Outside the City Limits

Cliff Cadet and Anthony Bambach were precisely where they wanted to be as they awaited sunrise in New York’s Westchester County: a ridgetop overlooking a tract of public land known as Angle Fly Preserve.

Below them, trees were leafing out their summer crowns and the gurgling water of Angle Fly Brook, teeming with trout, gently flowed toward Cross River and Muscoot Reservoir.

The first gobble did what it does for all turkey hunters, coaxing a smile and a sense of anticipation. A second gobble set them in motion, trying to relocate closer to the still-roosted tom.

Bambach’s home was a quick 15-minute drive from the hunting location. Cadet, however, had a longer trek. He lives in Queens, in the heart of New York City. Westchester’s green forests and spacious suburbs are simultaneously close – about an hour by car with no traffic – and a lifetime distant – at least for one who seldom ventured in childhood from inner city basketball courts or the massive front stoops of apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens.  

For Cadet, a delivery driver for United Parcel Service, answering the call to become a hunter is an exercise in negotiating challenges, both logistical and cultural. Some of his earliest travels to places to hunt saw him a lonely figure, bathed in the stark yellow light of a Metropolitan Transit Authority train stop, camo-clad and carrying his bow and arrows in a case. Beyond that, he is confronting a “We don’t do that” mindset among many people who look like him.

‘Under My Wing’
Cadet is a first-generation American son of immigrant parents. His father grew up on a farm in Haiti and was a Boy Scout who loved to fish. His mother was born in Cuba but raised in Haiti. They came to the United States in the early 1970s, settling in Brooklyn.

Cadet recalls his parents’ dedication to education. Both earned post-graduate degrees. His father became a schoolteacher but also worked a second job as a pharmacy technician at Ryker’s Island Prison. His mother worked in finance and banking.

His dad’s outdoors orientation in Haiti didn’t survive the transition to Brooklyn. Except for occasional day trips to Bear Mountain State Park, usually part of larger gatherings, the family mostly stayed in the city. Cadet relocated to Queens nearly 20 years ago after he married his wife Tomeka.

Cadet, now 45, adopted Tomeka’s son and the couple had a daughter, age 13 now, and a son, now 9. “All they know is Queens. Brooklyn is just a fairy tale,” he said with a laugh.

He unleashed his fondness for archery and hunting just two years ago, making his first deer hunts in 2019.

Cadet explained that archery, except for reading stories about Greek mythology, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, was not part of his childhood.

“Stories of Robin Hood fascinated me the most,” Cadet said. “My favorite films are ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood,’ which starred Errol Flynn, and ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,’ starring Kevin Costner. I used to go so far as to make ‘toy’ bows fashioned out of old wire hangers and rubber bands.”

He bought his first bow in 2017, inspired by a cousin who had taken up archery as a weekend family activity.

“I purchased a hunting bow mainly because I liked the way it looked,” Cadet said. “The bow came all set up with a sight, a rest and stabilizer. All I needed was a case and some arrows.”

The bow collected a lot of dust in 2018 until he bought a target and began shooting in his mother-in-law’s driveway. “I figured it would save me some money in range fees,” he noted. Much of his archery practice occurred in that driveway, until he learned it was prohibited in the city. He discovered Proline Archery in Queens and regularly shoots now at the shop’s indoor 20-yard range.

Hunting Came Next

Cadet completed his hunter education requirements in 2019 and began hunting a buddy’s small-acreage place that fall.

“It took three hours to get to where I could hunt,” he said. “I hunted only three days that first season.”

Proline Archery owner Joe McGlyn says there is considerable interest in archery in Queens and almost every bow he sells is a hunting bow. He agrees with Cadet that hunting options, except for some land on Long Island, is extremely limited, even though places like Staten Island, where hunting is prohibited, are overrun with deer and wild turkeys.

“Many of our hunters own land or belong to clubs upstate,” McGlyn said. “There isn’t much opportunity nearby.”

Cadet began an Instagram page he calls “Urban Archery NYC.” He later began doing an occasional podcast he named, “When the Hunt Calls.” He voiced his frustrations online early in 2020. The post was widely shared, eventually finding the eyes of Bambach, a newly minted police officer for a locality just north of the city. A holder of a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, Bambach volunteers as the assistant director of wildlife management at Angle Fly Preserve, a 654-acre land trust in Somers, New York.

Bambach, who also once worked as a UPS driver, contacted Cadet and shared that there was a hunting opportunity closer for him in Westchester County. Not only that, Bambach, nearly 20 years younger than Cadet, offered to take him hunting.

“I told him I’d take him under my wing if he needed any help or guidance,” Bambach said. “He took it and ran with it.”

“I primarily take the train to the range, but have taken it to hunt when needed,” Cadet said, explaining his is a one-vehicle family. When he cannot drive to Westchester, Bambach picks him up at the northernmost station.

“Anthony was a godsend,” Cadet declared.

Bambach said Cadet was a dedicated student, explaining, “I took him out on the second day of turkey hunting season last year. We walked 7½ miles and ended up shooting a bird at 11:40 a.m., just before the morning hunt window in New York closed.”

Cadet explained that many city kids have a sharp learning curve when it comes to new experiences in the wild.

“A woodpecker, I never saw one before — until I was up in my climber and saw one and heard its pounding into the tree,” Cadet said. “Chipmunks, I had seen them on TV, but never in the wild. Turkeys, I knew they flew but never put two-and-two together and realized that they actually slept in trees. I grew up around pigeons. I knew they’d go to rooftops or trees to roost for the night but didn’t know that pertained to turkeys as well. The most I knew about turkeys was how to carve them up for Thanksgiving. That’s it.

“We had three turkeys come in that morning. We both had bows. Anthony could have nocked an arrow and gotten a shot at one of them, but he was too busy celebrating with me after my shot. It was great to have him there with me at that moment.”

‘Dad Cut Out the Middleman’
As he walked from the woods, turkey slung over his shoulder, it struck him that he was bringing meat home to his family.

“That was the best part,” Cadet said. “I was able to get meat from a bird I didn’t get from the supermarket, that hadn’t been frozen. It was living moments ago and now it’s on the tailgate of my buddy’s truck, and I’m cutting out the breasts and removing the thighs, putting them in a Ziplock bag and into my cooler.

“My wife is a fairly picky eater, same with my son. Even though it was wild game and as organic as you can get, they weren’t interested in eating it. But my wife was still pretty cool about cooking it up and making it so tasty that my daughter Madison came running out of the bedroom. She loved it. I loved it.”

He showed his daughter photos from the morning’s hunt.

“She said, ‘Wait, this is the turkey we’re eating right now?’” Cadet said. “You could see the wheels turning in her head, ‘Dad cut out the middleman. We didn’t have to go to the supermarket. [The turkey] was, literally, in the woods this morning, and now it’s on our plate this evening.’ It was one of the greatest feelings ever, sharing that with my family. She made the connection between me hunting the turkey and her eating it.”

Madison sometimes accompanies her dad to the archery range, enjoys shooting a bow and is considering tagging along on a hunt. “Even if she doesn’t kill a bird, just the fact that she’s asking to come with me and sit in the woods is awesome,” Cadet said.

‘He’s Doing It!’

Cadet began using social media to both describe his journey into archery and hunting and to find kindred spirits who might share information and help him grow.

“I think it’s human nature to gravitate toward people who look like you or participate in the same activities,” he said. “For me, I had trouble finding people of color who were hunting. I was under the impression that people of color either don’t hunt or don’t share it on social media.”

He learned that, while the hunting community is predominantly white, many black people do hunt.

“I’m meeting a lot of these people now on social media, but many are from the South and they are people who have hunting as part of a family tradition,” Cadet said. “Urban guys like me, who are juggling work, family and a desire to hunt are scarce.”

Cadet recognizes he is still a novice. He is experiencing a bit of the wide-eyed exuberance that many new hunters feel, but his objectives have grown beyond his own early quests for knowledge, experiences and access. He is exporting his new passions.

“There is a guy named Shaq who lives in the Bronx,” Cadet explained. “Last year, right before deer season, Shaq bought his bow, bought tags. He then began hearing from other guys in his neighborhood who said, ‘We don’t do this. You’re not going to find anyone like us who does this.’ He came across my Instagram page and went back to his boys and said, ‘Look, here’s a guy in Queens, same age as me, wife, kids, full-time job. He’s doing it. I’m going to do it too!”

Cadet met Shaq and took him deer hunting. Next, with help from Bambach, an Army veteran from Queens named Angel was introduced to the turkey woods.

“Angel had never heard a turkey gobble before, never saw a turkey fly down from a tree before,” Cadet said. “For him to experience that, it was awesome.”

Is the Outdoors for Everyone?

Besides Cadet’s new, primarily southern social media acquaintances, he has also found hunting groups in the Pacific Northwest, but notes, “I can’t relate to that, being from a metropolitan area like New York City.”

He says he is not trying to “call out the hunting industry,” but he wonders about, “The outdoors is for everyone” messaging.

“That may be true, but when it comes to a person from an urban area, it doesn’t feel like it’s an activity for everyone,” he said. “Being in New York City all my life, I didn’t even know a place like Angle Fly, less than an hour away, even existed, a place where you can hunt, hike, birdwatch. It’s beautiful. The people I associate with have no clue any of this exists, none whatsoever. 

“Maybe my city, my state has to do better in letting people know about places like this,” Cadet said. “Otherwise, it seems like it is just the people who live near those lands who know that they are available.”

Citing the NWTF and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Cadet said he has come to appreciate the focus on conservation as well as hunting. He initially viewed buying hunting tags, purchasing hunting gear and then actually hunting as making “huge contributions to conservation.”

“I get that part,” he said. Citing his experience working with nonprofits, though, he said volunteers and organized nonprofit efforts to further conservation play equally large roles.

“With NWTF, I’ve been learning not only about the turkey and how and where to hunt it, but also about various projects around the country,” Cadet said. “It prompted me to want to learn more about what is being done in New York state to help the turkey population.”

He wants to see an emphasis on the quality of the experience and not so much on the outcome of the experience, namely a deer or turkey in the bag. For novices, he recommends maximizing that experience by using those hours afield to learn more about wildlife and habitat.

“My goal is to eventually turn Urban Archery NYC into a nonprofit organization that can help both new and experienced hunters do everything from getting their first bows and licenses to navigating the logistics of getting out to public land and in touch with mentors,” Cadet said.

Cadet is also exploring the potential to form a new NWTF chapter as another way to further promote conservation and reach out to kindred spirits in his urban-centered world.

“Cliff is thinking outside the box,” Bambach said. “He’s in a different space. For him to go out and provide that positive outlook for people, it’s really starting to come full circle a year later.”

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