Hunting is a way of life for future baseball Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. He’s as comfortable sitting with his bow 25 feet up an oak tree as he was standing in a batter’s box fighting off 95-mph fastballs with a piece of white ash wood.
Jones, the recently retired Atlanta Brave who gets his given name (Larry Wayne Jr.) from his dad, bagged his first buck on his own about the same time be began switch-hitting in youth baseball — when he was 12 years old. Catching his father in the midst of a Sunday afternoon nap following a morning hunt, young Chipper asked his dad if he could take the truck down to the hunting camp just a mile or so from their Pierson, Fla., home. Dad, in obvious deep sleep, gave his approval.
A short time later, Chipper returned with the first buck he ever harvested on his own.
“It was kind of weird, a little scary, being out there for the first time (on my own), and I just remember pulling up to the house with that deer in the back of the truck, and knowing how proud — and shocked — that dad was going to be,” Chipper recalls with a smile some 28 years later.
Baseball wasn’t the only bond between Chipper and his dad, Larry Wayne Sr. (pictured right). Hunting had such a grip on the father and son that they always dreamed of operating a hunting business together.
Chipper’s success in baseball, and the wealth that came along with it, allowed that dream to become reality more than a decade ago with the founding of Double Dime Ranch, a 10,000-plus acre property where trophy whitetail can be found along with bobcat, javelina, Rio Grande turkey and an array of birds native to Southwest Texas. The property is about 14 miles long and 11 miles wide.
“That’s probably my favorite place on the planet,” says Jones, who is spending more time there now after retiring from baseball. “It’s the most therapeutic place for me because nobody can get in, and we’re out in the middle of God’s nowhere.”
Athletes like Jones, an eight-time all-star third baseman and former National League MVP, find hunting offers a refuge from the public spotlight.
“It gets my mind off things. It relaxes me. It excites me,” says one of the best switch-hitters in baseball history. “I love nothing more than climbing a tree and getting most of my tough thinking done. A lot of decisions have been made 20, 25 feet up an oak tree.
“The actual harvesting of an animal is secondary. I’ve spent so much of my life in or around a spotlight that being up a tree is my one sanctuary.”
While hunting brings this self-described country boy back to his roots, he’s just as competitive in this sport as he was in his baseball career. Jones uses video taken at his ranch to determine which deer can be hunted and which deer to leave alone.
Visiting hunters will get a detailed scouting report from Jones or his father. The trophies he has mounted in his hunting lodge are proof of the big bucks at Double Dime.
“My first bow buck out here was a 182-inch deer,’’ says Jones, who is strictly a bow hunter now. “He was just a stud. I hunted him for the better part of two years before I got a chance to take him with a bow, and I finally did.”
Jones also hunts in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and other parts of the Midwest. Some of it is recorded for “Major League Bowhunter,” a TV show on the Sportsman Channel that features Matt Duff, a former pitcher who reached the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals, and Jeff Danker. While viewers see a 30-minute edited version of various hunts, Jones says folks don’t really know what goes on behind-the-scenes.
“My cameraman and I sat for 12 hours in a tree from daylight to dark (in Nebraska),” he says with a laugh. “It was 17 degrees when we got in the tree, and the wind blew 15 to 20 miles per hour all day. It was one of the coldest days I ever spent in the woods.”
That leads to the one piece of advice Jones offers for hunters.
“You have to put your time in and log those hours in the tree, because they’re not going to fall into your lap sitting on the couch,” he said.
—by Sean Kernan