That Boy Will Hunt
Never pushing son, Ralph and Vicki thrilled R.J. made his own call
R.J. Cianciarulo carries his red stag trophy. (Courtesy the Cianciarulos)
How do you top it?
That’s what the Cianciarulos were asked on the 20-hour flight from New Zealand back to the U.S. They had been on a working vacation for their “Archer’s Choice” and “The Choice” shows on Outdoor Channel, including filming son R.J. take a red stag.
“We had a guy on the plane say, ‘Holy cow, how do to you top this with your son? He’s only 12 and he’s in New Zealand? … this has been my bucket list hunt.’ “
Ralph said he and Vicki told the man in his 60s they might not top it for awhile, that they slowly brought R.J. up into hunting and never pushed him. They are pleased R.J. recently took a keen interest to hunting after holding a take-it-or-leave-it attitude for years, and choose New Zealand to give him a safe overseas hunt.
Click image for Cianciarulos in New Zealand photos
“First off, we didn't push it,” Ralph said. “Just like anything, you watch your kids play in a sport, you watch some of the parents who are driving and driving and pushing and pushing, and the next thing you know the kids don’t want to participate anymore.”
Since hunting is their livelihood, Ralph and Vicki have certainly exposed R.J. to a lot of it. Like any farm boy, one would figure it’d be a no-brainer for the Cianciarulos’ son to dive right into the field, but Ralph and Vicki took nothing for granted.
“We’ve tried to let him always be around it, and to also understand if he wants to do it he has all access, but if he doesn’t that’s OK, too,” Ralph said. “I think that was a big thing that helped. We were fortunate to have the accessibility and opportunity, but we’ve really taken it easy.
“R.J.’s first deer wasn’t a 160-inch buck; it was a little yearling doe. This past fall, he just shot a little five-point. It wasn’t a buck that scores Pope and Young or Boone and Crockett. We want him to appreciate it.”
Of course, R.J. has had a bow, but Vicki said he didn’t always choose to shoot it. They never made him, never made it seem like a chore, never turned him off, never made it no fun.
“As long as it’s fun, they’re going to want to continue to do it,” Vicki said. “He’s had a bow for a long time, but he didn’t care to shoot it all that much, so we didn’t push it. Now he’s got a new bow and he absolutely loves it. It’s fun to shoot. He can pull it back comfortably, not hurting himself trying to pull that bow back. And because it’s easy and it’s fun, he enjoys doing it and will want to do it more often.
“It’s the same thing with trying to get women to shoot a bow. If you overbow them, you make it too heavy, it’s not fun because you’re hurting yourself. And you’re not going to want to continue to shoot.”
Ralph said the right equipment helps immensely, like the Caldwell DeadShot FieldPod to help steady his gun or crossbow. Ground blinds also increase success with younger, more jittery hunters.
“There’s all these little tricks that just help them to become more accurate and to keep them having fun and doing it,” Ralph said.
R.J. was the one to decide he wanted to hunt. Ralph and Vicki can pinpoint his turning point. They were gone on a shoot two years ago when they received a call from R.J., who asked if he could go deer hunting. They said they were a bit incredulous, asking him what he was talking about.
“ ‘I want to go deer hunting. I want to go for shotgun season,’ “ Vicki said. “We’re like, “Yeah, you can go.’ Right there, that was his moment. He wanted to do it. Since then he has been a crazy hunting fool. He hunted before, but he could take it or leave it. He didn’t really care. Now it’s constantly what he’s talking about.”
Ralph thinks it’s simply R.J. coming of age.
“I think it was a personal confidence thing,” he said. “He’s been playing football and doing more on his own … and because the seed was planted at such an early age but not forced. I think you give anybody enough time and the pendulum is going to swing either way, and it just clicked and it’s awesome.”
The Cianciarulos’ title of “North America’s Favorite Hunting Couple” might need to be altered in the coming years to “North America’s Favorite Hunting Family” as they plan to have R.J. more in the mix on “The Choice.” He’s already been featured at times hunting and enjoys running the cameras – most times the Cianciarulos film one another.
“What we have is unique because we’ve been out there so long, and people knew us before we had R.J. and now they’ve followed him from day one,” Vicki said. “For 12 years of R.J.’s life, they’ve seen him grow up and now they see him hunting. There’s a really strong connection growing there with him.”
Plus, he’s a great shot, his dad said.