what are your earliest memories of hunting?
AV: Grew up in South Dakota as a kid, so I was carrying a shotgun from as early as I remember. We shot ducks and geese in the morning, and hit pheasants in the cover at 10 a.m. Thank god my dad and father were avid outdoorsmen, so I had lots of opportunities from 5 years old on to tag along.
SK: You're one of the greatest kickers in NFL history, have won four Super Bowls and been in six. That's really nice and all, but tell us how you rate yourself as a hunter. With your nicknames "The Iceman" and "Automatic Adam" for your coolness under pressure, I've got to know, do you get buck fever?
AV: I've missed shots. I can't say I haven't. I've made less than perfect, and everybody does. I practice as much as I can. My son and I shoot in the backyard bow target, and without guns, nobody is perfect. I'm fairly good; I give myself a B as a hunter.
SK: Have you ever needed or used your precision kicking ability or freakish leg power while hunting?
AV: I have kicked a wounded pheasant or duck as they've tried to run away. Down in Texas quail hunting, we had a wounded one bouncing around and the guys were laughing, and it was easier to stop him with the boot; I've gotten one or two of them that way. They're kind of half-flying and you don't want to go shooting around the dogs
SK: Tell me about your most memorable hunts in terms of difficulty, danger and excitement.
AV: Most memorable? Alaska four years ago, spring bear, my dad, brother, brother-in-law and friend chartered a boat for self-guided at Ketchikan. Alaska is contagious, like Africa; so awesome there, camaraderie and family bonding, so much fun. We stayed on a boat and we'd spot bears. We all got animals, six bears. Such a memorable trip. And Africa with my brother, dad and family. The fun of hunting is two-fold — less about trophy on the wall and the kill, though that's a memory that brings you back. What is so valuable is that time you can never make up, a snapshot of life in an exciting time and place. Both times in the arctic were memorable — that's not a hunt for the faint of heart. Took three days to get to the Eskimo village and then 100 miles to the hunt site. We took six days to get to the village the second trip because 70 mph winds grounded planes. We expected 30 below and it was melted, and we could not get to the location. You never know what to expect and a million dangers exist with weather and sea ice. Just so wild, I think, not typical easy stress-free. Not a shotgun in your hand in Africa and everyone taking care of you. You go through a lot to make it happen. I knew I was in trouble when all my gear was rated at 60 below.
SK: What is the best wild game you ever ate, and what is the nastiest?
AV: Oryx is good, like gemsbok. Axis deer is fabulous; if you like regular deer, you'll love axis. One thing I've had that I thought guys were screwing with me: Mountain lion is amazing! Obviously, gator and rattlesnake are good. Antelope and elk are great. I've enjoyed some bear, and others that I didn't. It can be greasy and nasty, and if prepared right€¦
SK: You make a lousy $1-$3 million a year, barely enough to hunt on. If money were no object, and you were retired, what are your wildest dream hunts and what kind of hunting bender would you go on?
AV: If I was not married, I'd hunt 250 days a year, honestly, and do everything and anything you can imagine. Nothing makes me happier than doing that kind of stuff. Now with three kids, I can't do that much, but in a perfect world I would. Back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, back with old ivory hunters spending months and months shooting any and everything, that would be the best, spending months and shooting all big five and all plains game, that would be pretty doggone cool. I don't want to downplay U.S. stuff, though, I have huge passion for moose, elk and deer too, but there's so much on my bucket list.
SK: What's your one favorite rifle? Is it true NFL guys can't play with guns?
AV: Policy is we can't have any guns on property facilities or road trips or NFL affiliated events. We still have our Second Amendment rights to carry, but we make sure we're licensed correctly. For elk hunting, my fave is a 338x.378 Weatherby; it puts a thump on them, and I prefer the bigger bullet. When I pull the trigger, it's $5 a pop, so I reload. Shot placement is critical, but a big bullet allows you a little room for error with that extra energy going through there. Way I look at it is I would hate to go on a destination hunt and lose an animal. People say a .270 can kill an elk, but mine's going to kill them a little quicker. I'm having a 7 mag tricked for sheep. I'm a black rifle guy too. I know the Bushmaster guys and I like an AR for varminting and coyote. I love it all. I like the .300 RUM, too; let a good taxidermist throw a stitch in there, but I'll sacrifice a few pounds of meat to know he's dead.
SK: What feels better, a clutch game winner from 55 yards into the wind, or a heart shot on a mag daddy whitetail with your bow at 40?
AV: I get exactly the same adrenaline rush from both, but I'd better say the 50-yarder so it will allow me to do the football now to do more hunting later on. Not sure I mean it, though.
SK: What do you think of the new 35-yard kickoff? (The greatest kicker in football did not punt on answering this one during this pre-NFL season interview)
AV: I don't know what the logic in that is, to be honest with you. Unless they are trying to weed out the importance of kickers, cause kickers are getting better and stronger. I think 60 to 70 percent will be touchbacks now. If anything, I thought they'd have moved us back to the 25-yard line. The only thing I can think of, maybe there have been a lot of injuries, guys running down and hitting. They changed the rule so no wall or back line. I honestly don't know where the logic came from. I know there will be a big impact. It's almost going to take that aspect of the game away. If they can prove why it's a good idea, that's fine, but looking at it as a fan and a player, I don't know why that made sense. I mean no disrespect to those who voted on it. They are trying to do the right things.
SK: All right, fun pop quiz time, Adam! Real quick, give us some opinions. I say something really fast you pick one answer. Ready€¦ Go! Whitetails or mule deer?
AV: Yes! Hahaha, I've hunted more whitetail, but a big 200 class mule deer is so pretty in that wide open country.
SK: .30-'06 or .270?
AV: Never shot either. How about a .300!
SK: Gore Tex or wool?
AV: Gore Tex.
SK: Compound or recurve?
SK: Squirrels or prairie dogs?
AV: Prairie dogs. Like to see 'em splat.
SK: Hog hunting road trip: Spear, gun or knife?
AV: Knife. I want the hunt with the dogs and the knife. It's on my list.
SK: Spring turkeys or spring bear?
AV: You're killing me! Yes!
SK: Pee from your tree stand: Yes or no?
SK: Bourbon, scotch or beer?
SK: Scent blocker or au natural?
AV: Scent blocker for sure, man. Closer I can get, the better.