Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Passing of N.Y. legend: Bill Hilts, Sr. dies at 90

Bill Hilts Sr. (shown here with canine friend Buckwheat) passed away Dec. 12. Well-known for his writing contributions, he was also involved in numerous hunting, fishing and conservation efforts where his work, leadership and influence benefited many sportsmen in New York and beyond. (Photo provided)

Sanborn, N.Y. — Well known outdoor writer Bill Hilts Sr. passed away on Dec. 12 at the age of 90 after a long and storied career as an outdoor journalist. He would’ve turned 91 on Dec. 18.

Hilts is the father of regular New York Outdoor News contributing writer Bill Hilts Jr.

A graduate of LaSalle High School, the senior Hilts attended Michigan State University. Hilts also served his country on a destroyer with the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He then went on to the NYS Power Authority for 33 years before retiring in 1993. His wife of 67 years, Sylvia, passed in 2018.

RELATED CONTENT: Thoughts from Dan Ladd on the passing of a writing pioneer.

Hilts Sr. said that he was fortunate to have what he called an adventurous career as an outdoor journalist, serving as the editor for North American Bear magazine and writing thousands of magazine articles and newspaper columns over the years, most notably for the Buffalo Currier Express and Niagara Gazette.

In 1967, Hilts Sr. and his friend Hans Paller co-founded the New York State Outdoor Writers Association, and Hilts Sr. eventually served as president and helped organize many events. He remained an active NYSOWA member through the years and attended the 50th anniversary conference in 2017, held at Lake
George, where the first official conference was held in 1967.

Hilts Sr. was the first recipient of the Hans Paller award, given only
periodically by the organization to its most dedicated members. In 2009,
he was bestowed the M. Paul Keesler New York Outdoor Citizen Award, which
recognizes an individual or organization that effectively has raised the
public’s awareness of outdoor recreational opportunities and
conservation issues in New York.

Bill Sr. was also active on the national level, serving as president of the
Outdoor Writers Association of America, hosting a conference during his
tenure in the early 1990s, a writer’s conference that saw nearly 900
outdoor media members visit the Niagara Falls region.

New York Outdoor News columnist Glenn Sapir, also a past OWAA and NYSOWA president, recalls Bill Sr.’s leadership skills.

“I guess I might describe Bill Hilts Sr. as a soft-spoken giant, not only
big in stature but also prominent in the outdoor communications and
conservation world,” Sapir said. “Not only did I get to know him as a
fellow member and New Yorker and friend, but I got to watch his quiet
leadership techniques when I sat on the board of directors of OWAA while
Bill served as president and then chairman of the board. If anyone ever
fit Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ credo, it
was Bill. Bill’s big stick, however, was not literally an instrument of
force. Instead, it was his quiet ability to get things done.”

Along with the aforementioned publications, Sapir also recalled Bill Sr’s tenure as editor of New York State Conservation Comments, the newsletter of the New York State Conservation Council, and pointed out
that he was the founder of a national crossbow association and member of
the New York State Great Lakes Basin Advisory Council.

“Bill never seemed to seek recognition for his accomplishments, however, which made him even more endearing,” Sapir said.

Bill Hilts Jr., also a regular NYODN contributor, reflected on his father’s genuine good nature and what he brought to the conservation/journalism table.

“He loved to travel,” Hilts Jr. said, “and it all started with his four-year stint in the U.S. Navy.

In the span of his lifetime, Dad was able to visit over 30 countries.

“One such trip was an adventure to Sweden where the two of us were invited
by the Salmon Foundation to visit Lake Vanern and the surrounding
communities,” Hilts Jr. continued. “We gave talks to tourism groups
around the lake, and he was treated like royalty for the two weeks we
were there. His wit, humor and personality were appreciated wherever we
went.”

Hilts Jr. said his father played a key role in the formation of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance (now the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation
Partnership), preserving the traditions of hunting and fishing.

“He was part of the field staff that not only formed the group back in the
late 1990s but he was instrumental in its success before there was a big
change in leadership and direction,” Hilts Jr. said.

Bill Sr. was also an early advocate for crossbow hunting in New York, and
was the founding member and president of the New York State Crossbow
Hunters Association, giving talks and demonstrations around the state
with his sons.

“He was often criticized by some of the die-hard archery groups, calling him
names along the way,” Bill Jr. said. “The funny thing was, he was also
at the forefront of the archery movement with compound bows when they
were new and controversial.

“If there was a cause he believed in, he would become a supporter. If it
was still in the developmental stage, he would help lead the charge,”
Hilts Jr. said.

•••

In late 2021 the New York State Outdoor Writers Association celebrated
Bill Hilts Sr.’s 90th birthday via a Zoom meeting with him. Highlights
from that meeting are featured in the latest Great Northeast Podcast.
Tune in at www.outdoornews.com/radio/.

Also, the entire session can be viewed on NYOSWA’s YouTube channel.

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