When two-time Olympic gold medal-winning skier David Wise started talking publicly about a passion he pursued in his free time, his agent warned him against it. His sponsors balked. Then, a few dropped him.
“You feel like you’re getting broken up with,” said Wise, who’s working to make his third U.S. Olympic team in the ski halfpipe event and compete at next year’s Beijing Games. “It’s like, ‘Why don’t you guys like me anymore?’ And one of the things that they said is, ‘Well, because you’re openly a hunter.’”
Instead of responding by hiding his hobby in the woods, however, Wise amplified it. He went on hunting podcasts, and started an Instagram page highlighting the “off the grid” activities he pursues with his wife and two children, including growing vegetables, raising chickens and hunting.
“If something has to die to feed my family I choose to take on the responsibility of killing it myself,” Wise wrote on Instagram in August 2018. “I know that I can do it swiftly and efficiently and leave nothing to waste.”
That year, Wise said he realized he could be a powerful messenger for hunting, a pursuit often overshadowed by fierce debates about gun laws and trophy-chasing.
“I just got to the point where I was too tired of trying to be somebody other than who I was on my social media,” said Wise, now 31 years old. “So I just decided, You know what? If I’m happy and poor, I will feel a lot better than if I’m rich and miserable.”
Although he sometimes hunts with a gun, Wise most often uses a bow and arrow. That is partly because archery-hunting season is earlier in the West so it doesn’t conflict with ski season, partly because he feels bowhunting is more fair to the animal, and partly for the challenge.
“It’s kind of like what I do on skis: the higher the difficulty, the higher the reward,” Wise said.
He follows “fair chase” principles for big game, pursuing wild animals that aren’t fenced-in, and hunts everything from geese to elk to wild boar. Wise says he hasn’t bought red meat at a store since around 2015.
Though his day job takes him outdoors often, hunting takes him miles deeper into the wilderness than even backcountry skiing does.
“When I start to get stressed out or overwhelmed by what I have going on, or even in a year like this where I’m preparing for the Olympics again, there’s naturally anxiety that goes along with that,” Wise said. “When I start to feel that too deeply, I really need that opportunity to go and have solitude out there in the wild.”
Wise still lives in the Reno, Nevada, area, where he grew up as an athletic, outdoorsy kid who felt like a bit of an outsider. At one point he was on both an alpine racing and a freestyle-skiing team—cliques that eyed one another skeptically, he recalled—and enjoyed them both.
“I’ve always kind of migrated between groups,” Wise said. “I’ve just picked certain things that I am excited about and I don’t let the leadership in those groups dictate who I am or how I should be.”
Wise started tagging along with his Dad and twin sisters, who were four years ahead of him in school, on hunts when he was eight years old. He shot his first deer at 12, and he was hooked.
In an action-sports culture always hungry for the next teen phenom, Wise was different in other ways, too. He studies the daily routines of high performers, and his Instagram bio touts faith, marriage and parenting—not exactly partying-at-Chateau Marmont vibes.
A decade ago, Wise started winning in the new event in which skiers performed tricks in the halfpipe just as snowboarders do. When giving interviews, he didn’t mention hunting unless someone asked him about it.
When Wise told his France-based agent, Aissam Dabbaoui, that he wanted to start posting and talking about hunting, “I told him, ‘Man, it’s not good for your brand,’” Dabbaoui recalled. Wise responded by taking Dabbaoui on an excursion—and turning him into a bowhunter.
“I actually walk out of my house and hunt,” said Dabbaoui, who has deer and boar near his home in the alpine city of Annecy, France.
In recent years it’s become trendier to procure organic meat through hunting, and hunting has enjoyed a renaissance during the pandemic. Dabbaoui mused that the sponsors who dropped Wise, whom he wouldn’t name, might reconsider now.
Still, Wise said he’s had conversations with people who say they’re anti-hunting—even though they seem to share many of his views about it. Although he keeps the antlers of animals, he doesn’t hunt solely for trophies like animal heads or skins.
“I don’t believe in going out there and killing a bunch of things and not consuming the meat, and disrespecting the animals and posting it all over social media,” he said.
Wise often treats coaches and ski-team support staff to wild-game dinners when they’re on the road. At a recent competition at Colorado’s Copper Mountain, Wise used a pressure-cooker to prepare Axis deer from a trip to Hawaii and ducks he’d shot on a quick outing a few days earlier.
“He’s definitely a good cook,” said Mike Riddle, head coach of U.S. halfpipe ski team.
Riddle said that, unlike the snowboard halfpipe in which Americans
and Chloe Kim have dominated competitions, no one in ski halfpipe has been similarly superior. “Dave is probably as close as it gets,” Riddle said.
Wise competes in a camouflage-infused jacket from First Lite, making him one of the few, if not only, freestyle skiers sponsored by a hunting brand. He says the jury is out on whether he came out ahead, sponsorwise, after he started talking more about hunting.
One thing is certain, though.
“The hunting community is stoked,” Wise said. “There are a lot of closet bowhunters in professional sports. A lot. Not so much skiing and snowboarding—I mean there are definitely a few. But Major League Baseball is chock-full of them. Golf is full of them. Hockey. And a lot aren’t closet hunters, either, but there are a lot of closet hunters as well.
“So I think that the hunting industry is just excited to see somebody like me just take ownership of it–‘Hey, I hunt.’ I think that wild game is the best diet for any athlete.”
Write to Rachel Bachman at Rachel.Bachman@wsj.com
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