Pursuing Trophies That Really Matter

John Annoni isn't your stereotypical bowhunter.

John Annoni celebrates with two Camp Compass Academy students after a successful deer hunt.

Annoni grew up on the tough, inner-city streets of Allentown, Pa. His father was a heroin addict who died of an overdose. His mother lived in the projects and was involved in abusive relationships.


Under the circumstances, the odds of Annoni becoming a productive member of society were slim. The odds of him becoming a hunter were just about none.



But as he's proven time and time again, Annoni has a knack for beating long odds.

Thanks to the love and support of his grandparents, Annoni earned an education degree from Kutztown University and returned home as a middle school teacher in the Allentown School District.


And thanks to his overwhelming passion for the outdoors -- not to mention lots of helping hands along the way -- Annoni didn't just become a hunter; he became an icon within the hunting community.


As a child, Annoni found great solace in nature, which offered an escape from the constant turmoil of family life. Whether fishing for Lehigh River smallmouths or being awed by a wayward pheasant in the neighborhood junkyard, Annoni discovered a sense of peace and belonging that simply didn't exist at home. At age 11, in a small woodlot adjacent to the housing project where his mother lived, Annoni became a hunter when a gray squirrel fell to his recurve bow.

"Till this day, I can still picture the flight of that perfect arrow," Annoni recalls. "It was as if the whole world stopped moving, except for that 20-inch piece of wood.

"That one squirrel, that pest of a creature, the bird-feeder raider, the power-outage-causer, helped me experience life in a way I never could have imagined. It opened gates of sensitivity I never had known or shown before. It brought out of me the instinctive predator impulse that would stay with me and change my life forever."

Years later, Annoni realized sharing his love of the outdoors could help save students falling through the system's cracks. In 1994, he founded Camp Compass Academy, a mentoring program that uses hunting as an integral part of pointing at-risk youth toward academic and social success.

Camp Compass has exposed thousands of inner-city children to the outdoors and had an intensely personal impact on hundreds of academy "graduates" who have completed the intensive, multi-year program. Annoni's personal story, along with his biracial heritage, gives him all the "street cred" needed to reach youths experiencing similar challenges.

In 2007, I had the privilege of accompanying Camp Compass student Alexandra Salazar on a Pennsylvania turkey hunt during which she took her very first gobbler. Salazar, then a 15-year-old high school sophomore, was a self-described "video game junkie" who counted rapper Ludacris among her favorite musical artists. But she was also passionate about hunting, and despite several blown chances that day, hunted hard and took a bird just five minutes before quitting time.

"I like it more and more every time I go hunting, because I learn something new every time," Salazar told me. "They don't teach you this stuff in school."

Salazar graduated from high school this spring and recently started college in California.

From the Hood to the Woods


Camp Compass Academy founder John Annoni recently released his autobiography, From the Hood to the Woods: The John Annoni Story. The 145-page book offers a no-holds-barred account of Annoni's traumatic urban upbringing, maturation as an outdoorsman and tireless work to build Camp Compass Academy into one of the nation's premier youth outdoor programs.To purchase the book or learn more about the Camp Compass program, visit www.campcompass.org.

 

That's the beauty of Camp Compass, which has earned Annoni countless accolades from the outdoor community, including 1999 Safari Club International Educator of the Year, 2005 Pope and Young Club Stewardship Award and 2008 OL25, Outdoor Life magazine's annual list of 25 people who have had the greatest positive impact on hunting or fishing.

BOWHUNTING's annual whitetail issue seemed like the perfect time to share Annoni's inspiring story.

Like all deer hunters, I write this column with eager anticipation of deer season and the big bucks I hope to see in my sight window. Yet at the same time, as I reflect upon Annoni's example, there's no denying the fact that life's most important trophies don't hang on the wall.

"It takes a lot of work to get one kid out of the city to be able to do what we do, but if somebody has a passion to want to participate and give back, you find a way to make it work," Annoni said. "I think that's where Camp Compass is going -- showing people creative ways to keep our sport alive."

Recommended for You

Ready to saddle up? Here's where to start! Gear

Resources to Get Started with Tree Saddle Hunting

Greg Staggs

Ready to saddle up? Here's where to start!

Follow Bill Winke's tips to ensure you have the most accurate bowhunting setup possible. How-To

Goof-Proof Tips For Sighting-In Your Bow

Bill Winke

Follow Bill Winke's tips to ensure you have the most accurate bowhunting setup possible.

Learn how to lure wary bulls into bow range. Big Game

Elk Calling With the Experts

Tracy Breen

Learn how to lure wary bulls into bow range.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Check out our picks for the best new bow sights from the 2019 ATA Show! ATA Show

Best New Bow Sights for 2019

Tony J. Peterson - January 10, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new bow sights from the 2019 ATA Show!

We've rounded up the best new compound bows at the 2019 ATA Show. Here are our top picks for the year! ATA Show

Best New Bows for 2019

Tony J. Peterson - January 10, 2019

We've rounded up the best new compound bows at the 2019 ATA Show. Here are our top picks for...

We've rounded up the best new fixed-blade broadheads from the 2019 ATA Show. Check out our top picks! ATA Show

New Fixed-Blade Broadheads for 2019

Brian Strickland - January 10, 2019

We've rounded up the best new fixed-blade broadheads from the 2019 ATA Show. Check out our top...

See More Stories

More Stories

In this edition of Stories

Food Plots

Bowhunting Online Staff - July 25, 2018

In this edition of "Tech Talk," Mike Carney shares insight on how to add punch to your hunt by

Spanish philosopher George Santayana is widely credited with the observation that Stories

Crossbow History

Bob Humphrey - May 22, 2017

Spanish philosopher George Santayana is widely credited with the observation that "those who...



In life, there are just some Stories

Bowhunting's Favorite Fall Moment

Christian Berg - August 16, 2013

In life, there are just some "firsts" you never forget—your first kiss, your first job,...

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×