It's hardly a night to entice a man out. The World Series is on TV, and it's raining heavily on Long Island. But by 7:30, half an hour before the 15th Annual Joe DeFalco Hunting Expo is to start at the Adelphi-Calderone theater in Hempstead, a crowd of 600 or 700 is already on hand waiting to watch Joe DeFalco, 53, an ex-butcher who had cut up more than 10,000 deer before he turned author and folk hero, show them onstage how to field-dress and carve up deer. In the lobby, beneath a banner proclaiming THE COMPLETE DEER HUNT BV JOE DEFALCO, pitchmen in blaze orange jackets are hawking copies of The Complete Deer Hunt by Joe DeFalco, a $5.95 paperback that has, according to Joe DeFalco, who first published it himself in 1969, sold over 700,000 copies. Inside, near the stage, a Joe Pastor band is playing and a vocalist is singing while Joe DeFalco checks the props onstage. Next, Joe DeFalco goes out to the lobby to see how the sale of $1 raffle tickets is doing. The prizes include "3 days & 2 nights, 2 adults & 2 children free, Plus 8 delicious meals at Fernwood in the Poconos." Fernwood is one of Joe DeFalco's clients.
Additional prizes are a quartz clock radio, a shooting-range pass, a free head mount, a Colt revolver kit and a grand prize of "$1,000 Value 3 Day All Expense Paid Hunting Trip with Joe, Private land, Guides, Celebrities, Donated by the Paramount Hotel [another Joe DeFalco client], Plus a Remington 3006 Model 4 Semi-automatic, Donated by Remington Arms Company." All proceeds from the raffle are to go to two sick brothers in the Catskills who have let hunters shoot on their farm for 40 years. "Everything we do is four-star legitimate," says Joe DeFalco, who will use the first person plural when he isn't alluding to himself in the third person singular or, more commonly, as "Joe DeFalco" instead of "I."
In his life, Joe DeFalco has shot at least 100 white-tailed deer, hunting in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The biggest buck he ever took was an 11-pointer that weighed 198 pounds, field-dressed. The biggest deer he ever saw weighed 202 pounds field-dressed.
"Bein' a former butcher, I know what a deer weighs," Joe DeFalco says. "You hear all this talk about how this guy got a 280-pound deer, a 300-pound deer. No way. The average field-dressed deer, a buck comin' out of New York, don't weigh 110 pounds."
January 10, 1983
According to Joe DeFalco, "The smart hunter who is lookin' for food won't take a buck. If he has a doe permit, he will take a young doe. A young doe is gold on the table. The bucks have to age for a week. You handle a deer right, you get the blood out, you cut it up right, and you can serve veal Parmesan to people who say they don't like venison.
"But the average hunter don't know what he's doin'," Joe DeFalco continues. "You talk to a guy from the city and you ask, 'Where you gonna hunt tomorrow?' And he says, 'I don't know,' or 'I'm gonna go up the hill across the road.' He hasn't even sighted in his rifle. What you should do is take advantage of the small-game season, which opens a month before deer. You're out lookin' for rabbits or pheasants. It's the same fields or woods where you're gonna hunt deer, and so you see a buck, or you see four deer near a certain tree. Three days later you see the four deer again at the same spot. You put an X on that tree. On openin' day, you sneak up to that tree, and you get your deer."
During deer season, Joe DeFalco leads parties of hunters on drives over 3,000 acres of land in the Catskills. Hunters from as far away as Maine pack into the Paramount Hotel in Parksville, N.Y. to hunt with Joe DeFalco. They pay $30 a night to sleep four or five in a room, plus another $30 a season to cover the cost of four guides, the lease on the land and insurance. "When you hunt with a guy like Joe DeFalco, you're gonna have excitement," says Joe DeFalco. "We're gonna push deer. You're gonna see deer. You're gonna have a chance at a shot, but you gotta be ready for a movin' target. The worst hunters in the world are target shooters. They're shootin' at targets 6 feet high, and the biggest deer is 36 inches at the shoulder. The chest is best, but sometimes you gotta shoot at the rump on a movin' target. Last year we never had a day when we didn't see deer. Last year, on average, 20 out of 25 guys on our drives got deer. The average in New York State was one out of six."
A Joe DeFalco hunt is organized like a campaign out of Caesar's Gallic Wars. Joe DeFalco will have reconnoitered the land beforehand and marked off various sectors. As many as 35 hunters may be in a day's party. Half of them will be posted at key spots that Joe DeFalco has marked, and the other half will drive the deer. "We've divided them up into four different teams," says Joe DeFalco, "and we know exactly where we're gonna go. The guides have white arm bands. They have sideband radios, like the police, that have a range of eight miles. We're in constant communication, and we know where everybody is. It's like a football game, and I'm sendin' in the plays from the sidelines. This guy has gotta block at the line and the quarterback has gotta throw the ball, but he's gotta know where his receivers are."
After Joe Mallia, Joe DeFalco's assistant, fires a shot in the air to signal the start of a hunt, the drivers begin shouting to move the deer. A drive lasts half an hour to an hour, and there may be as many as 12 in a day. At the end of each drive, a truck air horn blasts so that people and deceased deer can be picked up and regrouped or field-dressed.
Joe DeFalco's hunting companions have included Willie Mays, Catfish Hunter, Joe Namath, Rich Caster, Spider Lockhart, Dave Kingman and any number of other past, present or ex-New York Jets, Giants, Mets and Yankees. "The athletes are so coordinated they can go all day," says Joe DeFalco. Joe DeFalco is big on celebrities. "I never hunted with Richard Todd, but I gave him his first bow," Joe DeFalco says of the Jet quarterback. "He's had dinner at my house three times. I gave guns, black powder from Classic Arms—I get a lot of stuff to field test—to Tom Seaver, Mickey Lolich, Jon Matlack, Telly Savalas, George Savalas." Indeed, Joe DeFalco was the chairman of the first Telly Savalas Charity Ball.
Joe DeFalco was nine when he shot his first deer. His father, Al, a butcher in New York City's borough of Queens, drove Joe and an older brother, Phil, up to the Adirondacks the night before opening day. "By 10 in the morning my father couldn't keep his eyes open," says Joe DeFalco. "He says, 'If you see any deer, boys, wake me up,' and he falls asleep under a tree. An eight-point buck is runnin' toward me. I pick the gun up, brace it on a rock and hit the deer a half inch above in between the eyes.
"My father jumps up, grabs me by the arm and asks, 'Are you O.K.?' Phil points to the deer and my father smacks me in the face. 'You're not old enough to shoot this deer,' he says. 'You tell anyone, and we'll all go to jail.' When we got home, my mother kissed my father. He took bows all over the place and gave us a wink."
At a little after eight in the Adelphi-Calderone theater, with 1,200 people on hand, the band strikes up the national anthem, and Joe DeFalco's niece, Donna DeFalco Lipari, sings The Star-Spangled Banner. As she begins, the curtains part. There, at the center of the stage behind a lectern, is Joe DeFalco in a checkered shirt. In front of him are a stuffed deer and a stuffed bear. On a wall behind him are the heads of four bucks shot by Joe DeFalco, the mounted rear end of a deer that DeFalco shot precisely there, a couple of tanned deer hides, a bullseye and two targets featuring a deer. At stage left are celebrities Joe DeFalco will soon introduce. At stage right, Joe DeFalco's brother Tommy, who runs the Veteran's Supermarket in Saint Albans, L.I., stands at attention in a butcher's white apron, butcher knife upraised by his side, next to an eight-point buck hanging from a rope by its antlers.
The master of ceremonies, Vince Lipari, Joe DeFalco's "nephew-in-law," welcomes everyone to the 15th Annual Joe DeFalco Hunting Expo. "I married into a legend," Lipari exults. "Joe DeFalco is a legend in the hunting world. Joe DeFalco will field-dress a deer right here on this very stage tonight!...I'd like to present the legend, Joe DeFalco!"
"Everybody comes to this affair 'cause they love the sport of huntin', " Joe DeFalco says. He then begins introducing the celebrities. "Chuck Wepner! Sylvester Stallone came to New York with $109 in his pocket and saw Chuck Wepner fight Muhammad Ali on closed-circuit TV from Cleveland, and Chuck nearly kicked Muhammad Ali's ass! So he made Rocky. The real Rocky, Chuck Wepner! Number Seven of the New York Mets, Ed Kranepool, Number Seven! Vito Antuofermo! He's Italian. Give him a big round of applause!" Ten of the New York Jets, at the time on strike, are introduced. Father David, of St. Rita's Church in Queens, takes a bow and says that Joe DeFalco has done a great deal for children.
Joe DeFalco starts talking about hunting rifles. "People ask me what kind of a gun do I buy," he says to the hushed house. "Buyin' a gun is like marryin' a girl. You don't know what she's like until you squeeze her. I'd like you to meet my wife, Eleanor." Mrs. DeFalco stands up. Applause. Joe DeFalco picks up a rifle with lever action and then puts it down. "I don't want to knock any gun companies, but I'd flush that one down the toilet," he says. He recommends a 220-grain bullet, saying, "When I go into the woods I don't go to play around. See it, knock it down, one, two, three."
Joe DeFalco quit high school in his first year to join the Merchant Marine. Only 13, he was 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, and "People used to say, 'Why aren't you in the service?' " He spent 16 months in the Pacific and then came back home to become a butcher. He was in the Army for two years during the Korean War and served as a sergeant in meat-cutting school at what was then Camp Gordon in Georgia. In his spare time he hunted, and once served as a guide for General Eisenhower, who was in Augusta to play golf. Later on, Joe DeFalco spent an afternoon hunting mule deer with Lyndon Johnson in Texas, but, he says, "Drivin' up and seein' a deer sit-tin' there and shootin' it is not a sport to me." In 1965, hunting rabbits on Long Island, Joe DeFalco met another hunter, who happened to be Kranepool, and the ballplayer and the butcher became close friends. They have hunted together every year since. After the Mets won the '69 World Series, Kranepool, Jerry Koosman and Joe DeFalco were invited to hunt on an Indian reservation in South Dakota, "The only white men ever allowed in," says Joe DeFalco. "The Indians wanted to meet Joe DeFalco "
Joe DeFalco brings Walter Seville of Bear Archery and Howie Noll, the New Jersey state bow champ, out on the stage. Howie shoots out all the balloons on a target with his arrows. "Now some Life Savers!" exclaims Seville. Howie shatters the first Life Saver, but misses the second. Boos. He misses several more. Joe DeFalco intervenes. Peering up at the balcony, he says, "This man cannot see on accounta the goddam lights in his eyes." Applause for Howie.
Joe DeFalco moves on to apparel. "A lot of hunters don't know what the hell to wear," he says. Suddenly there is a blare of loud music as a black man comes out on stage with ghetto blaster and belts of machine-gun ammunition strung all over him. Joe DeFalco looks dumbfounded. Joe DeFalco reaches into an ammo box hanging on the guy and keeps pulling on a belt of ammunition. The audience cheers. Lipari introduces the man as Willie Womper—actually Willie Hollingsworth, who "is in the Guinness Book of World Records for walking more than 18 miles with a bottle on his head." Joe DeFalco says a hunter should be quiet in the woods: "You stand still and that goddam deer will walk up to you." Joe DeFalco talks about the new Joe DeFalco Game Winner huntin' jacket that he has endorsed. "Give myself a plug," he says. "Same material as the astronauts used on the moon, O.K.?" He talks about where to hunt. "My favorite spot is the Paramount Hotel in Parksville, New York. Anyone who wants to hunt with us, come on up. Paramount Hotel, O.K.?" Joe DeFalco tells of the time his son Al, then 16, got lost hunting and walked for 22 miles until the state police found him. Joe DeFalco says, "I wanted to kill him but he said, 'Don't worry, Dad, I told them my name was Greenberg.' " Joe DeFalco introduces Joan Murray, owner of a modeling school. The crowd whistles as she walks onstage. Ms. Murray says that because this is an audience of hunters, they might like to see something primitive. The New York Jet players carry scantily clad models onstage over their heads. The crowd cheers.
Joe DeFalco's rise to fame began in 1968, when he got a phone call at the Starlight Meat Center in Franklin Square, Long Island, where he was working, from a hunting club asking if he would show 25 of its members how to field-dress a deer. He agreed, and so many people showed up that traffic was snarled. Joe DeFalco had to cover the last six blocks to the store on foot. Frank Keating of the Long Island Press reported, "The police estimated the overall crowd at between 2,000 and 3,000. A bewildered woman member of an adjacent Republican club called the turnout 'the biggest thing that ever happened in this neighborhood.' She added that presidential candidate Richard Nixon drew only 500 people at a recent appearance."
A local weekly, the Franklin Square Bulletin, took on Joe DeFalco as its hunting and fishing columnist, and he began calling himself "Franklin Square's Own Famed Hunter-Guide-Rifle-Long-Bow Expert." (He later became, briefly, "Long Island's Famed Hunter," but he now simply refers to himself as "Joe DeFalco, Famous Hunter," on the grounds that "if I was under oath and was asked who the most well-known hunter in the country is, I would have to say, from the bottom of my heart, Joe DeFalco.") In response to the 5,600 letters he received after the demonstration at the Starlight Meat Center, Joe DeFalco announced that he would put on another demonstration three weeks later at the Platt-deutsche Park Restaurant, which could hold more people than his butcher store. Three thousand jammed into the restaurant, and a neighbor suggested that if Joe DeFalco could draw crowds like that, he ought to write a book. He immediately started on The Complete Deer Hunt. To help pay for 25,000 hard-cover copies he had printed for 88¢ apiece, he sold a brand-new Cadillac. "Only 1,800 miles, and my ex-wife said, 'You're crazy.' "
To promote the book, Joe DeFalco quit butchering. "I wrote to every sporting-goods store I could to tell them the book was coming out," he says. "I had friends who would call a store and say, 'Have you got The Complete Deer Hunt by Joe DeFalco?' In them days, you had to push Joe DeFalco down people's throats. But the week before we came out, every store must have had 10 calls, and when we would walk in they would say, 'Wow, have we been waitin' for you!' "
Joe DeFalco rented space at the sportsman's show in New York City. Through happenstance, the promoters of the show had hired Namath, who knew Joe DeFalco, to make an appearance. "When he saw me there, he came over to the booth," says Joe DeFalco. "He started autographin' books with me, and I got an award for drawin' the biggest crowd of the show. We ran out of books." He had more printed. "We probably blew out legitimately more than a couple hundred thousand copies," Joe DeFalco says. Playworld stores bought 2,500 copies when Joe DeFalco made an appearance, and drew "one of the biggest crowds they ever had. They had a parade for me." A representative of Times Square Stores was there at the time, and as a result, the firm bought 10,000 copies and hired Joe DeFalco to promote guns at its 12 stores. Grosset & Dunlap, the publishers, asked to publish the book, but just before Joe DeFalco sold them the rights, he printed up another 100,000 copies for himself. By this time he had started referring to himself in the third person. "I made Joe DeFalco another person so I could talk about him," Joe DeFalco explains.
He also began promoting himself as the best-known hunter in the country. For several years, in the mid-1970s, Joe DeFalco had his own program, The Outdoorsman, on Long Island cable TV: He would feature athletes and celebrities as guests.
Back at the Adelphi-Calderone, Joe DeFalco is saying, "Outdoor Life Book Club called me 'one of the leadin' authorities in the country on the white-tailed deer,' O.K.?" The book club printed an excerpt from The Complete Deer Hunt in 1969 and says it was "so good that we've brought it out again."
Lipari introduces a magic act—Steve Rodman and Linda. Steve pulls doves out of handkerchiefs and Linda twirls offstage with them. Jack Fontana, a comedian, comes on next. "I hunt," says Fontana. "I got an Italian dog. Ever hear an Italian dog bark? Woofa, woofa."
Joe DeFalco comes back onstage, and with brother Tommy wielding the knife, demonstrates how a deer should be dressed in the field. Joe DeFalco is adamant that a deer be dressed out on the exact spot it was downed. He says the hunter should cut a half-inch hole in the upper belly and then step back to let gas escape. He tells how to remove the intestines, the liver, the heart and the kidneys, and how to cut the windpipe and the esophagus. He says make a cut around the anus and pull firmly on the rectal tube to facilitate drainage of the blood when the deer is hung high.
Joe DeFalco makes a lot of appearances for nothing. "Nobody has ever paid Joe DeFalco a fee for a charity," he says. "If it's for kids, it's for nothin'. I love kids. Kids are not black, Hispanic, Italian. Kids are kids." But if any kid gives Joe DeFalco some lip, he lifts them up against the wall and says, "Shut up, ya little bastid." Joe DeFalco and a couple of Jets helped put a stop to most of the kid pilfering in the Times Square Store in Hempstead several years ago by talking to youngsters in the neighborhood, but he got in trouble when he gave a speech to the Chamber of Commerce and was quoted in Newsday as saying that the store had no problem with kids because it was policy to kick their butts. "Their families don't give 'em discipline," says Joe DeFalco. "I do. I tell 'em to stay straight with sports. I tell 'em about huntin' and fishin' and I take them outdoors. I put on shows. I bring athletes. We go to grammar schools, churches, Little Leagues, you name it."
Onstage, there is much sawing and chopping. Joe DeFalco holds up the liver, the heart and lungs. "Anybody hungry?" he asks. "O.K., Tommy," he says, "take the legs off. O.K., let's talk about glands for a minute, O.K.?" Then it's "Cut the shoulder off. O.K., the youngest kid in the house, bring him up." A man climbs onstage with a year-old boy in his arms. Joe DeFalco gives them some venison. He asks for the oldest man in the house. An 82-year-old with a cane limps onstage. "Let's give him a big round of applause," Joe DeFalco says. "Is everybody having a good time?" It is 10:40 when the show ends, and Joe DeFalco thanks everyone for coming.
In 1979, just after Joe DeFalco had finished making a TV pilot with Catfish Hunter for a hunting series that was to be nationally syndicated, he was riding his motorcycle when a truck hit him and sent him flying 60 feet. "I had $9,000 worth of medical bills," Joe DeFalco says. "I sued, but I lost 'cause a jury thinks that if you're 50 and ridin' a motorcycle you're retarded."
After the accident Joe DeFalco stopped working full time for Times Square Stores and joined his wife, Eleanor, in a business she had started called VIP Promotions. For a fee, VIP will supply celebrities for commercials and store openings, among other things, while a branch of the business, VIP Vacations, books rooms in resorts in the off-season and sells them at a discount to stores that offer two free nights' vacation to people who buy so much in merchandise.
All in all, Joe DeFalco is doing very well. He has a 14-room house in Baldwin Harbor, L.I. with his own trophy room, which contains, among other things, a pistol case labeled JOE DEFALCO, FAMOUS HUNTER, mounted deer heads, bulging scrapbooks with stories about Joe DeFalco and a wall full of awards. "I got 135 awards," he says. "Nassau County had a Joe DeFalco Day." He also owns a 38-foot motor home and four cars, including a new custom-made Lincoln, complete with fuzz buster. He has many, many friends, and his kids are healthy.
Next fall, Joe DeFalco plans to move the 16th Annual Joe DeFalco Hunting Expo from the Adelphi-Calderone theater to the New York Coliseum. "With all the publicity Joe DeFalco is gettin', and with one hundred celebrities onstage, Joe DeFalco will draw 20,000," says Joe DeFalco. "They'll be standin' in the streets outside. It costs $20,000 to rent the Coliseum for one night, and it will be a free show as always. It's just about locked up with Herman's Sportin' World and the NRA [National Rifle Association] sponsorin' the show.
"It's been so excitin' and adventurous," says Joe DeFalco. "To think that it all started with huntin'!"