One of a kind.
"Hey Monte," I groggily said. "Thanks for waking me up so early on a Sunday morning. What's up?"
"Keiser died yesterday," Monte replied in a soft, shaky voice.
"Oh no," was all I could muster as the tears started flowing ... something that would happen often over the next couple of days. I wasn't alone. Dave's unexpected passing at the age of 62, just a week after I'd spoken to him about my 2014 deer hunt with him and less than a month after I'd bowhunted turkeys with 2014 Youth Hunter Essay Contest grand prize winner Noah Schlossberg and his dad Joel at Dave's place in Gregory, South Dakota, left countless bowhunting clients and friends in a state of shock and disbelief.
I first met Dave in 2005 through an invite to his place by then Double Bull Blind founders and co-owners Keith Beam and Brooks Johnson. I killed my first turkey with a bow on that hunt (see "The Gobbler Guru Of Gregory," Bowhunter March/April 2006), and I've killed several more birds in the years since then thanks to Dave and his guides' uncanny knowledge of turkeys and their dedication to making it happen for every hunter who passes through Double K's camp. When it came to bowhunting gobblers with Dave, it was never a question of "if" you would kill a turkey but more a matter 'of "when."
Dave was a storyteller (all of them true no matter how farfetched his tales seemed to be) and the best practical joker and "stone breaker" I've ever met. For first-timers and those with thin skins, this could lead to mixed emotions over what to think of Dave. But once you got to know Dave, you quickly realized he goofed on you (especially if you missed more than once) because he liked you, even though it may not have seemed like it at the time.
The best example of this and easily my fondest memory of Dave occurred in 2010, the year before Dave graciously and unexpectedly asked if he could donate a turkey hunt as the YHEC grand prize. I had already killed a bird in SD (with one arrow mind you) and should have stopped there, but I just couldn't resist an opportunity at a second bird in Nebraska. Long story short, my attempts at a second bird resulted in one of my arrows accidentally puncturing the rear tire of the landowner's tractor. Any other outfitter would have been livid over this, and most likely would have made me pay the farmer to repair or replace the tire. Not Dave. He was overjoyed, because that errant shot gave him ammunition to ride my butt for years to come. In fact, everyone in the small town of Gregory, upon being introduced to me, immediately recognizes me as "that tractor tire fella." Dave preferred to call me "Firestone."
Dave had a big heart, especially when it came to kids, which is why he approached Bowhunter with the offer to donate a turkey hunt every spring until further notice from us. As a close friend of Dave's, I've had the pleasure of accompanying the past four YHEC winners on this hunt and shared in Dave's joy over watching each one of these fine youngsters (and their dads) kill their first turkeys. Prior to each hunt, I explained to the winners and their parents that Dave's is a loose camp, one that can only be described as organized chaos in which you will hear things not to be retold to Mom when you got home. That said, he's the best turkey guy in the business. "Go with the flow, listen to Dave and his guides. You will kill a turkey, and you will have more fun in the process than you should legally be able to--I guarantee it!"
The youth hunt was the highlight of the year for Dave, and no matter how many hunters were in camp, Dave made sure that the YHEC winner and his dad took precedence over all others. You'll get a better understanding of this when you read the comments from past winners and their dads at the end of this piece.
I could go on and on about this great man, but unfortunately space does not permit it. Dave's family and his hardworking guides told me shortly after Dave's passing that the youth hunt will continue as planned, because that is what Dave would have wanted. Arrows will fly and turkeys will die, and somewhere above us a wonderful man who made the world a better place and left it way too soon will be laughing.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I conclude this tribute to the Gobbler Guru Of Gregory.
God bless you my dear friend ... Shoot To Kill!
Reflections On Dave
From the moment that I met Dave Keiser, it was obvious to me that he was a man's man. He was someone who was greatly invested in his clients and in their individual success. Everything about his operation at Double K showed his professionalism and talent that he possessed to put people on birds. Dave had the ability to be the funny guy who was the life of turkey camp, as well as the serious guy when the time came to get down to business.
My father and I were the first to be hosted at Double K after I won Bowhunter's Youth Hunter Essay Contest, and every year after Dave has welcomed the contest winners with open arms, a warm cabin, and a smiling face. Dave knew the importance of keeping the future of bowhunting preserved by offering this opportunity to us and other young bowhunters. Keeping kids engaged, invested, happy, and successful is the key to making bowhunting a kid's number-one priority, and this was something that Dave did for me on my trip without flaw.
One of my fondest memories of that trip was tagging out in both South Dakota and Nebraska, as well as watching my father put a 15-minute stalk on a big tom that he ended up killing. Needless to say, Dave was the one who spotted these birds and put us on them. He had this remarkable ability to know exactly what the turkeys were going to do at any given point in the day, and I guess that is the reason that everyone I ran into that week had either killed their bird, or had at least had the opportunity to do so.
Gregory, South Dakota, as well as the entire hunting community, has lost not only a great hunter and outfitter but also a fantastic human being. He will be missed dearly by those who knew him for years, and by people like me and my dad, who knew him only briefly. This trip and the experiences I had on it have stuck with me throughout the years. It has remained one of my favorite things I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of and it all can be owed to the hospitality and efforts of Dave Keiser.
--2011 Grand Prize Winner
When I got the call that I had won the 2012 Bowhunter Magazine Youth Hunter Essay Contest, I literally couldn't believe my ears. Naturally, it followed that I didn't quite comprehend the enormity of what I was being graciously given at that time. However, as time goes on, I appreciate what I received more and more.
Of course, I am grateful to Dave and the rest of Double K for the hunt they provided for me and my dad. They showed us where to hunt, treated us like family, teased us about our misses, and congratulated us for our successes. Because of the love Dave showed me, I began to grow a love for bowhunting and the lifestyle that comes with it. As a result, I ended up later taking archery credits at college, and sharing the culture with any friends who seemed interested.
But most of all, Dave provided me with an opportunity to make memories with my father. My dad is a teacher at the high school I attended, so it wasn't like I didn't see him very often. But those days of doing homework and wandering from class to class weren't exactly memorable, and little did I know, soon I wouldn't be able to see my dad very much at all. Shortly after I finished my senior year of high school, I went to college, got a job, and then left it all to go to Japan. Because of Dave Keiser, I will always be able to think back to when I was 17 years old and remember sitting in a blind for hours on end, bow in my hand, anticipation in my heart, and my father by my side. What more could a boy ask for?
Thank you, Dave Keiser, for influencing this young man's life for the better, for spreading happiness, and for giving me memories with my father that will last forever.
--2012 Grand Prize Winner
When I think of Dave Keiser, I think of farmer with a passion for hunting, the outdoors, and young people. My son, Jasper, and I were blessed to know Dave for the week we were , a part of his South Dakota turkey camp. His sponsorship of the Bowhunter Youth Hunter Essay Contest was very special to him, and it was easy to tell by the way he engaged Jasper and I when we arrived in camp. He made sure we were well taken care of, and when it got down to the end he went all in, as did his guides, to give us every possible chance to connect on a turkey with our bows. I firmly believe that God knew what he was doing when He let it come down to the wire ... When you get to spend a few quiet days in a turkey blind with your 17-year-old son, every minute is valuable. We laughed, we talked about the past, the future, school, girls, and yes, we even called some turkeys. I am thankful we didn't connect until the last few hours of the hunt for the sake of those days, hours, and minutes we shared in South Dakota at Double K. Harvesting the turkeys was just the exclamation mark at the end of the trip. The morning after our hunt ended, as we prepared to head out for our flight home, Dave took me to the side and told me how he could tell my son and I had a special bond, and how it pleased him to see that. Then he gave us each a turkey call to remember him by. I will always remember Dave, not for the turkey call, but rather for the time that Jasper and I got to spend away from all of life's distractions, making the memories that I will treasure forever. I know now, that is just what Dave intended all along. We were blessed to know Dave and spend some evenings with him over camp supper. God bless you Dave. Rest in peace, my friend.
Scott Manifold--Father of 2013
Grand Prize Winner Jasper Manifold
Dave Keiser was a great hunting guide, and also a great friend and mentor. Dave's guide service has no doubt led countless hunters to their first harvest, including myself. Dave left this world only weeks after I first met him, but in that time period he left a lasting impression on me. I have never met a man who cared more about people than Dave. Dave may not be around to guide anymore, but I'm sure that he still cares about his hunters from heaven, just as he did when he was here. Dave will truly be missed.
--2014 Grand Prize Winner
By Brian Fortenbaugh, Assistant Editor