Ageless Angel Going Strong in the Outdoors at 86

If you are an Iowan or northwestern Illinois outdoorsie and have been around a while, the name John Angel may ring a bell. This column is both an early 86th birthday present from his son Mike, and an early Father’s Day tribute to him from all of us who truly enjoy our time in the woods and on the water.

You may recall hearing or reading about John Angel and the “The Angel Buck.” That goes back to 1980, when Mr. Angel harvested a magnificent Quad City-area trophy whitetail buck that had 34 scoreable points and scored 220-plus-inch antlers. At the time, it was the number 2-ranked non-typical whitetail archery kill in the world.

Also notable with that buck was that the year following harvest at the bi-annual Pope & Young convention held in Spokane, Wash., archery icon Fred Bear offered Mr. Angel $10,000 for the mount—which Mr. Angel declined. Among his many outdoor feats, Mr. Angel in the early spring of 1975 caught a 10-pound largemouth bass in an area strip mine. The weight was certified on a grocery store scale. And in 1982, he harvested the biggest black bear taken on a large Canadian region over a 16-year period.

I met Mr. Angel in 2005 shortly after he harvested a very beautiful and unique “rufus” wild turkey in Rock Island County. The extremely rare gobbler sported light brown to gold feathers and truly was an Eastern subspecies wild turkey.

I recall that my research through National Wild Turkey Federation biologists at the time revealed that the unusual coloring of a rufus wild turkey can lie dormant within wild turkeys and be passed on for many generations before it emerges as a live bird, and then can go dormant again for another long period. Mr. Angel has been offered several thousand dollars for that mount and has declined.

So all was well with Mr. Angel until about five years ago, when according to his son, Mike, a crippling disease came along. The decline in his health sapped the then 80-year-old’s strength to the point that he could no longer draw a bow.

Being the purist deer bowhunter that he was, Mr. Angle refused to become either a crossbow or gun deer hunter, as his days of climbing into a treestand 25 feet off the ground had ended. But he would continue to hunt wild turkey with a lighter, recoil 20-gauge shotgun.

That brings us to the spring Iowa and Illinois turkey hunting season.

Non-turkey-hunting son Mike would accompany his dad for the first two mornings of gobbler hunting. They heard and saw plenty of turkeys, but no toms would come to within gun range.

The next day Mike had to go to work and the senior Angel would get up at 4 a.m. and head to the woods—solo.

“My phone rang at 6:45 a.m., and it was Dad saying he was done hunting,” Mike said, chuckling. “He said he’d shot a very big tom. So, I talked him into taking the bird to a local sporting goods store to be entered into their big turkey contest.”

While Mr. Angel’s 2016 huge gobbler won’t win the contest, it did weigh a whopping 25 pounds, 10 ounces, and had an 11-inch beard and 1 1/4-inch spurs—a true trophy by any standards.

Mr. Angel, I offer my sincere congratulations on your 86 years of tremendous outdoors achievements. You have set the bar extremely high. And on behalf of the entire outdoors community, I salute you.