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Highest hunting honor: Local awarded for work in hunting, conservation

Gregory Cheek devoted himself to his work for much of his life, saving little time for hobbies like hunting. But somewhere around mid-life he started putting time into the outdoors and it didn't take long for the outdoors to overtake him. There's...

Greg and Jessica Cheek stand near Victoria Falls in Africa. Submitted photo
Greg and Jessica Cheek stand near Victoria Falls in Africa. Submitted photo

Gregory Cheek devoted himself to his work for much of his life, saving little time for hobbies like hunting.

But somewhere around mid-life he started putting time into the outdoors and it didn't take long for the outdoors to overtake him. There's no sign of pulling him out, either.

"It turned from just hunting into a real passion," Cheek said.

Around 1990, Cheek joined Safari Club International, an organization focused on protecting the freedom to hunt and promoting wildlife conservation worldwide. In February, he was awarded the 2017 World Hunting Award Ring from that organization. He is one of only about 100 in the world to receive the ring, which involved an exhaustive amount of hunting, traveling and conservation efforts.

Cheek and his wife Jessica, started 26 different businesses and together have managed and grown PLM Lake and Land Management to a multi-million dollar aquatic company with locations throughout the Midwest and southern United States. The focus on his career earlier in life allowed for some freedoms later in life.

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For over 25 years, the Cheeks have visited and/or hunted all seven continents from extreme hot to cold climates. Cheek, who spends his summers in Breezy Point, says of all the hunts, Africa continues to be a favorite.

"I've hunted probably a dozen different countries in Africa and that was fantastic," Cheek said. "In terms of if I had to choose a place to hunt, Africa has always been nice. Not only for hunting, but seeing all the different types of wildlife."

His wife accompanies him, taking pictures of all the wildlife along the way.

The places and creatures they've seen have become treasured memories and many of the trophies of the hunts have made it back to Breezy Point, where the Cheeks have a trophy room showcasing over 200 head and body mounts of the animals.

But the passion and pride behind all this goes beyond mere hunting, Cheek said. To earn the World Hunting Award Ring, Cheek had to have a focus of conservation as well.

Conservation efforts

"It's not a matter of just shooting animals or hunting animals. It has to do with all the efforts in conserving animals and also setting up food from hunters programs," Cheek said.

Wherever Cheek hunts he makes plans to donate the meat from the animals to various food banks and local villages. Cheek described watching village tribal chiefs in Africa handing out the cuts of meats to the people. Many of the people live on rice and beans, Cheek said, not having the opportunity to hunt themselves. The provision was a welcome addition to their pots, he said.

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"That's very gratifying to watch those efforts," Cheek said.

In 2017, Greg was elected president at large of the Safari Club International Ft. Myers-Naples Chapter. The Cheeks spend most of their time at their Florida home. While there he continues to focus on educating and voicing his concerns about anti-poaching.

One of those anti-poaching efforts includes the Cheeks bringing a drone to Uganda very soon. They hope the drone can be used to monitor poaching in that area across the wide expanses of the African bush.

The Cheeks have been active in Uganda and South Africa promoting anti-poaching efforts as well. They helped create a Christian school in South Africa for Zulu children and in addition to typical schooling, they are exposed to anti-poaching education so-hopefully-they share the message of conservation with their families, Cheek said.

"They can explain to them that this poaching is horrible for the wildlife and also for a lot of people that work on the ranch," Cheek said.

Locally, the Cheeks have opened their home in Breezy Point to businesses and school groups, including the fourth-graders of Eagleview Elementary School annually. The students also hear the stories of anti-poaching and conservation.

"They can see and touch and experience all the different variety of animals from all the continents," Cheek said.

Third-grade teacher Nikki McCarthy of Eagleview Elementary School said the annual trips have allowed the classes to get a look around the world just short jaunt from school.

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"They (students) learn the art of conservation, respect and kindness from a person so passionate about not only what he does, but what he leaves behind that they cannot be anything but changed for the better for knowing him," McCarthy said by email. "His compassion and caring for the countries he visits and the people he meets along the way just flows from him as naturally as breathing.

"I feel so blessed to be included in Jessica and Greg's lives-they have taught me as much about the big, incredible world and the amazing treasures it holds as any of the kids," McCarthy added. "They are both exquisite treasures that I feel lucky to call friends."

The World Hunting Award Ring, introduced in 1995, is the highest award in the World Hunting Awards program, recognizing extraordinary efforts in conservation of wildlife. Amongst all his trophies, Cheek said the award meant a lot to him.

Cheek was an accomplished athlete, especially in football and boxing, and was a Michigan amateur light-heavyweight champion with many professional fights (36 W-6 L.) He received his Bachelor and Masters degrees in manufacturing engineering and a doctorate of business administration degree.

Cheek said the process of setting up the organizations and helping those less fortunate than himself have been the most rewarding part of his journeys. Still-he continues to pursue game around the globe. Cheek just returned from a bighorn sheep hunt in New Mexico and has plans for a hunt in Russia in September.

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Earning the ring

The World Hunting Award Ring is achieved by completing the following tasks:

• Achieved 11 Safari Club International Grand Slams. Safari Club International offers 15 different Grand Slams of which the hunter must complete 11 of them. These Grand Slams involve successfully hunting a variety of different animals over six continents, i.e., African animals, bears, cats, deer, caribou, elk, sheep and turkeys.

• Achieved 17 Inner Circles at the Diamond level. A Inner Circle is divided into five levels; copper, bronze, silver, gold and diamond. As an example, to achieve the Diamond level of the Inner Circle Animals of Africa, one must successfully hunt 80 different species of African animals.

• Achieved two specific categories, the North American 29 and the Africa 29.

• Achieved two awards, the Fourth Pinnacle of Achievement and the Crowning of Achievement.

• A letter to the SCI Worlds Hunting Award department recognizing one's extraordinary efforts in the conservation of wildlife.

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