Predators & Small Game
Leading Lady Bowhunters
Tiffany, Kandi, Vicki, Ginger and Gina talk bows, broadheads, big deer, dream hunts, family and life on the road as a female pro hunter
Dream Hunt: Yukon Moose
Tiffany Lakosky, who cohosts “The Crush” on the Outdoor Channel with her husband Lee, has a number of monster-sized whitetails under her belt, including three measuring 174 inches. No doubt about it, she’s earned the respect of seasoned hunters across the country.
Tiffany and Lee have devoted their lives to managing and harvesting huge whitetails on TV, which is no easy task. Even though the duo is living every hunter’s dream, she says a lot of hard work, time and sweat have gone into building their careers as hunting TV show personalities.
“Life was different for Lee and me when we first got married eight years ago,” Tiffany says. “I didn’t grow up a hunter, but I fell in love with the sport thanks to Lee. We never set out to do exactly what we’re doing now, but we were lucky enough to be blessed with several opportunities that we just couldn’t pass up.”
In 2003 the couple became the hosts of “Gettin’ Close,” and thanks to their energetic personalities and enthusiasm, the show soared in popularity. Lee and Tiffany quickly became household names among hunting enthusiasts.
These days they spend countless hours in the stands pursuing monster-sized bucks for their TV show “The Crush.”
“When we’re not hunting, we’re farming or making appearances,” Tiffany says. “We just got off the road after 13 straight weeks. Now we’re preparing 800 acres of food plots.”
Although they spend a lot of time hunting on their farm in Iowa, Tiffany estimates they spend at least 200 days a year on the road traveling to trade and consumer shows, making appearances and hunting.
“The Crush Bus has become a home for us,” Tiffany says. “And lucky for us, my family and friends work for us so we get to spend a lot of time with them while on the road. Our dog Tank travels with us as well.”
Tiffany feels blessed to have the opportunity to work in the hunting industry with her husband. “Lee’s awesome,” she says. “He doesn’t think that I’m less capable of doing something because I’m a girl. I’m lucky to have such a great husband.
“I’ve been welcomed with open arms at every camp I’ve attended. I’ve never felt discriminated against because of my gender. More and more women are getting involved in hunting and the men are becoming more welcoming. Best of all, manufacturers are designing more gear for ladies, so it’s becoming easier for women to get involved in the sport.”
Bow Setup: Mathews Passion, 24 ½-inch draw length, 48-pound draw weight, Carbon Express Maxima arrows, G5 broadheads
Dream Hunt: Mule Deer
Don and Kandi Kisky, hosts of “Whitetail Freaks” on the Outdoor Channel, are known for the giant whitetails they take on their Iowa farm, but Kandi says the excitement never wavers. When she thinks about the day she shot her biggest deer, a monster 180-incher, she still gets chills.
“After realizing that buck was not going to come anywhere near our stand, Don and I stalked him,” Kandi says. “With two cornrows blocking us, I stood up and at 40 yards took the shot. I knew that I’d hit him, but I wasn’t sure if my shot was good. We followed his blood trail until we got to a ravine. Don said, ‘Let me go ahead and look for him.’ When Don returned, he said, ‘Let’s keep looking.’ What he didn’t tell me is that he saw my buck lying dead in the draw. He wanted to get my original reaction on camera, and boy did he get one. I can’t begin to explain how excited I was when I found him.”
Kandi was introduced to the sport by Don, whom she met in 1990. “He was passionate about hunting, and I realized that if I ever wanted to see my boyfriend, I was going to have to hunt with him. So, I started to do a little hunting and really got into it after we married. I killed my first turkey when I was six months pregnant with my son Kaleb. I shot my first deer, a 140-inch buck, with a muzzleloader not long after.”
At the time, Don was “tinkering around” with filming his hunts. After the couple moved from Missouri to Iowa and began a deer management program on their farm, Don became more serious about his video work.
One of the catalysts to the Kiskys’ success was an incredibly successful Realtree-sponsored hunt they hosted on their farm that led to their first pro-staff agreement with Realtree.
Some of the hunts the couple filmed ended up being featured on “Realtree Road Trips,” “North American Whitetail” and “Monster Bucks.” In 2006, the Kiskys started their own DVD series called “Whitetail Freaks.” Soon after, they agreed to host the “Whitetail Freaks” TV show, which was eventually picked up by the Outdoor Channel.
The show was a success, but with that success has come a lot of work and time on the road, which can be difficult with two kids and maintaining a full-time farming operation.
“Don handles the farm and I take care of our kids, the sponsors and product guys,” Kandi says. “I think women are naturally good at multitasking, so I’m pretty good at juggling work and family.”
Dream Hunt: Alaskan brown bear (with a bow)
Vicki Cianciarulo cohosts “Archer’s Choice” and “The Choice” with her husband Ralph on the Outdoor Channel and says nothing gives her more pleasure than one-upping Ralph during a hunt. And, that’s exactly what she did in 2006, when she shot a 203 5/8-inch Colorado whitetail at 17 yards with her bow while Ralph filmed.
“That was the buck of a lifetime, and sometimes I still can’t believe I was blessed to get such a beautiful creature,” Vicki says. “That buck is still the biggest in the Cianciarulo household to this day.
Vicki grew up a nonhunter, but she didn’t acquire her hunting skills from her husband. She learned them from a boyfriend she had before she met Ralph.
“I’ve always enjoyed being in the outdoors and I didn’t want to sit on the sideline as my boyfriend hunted,” Vicki says. “So, when I was 19, I started doing some grouse and bird hunting, which I loved. And, when he started shooting a bow, I decided I wanted one as well.”
So, Vicki went to Archer’s Choice archery shop in the town where she lived. She met and became friends with Ralph, who owned the shop at the time. After she broke up with her boyfriend, she attended a ladies-only deer hunt in Wisconsin, which Ralph attended as a sponsor.
“I didn’t get a deer on that hunt,” Vicki says. “I got Ralph instead. Two years later we got married, and it’s been crazy ever since.”
For a while, the couple balanced running the archery shop with filming and producing hunting DVDs and conducting seminars, but it became too much to balance, so in 1995, they closed the shop.
“Some of our sponsors approached us about doing a TV show,” Vicki says. “So in 2001 we started ‘Archer’s Choice,’ which aired on the Outdoor Channel. Our son RJ was born that same year. We started ‘The Choice’ six years ago.”
When RJ was young, the Cianciarulos would often take him with them on their hunts, but once he reached school age, balancing their career and family became more difficult.
“Thank God for Ralph’s mom,” Vicki says. “She takes care of RJ when we’re not home.”
Since the Cianciarulos spend so much time on the road, they work hard at spending quality time with their son. In fact, they worked out an arrangement with school administrators to allow RJ to travel with them on occasion as long as he keeps his grades up. When they are home, they get to spend a lot of time with their son, since their office is on their home property.
“We have nine people working in our office now,” Vicki says. “In addition to our TV shows, we run a full-service production house.”
Although the economy might be a little shaky, the popularity of their shows has not wavered.
“Our shows just keep going and going,” Vicki says. “In fact, we have one of the longest running hunting TV shows out there. We feel very blessed.”
Bow setup: Mathews Passion, 25 ½-inch draw length, 53-pound draw weight, Carbon Express arrows, Muzzy 75-grain broadheads
Dream Hunts: Elk, moose, caribou and New Zealand red stag
Ginger Morehead grew up in a hunting family and credits her dad with instilling in her a love of the outdoors. She shot her first deer with a gun when she was just 6 years old and her first deer with a bow when she was 9. Years later, she shot her biggest buck, a 160-incher, and her hunt was shown on “Monster Bucks XIV” and “Whitetail Country.”
After graduating from high school, Morehead went to college and then worked as a teacher for four years before returning to her roots as a hunting guide on a Texas ranch. It was there that she met her future husband, Jesse Morehead, and world-class competitive archer Susan Thompson.
“Before meeting them, I didn’t know competitive archery even existed,” Ginger says. “But I was desperate to learn more about the sport, so I ended up staying with Susan in Georgia for a couple of months during which time both she and Jesse taught me how to shoot competitively.”
Eventually Ginger and Jesse married and they ended up on the road doing promotion for Muzzy and the Zero Effect Rest, which had just hit the market. They toured the country in a Realtree camouflage bus with their new baby, Jacob.
“Actually, traveling with a baby on the bus was fairly easy,” Ginger says. “We got to spend 24-7 with our family while doing what we enjoyed most. It’s one of those jobs most people only dream about.”
Since Jacob has started school, it’s become harder for the Moreheads to balance work and family.
“We want to continue traveling and building our business, but we especially want to be there for our son,” Ginger says. “It’s a balancing act.”
These days, Jacob, who’s now 10, stays with friends when his parents are gone, and while Jesse sometimes stays on the road for weeks, Ginger will often only stay gone for three or four days at a time. These days, they don’t compete in archery competitions as much as they used to, but they’re just fine with the slower pace after being in the “rat race” for seven years.
Dream Hunt: 200-inch whitetail
Although Gina Brunson, who cohosts “Addicted to the Outdoors” on the Outdoor Channel, grew up in the outdoors fishing and camping with her foster family, she didn’t hunt until she met her would-be husband, Jon, when she was 17.
“My becoming a hunter was a gradual process,” Gina says. “I started off gun hunting, but wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to shoot a deer because they were so pretty. But, I did it and enjoyed the experience. When I started shooting a bow, the competitive drive came out in me. It was on. I fell in love with bowhunting.”
Her most exciting bowhunting experience came when she harvested a 180-class buck in Kentucky two years ago.
“The buck showed up on the first day of the hunt, which just never happens,” Gina says. “We were 25 feet up in the treestand and the daylight was fading. I could tell the buck was big, but I had no idea just how big he was until after I shot him. Once I put my hands on him, I realized what I’d done. Taking a deer that size was so exciting. I can’t even begin to describe how thrilled I was.”
Gina says her husband had always wanted to hunt for a living and that he was bound and determined to make that dream come true. The Brunsons owned a marketing company and decided that they’d try to do some TV shows on the side.
The couple actually paid the airtime themselves the first several months that they were on air.
“We went about things a little backward,” Gina says. “We put ourselves on TV; then we went after the products we believed in. Since we’d already started the show, we could tell potential sponsors, ‘this is what we’re doing,’ and not ‘this is what we want to do.’”
Like other hunting celebrities, the Brunsons had to figure out how to balance their hunting lifestyles with their families. But unlike other celeb couples, the Brunsons have six kids, which add to the challenge. The oldest Brunson child is 18 and has just graduated from high school. The youngest is 7.
“We love our kids,” Gina says. “And first and foremost, I’m a mommy. Period. Finding a balance has been so hard because I love hunting. And there are days when I just can’t wait to get out the door because I need a break, but then I feel guilty because I’m not with the kids.”
Gina has started buying one-way tickets to her hunts so that she can get back to her kids as quickly as possible. If she tags out early or if one of the children at home needs her, she can get home without having to reschedule a flight.
Gina says she’s excited about what the future holds for their TV show and hunting careers and she hopes that as the children get older, they can play a larger role in the TV show.
WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THAT VENISON
All five of these ladies are passionate hunters who prepare the meat they harvest for their families. Rarely do animals they take not end up in their freezers or on their dinner tables. But, when transporting a deer is impossible, they donate the venison to programs that feed the poor.
Submitted on May 31, 2011