MILTON, Wisconsin — If not for the dark SUVs outside, and four Secret Service agents and a police chief hovering nearby, you’d have thought the guy petting the black Lab while sharing deer stories was just another visitor to Headhunter Bow Strings.
But that dog lover was U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the nine-term representative of his state’s 1stCongressional District. Ryan, 46, was elected the 54th speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in late October 2015, becoming the youngest man to hold that post since 1869.
Speaker Ryan visited the offices and manufacturing facilities of Headhunter Bow Strings in early February. He was there at the invitation of its three owners – brothers Jeff, Brad and Brian Adee – whose business is based in Ryan’s congressional district. The Adee and the Ryan clans went to the same high school in nearby Janesville back in the 1980s.
Jeff Adee, the company’s president, also represents Headhunter Bow Strings on the Archery Trade Association’s 18-member Board of Directors. Speaker Ryan is a longtime ATA friend and ally, and has worked with its CEO/president, Jay McAninch, since they met in the nation’s capital after Ryan’s election to Congress in 1999. Ryan was then chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and McAninch worked for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation until taking the ATA’s reins in August 2000.
In a recent interview with Fox News, House Speaker Paul Ryan uses his visit to Milton, Wisconsin, to explain why government regulation is stunting economic growth. Catch the mention 34 seconds into the video clip.
Speaker Ryan – a serious hunter and longtime archer – received the invitation to tour Headhunter Bow Strings’ operations when talking last fall with the Adees while home visiting constituents. The speaker’s office staff called the Adees in January to arrange a 30-minute tour, and to discuss their concerns about taxes and health-care regulations.
After arriving and going through introductions, Ryan noticed one of the Adees’ black Labs, Emma, peering out from an adjoining office. He eagerly petted the dog, asked whether she hunts, and shared his interest in hunting dogs.
“I have two Pudelpointers,” Ryan said, explaining that his dogs are a versatile hunting breed from Germany. The Pudelpointer breed is a cross of a German hunting poodle (pudel) and the English pointer. “They’re pointers, but they’re also water retrievers, and they don’t shed or cause allergy problems. They’re awesome. They’re like four dogs in one. It took me awhile to discover them, but they’re great dogs.”
The talk then turned to bowhunting. Speaker Ryan has long bowhunted on friends’ farms near his home in Janesville, but he didn’t arrow a deer last fall. “I had a tough season,” he said. “There was about a 160-class buck on the farm I was hunting. I saw him twice and kind of knew his patterns, but I never got him closer than 65 yards. Then I went out for does after the Christmas break, but couldn’t get one of those, either.”
During November, however, Ryan and his children went gun-hunting on his wife Janna’s family ranch in Oklahoma. Ryan is a proponent of quality deer management, and spends time planting and tending food plots on the property. During Oklahoma’s 2015 gun season, Ryan shot a 140-class 10-pointer he estimated was 4½ years old.
Still, he was more interested in talking about his kids’ hunts, and scrolled through photos on his smartphone to show deer shot by Elizabeth, 14, and Charlie, 12. What about Sam, his 11-year-old son? “I haven’t been able to get him into hunter-safety training yet,” Ryan told the Adees. “We will, though. My other kids shot some nice bucks, and they shot some good does, too.”
Since he was first elected to Congress more than 16 years ago, Ryan has had to squeeze his hunts into an overflowing schedule. That challenge intensified when he became House speaker. Complicating things further is his Secret Service contingent.
“I can’t share all the details about how it has changed my hunts, but I’ve had to explain that human scent is a big issue with bowhunting,” Ryan said. “Let’s just say we’ve had to come to a certain understanding (with the Secret Service agents) about my hunting. They all have carbon suits now. I’ve also hunted with (a friend) who swears by his Ozonics unit, so that’s something I’ve been hearing about.”
Ryan’s interest in bowhunting extends beyond its current era. At one point he grabbed his smartphone and scrolled through its photo files.
Congressman Paul Ryan, right, shares a hunting photo on his smartphone with Jeff Adee.
“I was in New York recently (on business), and I saw this full-body mount of a giant grizzly bear,” Ryan said. “I’m looking at this giant mount, and realize it’s Fred Bear’s world-record grizzly. I had my picture taken with it. It was huge. I felt like a little kid standing next to it. And Fred Bear didn’t shoot it with the kind of bows we use today. It was so cool. I mean, look at this thing. It’s an old mount. You can see the old taxidermy stitching right up its belly.”
Brad Adee, left, and his brother Jeff, right, share their concerns about the nation’s health-care laws with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.
After touring the company’s string-making facilities, Ryan sat down with the Adee brothers for a 10-minute business briefing to conclude the visit. Ryan said he fears the country’s current health-care laws make it difficult for companies like Headhunter Bow Strings to keep growing, and asked the Adees if he can share their story when he returned to Washington.
“I hear stories like this all the time, but it means more to people when I can put a face on companies that are actually dealing with the problems I’m talking about,” Ryan said.