If you’re an active member of OWAA, it’s safe to say you know who Bill Hilts Sr. is. Not only has he been ever present the last four decades of OWAA conferences, he’s also served as an officer, director and past president of this great organization. He’s been a proud member since 1961, when legendary writer Seth Myers — secretary/treasurer for many years — sponsored him into the group. From there, fate took over and led him down a special path of involvement, from inspirational friendships to unique outdoor adventures and experiences. Not just for him, but his whole family. I should know.
Hilts Sr. first attended a conference in 1965 (at the insistence of Wally Taber), when he camped his way from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Glenwood Springs, Colo., with his family in tow. I was there for that first conference ground-breaking and it was truly a life-changing experience, in more ways than one. That year I can remember taking ski lift rides up into the Rockies and meeting all kinds of people. My fondest recollection was of a beautiful 16-year-old cowhand with an angelic voice as we camped at the 7-W Guest Ranch high in the mountains — but I digress.
That first meeting was all it took for the Hilts family to get hooked on OWAA. In 1967, Hilts Sr. trucked the family — including his devoted wife (and my mother) Sylvia — across the continent to Waskesiu, Saskatchewan, and he never missed a conference until 2006 — 39 in a row. He was back at Roanoke in 2007.
Through many of the conferences, the family was along for the ride. I can remember getting casting lessons from Homer Circle, shooting tips from Grits Gresham, and many more outdoor experiences that made a huge impression. In 1983, a different twist was tossed into the mix — I became an active member myself, giving us an opportunity to spend more time together doing the things we loved.
Hilts Sr. has been a people person all of his life. During his presidency from 1990-91, his constant theme was that OWAA’s members were its biggest resource — a platform he’s taken on to new levels in so many different areas. Therein lies an attribute so important on committees, boards, organizations and groups — the ability to communicate and simply “get along” with the people of this world. That communications gift has been something that has allowed Hilts Sr. to attain great heights.
In the world of communications, he’s done it all — from television and radio to magazine and newspaper. At 76 years young, he continues to perform many of the skills he’s developed over the years, serving as the current editor of the North American Bear Foundation’s BEAR Journal and freelancing for several other publications. He also continues to utilize those all-important people skills as a conservation adviser to a local state senator and a member of the Conservation Fund Advisory Council in New York state. If there’s a worthy cause involving the outdoors, Hilts Sr. isn’t afraid to jump on board and lend a hand.
I could go on and on about the many boards, councils, organizations and groups he’s been involved with, from the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust in Alaska to being a Great Lakes representative with the International Game Fish Association. I could also go on and on about his list of accomplishments, from being New York’s Conservationist of the Year to his induction into the state’s Outdoorsman Hall of Fame. I’ve got four pages worth that I would love to talk up. But that’s not what “Big Bill” would want. He’s a humble man, perfectly comfortable to spend time with family and friends to share stories and experiences — or to make this outdoor world a better place to be. Like he said time and time again, it’s the people that make OWAA great. He’s one of those people, an important cornerstone to OWAA.
If you don’t know the real Bill Hilts Sr., take the time to introduce yourself and share a few moments in Bismarck. The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, he’ll be there for another “people experience” in the great outdoors — a living legend of OWAA.
Bill Hilts Jr. has been an active member of OWAA for nearly a quarter century, attending conferences for more than four decades. Yes, he’s related to Bill Sr., legally as his son (at least that’s what’s on the birth certificate), but a twin brother (just Bill Sr. is a little older) at functions like OWAA conferences.