A 75th birthday party for the self-proclaimed "Greatest Living Spear Hunter in the World" doesn't exactly call for cake and candles at the country club.
Rather, this past Sept. 19, retired Air Force colonel and hunter extraordinaire Gene Morris celebrated his special day by harpooning a dozen, 7-foot-long-plus alligators on a midnight hunt in a Lakeland, Fla., swamp.
That's about par for the Alabamian. He claims to have 494-and-a-half big-game kills with bow and arrow, and 483 by the use of a spear. A stickler for details, Morris noted the "half-kill" came from simultaneous arrows shot into a Spanish goat with a fellow hunter.
"I started out hunting with guns, naturally," Morris said. "Then in 1968, like someone threw a light switch on, I stopped hunting with guns and went entirely to bows."
Five years later, while hunting alone in a scrub brush forest outside Virginia's Langley Air Force Base on his 40th birthday, he chunked a four-bladed, homemade spear into his first white-tailed deer. Whether the kill was legal or not — Morris would only say the event occurred "during deer season" in 1973 — the young officer found his life's calling.
Ever since, from Alabama to Africa, the Spear Chunker has taken lions, American bison, water buffalo, cougars, wild boar, deer and just about any other game he can stalk.
"The only way I hunt now is with two spears at a time, with one in the right hand and one in the left," Morris said. "Twenty-nine different times, I've taken two animals at the same time — and that's the way I like to hunt."
That approach has drawn applause from other hunters, notably the "Motor City Madman" himself, renowned rocker and hunting fanatic Ted Nugent. In 1998, Morris spear hunted with the "Stranglehold" songwriter during a week-long hunt on the 55,000-acre private YO Ranch in Texas.
Nugent's endorsement of the Spear Chunker is posted on Morris' Web site, www.huntingwithspears.com:
Gene Morris may very well be the last of the Mohicans with his ultimate discipline of spear-hunting. The level of awareness necessary to penetrate the amazing defense zone of the beast is more challenge than nearly all modern man is capable of imagining. To then kill the beast with a hand-thrown spear is the quintessential predator accomplishment.
Morris' early passion led him to convince Alabama to allow spear-hunting as part of its annual "primitive" deer season. Held in most states during October, before the season for modern weaponry (i.e., rifles), the primitive season is when thousands of hunters grab muzzleloaders or bows and head to the woods.
If it were up to Morris, his favored style of hunting would be legal nationwide. But only in Alabama can hunters legally use a spear to hunt deer. And it's pretty safe to say it wouldn't even be allowed there, if not for Morris.
In the late '90s, he and a hunting buddy made the trip to Gulf Shores, Ala., to make his case to Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries officials for the special season.
"We just said we were interested in spears, and we hunt with spears, and that we'd like to see it written into the regulations that spear-hunting is legal," Morris said.
Keith Guyse, now assistant chief of the wildlife section for Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries, wasn't with the department at the time, but related his understanding of the meeting.
"We had an individual make a presentation asking us to modify our regulations and allow spear-hunting for deer and swine," he said. "Evidently, he was quite convincing."
With approval for an experimental spear-hunting season, Morris and his friend received a laminated card with the permission listed. Sixty-four special free licenses were given to hunters in Alabama. Officials kept tabs on them, and they were required to report any kills to the state.
"It turned out there was low participation and we reported nothing killed," Guyse said. "The second year, we learned someone had taken one deer with a spear."
Morris insists he took a deer and another hunter a feral hog during the experimental season. Regardless, the state made the season a fixture after the second year.
Other hunters haven't exactly flocked to the practice.
"I've only known one instance in my district of someone using a spear to hunt deer and I've been here for 26 years," said Randy Liles, wildlife supervisor for Alabama's District II. "I guess it's kind of like hunting with longbows or recurves. But I wouldn't want to be hunting deer with a spear."
Morris estimates 90 percent of his spear hunts involve hanging his spears from a nail in a tree stand and waiting for large game to pass below. The length of the shaft depends on the distance of the throw from the platform. And when an unsuspecting animal comes within range, he heaves the weapon, with its 22-inch-long, four-bladed galvanized spearhead.
Ten percent of Morris' hunts involve stalking white-tailed deer with a 4.5-pound boar spear manufactured by the Cold Steel company. Once within a 12-yard range, Morris can quickly dispatch his prey with a lethal strike.
"I have used it quite a few years and carry one in my car all the time for rattlesnakes on dirt roads," Morris said. "For pigs, it's especially good."
Emboldened by Alabama's allowing spear-hunting, Morris got "fired up" and sent letters advocating spear-hunting to every other state game agency in the country.
The response was lukewarm at best, and similar-minded hunters in other states haven't made much progress (though some states do allow the spear-hunting of feral hogs). One reason Morris and other advocates cite: animal rights groups and other citizens just don't cotton to the notion of killing deer with spears.
Said Gary Fogelman, who petitioned the Pennsylvania Game Commission to allow spear-hunting in that state: "The biggest issue is one of perception. People were afraid of deer running through their yards with darts hanging out of them."
Dave Erickson, the assistant director of Missouri's Department of Conservation and chairman of the regulations committee, was personally convinced a well-placed, effective dart or spear would be sufficiently lethal and humane in taking larger game.
But the committee had concerns about "the high potential for public misunderstanding," he said.
"We studied the issue in the two states that had authorized the use of the weapons," Erickson said. "Alabama said it was a non-issue. Pennsylvania said it was a nightmare."
In 2006, the state of Pennsylvania voted to explore allowing spear-hunting. Months later, the panel tabled the issue due to an outcry of public reaction.
"It's a P.R. disaster — people throwing spears at white-tailed deer?" Erickson said. "Most Missourians or Americans don't have objections to deer hunting, but I think they would insist it's done in ways that are humane and safe."
Morris believes animal rights and anti-hunting groups have won the battle of hearts and minds concerning spear-hunting due to their "propaganda."
He worries the general public now conflates "primitive" hunting with "barbaric" — something out of a B-movie in which cavemen battle dinosaurs.
Death, he argues, is swift for the spear-struck. Razor-sharp tips slice through arteries and organs, while a stopper prevents the spear from passing completely through the animal. Strategically-placed barbs keep the blade from falling out as the deer takes its final steps.
"No gun on the face of the earth will make the devastating effects a spear will," Morris said.
To further the spear-hunting cause, Morris built his own legacy, the 7,600-square-foot Spear Hunting Museum, in Summerville, Ala. It showcases his spear-hunting exploits, and presents spears as a legitimate expansion of hunting. When he's not away on a hunt, Morris is in the museum from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
In addition to his Web site, www.huntingwithspears.com, Morris needs only write a few more chapters to complete his next project, a book on the dim future of hunting in what he sees as the overregulated, micromanaged, hypersensitive modern age.
Of course, if it's up to him, that future will look a lot like the distant past.
For more on the spear hunting legislation, check out Atlatl battle.
This story is a part of ESPNOutdoors.com's Deer Camp, an in depth, state-by-state look at deer hunting in America.