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INTERVIEW: Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo – Part 1
Frank Addington (FA): Tell us about your backgrounds, where were you born, grew up, and got involved in archery.
Ralph Cianciarulo: I was born August 20th, 1960 in Chicago IL. Mom & Dad always told me the table was lopsided, and that explained a lot to them – Hmmmmmm!
I can recall getting my first dime store bow & arrow set at about 6 or 7 and can remember being fascinated by watching the my arrows fly through the air. Sometimes hitting the target, but most of the time not the right ones. My parents got a small summer home on a little lake less than hour from the city and every summer we would spend it up there fishing and flinging arrows at everything you could imagine. My Mom’s family was really into hunting & fishing and my uncles took me out a lot and I was hooked.
Vicki Cianciarulo (VC): I was born and raised in the western suburbs of Chicago IL. I have 2 sisters and I am the middle child, (don’t believe all of the middle child research!) No one in my family hunts, but I have always been a tom boy. When I was nineteen, I purchased my first Toyota 4×4 pick up truck!
RC: As long as I can remember I was always fascinated with wild life and the outdoors. I told many I would become a veterinarian; little did they know I would really be working on animals but in a very different sense.
VC: No one in my family hunts, but I have always been a tom boy. When I was nineteen, I purchased my first Toyota 4×4 pick up truck! An ex-boyfriend took me grouse hunting and then the next step for me was to purchase a bow! I have always loved the woods & being outside, it was just a natural thing for me to do. So I went to Archer’s Choice, an archery pro shop in Berwyn, IL, yes it was owned by Ralph. Can you believe he didn’t even give me a discount on my equipment! I started shooting leagues and 3D’s, but I also signed up for the Ladies Only deer camp. In 1993, Ralph & I got married and we have had a lot of fun since! In 2001 we had our son, RJ who is now 8. He loves the outdoors just as much as we do!
FA: As children, what did you each want to be when you grew up?, How did you two meet?
RC: I met Vicki when she and her old boyfriend came into my archery pro shop, Archer’s Choice in the late 80’s. I was wishing I could find a girl like that who loved the outdoors, drove a 4X4 pickup truck, and wanted to hunt. Be very careful of what you wish for! I had my elk camp going in Colorado and her boyfriend booked a hunt with me. As we were hunting, he told me he had a new girlfriend and showed me a picture. I quickly started the ball rolling calling the shop and making sure that Vicki was booked on my ALL GIRLS DEER HUNT that I ran each year up in Wisconsin. We spent those 4 or 5 days just talking, laughing and getting her a shot at a deer. She did get her shot, but missed, I thought my chances were over, but she was more determined than ever to keep hunting and so the story goes.
VC: We met at Ralph’s Archery Pro Shop, Archer’s Choice. My ex-boyfriend brought me into the shop so that I could get a bow set up to shoot 3d’s. Ralph claims that he then took the ex elk hunting and pushed him off of a cliff and wound up with me! (I think it may have had something to do with 4×4 Pick-up truck!)
FA: Vicki did you hunt before you met Ralph?
VC: Just a little grouse hunting up in northern WI; that was about it for my hunting experience!
FA: Ralph you have been in the archery industry forever, talk a little about this.
RC: My Mom’s family all hunted and fished, my Dad’s was not really into the outdoors as much. I can remember going over to Grandma’s house and getting ready to go hunting and fishing with all my uncles. My uncle Ken would really get me going more with the bow than anyone and there was just something about shooting that stick & string that captivated my soul. As I was growing up I would ride my bike or my Mom would drive me to the local archery shop where I would change the target butts every month and for that I could shoot free for that month. I was covered up with shooting and anything to do with bowhunting.
I played football and wrestled in high school and some in college but I was just overwhelmed with bowhunting and I worked at the local pro shops, did side jobs, and actually started a custom air brush painting of bows in camo for a lot of hunters. This led into making custom arrows for everyone and then setting up and selling bows. The next thing you know, here I was opening up Archer’s Choice Pro Shop in Berwyn, IL. The shop grew very fast; I actually got a lot of help from a good old friend, Freddy Lutger who owns Freddy Bear Sports in Tinley Park IL. The shop grew big time and because of our reputation and service, we got a lot of exposure in the news, local and national papers, and magazines.
Followed by many of the days top rated athletes from all the Chicago land sports, Cubs, Bears, Sox, Hawks, and then the traveling teams from other states started to come in and things went crazy. People would come to the shop just to see who was there, getting a bow, or shooting, it was wild and Archer’s Choice Pro Shop had become one of the most popular pro-shops in the Midwest. But this was not where I wanted to be. By then I was setting up and running different hunting camps all over for bear, deer, elk, and mule deer. I was gone guiding and trying to learn more about what drove me wild. A couple of friends and I tried filming our hunts on 8mm film, it was fun and added a new spin on the hunting and little did I know it would take me down the path that would control my life for a long time.
VC: Forever is the correct term there.
FA: What does Archer’s Choice Media really do?
RC: Archer’s Choice Media Inc. is a complete production studio that produces many of today’s top rated hunting DVD’s like – Severe Whitetail Disorders series – Bear N’ Down series. The Season series and many other titles. We also produce our TV shows, ARCHER’S CHOICE & THE CHOICE TV Shows that air on the Outdoor Channel. ARCHER’S CHOICE TV Show is one of the longest running all archery shows ever on TV and is the only all bowhunting show to win and be nominated numerous times for Fan Favorite Hunting Show of the Year. Plus winning the Bowhunting World Reader’s Choice award more than any other show on TV.
The CHOICE TV Show was introduced two years ago to try and help unite ALL hunters and bring everyone together to have a better understanding that we are all in this together and we need to stop the fighting amongst ourselves. Archer’s Choice Media Inc. is also producing many promotional DVD’s for companies, Provincial programs, and commercial spots for all types of companies. So from just playing with a 8mm camera in the early 80’s to all of this, we always recognize it is a team effort and without everyone working together none of this would be possible. We have been blessed and no one can do it alone.
VC: A little bit of everything! We have become a full production house now. It started off as producing some bowhunting movies, and then we started producing the Archer’s Choice TV show. Now we produce two TV shows, Archer’s Choice & The Choice TV Shows, hunting DVD’s, promotional DVD’s and we are now producing commercial spots on top of it all. Ralph & I also travel quit a bit doing seminars & banquets when we aren’t out filming & hunting.
FA: I know getting started in business is never easy. What did those tough early days teach you?
RC: Getting started was harder that I had ever thought it would be. Working around the clock, sleeping at the shop to make sure everyone’s arrows were made in time, bows set up and ready to go for the season. There were times we wondered if it would all be worth it. I tried to make the right decisions, but made some mistakes, and then you needed to work that much harder to catch up. Chasing bills, making rent, and still finding time to do what I loved the most. Bowhunting was hard, but it seemed to always work itself out.
Being self employed in your early 20’s is a very hard thing to understand for most, but God gave me a drive and I wasn’t sure what it was for until later in my life. But the best advice I could give is very simple “God does gives us things to make us stronger, He opens doors but we as individuals have to have the guts to go through them, Faith, Family, Friends, and doing things for the right reasons is what will get you through EVERYTHING in life. Understand you will always make mistakes, just know you need to learn from each one and try to make yourself a better person each time. And be willing to admit when you are wrong and stand up for what you believe”. This is what I believe would help anyone in the life of HARD KNOCKS.
VC: We learned a long time ago that this industry is very small and in all of our decisions we need to remember that. Archer’s Choice Media, Inc. started off as a side company from Ralph’s archery shop ‘Archer’s Choice’. The day that we decided to close up shop and do production work instead was a huge decision!! We have often said that we would have made more money with keeping the shop, but it’s not all about the money!
FA: What one hunt stands out in your memories?
RC: : My most incredible hunt, I might disappoint some readers with this one but most of the time it’s the one I am on at the time. Each trip has its own unique adventure and no matter where we are, memories are created to last our lifetime. Favorites, might have to be deer hunting in CO, my mule deer! Moose, elk, deer, bear, caribou, oh well just to prove a point everything we can hunt.
VC: This would have to be RJ’s first hog hunt. Three days before RJ turned 5, we took him hog hunting down in Florida with our friends at Osceola Outfitters. We set him up with a Ten Point crossbow and he was shooting it well. Ralph & RJ were in the ground blind with me, I was filming and Ralph was helping RJ out. When he shot his hog at about 7 yards, we were all so excited. What an experience seeing the joy of father & son hunting together!! RJ was so excited, he just kept rambling on about the hog.
FA: . Can you tell us a little about your Russian Bear Hunt and your working with the Russian Ministry in 1991?
RC: The Russian Brown bear hunt in 91? was wild. I was there right after their country would change forever. I was a bit nervous but all in all it was an amazing hunt and adventure. It was set up by Dr. Jim Schubert of the American Archery Council and they wanted to try and promote bowhunting in Russia and I was the lucky one who was chosen to go over there. Everything we knew and was taught about Russia growing up was they were our enemy and we needed to watch out. The people, the country, and the wildlife at that time were amazing; the poverty that I saw with my own eyes would change my life forever.
The people were friendly and very concerned about their future. The hunting was second to none and wildlife was abundant. To be there first hand and see the old Moscow like I remembered in the history books, watching the changing of the guards and just be there was something I will never forget. The day I shot my grizzly it was funny to see all the Russian officials call my Beman arrows (children’s arrows) and see them not believe in the archery equipment till after the shot and then the bear only go 40 yards and down it went.
When I showed them my arrow that went right through their bear and they looked at the Thunderhead and blood and were amazed that this little arrow could do what it did. I was very proud at that time that I was able to hold it all together and make a perfect show under such extreme pressures. It once again proved to me that practice will always pay off when the time comes. I met some wonderful people and saw some incredible things and this is why we hunt.
FA: What is your favorite animal to hunt?
RC: I must admit it may not be the animal as much as it is the style of the hunting; I really like spot & stalk hunting. You make it happen and that is so cool, I love calling game and then trying to make the move in on them to get your bow shot. Elk, moose, all deer, caribou, black bear, wild hogs you name it I love to hunt it….
VC: I love to hunt bears!! There is just something about hunting another predator. I enjoy watching bears; they all have their own unique characteristics. I also love Moose! They are so big!
FA: What would you tell someone who wants to start doing what you do for a living?
RC: I would tell everyone don’t be fooled by just looking at the hunting and remember there is a lot more to it that most don’t understand or see. With anything you do if you do it for all the right reasons good things will happen and the more you put into anything the better the return. Don’t ever forget who and what got you where you are and remember to always be true to yourself and those whom believe in you.
I would suggest you get a good education and learn all about marketing, production and understand the demographics of the hunting industry. Get focused on growing the participation of hunters rather than your ego and you will see others recognizing your true colors. Start helping out your local pro shops, meet the reps in your area and help them at shows, keep communicating with manufactures and give them solid impute, this all brings added value to anyone who is interested in working in this industry.
It’s is not about what you shoot rather it would be how you can help get more people in the field and shooting bows & arrows, and guns, crossbows, etc.
VC: Don’t do it! Just kidding, Ralph & I are very blessed to have made a living out of what we both love to do, and with the one we love (most of the time: ). Ralph started producing videos back in the 80’s; he has been at it for a long, long time.
It isn’t something that you just say ‘Hey lets start a show’ there is so much more to it! We tell them that it takes a lot more than just hunting & filming; you have to make all of the sponsors, viewers and outfitters happy and to remember that it is suppose to be fun!
FA: Do you feel pressure from the public expecting success on big animals all the time?
RC: No, we have always looked at the taking of any game is a trophy that should be appreciated for the skill it takes to succeed. Our shows will always reflect that.
VC: No, we have always said that when it becomes like work that we are going to quit! So far, we are still having a lot of fun! (Ralph might feel a little pressure as he tries to keep up with my animals:)
FA: All hunting videos involve a certain degree of staging but what is your view and approach to this and to what degree to you do “setups”?
RC: Vicki & I are exactly how you see us on camera, just ask anyone around us or any outfitter we hunt with. We are REAL, no Hollywood image, no fancy look, we are just like everyone else and so blessed to be living out a dream. It’s funny when Vicki is mad at me the guys in the studio want to film the openers for they know it will make for some really good one liners
VC: Ralph & I try to film our hunts as they happen, we try to get shots over-the-shoulder as they happen. We don’t go set-up a recovered animal, when we recover it on TV or DVD, it is the actual recovery unless it is way too messy, then we may try to clean it up just a bit. But the initial reactions are all real!
FA: Any regrets about things that have happened or that you have done or results of your career?
RC: No, our lives have been a fairytale, except for breaking my neck of course.
VC: No regrets, except maybe not being around home enough. RJ travels with us a bunch, but sometimes it is nice to stay home too.
A time in Ralph’s life that changed everything. In 1980 he fell off a ladder and broke his neck, c-6 & c-7 and after all the rehab and healing process they still couldn’t keep him out of the woods. His hunting buddy’s would help him in the woods and when it came to getting a shot he would unhook his brace and shoot his Bear victor magnum takedown recurve bow.
FA: What was the toughest time in your life?
RC: There have been some very tough times in my life as in anyone’s. Breaking my neck on July 6th 1980, I was 20 years old and many could never imagine what it’s like to be laying in a bed wondering if you will ever sit up again let alone walk or move your body by yourself. You know I learned a long time ago after watching my Dad suffer in so much pain for so many years that we all have problems and we must learn to overcome them.
I am scared about my future with all the problems I have from breaking my neck. It seems the older I get the more issues it creates, but I know God wouldn’t give us anything we couldn’t handle.
Losing my Dad last year, who suffered for a long time in pain due to some stupid punk kid who was drinking and driving and changed my parents life forever. My Dad was not a hunter, he loved fishing, shooting muskrats across the lagoon at our summer home and a fixer-upper who taught me the values of life, business, and how to deal with hurt and pain. He was my mentor, my Dad, and one of my best friends. I also lost a dear friend in the 90’s who helped at the shop, Bear was a great man, good friend, and special person.
VC: We have been very blessed in all that we have done. We have been through some rough times, like when Ralph’s Dad was diagnosed with Lung Cancer and then passed away. We try to keep a positive attitude everyday, because we know God won’t give us more than we can handle.
FA: Vicki, what has been the biggest hurdle to overcome for you in the archery industry?
VC: Hunting has always been a ‘man’s’ sport. It has taken a long time for the industry to notice the women hunters. Women who bowhunt are increasing in numbers and hopefully the manufacturers will start to take note. Believe it or not, there are still a bunch of guys out in the woods that don’t want us ‘girls’ there with them.
FA: Ralph, what do you think the industry’s biggest hurdle is?
RC: Our industry has many hurdles to overcome. The BIGGEST by far is the inner fighting amongst ourselves and our hunting organizations. We took a very big risk in introducing our new TV show called THE CHOICE. We might have let some down when we show us and our POSSE hunting with other weapons, but the bottom line and our belief is to try and make a difference for the future of hunting and just maybe have some realize we are ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, NO MATTER YOUR WEAPON OF CHOICE WE ARE HUNTERS AND NEED TO STICK TOGETHER.
FA: What are some of the most common questions or comments you get when meeting fans?
RC: Are you really like you are on TV and the DVD’s? Wow, Ralph you are Taller in person? (Don’t I wish) Thanks for keeping it REAL. You guys got my wife into hunting. Your hunting shows are the only ones my whole family will sit down and watch
VC: ‘Wow Ralph, you are taller in person than I thought you would be!’ I’m not kidding, he has been told that a bunch!
The best is when they tell us that their wife/girlfriend doesn’t hunt and we are they only hunting shows that she will watch! That means that we must be doing something right.