Thrills, Chills, and Spills from the 2007 Total Outdoorsman Challenge

Paul Thompson placing his roll cast in the target during the flycasting challenge. On August 24 and 25, 16 of the best hunters and anglers in America competed for $25,000, a new ATV, and the title of Field & Stream's Total Outdoorsman. The field gathered at Dogwood Canyon in the heart of the Ozarks in Missouri for a test of their shotgun, flyfishing, archery, endurance, baitcasting, air rifle, and ATV skills.Mike Wingo
Thomas Cooprider busts a clay in the practice round, a foreshadowing of his impressive performance to become an unlikely leader after the first event. SHOTGUN
At the top of the canyon, past the herds of bison and elk that reside in the 10,000-arce preserve owned by Bass Pro Shops mogul Johnny Morris, the crowd gathered to cheer on the contestants in the five-stand sporting clays competition. There, the winners of the six regional qualifiers, the top three finishers from last year's Total Outdoorsman Challenge (TOC), and seven wild card competitors took on the challenging course that featured a tough to hit soaring teal clay and an extremely fast rabbit target.
Mike Wingo
Marisa Lee-Sasser did not disappoint at the five-stand event, smashing the second-most clays. The sunny, warm, midwestern morning gave the competitors an extra challenge with wind gusts sending the clays erratically through the air. After all the clays had been thrown, two wild cards and the winner of the Florida qualifier were at the top of the leader board. Thomas Cooprider, an HVAC technician from Pembroke Pines, Fla. beat out shotgun favorite, Marisa Lee-Sasser, a competitive shooter, by breaking 37 clays to Lee-Sasser's 27. Drew Simon, a 21-year-old college student from Willow Springs, Mo., used his local knowledge to hit 25 clays, rounding out the top three.Mike Wingo
Local favorite, Drew Simon, stretches out to land one of the trophies found in Dogwood Canyon. FLYFISHING
Heading down to the bottom of the canyon, after the shotgun event, last year's champion, Paul Thomspon, a flyfishing and hunting guide, found himself in fourth place, needing to net some big fish to defend his title. A change over previous years flyfishing challenges, this year put the competitors on a stream filled with 20-inch rainbows. Each competitor could count three fish toward their total length, and whoever caught the most inches of fish within an hour, won the challenge. Perhaps the skill that many of the competitors struggle with the most, the flyfishing proved harder than just about everyone thought. With predictions of competitors coming in with over 60-inches of fish, only one person ended up with that total, and he catches bass for a living. Mike Hawkes, an FLW bass pro and Texas native, netted over 63 inches to win the event. With 15 minutes left to go in his hour, Thompson had only around 35 inches of fish on the board. With time winding down, he managed to land an over 20-inch rainbow, which put him in a tie for second place with a Colorado high school principal, Peter Mosby, with 56 total inches.
Mike Wingo
Jay Moore had a rough time on the flyfishing waters, but showed off his skills at the archery range. ARCHERY
After two, one-hour fishing flights, the competitors took to the treestand and the ground blind to take their turns at the 3-D archery course. Shooting Diamond bows, the competitors shot at three targets from each stand, at varying lengths. Last year's third place finisher, Jay Moore, finished first in the event with 30 points, hitting two of the high-risk, 10-point targets and nailing a 4-point shot on the 55-yard grizzly target, a feat only matched by the Vermontster, Matt Stedina. Thompson, who did not finish in any event below fourth place, ended in second place with 28 points, and Chris Nishcan, the first TOC champion, came in third with 23 points.
Mike Wingo
Tyler Palmerton said after his endurance run that he's "better in a drift boat." Lets hope that's true for him and the people he guides. ENDURANCE
As the temperature climbed to the high 80s and the threat of severe thunderstorms drew near, the competitors made their way to the most taxing event of all the skills challenges: endurance. The timed course started with the essential outdoorsman skill of canoe handling. With the people in the last two places going first, two wild card contenders made their way to the duck blinds and then raced to their canoes. Ken Galloway, the third place finisher at the Las Vegas qualifier, and Tyler Palmerton, a flyfishing guide, proved to be the guinea pigs of the canoe part of the course. Both men, trying to gain ground in the standings and quickly retrieve their duck decoys, ended up floating with birds, capsizing their canoes only minutes into the event. Enjoy this sequence of what might be the most entertaining display of how not to retrieve downed ducks.
Mike Wingo
Tyler, again...Mike Wingo
And, again...Mike Wingo
And, again...Mike Wingo
And, finally on dry land.Mike Wingo
Unfortunately for Ken Galloway, as soon as Palmerton got his canoe under control, Galloway lost control of his.Mike Wingo
Don't worry; Ken escaped the endurance course without any injury to him or his canoe.Mike Wingo
Two competitors take their time and collect their dekes after witnessing what happens when you're in a hurry in a canoe. After seeing that speed wasn't the smartest way to approach the canoes, the rest of the field used finesse to advance through the course. After gathering six decoys, each competitor had to take his or her canoe to shore, and advance through the rest of the course which featured bowfishing for a 3-D carp target, baitcasting and flycasting at targets, and shooting an air rifle at a squirrel target.Mike Wingo
Jeremy Garnish gave the endurance challenge everything, both physically and emotionally, to finish in fourth place. He would end up tying for seventh place in the final rankings. As the contest was coming to a close, the rains came in. While most competitors were able to finish before the thunderstorms, many had to battle rain that ranged from a light drizzle to something that looked like a scene out of Forrest Gump. With the top two competitors at the time, Thompson and Cooprider, still to finish the course, the competition was suspended for an hour until the rain slowed down. In the end, Hawkes, the oldest competitor, had the fastest time, and Simon, the youngest competitor, had the second fastest time. At the end of day one, Thompson was leading the pack by six points over Hawkes, the winner of the Nashville qualifier, and Cooprider was in third, eight points behind.Mike Wingo
The competitors practice in the lawn of the Wonders of Wildlife museum before stepping up to the pond on day two of the competition. BAITCASTING
On day two of the competition, the venue of Dogwood Canyon in Lampe, Mo. was traded for the grounds of the Bass Pro Shops and Wonders of Wildlife museum in Springfield, Mo. Trading trees for trucks as the scenery, day two started with the baitcasting competition in front of the Wonders of Wildlife museum. The museum is dubbed the term "zooquarium" for its impressive displays of saltwater fish tanks, educational exhibits, and a bald eagle at eye level.
Mike Wingo
Thomas Cooprider casted his way to the top three by beating out professional anglers, including an FLW pro, in the baitcasting challenge. With the backdrop of the museum and a magnificent statue of a record whitetail, competitors casted at various targets around the pond that greets shoppers and museumgoers at the Bass Pro Shops complex. Hawkes, the favorite going into the event, ended up at second, with Cooprider nailing the most bull's-eyes.Mike Wingo
(Left to Right) Chris Nischan, Ken Galloway, Mike Hawkes, Drew Simon, and Brian Cramer get ready to shoot. Air Rifle
Going into the second to last event, Thompson, who finished fourth in baitcasting, had a four-point lead over Hawkes, and only one point separated Hawkes and Cooprider. Each competitor had to hit eight moving targets in three minutes, moving to a further target after every minute. After putting up a the first sub-minute time, Rick Hartman, last year's runner-up, made the prediction that only two other people would finish with faster times: Hawkes and Thompson.
Mike Wingo
Ken Galloway plinks one of the moving deer targets on the rifle range. He was right. Hawkes ended up hitting all eight targets in just under 56 seconds with Thompson finishing just about two seconds longer. Going in to the final event, five points separated Hawkes and Thompson, and all that stood between Thompson and the title of Total Outdoorsman was three pieces of gear, an Arctic Cat ATV, a hairpin turn, and a mud bog.Mike Wingo
Tyler Palmerton needed bungee cords and his left leg to keep his gear on the ATV. ATV
As the competition drew to a close, the clouds parted and the sun started to beat down on the stands surrounding the ATV course located behind the Bass Pro Shops. Similar to the endurance event, competitors were paired together in a race against time. Each person had to load on a gun case, a duck blind, and a bag of decoys to their ATV, and keep all their gear throughout the course. Also, like the endurance event, Palmerton and Galloway were first to go. And, as the other competitors took their turns, they watched intently on how to cut their time.
Mike Wingo
Rick Hartman motors through the mud on the ATV course. By the time the competitors at the top of the leader board were riding, they were throwing the gear over the seat, sitting on the gun case and blind, gripping the bag of decoys on their lap and motoring the mud bog as fast as they could without flooding the engine. When it was Hawkes and Thompson's turns to go, the leaders had figured out the course and finished in half the time of earlier competitors. In their heat, Hawkes was ahead the entire time, until the final seconds when Thompson kicked it into gear to win his first event of the competition.Mike Wingo
(Front--Left to Right) Hawkes, Thompson, and Cooprider stand out among the most skilled in our sports. Knowing that as long as he didn't dump his gear he would win $25,000, Thompson finished the course in just over 36 seconds, securing his victory and solidifying his role as the best hunter and angler in America. Hawkes finished in second place and Cooprider ended up third, the highest finisher for a non-professional hunter or angler in TOC history. In addition to the title, the money, and the ATV, Thompson and all the competitors got to keep their Bass Pro Shops flyrod, a Bass Pro Shops baitcasting rod, their Diamond bow, and their Gamo air rifle, all awarded to them by Bass Pro Shops, Diamond, and Gamo. Thompson's title is on the line for next year, and almost all the competitors are gunning for their shot at glory. After months of training and finishing second, Hawkes said, "I guess I need to get an ATV." And even though this year's competition has ended, the quest to become the best outdoorsman continues.Mike Wingo