Speakeasy Hill, High Bridge, N.J., Jan. 1, 1990—The “Eighties” are finished; the new decade begins, although strictly speaking it really doesn’t start until Jan. 1, 1991, or so the purists maintain. Any way you look at it, though, the last year was a good one as far as my hunting and fishing went. As a matter of fact, the year was probably one of the best years I’ve ever had—full of luck, good times and better friends, and some of the best trips I have ever enjoyed.
Let’s see. While the year started out fairly disappointing with a siege of bad weather for our January quail hunt out in Tennessee and high winds for a February bonefish tournament in the Bahamas, things picked up in good fashion after that. We had a fine trip to Argentina in March and, while I didn’t shoot a stag myself, some of my friends—Joe and Rose Wells, Tim Crawford, and Lynn Smith—took nice heads on their first stag hunt on Douglas Reid’s estancia. We’re going back this year and, who knows, maybe I’ll pop a cap.
April was really one of the best months I’ve ever spent, as I spent most of it in Botswana and was lucky enough to have two splendid Cape buffalo hunts—one with Johnny Dugmore and the other with the famed Harry Selby (Bob Ruark’s old hunter, centerpiece of Horn of the Hunter and Use Enough Gun). I had fairly interesting experiences on both buffalo hunts and, as it turned out, the buff with Harry turned out to be 43", which is pretty good these days in Botswana.
We held our ninth Islamorada Irregulars Invitational Tarpon Tournament in the Florida Keys in May, and I am pleased and proud to say that all three members of the family competing—wife Jan, son Jim and me—took a tarpon, although Jimmy was sweating it out to the last day under the terrible pressure of possibly being the only family member to blank out. (This was doubly worrisome as his mother captured the ladies’ title!)
I took about 16 people down to Argentina for goose and dove hunting in June and, as usual, we had a splendid shoot. I won’t go into “body counts,” but let it suffice to say that all birds were utilized by the local orphanage, which is in desperate straits due to the economic crisis down there. Doves and geese are considered “vermin,” as they are in tremendous numbers (with no local shooting to control them) and literally ravage the grain crops. If you are looking for a bird shooter’s paradise—and like being welcomed as saviors by the farmers—Argentina is the place. The fact that they have the best steaks in the world adds to the atmosphere as well.
My fishing luck continued to hold for July when a bunch of us went down to try out the fabled sailfish and marlin fishing off the western coast of Costa Rica. It was even more fabulous than we had heard. Larry Ricca and I brought up 22 sailfish to the teaser, hooked nine and landed four in about five hours of actual fishing time. We took several on a fly after we had caught about 15 dolphin flyfishing. Our six other partners did as well or better during the three days of fishing there, including two blue marlin and one black.
We maintained our fishing momentum in August with a great trip to Alaska with Bobby De Vito at his Branch River Lodge, and continued our salmon fishing—for the Atlantic species—on the George River in Quebec in September. Once more I took about 20 guns to Botswana for our annual September bird-hunting foray in that country. Again, the dove (four species) and sandgrouse (three species) shooting was superb, with some fine francolin partridge gunning thrown in.
Things really picked up in October when we went out for our first “Cast and Blast” steelhead and chukar expedition on the Grande Ronde river in southeastern Washington (described in last month’s column). On the way home I stopped over in Grand Rapids, Minn., for the most incredible grouse and woodcock hunt I have ever enjoyed, in company with a local guide, Howie Hill, who is probably the best grouse man ever to follow a dog. I won’t go into a further description of that memorable three days as it rates a column all of its own, which will probably come to light in the April issue!
I headed home for some local shooting before taking a bunch of friends to Scotland for some driven bird-shooting—pheasant, duck and partridge—mixed with a day or so of what they call “rough shooting” for geese, snipe, grouse and wood pigeon. I had two groups, back-to-back, and the weather and hame cooperated beautifully.
On returning home we held one of our annual quail trips—two of them, back-to-back—at the Estanuala Hunt Club out of Brownsville, Tenn. Again, we had a great time with the weather holding and a lot of birds to flush and bag. I spent the whole time on horseback, and it was good to follow a fine brace of pointing dogs again. You can really cover ground and find birds. Jerry Williamson made sure we did that with his pointers Tina, Jet and KoKo.
I finished off the year here in New Jersey with a big duck and pheasant shoot with a lot of my old friends coming in from different parts of the States and Canada, joining us here in Hunterdon County for a “Mixed Bag” of festivities. Finally got my first deer with a muzzleloader on the day after Christmas when Howard Symonds and Bill Twining took me—yet again—to the woods across from Howard’s place up on the mountain. Once again, I do believe that story deserves a column all to itself, and that will probably be next May. It will be fun to think about that during the “no hunt” doldrums.
I guess that covers it. It wasn’t much, but not bad for a half-crippled, partially blind and deaf old coot without a car. All the best for all of our coming year. If it’s anything like the last one, it will something to remember too.
—From American Rifleman, February, 1990