Swindle shoots into a new year

Trophy whitetail caps sensational season

Gerald Swindle wasn’t expecting much on the final day of 2011. At the urging of his friend and neighbor, David Kilgore, Swindle decided to spend it as he had so many fall and winter days over the past 20 years – bowhunting for whitetail deer near his Jasper, Ala., farmhouse.

The weather on December 31 didn’t signal anything special for a deer hunter: it was an unseasonably warm 60-degree day, nothing to send deer on the move. Swindle, who turned 42 two weeks before, thought he might kill a doe that afternoon when he joined Kilgore and four other hunters.

Swindle has won over $1.3 million on the B.A.S.S. tour, but he once said, in all seriousness, that he bass fishes professionally so he will have enough money to hunt. And it’s bowhunting that fuels that passion. He has killed many whitetails, exclusively with a bow for the last two decades.

“I’ve killed a big deer with a gun,” Swindle said. “But I’d never killed a big one with a bow. I’ve hunted Nebraska, Kansas; you name it, I’ve been there.”

The difference between hunting deer with a gun or a bow is like watching it being done on television or actually being in the show, according to Swindle. He was the only one with a bow in hand when he and his five companions walked their separate ways into the woods that day.

Swindle set up “in a thicket” at 3:15 p.m. He’d barely settled in when, “this big deer walked in there like, ‘I’ve got ‘em all fooled.’ ”

Physical fitness has increasingly become important for the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Swindle. Running and weight-training are regular routines. Both his physical and mental training were about to be tested as he drew his bow and waited for this buck-of-a-lifetime to walk into a clear shooting lane.

“He was about 45 yards away, then he turned and walked straight towards me,” Swindle said. “I was at full-draw for two-and-a-half or three minutes. I was shaking like Peter T. at a buffet table.”

(For those who don’t get the joke, Peter Thliveros, a long-time B.A.S.S. pro, is a big man who likes to eat.)

Swindle passed the biggest test of his hunting life. The deer was only 15 yards away when he shot; it ran only 50 yards before it fell. Swindle had been there exactly one hour.  The 195-pound trophy had an antler rack that measured 155 total inches, with eight main-frame points, plus four smaller “sticker” points. In common terms, a 12-point buck.

Gerald Swindle poses with a buck that concluded a great year for him. (Photo courtesy of Gerald Swindle)

“I called Kilgore (on his cell phone) and said, ‘Come help me carry this doe out of the woods,’” Swindle laughed. “He walked in there with a flashlight and started freaking out when he saw it. He said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’

“When I walked out of the woods that day, it was like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I’d achieved a life-long goal. The adrenaline rush was incredible.”

He estimated the buck’s age at 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 years.

“That’s the ultimate for a bowhunter, to shoot a mature buck like that,” he said.

It wasn’t as if the deer appeared out of nowhere. Swindle and Kilgore had captured deer-camera photos and found two years’ worth of antler sheds as evidence of a big buck walking their woods. But Swindle had spent many days over two seasons searching for that buck, and never got a glimpse.

To get a shot at it in the final hunting hours on the last day of the year – when the weather made its appearance the last thing Swindle expected – that will be a moment he relives the rest of his life.

“It marked the conclusion of a great year,” Swindle said.

It started last January when Swindle won his first B.A.S.S. tournament, the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain, making him the first official qualifier for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Swindle stayed strong all season, finishing third in the final Elite Series point standings.

Most importantly, it marked a year when Swindle developed a comfort zone in the grind that is travel and competition on the B.A.S.S. tour. He teamed with Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., and Britt Myers of Lake Wylie, S.C., in sharing information when figuring out the fishing pattern at each Elite stop. His traveling companions included his wife, Le Ann, who had taken charge of day-to-day business affairs and logistics, and their dog.

“That has enabled me to fish so much better,” Swindle said. “Traveling that much, it’s just difficult to create a sense of normality. With Le Ann, our dog, Big Show (Scroggins) and Britt, it has a family feel to it now.

“Sometimes at the end of the day, just to rub your dog on the head, set your feet up for 30 minutes and take your mind off everything can make a big difference. I’d put last year right up there with any I’ve had (in professional fishing).”

Swindle was the Bassmaster Angler of the Year in 2004, but last year topped it, “in a more satisfying way,” he said. “I really believe I’ve got a lot of room to get better (in 2012).”

It seems some others believe that as well. Swindle enters the new year with new sponsorship agreements with Humminbird electronics, Sunline fishing line and Top Shelf Swimbaits, plus increased sponsorships from Quantum EXO reels and Rod Glove rod covers. Those are in addition to his long list of previous sponsors, like Toyota Tundra and Triton/Mercury.

“I was already buying Top Shelf swimbaits,” Swindle said. “They make a hand-poured, 4-inch bait that I’ve been fishing successfully for awhile now. When they called me, it just seemed like a sign that the economy is getting better and more people are investing in the fishing industry.”

However, in Swindle’s way of thinking, no sponsorships can better equip him for increased bass fishing success than the awareness and skills he has developed through bowhunting.

“When you are obsessed with bowhunting, you have to pay attention to so many details,” he said. “You can’t let your mind drift. There’s not a lot of room for error. Everything you do has reverberations on something else.

“It’s the same in fishing. You have to pay attention to every cast and what you can learn from it, even when you don’t get a bite.

“Bowhunting and fishing hone your outdoor skills the same way. You’ve got to pay attention to the wind, whether the birds are singing, all the clues that Mother Nature is giving you.”

After that high note that ended 2011 for him, Swindle, someone who has always walked with a swagger, has more confidence than ever before in his ability to read those clues.

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