Life’s Roads: An Acknowledgment of Blessings

By Matt Harper

 Life is often compared to a journey that’s full of crossroads, where the directions you choose to travel will lead you on a meandering adventure that can change at the next fork in the road. I don’t believe in chance or that life is completely random. That’s not to say that life won’t throw you curveballs now and then. However, if you have a destination in mind, you normally find yourself in that vicinity, regardless of how many turns and twists it took to get there. I’m also Christian, so I believe God is at work in our lives, and although the path might not seem crystal clear, with His guidance, the people and circumstances you encounter will shape your life’s journey in specific directions. These are called blessings, and I’ve had an abundance of them. At the time, I might not have recognized some of those as blessings, but they were there.

Faith, Family and Farming

When I was asked to write this, it made me do some introspective thinking on how I got where I am. I realized it occurred partially from my efforts and planning but largely from the family, friends, relationships and situations God, through His grace, blessed me with. The logical place to start is the beginning, with probably one of the greatest blessings I have experienced: the family into which I was born. I’m not sure if you could ask for better parents, and even if you did, I’m not sure where you would find such parents. My dad and mom are loving, kind, selfless, hard-working people who raised me in an environment that formed a solid bedrock of Christian morals, values and beliefs. That’s not to say I haven’t strayed and occasionally still do, but the fundamental foundation that was built for me as a child remains steadfast and is a light that shows me the way back to the right path. I might have ended up as a Christian without this upbringing, but I feel extremely blessed that it was afforded to me. I also was blessed by having the opportunity to know both sets of my grandparents, even though they were elderly when I was born. My grandparents were born from 1900 to 1915 and grew up in a time that was vastly different than the entitled society we live in today. They lived through two world wars and the Great Depression, and saw how by faith, sacrifice and determination, a nation and its people could rise above adversity to accomplish great things and live even greater lives. I think having that kind of influence in your life, even as a child, is overlooked in its value. But I honestly think that enrichment received from people who have garnered the wisdom and perspective that can only be gained by living through such hardships, is priceless. I would be remiss to not mention I was also blessed with an older brother and sister who have also been wonderful mentors in my life. Yes, I am the baby and, yes, probably spoiled, but I’m truly thankful to have had all the guidance given me by a wonderful family. Today, I have a wonderful, gorgeous wife (yes, I will make sure she reads this) and two beautiful daughters who also love to hunt. These three girls are a blessing to me beyond compare, and I can only hope I can be a blessing in their lives. I was also blessed to be born and raised on a working farm in southern Iowa. I say “working” because in no way was the farm a hobby. Along with my mom’s nursing income, the farm is how our family made a living. It was a childhood of chores, muddy boots, patched coveralls, sunburned forearms, loading hay, walking beans and pitchforking endless loads of manure. But it was also fishing ponds that doubled as swimming pools, finding cool rocks at the creek, building forts in the pasture and going on countless adventures through the hills and trees that seemed endless at the time, even though the farm was only a few hundred acres. It was a childhood that taught me hard, physical work along with the importance of completing your job. If rain was coming and the hay was on the ground, it simply had to be picked up and put in the barn before it was ruined, which meant you stayed at it regardless of how tired you were, what time of day or night it was or what your friends might have been doing. In winter, when the pond was frozen over, you had to grab the axe and walk back to the pond to chop a hole in the ice for the cows to drink. Was it fun? Well no, but the cows had to drink or they would die. I also experienced firsthand the miracle of new life through sprouting grass, crops of freshly planted fields, and the birth of calves, pigs and lambs. I learned responsibility from these experiences and also discovered the reciprocity of giving and receiving. Whether it’s caring for land or an animal, you give to it, and it will give back to you.

Hunting, Food Plots and Careers

Growing up, I aspired to be a farmer, professional hunter or professional sports player (football, basketball or baseball — it didn’t matter which). I was OK at sports and maybe could have played at a small college, but I certainly was not professional grade. Regardless, a knee injury during my junior year pretty much put the kibosh on any dream of millions through a lucrative sports contracts. And although I’m also not a full-time farmer or professional hunter, I’ve been blessed far beyond what I deserve to have made a few good choices that let me at least dabble in both. My early influence in hunting was my dad. He primarily hunted pheasants, quail and other small game because when he grew up, our part of Iowa had very few deer and no turkeys. So, when I was old enough to keep up, I walked alongside him, first with a toy gun, then a Daisy BB gun, then an unloaded shotgun and, finally, an old Stevens pump 12-gauge that weighed about twice as much as I did. I can still vividly remember the fall afternoon in the south field slough where I downed my first rooster. I can still hear my dad yelling to run to the spot where it fell because, “He may run on ya.” We didn’t have a hunting dog, unless you count me, so that’s what I did, and the smile on my face when I turned to face my dad holding that beautiful bird was only matched by his. As often happens to a teenage boy, my interests started to include girls, friends and doing things I should probably not have done. However, hunting remained a part of my life, and I started deer and turkey hunting along with the upland-bird hunting. When it was time to go to college, I thought wildlife biology might be a good choice. However, I was talked out of that major by an advisor who said the lack of jobs in correlation to the amount of competition made wildlife biology a poor option. So, I headed next door to the Animal Science Department to see what it had to offer, and even though I had more interest in wildlife than livestock, that was a blessing in disguise. I graduated with a degree in animal science with an emphasis on nutrition—specifically, ruminant nutrition. I was hired by a company to work in its tech service division, formulating diets and rations for livestock. Because I was the youngest of the group, I was also tasked with all the weird stuff that came in, such as buffalo, elk and deer diets. Of course, I didn’t mind, as that was my passion anyway, so I spent countless hours on research, reading books and working on data, along with talking to some of the best deer researchers at that time, to gain the knowledge for my job. During this time, another major blessing came my way: I was introduced to Steve and Wilson Scott with the Whitetail Institute of North America.

A Major Blessing — The Whitetail Institute

At the time, the Whitetail Institute was working on a concept that had not been seen in the deer mineral/supplement market. Steve had the idea that the company could develop a line of products that would match the specific nutritional needs of deer depending on time of year. Imperial 30-06 and 30-06 Plus Protein had been wildly successful but were primarily used in spring, summer and early fall. Steve thought a product or products could be designed to supplement deer in winter and early spring. Steve and Wilson were also looking for someone to manage and develop an outside sales force that would work with Whitetail Institute dealers. I flew to Alabama and nervously interviewed for the position, and a few weeks later, my life’s path changed, as I accepted a job with the Whitetail Institute in outside sales and as a member of its product development team. A few months later, we introduced Cutting Edge Nutritional Supplements, the first seasonspecific nutritional supplements for deer. As it turned out, even though I was advised to turn away from wildlife biology/management in college, my knowledge of nutrition enabled me to land a job in the hunting industry. I spent several years at Whitetail Institute, and the blessings I experienced went far beyond having a long-desired position in my dream industry. Although I had never stopped hunting, my passion for it had cooled through time, as things such as career, house payments and starting a family occupied much of my energy immediately after college. But that was not the entire reason. When I got my first BB gun, I was excited to run around and shoot cans, rocks, sparrows and whatever I could without getting in trouble. The same held true for when I got older and hunted pheasants, deer and turkeys. I was just happy to shoot anything I could legally shoot. As I got older, I still loved to hunt, but it was not a priority because the fascination had diminished. When I went to work for Whitetail Institute, a few things rekindled a passion for hunting that will likely stay with me the rest of my life. First, I met several great people in the industry who had a passion for hunting, and that passion was contagious. One was Rob Kaufhold, who owns Lancaster Archery Supply. I walked into Rob’s shop to talk to him about Whitetail Institute products, not knowing him or really anything about archery. I walked out having made a lifelong friend and carrying a new bow and all the accessories. I don’t recall selling Rob anything on that visit, which means he’s probably a better salesperson than I am, but that visit and the introduction to bowhunting opened up a new world of hunting.

The Concept of Food Plots

Also, Whitetail Institute introduced me to the concept of food plots and deer management through improving deer habitat. My area of southern Iowa had pretty good habitat for deer, and when whitetails were reintroduced, the population grew quickly. However, I was not aware how much the quality of deer and hunting would improve by planting forages oriented or even specifically designed for deer. I will never forget the first Imperial Whitetail Clover plot I planted. It was only a half-acre, but I would sit and watch deer walk through a 10- acre clover hay field to get to the Imperial Clover. While at the Whitetail Institute, we developed more food plot products, all of which I tested on my farm. I have probably grown hundreds of varieties of food plot forages on my farm because of the testing protocols we followed. The result was that I saw better quality and quantity of deer on the farm. That was not the only benefit, however. I developed a deep appreciation for doing something to help manage wildlife by supplying something beneficial. I began to enjoy the hunt even though I was not hunting. In fact, the management aspect of hunting became nearly as enjoyable as actual hunting. Plus, I also rekindled a passion I didn’t even really know I had for growing things, turning dirt and farming in general. In fact, I loved it so much that I risked a beating from my wife to buy my first farm of my own; 70 acres. I’ve since expanded that, but I still have the original 70 acres. As mentioned, growing up, I just shot deer — legally of course — but didn’t care much about what kind of deer I shot. When I went to work for Whitetail Institute, I started managing the farms we hunted and learned more about the art of hunting, and my passion for it grew exponentially. I had deer hunted from age 14 to about 26 and had shot one deer that scored more than 120 inches. That was a 185-inch monster that was dumb enough to run in front of a 16-year-old with a lot of slugs in his pocket. During the past 17 years since my involvement with Whitetail Institute, I have been blessed to have harvested about 20 Pope & Young bucks and a few other monsters with my muzzleloader. My first trophy bow buck scored 173 inches and weighed 315 pounds on the hoof. I have also shot two other deer in the 170s, including a giant 8-pointer that gross scored 178. I have shot several bucks in the 160s range and three in the 180s, but the biggest deer to date is a 193-inch buck on the farm where I live. In fact, almost all those deer have come from my parents’ farm, which I manage, or my farms. By the way, on that 70-acre farm I mentioned earlier, I harvested a deer that was 7-plus years old and scored 138 inches as a 5- pointer. I’m not throwing out these big buck scores to impress anyone, because another one of the blessings in my life is I live in the best state in the country for producing big bucks and I know hunters who have killed bigger and more trophy bucks than I have. I’m not an expert hunter, but I’ve been extremely blessed — not just because the trophies I’ve taken but because of the all of the blessings I’ve derived from a few choices I made and meeting the right people, all of which I believe was overseen by God. My position at Whitetail Institute was no doubt a godsend because of the opportunity to work for the best company in the food plot business. It also offered me an opportunity to prove myself in the sales and marketing fields but the job did require me to be on the road a lot. A few years ago a large nutritional business saw enough in me to give me a job opportunity that allows me to be at home with my wife and two girls more often. I did take that job but am grateful for the opportunity Whitetail Institute gave me and I am grateful for the things I learned while working there. It also helped me improve the quality of the deer I hunt and kill and I plan on always using Whitetail Institute products because I know firsthand the effort put into producing them and the results they provide.


I’m now, more or less, in the middle of my life, and the forks in the road will likely decrease with age, although you never know. What I know, however, is that every day I will do all I can to thank God for the many blessings He has given me.