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."