Donald Hickman 1940-1995
Adelheide von Spurlaut 1979-1995
by John Jeanneney
Don Hickman was one of the founders of Deer Search, and he served as president of the Organization during the critical years when the legal structure was being developed in New York State so that tracking wounded big game could become a licensed activity. Adelheide was his brilliant tracking dog whose many difficult deer finds converted skeptics into believers. What Addie accomplished helped generate the enthusiasm which Don directed into building the Deer Search.
Don died on April, 31, 1995 and Addie was put to sleep shortly afterward. Addie was 16 and Don was 55. It was a ripe old age for a dog and a tragically short life for a man. They were buried together and a Deer Search era ended with them. Before writing of Don’s individual accomplishments we should first look at man and dog together and what they were as a team.
Addie was brilliant but high-strung; with a handler less patient and skilled she probably would have accomplished very little. Don was able to recognize her gifts of nose and intelligence, and he realized that she would settle down eventually with experience and maturity. The two came to understood one another. When the scent was lost they would sometimes work the check for a half hour. When Addie had rediscovered the line she would give her yip-yip signal, “I’ve got it,” and off they would go again. In 1989 Addie became the second dog to be inducted into the Deer Search Hall of Fame.
Addie’s exploits became famous in the Hudson Valley and her accomplishments became a major factor in the development of Don’s own life. Secure in what he could accomplish with his dog and well aware of the potential that Deer Search had for deer hunters, Don grew from a rather shy man of few words into a relaxed public speaker who could hold a large audience with his wounded deer and tracking dog stories. Because he felt so strongly about ethical hunting, and presented his thoughts so clearly, he inspired this sensitivity in others.
In the field Addie and Don were a tireless team. Both had the essential combination of drive and stubbornness required to successfully track wounded deer. They took an incredible number of calls together, frequently two and even three in the same day and evening. Many times these evenings stretched to midnight with Don knowing that he must be up at 4:30 in the morning to go to work. You had to love the sport and crave to find the deer on a cold rainy night when lesser men thought of crawling onto a warm couch before the TV set. Don and Addie needed no inducements and no comforts. When they had to, they could run on pure adrenaline.
Don and Addie set an example to handlers. More than any other Master Handler Don got apprentices out in the woods so that they could see what a great dog could do, and so get hooked on the sport. Competitive and strong “egoed” as Don could be, he would let new handlers work his own dogs, or he would let the apprentices’ new dogs struggle and find deer that would have been puppy play for Addie. Don understood that the best in us lives on through others.
Through the year Addie did get a few days off when she was not blood tracking or training for the field trials at which she excelled. Don never seemed to take time off. As our representative in conservation politics and as an administrator Don was certainly our most effective president. Don was our chief negotiator in discussions with the DEC on the Deer Search Amendment and the implementing regulation. This was a process which extended over several years.
Don’s contacts and friendships within the Federation of Dutchess County Sportsmen’s Clubs and the New York State Conservation Council helped to keep the sportsman’s lobby in New York solidly behind Deer Search. Politically this had a real impact on the DEC and the New York State Legislature.
As Deer Search President Don thought ahead; he reminded committee chairmen when something was due or needed to be done. When it came to Deer Search Don never went “on vacation.” He was never caught unprepared or unaware of what was going on. Don spent countless hours on the phone maintaining communications and camaraderie. His life made a difference, and he became a part of all of us.