Roy Roth: Legends Never Die
Roy Roth: Legends Never Die
By Cameron Hanes
To those who have known of me and Roy for many years, from the same small town/went to the same high school, or have followed my writings for many years, some of the following you may have read or heard before? To others, this might be new info? Either way I have no agenda here, I’m not writing this for any reason other than a therapeutic benefit maybe? To many, it might be boring, too personal, rambling, which is fine by me, I’m not worried about penning a perfect manuscript for inclusion in a book or to send to a magazine editor on the hopes they’d buy it for publishing. I’m a writer and when I document something it becomes part of my personal archives. I like writing when the feelings of success, failure, pain or victory are fresh so that my words are the most accurate and poignant…I don’t want time to water down whatever experience I’m trying to capture. I “thumbed” this, as opposed to typed, on my iPhone flying home from Houston last week and then added to it on the way back from Utah last night after my last elk hunt of the year. What follows, is how I felt when Roy died, how I remember feeling growing up together; from being kids with no real world worries, to getting married, raising families, juggling businesses, watching hopes and dreams get shot down as fast as others came to be as we chased the next great hunting adventure, to finally, how I feel now that he is gone.
The pain from Roy dying was deep for everyone at his memorial service. What I planned on doing was being strong to help those that were hurting worse than me like his wife, Jill, their kids, his mom and dad, sisters and so on. I feel like I failed a bit in that regard, at least while I was at the podium. Jill herself, seeing me in pain, felt inclined to come up and hug me as I spoke about what Roy meant to me.
Talking about Roy in the past tense was harder than I thought it would be. When I went and sat down after speaking I thought to myself, “Wow, way to screw that up.”
I didn’t have notes, hadn’t really made a plan for what I wanted to say, I just wanted to speak on what was in my heart. I did that and while it would have been nice to be a little more composed, if anyone else feels like the gentleman who sent me this note via Facebook, I guess I achieved my goal of conveying the impact Roy had on me.
I wanted to tell you how much I valued what you had to say about your friend. Your words about friendship and love and faith and doubt were so raw, so real. I think we are all accustomed to pleasantries and platitudes, where emotion from the heart is watered down into trite phrases, but you offered only honesty. “I sure loved that man. I think he loved me, too… Some days I believe I’m going to see him again, but there are other days when I just don’t know…”
I was crying. I think everyone else was, too.
What really struck me from the service is how much Roy impacted those around him. I’ve gotten so used to hearing packaged sermons and haphazardly sprinkled Bible verses, but Roy was the gospel for the people in his path. The way he lived his life and chose to love those around him, including you, was an example for everyone who knew him of what a life in communion with God looks like.
I’ll leave you with one more thought I’ve been dwelling on. All of the “Roy stories” I have heard over the years, including your words about your dear friend, tell of a big man who lived a big life. And now, partly because of Roy’s impact on your life, you have chosen to share with people a glimpse into your faith. Maybe that means you are the gospel as well? Maybe I can be the gospel, too?
I don’t know. I guess this is another chapter in the saga of my own meandering path through friendship and love and faith and doubt.
You may have gathered by now that Roy was more than a hunting buddy as many on the outside looking in would probably assume. For decades Roy was someone I could tell anything to, ask anything, he knew my demons and had seen my strengths. Above all, while I’ve seldom trusted anyone, I always trusted him and when no one else did, he always believed in me, including my unrealistic teenage dream of becoming an outdoor writer. In regard to my writing, lately we’d been talking about me writing a book highlighting his greatest Alaskan adventures and he had many. I feel the need to do that now more than ever.
Him dying, at first had me feeling selfish, thinking about all the great hunts we’d planned on doing that would now never happen, and left me with a feeling that my sorrow was exclusive. That no one could understand how bad I hurt. When people tried to offer support and say they knew what it was like to lose a hunting buddy or a close friend, again selfishly I’d think to myself, no you don’t know how I feel. I just knew my pain and loss was worse than theirs.
Just for a little background, Roy and I didn’t go to the movies, bowling, shopping mall or tavern together like some guys do with their friends. Ours was a friendship forged exclusively during years of hard, remote, challenging bowhunting endeavors. Tests that had us beat down, weakened, questioning our toughness, spirit and manhood only to rise up, endure and overcome it all many times on the way to against-all-odds success.
People who have shared intense, difficult experiences with others know how fast a bond can form. I’ve seen one tough mountain hunt turn a regular friendship into a brotherhood. Well, me and Roy experienced hard, challenging hunts together probably 100 times over almost three decades. Thusly, the bond we had was powerful. But even so, it wasn’t right for me to harbor negative feelings towards others who were simply trying to sympathetically relate to and acknowledge my pain. As the days go by and the hurt fades, I am more understanding and thankful for the amazing support people have offered. There is so much good in this world. Roy dying, while tragic, has brought that to the surface.
The Cam and Roy bowhunting journey started almost 30 years ago and even from day one, our journey was fueled by big dreams. As hunters we were successful on the small scale that matched the small town and world we called home and as we know often times success breeds jealousy so some people tried to tear down our bowhunting accomplishments in the early years. All this did was inspire us to push harder and made us not only stronger as individuals, but as bowhunting brothers, our bond became unbreakable.
We were young and very competitive in those days, even with each other. I remember bumping each other out of the way as we fought to get a shot at a big bull elk when I was 19 and Roy was 21. Just as brothers might, we argued about tactics, gear, etc. and did until he died. For example, as of late, he liked expandables, I’d tell him they are junk. I’d say I want a pass thru for a better blood trail and my sharp, fixed-blade heads would give me that. He’d say he was fine with half penetration if it was a 2″ hole. And true to form the day before I arrived in Alaska for my moose hunt last month he killed a moose himself from 70 yards with a Rage. So far as bickering, on my recent brown bear hunt with him I reached to grab my bow as a big bear skirted us. The boar left and Roy said I spooked him. I said, “Dude, he was in brush and walking away, he didn’t see me.” Roy answered, “They have a 6th-sense, he felt you move.” I looked away and said, “Whatever.”
We could critique each other all day long and like water off a duck’s back, there was never any lingering hard feelings. No matter what happened or was said, we were on the same team. I believe this unwavering union was forged because for many years early on our mindset was, “it’s us against everyone else”, in regard to bowhunting. Truth is, it wasn’t. While people may have talked smack, talking only gets a smack-talker so far. As we know there isn’t really any head-to-head competition in bowhunting when you’re in big, remote country. Just man versus animal, the country and himself. Either way the us-versus-them mind games kept us focused and always wanting outwork the fictional bowhunting beasts we competed with in our minds.
Roy was hands down the toughest…
With that in mind, speaking of out-working others, Roy is the only person I’ve ever hunted with that truly had no limits. If I wanted to go further, so did he. If he wanted push harder, past where most would quit so did I. The pain we’d have to endure meant nothing and we’d dealt with a lot of both physical and mental pain while surviving hard hunts in those early years. The thing about pain is, like Marcus Luttrell told me recently, once you go through a door, a certain threshold of pain, you never have to go thru that door again. Meaning the pain you’d once endured, that might have seemed unbearable at the time, never is as bad again. Regardless of where one starts, you get tougher with each door you go through and over our bowhunting life we’d been thru many doors. Thusly, even if we weren’t very tough starting out as kids over the years we’ve become pretty darn tough in the mountains. But, Roy was hands down the toughest.
Yeah, you’re not Roy
My hackles are always raised when people say things like, “Look at Roy, see you don’t have to be able to run 100 miles in a day to bowhunt.” In fact, I just read this exact statement recently. In my mind this is taking a shot at both of us (just like old times). Whatever people want to say about me, good, I don’t care because I’ve dealt with it for 30 years, but when they try to minimize Roy’s ability in an attempt to bring him down to their level, I see red. Their perception of Roy as a bowhunter is inaccurately skewed by his physical appearance. Yes, he was a big guy, but if you think he was an “average” man, you’d be dead wrong. Anyone who hunted with Roy quickly realized he’d out walk, out work, out hunt, out problem solve and out tough even the most elite mountain athlete let alone your typical hunter. So, when people minimized his talents by telling me something like Roy could get it done with a bow and he wasn’t a gym rat I’d would always say, “Yeah, maybe so, but you’re not Roy.”
He was a different breed. I knew this first hand and I wanted others to know this, which is why I loved writing articles and celebrating his accomplishments.
Confidence is Key
Also, for me I loved the fact that we never had to talk each other into anything. Never had to give each other motivational pep talks, as I’ve had to do often on tough mountain hunts to partners I’ve had not named Roy Roth. No mountain was too high, no challenge was too great, and danger was a non-factor. This is not to say we didn’t respect the fragile nature of the human life. We did. We just had confidence that whatever we faced, our ability and instinct would get us by.
You know, as I sit here reflecting about “confidence” and trying to put deep meaning to such an arbitrary term, I think Roy’s confidence was born from years of hunting experience mixed with his strong faith, whereas I believe mine comes from experience mixed with a I came from nothing so I have nothing to lose mentality. I don’t know? It’s so hard to explain. What I do know is I felt invincible when hunting with him and while Roy is irreplaceable to me for many reasons, this is probably the biggest reason with regard to our hunting lives. There are probably tougher guys out there and likely better hunters than me and Roy were, but when the chips are down and everything starts going to hell in the mountains I’m convinced there was no one better than Roy.
I think having confidence is always the key when doing the difficult hunts we loved most. I mean we’d hunt anything, anywhere, nasty mountains or not. My hunts at home in Oregon or throughout the west generally aren’t death defying, they are hard because all bowhunts are, but they aren’t particularly dangerous. Roy enjoyed Coues whitetail deer hunting, killed antelope in Wyoming, etc., which again, not disrespecting the challenge, aren’t insanely intense. We started out hunting within 30 minutes of our Oregon homes, in typical logging country, but over the past 20 years we became driven by intense.
Three to Remember
Thinking back now, regarding intense hunts, a good example of the unwavering confidence we shared comes from our last two hunts together and before that my Dall sheep hunt on Pioneer Peak where Roy died.
On the moose hunt, a mountain moose hunt, in a rifle area with a bow, where success is far from guaranteed, we always believed. Before the hunt, which was just two short weeks before he fell, I asked Roy, “How long will it take to get a good bull killed, 3 days?” He said, “Yeah, if that.” Well on day 3 and on my first real stalk of the hunt we were closing in on a bull I had bedded down earlier that day. A couple hundred yards out, with a million things that could go wrong to sabotage a tough bowhunt in nasty conditions with swirling winds, Roy looked at me and said, “Dude, it’s gonna happen.” I replied, “I know buddy.” And it did.
A second example of what I guess would be confidence, this time in the face of danger, was from my brown bear hunt this past July. We had a big sow brown bear that turned into a problem. She saw us from about 130 yards away and started coming full speed right at us. Roy readied his .375 and I nocked an arrow. Not sure what an arrow would do at a charging brown bear but it’s all I had. At about 25 yards she stopped and stood up aggressively huffing and staring us down. We were standing in the wide open, in knee high grass so there was no mistaking we were humans. We hollered at her, “Get out of here”. Didn’t matter, she dropped down and with deadly intentions, ears pinned back, she charged. Roy fired one shot and stoned her at close range. We didn’t get it on video because the camera was lying on the ground but it was recording, so there is audio. What you hear is us yelling at her, the rifle shot and then me say one loud, inappropriate cuss word, “****!” I was mad that we had to kill another bear. I had killed one already and we were on a high after that awesome success and sweet footage of my perfect bow shot and now we had another killed, which we didn’t want. But as I recall it now that Roy is gone, what stands out for me in regard to that charge and what AK Fish & Game calls a “Defense of Life & Property” kill was that despite us being in grave danger, the danger aspect never even entered our minds. After I cussed, mad, shaking my head, Roy said matter-of-factly, “Dude, I had to.” I replied, “I know, it just sucks.” A typical response might have been, “Oh my God, we could have been killed, are you ok? I’m shaking.” Having a partner like Roy who shares that type of confidence, was never rattled and always in control I know for a fact will never happen for me again.
On my sheep hunt I hit my ram terrible. My arrow deflected off of a rock I was attempting to squeeze the shot by and it hit him in the ankle. Basically, it cut his wrist. He made it up and over the mountain as we glassed him the entire way. He was bleeding but that’s not a shot anyone wants on an animal. After watching him go over the top I hiked up to where Roy watched my stalk and the shot from. He too saw the blood on the ram’s ankle as it limped up the mountain. As I approached him he said, “Nice shot.” I looked at top of the rugged ridge the ram disappeared over and answered, “Yeah, cool huh? I suck.” Roy said, “We will get him. Might take a week but we will get him.” I just nodded and said, “Yep.” That type of attitude and unwavering confidence is huge. In the end we did get him as most that have seen the video know. It was ugly, but we got him.
Writing of that hunt now reminds me of how even though Roy was fearless, he always respected the danger of those mountains. The same country that ultimately took his life. I think it’s important to share the advice Roy gave me as I headed down to finish off my sheep because while he had hard-earned confidence he also wasn’t stupid and didn’t take crazy risks. My ram was on the edge of a cliff in very steep country covered with ice and snow. Glassing the injured ram from the ridge top I said, “Well, I have to go get him.” Roy said, “Cam, where he’s at, I’m not sure if you can even get down there. And if you do you might not be able to get back out.” Looking down at the weakened ram I said, “Maybe so, I guess we are going to find out?” And off I went. Fate was on our side that day. I got to the ram, killed him, and to make a long story short we got him off the mountain. In the same situation now I’d guess the outcome would have been similar, but the victory was as sweet as it was then because I shared it with Roy, the only person on this earth who could know what killing that ram meant to me and what it took to get it done.
I think he felt similar about me because when he did something “next level” I’d be his first call. When he stuck his head in the brown bear den and the 10-foot bear took a swipe at him as it boiled out, he called me minutes afterwards from the mountain, excitedly telling me the story. When he killed a big Dall or giant grizzly, which is something he had done more than any other bowhunter in the world I’m pretty sure, he’d call and his first words would be something like, “Too hard.” This was “code” for us so I’d jokingly feed into the game and say, “Well that’s ok, it’s good just to get out in nature. You don’t have to kill to have a good time Roy.” We’d laugh and I’d usually follow this up with something like, “So, now that we got the jokes out of the way, you get it done?” He’d invariably answer, “Cam, that’s why I went.” Yep, Roy always got it done.
Cam, It’s What We Do
I’ll never forget what Roy would often say when we bucked insane odds, “Cam, it’s what we do.” Because everyone is good at something. We always said some men are good insurance salesmen, builders, teachers, doctors, etc…we were good at getting it done on difficult bowhunts. Everyday life was pretty mundane for us, which we regularly joked about, boring may have come up a time or two, or every time, because bucking the odds and testing ourselves is what we lived for on the hunt. My life at work, in my office/cubicle couldn’t be any more of a polar opposite from what stirred our souls. My Pioneer Peak sheep hunt was everything we loved (except for the crappy shot). People who’ve seen the video say I was crazy to go down after that ram. At the time I was just reacting, doing what we do. I knew it was dangerous to go try and pull that sheep off the edge of that cliff as it died, and that there was a chance I could fall but I never had any fear. I think being fearful and tentative in that situation is what would kill you. I really don’t feel, and didn’t feel, like I did anything out of our norm on the mountain that day. I believe that we walked on the proverbial “edge” so many times on hunts, we were comfortable being close to it. Regardless of the limits we had to push on a hunt, we always believed that no matter what happened eventually we’d come off the mountain loaded down with meat and horns. This confidence and mindset carried over to our everyday lives as well, so whatever hurdles we faced out of the mountains, at home, work, etc., no biggie.
Now that Roy is gone, of course I’ll still hunt, and likely have a lot of success. But without having him to check in with after my kills, tell him a few stories, hear of his guiding and hunting adventures, call each other just to BS, get together at least once a year to make something epic happen, well it’s just not going to be the same. In some respects I feel like a part of me died up on that mountain with Roy. Our journey together in the bowhunting mountains has been a long and fulfilling one, ripe with many failures and successes that shaped us as men. That journey has ended.
So what now? Bowhunting, as mentioned, is a challenge that defined us to some and gave us an identity for many years. Sometimes early on I know we probably both were too consumed with hunting. Over the years, while the love of the mountains still called to him passionately, I think Roy did a better job prioritizing than I have. I’m better than I was though. Instead of trying to be The Best, which isn’t realistic and for a while had me chasing unattainable dreams that were affecting my finances, relationships, employment, etc. I’m now focused on simply being My Best. Roy has always been more well rounded than me and his influence helped me with this. While husbands and fathers are roles we both served, he was better at offering more than I have as a Christian, community leader, coach, etc.. I know he prayed for me and is looking down on me now, so I’ll do my best to follow his lead. I will never be a perfect man and I’ll likely always be obsessed with bowhunting, but to honor Roy I’ll do my best to keep my obsession at a “healthy” level.
It’s been just over three weeks since Roy died and the pain has lessened for me even though my heart still aches for his family. As an irreplaceable hunting partner I’ll miss him badly but as a friend, I’m afraid that’s a hole that will never be filled.
Roy, I’ll see you on the other side buddy, thanks for always being there for me and know, in my heart, the legend of Roy Roth will live forever.