Paying Homage to the Man Behind the Lens Charles J. Alsheimer

“Realize your deer hunting experiences amount to far more than a rack on the wall or meat in the freezer. Racks and meat vanish in a moment, but the lessons learned will last a lifetime.” — Charles J. Alsheimer

By R.G. Bernier

As we climbed the steep grade at an altitude approaching 10,000 feet, my friend Charlie paused to check on the little guy following in his footsteps. He chidingly remarked, “I thought you were in shape Bernier, what do I have to do, carry you up the mountain?”
Standing there, nearly on top of the world in the Alberta Rockies, I was gasping for breath and wondering at the same time, “how can a guy twelve years my senior be making this assent with what seemed like little effort?” Ultimately, the intense climb led to the experience of a lifetime photographing bighorn rams amidst a backdrop of awe-inspiring beauty. I remember telling Charlie as we sat enjoying the view, “Heaven has got to be incredible if this beauty is any indication.” I then inquired, “How do you even capture this with a camera?” Charlie’s response, “You don’t, you just enjoy it.” We returned to the bottom of the mountain later in the day incredibly grateful for the opportunity that God had graciously granted us. Shooting alongside Charlie was always a great chance to further my education in the craft of nature photography. Little did I realize he would show me something far more important on the trip back to town. Upon rounding a bend in the road, a traffic jam came into view. Vacated vehicles were lined up along both sides of the highway. At least fifty photographers with long lenses were congregated in an open meadow. Charlie pulled off to the side of the road, jumped out, grabbed his camera and tripod and exclaimed, “Let’s see what this is all about!” Despite feeling tired, I reluctantly followed him from a distance. ‘The boys of autumn’ were out in force, photographing a big bull elk, which was making every attempt to breed a cow. And now, even after the physically demanding day that we’d already spent, there was Charlie right in the thick of it, competing for position with men half his age. I didn’t take any photos as I sat there watching. Instead, I smiled inwardly and marveled at my friend as he scurried about to position himself for the next series of shots. With his cap turned backward and a grin on his face, he tenaciously pursued this elk as if this was his first experience. Reflecting upon that day and many other experiences shared with Charlie it is bittersweet. My heart is sad! Tears track a path down my cheeks as those memories are now all I have. Of course, I knew that this day would eventually come, I just didn’t think it would be this soon. William Wallace, the great Scottish poet once wrote, “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” Charlie was one that lived life to the fullest as you are about to learn. At least once in each person’s life there comes along an individual who can personify an image as well as an influence upon you of magnetic force. Rare is the circumstance when that same character has the ability to impact an entire generation with equivalent magnetism. In the past forty years, Charles J. Alsheimer has provided the deer hunter and naturalist alike with vivid whitetail imagery, insight into deer behavior, and intimate personal testimony about his own life. We, the huntsmen, have been the beneficial recipients of this man’s tireless efforts. His accomplishments certainly have not gone unnoticed. In January 2000, Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine’s readership voted Charlie as the third most inspirational personality from the 1900’s. Here I present to you the man behind the lens.

The Journey

Growing up on a farm in rural New York provided Charlie with the backdrop of a life filled with nature and the whitetail. In fact, as a young man it was the vision of a graceful buck bounding across a plowed field on that very estate that fueled his passion for the animal. The one key ingredient that sets all successful huntsmen apart from the rest of the pack; be it Rutledge, Tome, Perry, Browning, or Alsheimer is this; intimately knowing and understanding the animal. “My desire to know everything about whitetails became far more important than hunting tactics. The more I learned, the more I kept coming back to one thought: The white-tailed deer is far more than an animal made of skin, bones and antlers.” Charlie has never been one to follow the well-worn path traversed by his predecessors choosing rather to blaze his own trail through virgin territory. In 1979, he walked away from a very lucrative career in corporate America in order to chase a dream, full-time outdoor photography and writing.

The Cutting Edge

Traveling throughout the country to photograph whitetails provided Charlie with the images he needed but the constant interaction with the animal was missing. To remedy this situation, Charlie did what no other photographer has done before; he built his own 35-acre research facility on the Alsheimer farm. Although initially established in order to photograph in and around, quickly this arena became a vehicle in which Charlie could study whitetail behavior under a variety of circumstances and conditions. One of the many key benefits to the deer hunting community derived through this effort has been the lunar-based rut cycle project. Along with Wayne Laroche, a former Vermont biologist, Charlie has uncovered a hidden mystery of how the moon influences and affects deer movements. Why was this important to him and what significance does it hold for us? Here is Alsheimer’s explanation, “There is no questions in my mind that the rutting moon has a significant influence on the North’s rut, and that includes everything from rubbing to scraping to fighting to chasing to breeding. The combination of all of these things is what gives the hunter an advantage during those magical days.”

The Images

The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” certainly is an apt representation of Charlie’s magnificent photos. He has shared with the world images depicting whitetail behavior rarely observed by most of the hunting fraternity. To accomplish this feat has meant an investment of money, time, self-discipline, and love for his subject matter. Camera equipment is not cheap, especially when you’re purchasing top shelf tools. Always remember, the camera doesn’t define the photographer, it only enhances what he does. Charlie quickly points this out, “When I began photographing whitetails, I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing and learned as I progressed. During those early years, I was more intent on just getting deer in the frame than thinking about composition, lighting, or depth of field. These aspects of photography take time to develop.” Not only has photographing whitetails given Charlie a ringside view of this grand animal’s behavior but, has taught him how to approach, get in close, and form a tolerance bond between him and the deer. Better understanding the whitetail’s demeanor under a variety of circumstances has enhanced Charlie’s hunting prowess, which in turn, has enabled him to harvest some outstanding bucks throughout North America.

The Man

One simple word could aptly be used to definitively describe Charlie Alsheimer the man, unselfish. In the neurotic world we all live in today, particularly within the highly competitive whitetail industry, Charlie has taken no shortcuts, never behaved unethically nor compromised his integrity. Throughout his career, Charlie has generously shared his photos, knowledge about the whitetail, and remarkably, provided us a look inside his personal life without reserving any hidden untold secrets for himself. What that has accomplished for deer hunters across the country is, a greater understanding of the animal they pursue without the investment of time and energy to gain that insight. His thirst for answers to the whitetail puzzle becomes unending as he writes: “I still love to hunt, but during the past ten years my focus has changed from the hunt and the kill to understanding the whitetail’s many mysteries. This quest for knowledge has taken me down many side roads and, for the most part, all have been fascinating. Some have turned out to be dead ends, and some just faded into the forest.” Pat Durkin, former editor of Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine asked this question, “What makes Alsheimer so exceptional in the highly competitive world of white-tailed deer writing and photography?” He goes on to answer by stating, “In short, many people are excellent hunters, many are excellent writers or photographers, and many are astute students of the whitetail’s habits and habitat. Few, however, can combine those specialties and bring them to sharp focus for other deer hunters to appreciate and learn from. In that regard, Charlie Alsheimer is in a class by himself.”

His Faith

The crown jewel of Charlie’s many gifts was his ability to communicate effectively into the hearts of those who packed his speaking engagements. And although whitetails were his platform, it was his own personal testimony that he shared following his program that spoke into the lives of countless thousands. Charlies message of personal redemption was always at the very core of what and who he was. He shared the gospel message with the hope that all that came to hear would ultimately make the same decision he made back in 1971 and place their faith and trust in Christ. As a result of what God had done in his life he wrote, “Now that I know God personally through believing in Jesus Christ, I realize God deserves all the credit for my dreams coming true. Since my conversion, Proverbs 3:5-6 have been my life verses — “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Only through Christ will you find peace in your heart, fulfillment in life, and know for sure you are going to heaven.”

The Rewards

When you take a close-up view of Charles Alsheimer unveiled, separated from his camera, pen, and hunting weaponry, the clear, unfiltered image is one of a humble, caring, honest, and genuine individual who has his priorities set in the correct order. Charles writes, “People often ask me what goes through my mind when my nose is to the grindstone and I’m hunting whitetails. When I’m perched in a tree stand, I think about what matters most in my life. Needless to say, the white-tailed deer isn’t even close to the top of the list. I think about how I’ve been blessed beyond reason and thank God for the wonders he has given me. My family dominates my thoughts.” No greater reward could be granted than that bestowed upon him by his son, Aaron, who has accompanied his dad everywhere from the age of two. “I have had many blessings during my life, writes Aaron Alsheimer, but perhaps the greatest of those blessings has been the relationship I’ve had with my father. Growing up as the son of Charlie Alsheimer has been an incredible experience.”


Upon being relieved of his command, General George S. Patton stated in a speech to the officers of Third Army, “All good things must come to an end.” And so, it is, regrettably, with the life of Charles J. Alsheimer. Although he has left the surly bonds of earth, called home to a far better place, the mark he left will be long felt, his body of work richly enjoyed, and his presence sorely missed. Until we meet again…our friend.