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."
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.