Retired Payson High School teacher and coach Dennis Pirch is the epitome of optimism — always confident challenges can be overcome and new heights reached.
But even he couldn’t have predicted the overwhelming success of the Shoot for the Heart seminars he helped jumpstart in January 2010.
Since the inception of the program, hundreds have flocked to Mountain Bible Church each month to take in the outdoor seminars that began with local tournament fishing pro Clifford Pirch leading a presentation on bass fishing and continued with a variety of other roundtables including camp cooking, mule deer hunting, tracking mountain lions, Arizona Coues Whitetail deer and others.
Clifford Pirch’s kick-off presentation drew a crowd of about 200 attendees, including a throng of children, who were obviously moved when the pro angler shared his Christian faith and the ordeal he and his family endured when his daughter Kailie was diagnosed with cancer in 2008.
During those trying times, Clifford was winless on the pro tour for a year.
Steadfastly clinging to his faith, Clifford broke out of his slump in November of 2009 by winning the championship of a FLW Series National Guard tournament on Clear Lake, Calif.
Not long after, his daughter’s cancer was declared in remission.
Clifford has called Shoot for the Heart, “a really neat deal that allows people something to do that is free.”
One of the most unusual offerings was held Jan. 6 when Barry Jones, a retired manager of the California State Winter Recreation Program, gave an about one-hour roundtable on “Cold Weather Survival.”
While most of the Shoot for the Heart programs have attracted hunters and anglers, Dennis Pirch and others noticed this one drew a different crowd, mostly hikers, campers and backpackers.
But no matter who attends, most leave praising the seminars as worthwhile, informative and fun.
One of the most popular presenters in the series has been local camp cook and outdoor chef Bob DePugh whose scrumptious preparations have convinced more than a few skeptics that wild game can be the focal point of delicious meals.
In early December, DePugh took a walk on the wild side cooking elk chili for the crowd that turned out to hear FLW touring pro Mark Rose dish out bass fishing tips and strategies.
The event turned even more unique when Pirch and other organizers came up with the idea to offer a slide show presentation on hunting, fishing and camping that featured 200-plus pictures of local outdoors persons.
In gathering up the pictures, Pirch scoured the town including sorting through the Payson Roundup files.
Attendees say the unique show made an enticing backdrop for DuPugh’s cooking and Rose’s presentation.
The second of the seminars, which was held in February 2010, featured 62-year-old Dean Pederson, who has been hunting mule deer in Arizona since he was a 10-year-old accompanying his father on hunts around Flagstaff.
Pederson took a unique approach during his seminar offering a fascinating theory on why mule deer numbers have been on the decline since 1986.
Most biologists argue the decrease has been due to a series of droughts.
But, Pederson’s experiences over the years have led him to believe there could be other reasons for the drop in numbers, including the 10,000 animals killed in 1961 after “any deer” hunts were authorized. Another theory he suggests is the lack of control of predators such as coyotes and mountain lions.
During a seminar held in mid-May, Chuck Youngkers led a presentation on Coues deer, also called Whitetails, that can be found in good numbers at the base of the Mogollon Rim.
Next on the Shoot for the Heart agenda is a presentation on Arizona bears to be hosted by renowned hunter and Gila County rancher Steve Smith.
Smith’s program will be held at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 17 at Mountain Bible Church.
Along with Smith’s presentation, the Feb. 17 program will feature a guest appearance by 70-year-old Alaskan contractor Doug Moe, who in 2007, while cleaning a deer he had just shot on a wilderness island, was attacked and mauled by a Grizzly bear.
The severely injured Moe fought off the bear with a knife, stabbing it several times in the neck. He then walked more than two miles to where his hunting companions were camped.
What his friends saw was that the bear had torn an 18-inch long chunk of fat and muscle out of Moe’s leg and ripped skin hung loose from the hunter’s shoulders and arms.
Following the attack, Moe was hailed as “one of the toughest men alive.”
Dennis Pirch remembers the original concept behind Shoot for the Heart was to provide “outdoor recreation time with an emphasis on hunting and fishing in God’s creation.”
As a former outdoor columnist for the Payson Roundup, Pirch ended most of his chronicles, which appeared in Friday editions, with something similar to, “This weekend enjoy the outdoors of the Rim Country — God’s creation.”
Shoot for the Heart is also to help families who love the outdoors become better hunters and fishermen, and to build relationships with others who share the same emphasis.
For more about Shoot for the Heart, call Mountain Bible Church at (928) 472-7800.