Wild Bill Schlich
In American houses this Thursday, there will be many a dead turkey sitting on the dining table. But at the Schlich home in Garrison, diners will be eating under the blank gaze of departed turkeys, Floridan hogs, black bears, a Canadian moose, Coloradan elk, and an African warthog—the trophies of a lifetime spent on the hunt.
Bill Schlich of Garrison points jovially to his scruffy white-grey beard as a sign of the wisdom he has gathered over the years. But, in talking with him, you soon realize that his wisdom came in part from clashes with death as a hunter of wild game. The PCN&R visited Schlich and his wife, Mary, at their home to tap into the life of a seasoned hunter.
As soon as Schlich opens the door to his house, he shares with the visitor that hunting “is his passion.” The multitude of mounted animal heads on the wall, and the fondness in Schlich’s eyes as he looks at them, convey that passion much more powerfully than any words could. Bill Schlich rejoices in, every hunting excursion.
He is presently in his glory locally, gun season having started last Saturday. And ever since Putnam’s bow season begins in October, Schlich has been out hunting in the highlands, “every single possible moment,” according to his wife. Schlich almost simultaneously exclaims: “I’ll go out every day during hunting season,” raising his voice and lifting his head to add emphasis.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Schlich entered the Navy before working at Con Edison for several years. During this time he and Mary met and were married. They already had four of their five children when Schlich enrolled in New York University at the age of 30. He was graduated with degrees in management, industrial relations, and psychology. Although he returned to ConEd to work for a short while, a first-time hunting trip compelled him to pick up the hobby full-time.
Spending an afternoon with the husband and wife provided a window into the supportive atmosphere that allows Schlich to enjoy his passion so fully. Despite Bill’s strongly independent personality, he still clearly relies on Mary, teasing her with good natured ribbing: “if [Mary] wants to stay, she has to put up with [the hunting],” he joked. Longtime parishioners of Our Lady of Loretto, the two together beamed with pride as they spoke of their five children and 13 grandchildren, many of whom have already begun their hunting lessons with “Poppy.”
As a man who loves to hunt on his own, free of any guides, Schlich has accumulated a deep pool of experience that makes him an authority in hunting groups. Perhaps most importantly to him, that treasury of knowledge allows him to unite generations of family members by passing on the tradition with great delight.
Beyond knowing the rarest call of an elk, or understanding the instincts of an angry buck, Schlich has recognized broader lessons about human beings through his many encounters with wildlife. He has learned how one’s instinct kicks in when being chased by a wounded black bear, and what kind of limitations one encounters when subject to nature.
Take, for example, the time when Schlich only narrowly evaded suffering death in the jaws of a grizzly bear. In the beginning of his escapade, Schlich was the pursuer: He stood at a distance and fired a shot at the approaching animal. Natural relief ensued as the bear collapsed to the ground, and natural pride stepped in as Schlich began to count another victory. But the grizzly would not be outdone. To Schlich’s surprise, the bear got up and started running at him. Schlich aimed and shot again. Again, the bear tumbled to the ground. To Schlich’s horror, the bear gathered his strength and headed for Schlich once more. The suspense hit a new level here, for Schlich had only a single bullet left. Trusting in his steady shot, he fired at the bear one last time, hitting it in a spot that should have killed it. Should have, but didn’t. The grizzly was now lumbering toward Schlich, whose only option was to run. He began in a sprint, but his energy was quickly waning, and even adrenaline couldn’t impel him to fast enough speeds. The bear was shortening the intervening distance. Exhaustion—or instinct— pushed Schlich to the ground, and he began pulling himself along on all fours—just like the beast pursuing him. Surely, escape then seemed impossible, but suddenly, the grizzly succumbed to the severity of his multiple wounds, and, finally defeated, he fell to the ground. Schlich had survived, and he had earned yet another trophy in the process.
What did Schlich learn? When being chased by a grizzly, you “just have to keep going. There’s nothing you can do: If the grizzlies are closing in to get you, then they’re going to get you.” Schlich said that he did not realize, until the bear was dead, that he himself had been running on all fours to get away from the bear. Apparently, when humans are terrified, they revert to basic animal instincts.
Schlich also tells of the time he was caught between a male and female hippo during mating season in South Africa. His guide warned him not to leave the concrete hut at night, lest he be flattened by a wandering beast. Schlich, naturally, was intrigued. Disobeying orders, he snuck out at 2am in hopes of photographing mating hippos. Eventually, he saw a female one in front of him, and then he heard the sound of a male behind him. He was caught between the two. Remembering that it is difficult for large animals to turn quickly, he ran around a tree in circles, chased by the hippo, until he was able to dart at an angle back to the safety of the concrete hut.
As Schlich tells stories like these, the listener realizes that this man who so ardently loves to be isolated in nature has much appreciation for his human relationships. “I just love people,” says the cheerful Schlich, “I’ll drink with them, laugh with them, fight with them, whatever they want to do!” Perhaps only a man who has, for example, endured a terrifying chase by a deadly hippo, could have such a consistent eagerness to interact with fellow humans in any situation. Intimately aware of the cycles of life and death, and ever thankful for each new day that has been given to them, both the Schlichs exude a contagious passion for life.
Schlich does not plan to retreat from his engagement with hunting any time soon. With experience in Africa, Russia, Canada, and various places across the United States, he brings an invaluable steady confidence to his activities, as well as knowledge of the differing hunting regulations specific to each place. These circumstances, combined with his passion that causes him to share every captivating story that comes to mind, guarantee that the Schlichs will have plenty more trophies to mount and stories to tell in the coming years, so long as he remembers not to stand between a male and female hippo during mating season.