Carson Wentz scrambles to make time for dog and hunting.
STORY BY JIM HANNAFORD
Being an NFL quarterback, you shouldn’t expect a lot of downtime in the fall and winter, but Carson Wentz uses his wisely. When he’s not working to lead his offense toward the goal line, he manages to claim a few hours here and there to indulge in another of his passions, bird hunting. It’s a safe bet that at least two of his favorite retrievers— Henley, Jersey, and Riggs—are with him.
Their hunts usually come the day after a big game. This seasoned pro leaves the Monday-morning quarterbacking to the amateurs as he makes his great escape. “Pretty much every off day, either in the morning or in the evening, I’m in a duck blind or a deer stand,” says Wentz. ”It’s such a good way for me to kind of reset and get my mind off football and do something I love.”
Besides his beloved dogs, he is often accompanied by his older brother, Zach, whom he considers his best friend as well as his number-one hunting partner. They’ve captured many of their low-key exploits on videos that were already popular on YouTube and Instagram before the Outdoor Channel turned them into an online series.
In addition to their frequent quick getaways, they usually indulge in longer hunting trips during the off-season. They have traveled as far as New Zealand to hunt but also enjoy targeting snow geese in Arkansas.
Making time to hunt is something that started for the gun-slinging Wentz during his freshman year at North Dakota State University, where a pro-style offense prepared him for his smooth transition to the NFL in 2016.
On the field, he is known as a hardworking natural leader. At just over 6’ 5”, he has a commanding presence from behind the line and a rifle for a right arm. And he isn’t afraid to lower his head and crash his way for a few extra inches on the ground. Despite a couple of serious injuries, the brainy and brawny quarterback has managed to pass for nearly 18,000 yards so far in the NFL.
After five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, the 28-year-old Wentz is excited about a fresh beginning with the Indianapolis Colts, where he is reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, the Colts’ head coach. While getting to know his new teammates and their playing styles and mastering the Colts playbook this summer, Wentz managed to squeeze in just a little bit of time outdoors near his new home. “One afternoon after workouts, we went out and turkey hunted,” he says. “We got to see a little bit of the countryside, and it’s beautiful. I’ve gotten to know a handful of people and built some connections that hopefully will help to get us on some birds and some deer this fall.”
A LATE STARTER
Growing up, Wentz joined in on some family hunting trips, but he was too restless to fully enjoy it, and he also had his mind on athletics. “I didn’t love it,” he says. “I was a super-active kid, so if something required me to sit around, I would start to lose my mind.”
But when hunting did manage to grab hold of him, it wouldn’t let go. “I had some buddies that took me out pheasant hunting my freshman year in college, during Christmas break,” Wentz recalls. While the others were dropping birds left and right, his own aim needed some work. “I couldn’t hit a single thing, but I loved the whole experience, including watching their chocolate Lab chase birds. I was like, ‘This is addicting.’ I went out and bought a new shotgun (a Remington 870), got a dog, and traded in my Camry for an F-150. I was all in on hunting.”
While he was first drawn to hunting upland game birds in North Dakota, Wentz has since come to favor the faster pace of waterfowling. He and Zach are developing some flooded timberland in southeastern Texas so they can go there regularly to bag some mallards. They also enjoy exploring saltwater bays in search of sea ducks like scoters, long-billeds, and buffleheads. “It’s always nice to mix things up,” he says. “Different locations offer different opportunities that are unique.”
A big part of the experience for Wentz is the joy that comes from spending time with his four-legged hunting companions, those three golden retrievers. His first dog, Henley, who is almost nine, sits out more often these days, passing on the duties to her younger understudies. The four-year-old male, Jersey, is Henley’s offspring while newcomer Riggs came from a breeder/trainer in Minnesota.
“I love hunting with the dogs. I love training them, raising them, and developing that bond,” he says. “I’d go bird hunting even if I wasn’t shooting, just to run the dogs and watch them do their stuff. It’s peaceful. There’s nothing like seeing the sun come up over a pond or a slough.”
Riggs earned his Master Hunter certification this summer, and Wentz notes that having a hunting dog with expert training definitely makes a difference. “I trained the older two myself, and I think they’re pretty hit and miss because of that,” he says. “I was a new and not-very-good hunter, and I think their abilities reflect that. We were learning together.”
LEADING ON AND OFF THE FIELD
Kids looking for a role model could do a lot worse than the towering Wentz. He’s smart, warm, and friendly and has a strong moral compass that’s driven by his strong faith. When he’s not scanning the skies for birds, his off-field activities often involve helping other people.
His charitable arm is called the Audience of One Foundation, and he has its abbreviation (AO1) tattooed on the inside of his right wrist. The name comes from the Christian concept of living to please God first and foremost rather than other people.
Wentz’ outreach mission has several fronts. A program called Thy Kingdom Crumb, for instance, has served 59,388 meals, at last count, to people in need. In a separate effort, nearly a million dollars has gone toward building a sports complex and soccer field in Haiti that will serve around 15,000 children. Another ongoing AO1 program is the Outdoor Ministry, which gives youngsters with life-threatening illnesses and medical conditions a chance to do some of the things that Wentz himself loves to do. In a faith-based atmosphere, they get opportunities to camp, hike, fish, hunt, and ride horses. He says Bible studies and devotional lessons are part of their experience, giving them a sense of the “spiritual side” of nature.
“It’s really cool to see God changing lives through the outdoors,” Wentz says. “When I was a kid that’s something I would have cherished. Hopefully they are developing a lifelong love for the outdoors.”
STRONG FAMILY TIES
Just a couple of days after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII in 2018, Wentz and his girlfriend, Maddie, announced that they were engaged. They got married that July, and before long had another announcement. In their clever gender-reveal video, Wentz was seen blasting a football out of the air, skeet style, to expose a puff of pink powder. When Hadley Jane was born in April 2020, he called their baby girl “a true blessing from the Lord.” And the blessings continue—the couple’s second child is due in November.
After their abrupt move from south Jersey outside Philadelphia, they are settling in smoothly, he says. “We love it. We’re on the north side of Indy, which is where most of my teammates live. It’s a bigger city but has a smaller-town feel, which is cool. It’s a great community, really healthy for our family, and we’re back in the Midwest, which is kind of what we’re used to.”
Zach, who is three years older, is executive director of the Audience of One Foundation. He was a starting pitcher at North Dakota State when his little brother was embarking on his amazing college football career. “We really got into hunting at the same time,” Wentz says, “and he was the first to get into bow hunting, which we also do together.” On their Wentz Bros Outdoors videos, they have a laid-back, easy camaraderie. They come across not as overly serious professional hunters but enthusiastic and earnest amateurs who are learning as they go—and loving it.
Wentz figures his fervor for hunting will last a lifetime, even when it no longer serves as an important diversion from the mental and physical exhaustion of playing football at the top level. “I see the videos as something to look back on,” he says. “I’d love to have a collection of all of our hunting trips when I’m older, to be able to relive those moments.”
A BIG CAREER MOVE
His last season in Philadelphia was disappointing for many Eagles fans and challenging for him personally. His passing numbers were way down while some other numbers— sacks and interceptions—were way up. He was replaced as the starting quarterback and traded to the Colts once the season was over.
Just a few months later, Wentz is eager to make the most of his new opportunity with the Colts, who have a long legacy of top-notch quarterbacks. He is standing tall behind a brand-new offensive line with hopeful eyes toward his own future.
“Physically I feel great, and mentally I’m in a great place. It’s been a whirlwind of an off-season, but it’s exciting to get a new start, and it’s somewhere that I feel is a great fit,” says Wentz. “I’m excited to work with a lot of good players and also Coach Reich. He and I got super close in our two years together, so I’m happy to be working with him again.”