Seed Stage: Planting the Next Generation of Conservationists.

An Interview with Donald Trump Jr.

Just take one more bite of your muffin, buddy.” It’s 5:30 a.m. and five-year-old Spencer Trump silently takes another bite of his breakfast. He’s going to need it when we’re on the mountain later.

As Don and I look out the window, I hear footsteps nearing the bottom of the stairs. I turn to see Kimberly Guilfoyle as she rounds the corner looking as put together as any woman who has ever set off into the dark Utah air to hunt. She and Don aren’t married but they live together, work together, hunt together and take their children on trips together. They’re very much the modern family. Kimberly’s son and the rest of Don’s children are back at home getting ready to go to school. This is Spencer’s trip.

Several hours later, as the sun comes up over the mountain, Spencer looks at me and asks if we’re going to see a deer. It’s the first time the shy young boy has initiated one of our conversations. I can see that he’s taken by the setting and his eagerness reminds me of my son of the same age.

A short time later, Don puts his binoculars to the side and whispers to Spencer, telling him to put his fingers in his ears. Kimberly is behind the rifle and a mature mule deer has stood up from his bedded position on the steep slope ahead of us.

As we skin out Kimberly’s mule deer, Spencer asks to help. Don hands him a sharp knife and shows his son where to cut and how to be careful with slow movements of the blade.

“Careful, Spencer,” Kimberly adds nervously.

Hours later, we’d repeat the same process with a bull elk. If Spencer is ever going to learn the failures of hunting, this isn’t the day, and none of us apologize to him for the luck we’ve had. It’ll give us time for fishing, after all.

We spend the next two days trout fishing. With a little help from his dad Spencer perfects his casting on a pond and later, on a small wild river, Kimberly taunts Don with a fish she’s just caught that dwarfs anything the rest of us have netted.

Don jokes back, “That’s a whitefish. We’re here to catch trout. Keep trying.”

It’s time to leave the river and Spencer asks to hold my hand as we amble up the slippery bank. We’re officially buddies at this point. I smile at the thought of him coming out of his shell over the past few days and I realize that, no matter his last name, he’s just another boy learning to hunt and fish…and that his dad is just another dad teaching him to love it

While traveling with Donald Trump, Jr. and his family, I took the opportunity to ask about how he got involved in hunting and what it means to him.

JV: Don, I don’t think many people have any idea that you’re a fanatical sportsman. How does a kid from New York City become such an avid outdoorsman?

DTJ: I didn’t have anyone in my family to present hunting to me, but my maternal grandfather got me into the outdoors. He was a blue-collar electrician from communist Czechoslovakia. The life I was experiencing in America, he thought  that was great. He also saw the perils in the opulence of a wealthy society and wanted to make sure I saw the other side. He made sure I got to see what life was like on visits to his home country.

On those trips, we spent a lot of time in the outdoors, though he was not allowed to hunt. He avoided the communist party. He wasn’t one of them and hunting was reserved for the communists in his country. But I got lucky in that he instilled in me a passion for the great outdoors. He taught me how to shoot an air gun; he taught me how to shoot a bow. He taught me the basics of fishing and he’d just say, “There’s the woods. I’ll see you at dark.”

I learned a lot on my own and spent a lot of time around the campfire. I was blessed to have other mentors along the way. My grandfather passed away when I was about 12 years old. I was still pretty young, but I liked to get out of New York City. I just always felt a little out of place there, so I went to The Hill School in central Pennsylvania; an old boarding school that had a rifle range and a trap and skeet range on campus.

A couple of guys there said, “Hey, you’ve shown a lot of interest,” so they took me under their wing.

My first hunt was for pheasants. The dean of the school was a hunter. He could run a round a skeet clean with a .410 Winchester Model 42 and was an awesome outdoorsman. He saw that I was into shooting and one day he just walked up to me and said, “Tomorrow morning, 6 a.m., meet me in the parking lot. Dress warm.”

That probably wouldn’t fly today (laughing). He wasn’t asking anyone else’s permission. He just took me on my first hunt. I was in the eighth grade. Then he took me and another kid, who was an older senior, on opening day of Pennsylvania deer season on public land. It was awesome and I was hooked. After that, I read every hunting book there was and just went from there.


JV: How has this shaped you as a hunter now that you have your own family?

DTJ: For me, a big part of my outdoor experience is making sure that hunting remains not just for myself, but for the next generation. I want to pass on those lessons that I’ve learned in the outdoors.

In today’s instant gratification society, you get an award for just being awake. But with hunting and fishing, the lessons of perseverance, patience and discipline are all required to master those arts.

Whether it’s fly-fishing, shooting, hunting—virtually anything in the outdoors—I want to pass on those lessons to my children because they were really important in forming me the way that I am.

JV: Speaking of which, we’ve had a quiet little shadow with us on this hunt. It’s been fun watching a member of the next generation as he’s been taking in everything out here in the mountains.

DTJ: I was able to bring along my youngest son, Spencer. He’s six and this was his first one-on-one hunt with me. I brought Kimberly as well because that’s perhaps the other place where we’ve done a lousy job as stewards of hunting; you know, forgetting about 50 percent of the world’s population when introducing new people to hunting.

JV: I did notice that when we were on the mountain with Spencer and Kimberly, you were in teacher mode. You explained that you didn’t need some pinnacle bull for you to feel like the hunt was successful. You just wanted a good representative elk. It’s a great lesson for new hunters.

DTJ: For sure. Unfortunately for a lot of hunters today, it’s about “what can I shoot?” “Where’s that next half an inch of horn coming from?”

You know, I think sometimes we can be our own worst enemies with that stuff. Trophies are all so relative. For me, the trophy is the experience and camaraderie. It’s the friendships built around the campfire. It’s not that extra half-inch that makes the difference between success and failure. I think sometimes we’ve created that impression for a lot of people and it’s taken some of the joy out of it for people.

For me, it’s all about relationships and time together; time in nature and time off of video games and away from the couch. You, Spencer and I also had that conversation about tag soup. I’ve eaten plenty of it.

And now that I’m thinking about it, I’ve never officially scored anything for the record books, and I’m a regular member of the Boone & Crocket Club.

That’s not to say I haven’t run the tape across something to see what it is just to have as a reference point, but for me, to this day, my greatest “trophy” is actually my first elk.

JV: Tell me about that.

DTJ: Well, I shot a raghorn four-by-four when I was living in Colorado that would score probably less than a hundred inches. (Laughing) Literally, it was almost like a Coues deer rack on a mature bull. But I’d hunted for 28 days in a row. I’d taken a year off after school, which was an interesting conversation with my father. I think I was the first graduate of the Wharton School of Finance to move to Colorado to become a bartender so I could hunt. But anyways, two buddies, both U.S. ski team guys, bow-hunted with me in tandem, calling for each other, and we all tagged out on public land elk.

JV: That ain’t easy!

DTJ: I know. The odds were less than two percent or something for each of us. I dropped the string on my bull at seven yards on the last day I could possibly hunt that season. I had to cut it a day or two short because 9/11 had just happened and I was like, “Ok, tomorrow is my last morning. I’ve got to get home,” and we made it happen.

My buddy was calling about 20 yards behind me. We heard this bull but we just didn’t see another one that came in. He was a silent satellite bull. We were on a really steep grade and I saw a hoof go down in the bush that we were in. He couldn’t see us because it was just so steep and thick, and we couldn’t see him either. My buddy hit the cow call, and the bull circled around. I drew and waited for him to walk into where I was aiming. He did and I dropped the string.

JV: What a heavy story for your first elk. To get a bull at the buzzer before going back to New York after 9/11. That must’ve been emotional.

DTJ: Yeah, it was. We went on that hunt in my buddy’s truck because my car was already packed. I had my kayak, fly rods, my this, my that. Everything was in there except my bow and my last pair of camo clothing. I was just really lucky for that experience in Colorado to end like that. It was awesome.

JV: We learn a lot by working that hard to become successful in the field. With that in mind, what do you want to teach your kids about hunting, fishing and
the outdoors.

DTJ: Oh, man, I think there’s no better venue to learn the important things in life. Again, discipline, patience and perseverance . . . all of those things. You don’t learn them by playing a video game. You don’t get that sitting on a couch. You know? All of those things are so important, and they are sort of glossed over as faulty old-school traditions in today’s “participation trophy era.”

I think the ability to do and learn is so valuable. You saw it in Spencer in the way he was casting. At the beginning, I was helping him out and, by the end, he was doing it all on his own. I mean, he’s done that before, but he’s six, so you take a couple of months off from doing that and it’s like, “Ok, I’ve got to learn this again,” and through all of these things, you can really learn so much about yourself. You force yourself to get through it, to get to that next level—and you can do it.

For example, for my brother’s bachelor party, instead of doing the sort of “Vegas- no upside” bachelor party, we literally got all of our friends together and went up to a lodge in Alaska for a 10-day fishing trip. My little guy, Donnie, who was five at the time, kept saying, “I want to go!” I’m asking myself, should I take Donnie along with a bunch of 30-year-old dudes to Alaska?

So that little guy got off the plane . . .

JV: So hold on, you took your son fishing in Alaska on your brother’s bachelor party (laughing)?

DTJ: At five, with like 15 other dudes, but again, knowing full well this could be a disaster (laughing). It was funny, because we were getting off the plane in King Salmon after a long day of travel and I could see the look on the guides’ faces when they picked us up. This little guy is just five years old and I see them all looking like, “Oh no, this is going to be a freaking disaster.” But by day two, Donnie was the MVP of the camp. He just rose to the occasion.

You’ve got to give kids a chance to rise. They can also fail, but I think most of the time, you know, whether they have it in them or not, you’ve got to give them a chance to actually do it.

JV: Those are some big lessons to learn at five.

 DTJ: They are big lessons! But he refused to let us help him and he wasn’t even holding us up. He was like a ground squirrel and I was just like, “Ok, he’s got it.” The rest of the guys couldn’t have been more impressed.

The other funny story from that trip came on the second to last day when he had his first and only breakdown of the whole trip. We’re coming in from fishing and he’s crying. I’m like, “You okay, buddy? Don’t worry. We’re going home soon. We’re going to go see Mom. It’s going to be fine. I’m sorry, this might have been a little too much for you.”

He’s getting worse, and I’m like “shit,” and after five minutes of this the guide looks at me, and says, “Dude, you’re reading it all wrong.”

JV: (laughing)

DTJ: And that’s when it hit me. He wasn’t upset because he wanted to go see his mom. He was upset because he didn’t want to leave. After 10 days, 14 hours of fishing each day, as a five-year-old kid, he just looks at me and gives me the nod and says “Dad, I want to stay for 100 more days.”

I was like, oh, that will put you in the middle of December. You might not want to be in King Salmon in the middle of December (laughing).

JV: Okay, now an easy question to end. Pick your bucket list hunt. What’s at the top of your bucket list right now?

DTJ: Well, I’d have to say right now, probably my Rocky Mountain bighorn, just because it would finish out my list for North American sheep. I got a great Stone, a couple of Dalls, a Fannin and a desert bighorn, but I have not yet done the Rocky Mountain bighorn. If I had just one more animal to hunt for the rest of my life, that would be what I’d have to make happen. ■

Note: As of this writing, Spencer has just turned six and his first real skinner is en route. Enjoy the knife, buddy. Happy Birthday!

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