Remembering Buckeye: Hunting season conjures up memories of a colorful grandfather

  • Article by: TORI J. MCCORMICK , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2013 - 7:17 AM

Hunting is usually about more than just hunting. For this pheasant hunter, the season conjures up memories of a colorful grandfather who was Johnny Cash cool and John Wayne tough.


Buckeye’s pink lips, blood-red cheeks and crimson ears bore the expression of an unhappy man. Call it frozen exasperation.

My late grandfather, whom I called Buckeye, was in his upper 70s, and the South Dakota prairie that November afternoon was miserably cold and windy. Buckeye and I were blocking a large field our hosts called The Sanctuary — an area specifically managed for Buckeye’s favorite game bird, the gaudy ring-necked pheasant.

The prairie wind was so earsplitting you couldn’t hear the birds break the thick, snowy cover and catch air. Unless a rooster exploded at your feet, your peripheral vision only caught streaks of copper waving goodbye — ringnecks as prairie rockets.

Buckeye didn’t stand a chance. When the birds started to fly in our direction, spent shell casings began to amass near his feet. His body language turned angry as he fired and missed repeatedly. His old bones and flagging reflexes wouldn’t allow him to catch up to those wind-propelled ringnecks — of which, mind you, he had killed hundreds over the years — but he nearly corkscrewed himself into the frozen ground trying.

Minutes later, he walked to the truck, unloaded his shotgun and said he was done. He never hunted pheasants again.

As we draw deeper into the 2013 pheasant hunting season, Buckeye’s swan song in the late 1990s still saddens me. That was the day I lost my favorite hunting companion, the deliciously mischievous old man and character I would later eulogize as Johnny Cash cool and John Wayne tough.

It’s been said we do not remember days; we remember moments. True enough. My most vivid moments — and memories — of Buckeye revolve around our many pheasant-hunting trips together. The hunts themselves were noteworthy (we put a lot of wild protein in the freezer) but they pale in comparison to the library of evocative stories he told along the way.

Buckeye could spin a yarn like few others, making the seemingly mundane magical. Throughout the years, he became my Hemingway, my Faulkner, my Joyce, my inspiration.

When I was a young boy, the pheasant opener was always a great occasion for Buckeye, and I fondly remember tagging along and idling on his every syllable. His voice was lilt-perfect — an endearing, soothing composite of Irish brogue (mild) and the Upper Midwest (see “Fargo”). His meaty hands were always frenetic with gesture and his words effortlessly poured off his tongue like a waterfall.

Buckeye’s stories spanned the globe — one minute he was in France during World War II, the next in the Minnesota River Valley near Belle Plaine, hunting pheasants during the 1950s along the railroad tracks near the city milk plant, where he retired as a boiler operator. Still other times he was conning the local butcher into selling him “fresh” beef liver — liver that hadn’t been cooled, as required by law — or “sticking” a pig with his father for an Irish staple: blood sausage.

Stories or no stories, I quickly learned that hunting pheasants in proximity to Buckeye was terribly unwise. A graceful and lethal wing-shooter, he was also quick on the draw. When a rooster flushed, he’d shoulder and slap the trigger of his snub-nosed single-shot .410 (he rarely used another shotgun his entire life) before my brain could process what was happening.

“That’s how you do it, Doc,” he’d say, bird in hand, just to rub my nose in it. “Quick and the dead.”

Unfazed, I could stick the needle just as well, and just as deeply, especially when we were hunting pheasants. Buckeye, you see, was far from a paragon of healthy living. He was wedded to his vices — from chewing leaf tobacco to smoking cheap, no-filter cigarettes to swilling brown liquor, sometimes simultaneously — which made him the perfect target for some good-natured ridicule.

“I see you have all the bases covered, Buckeye,” I’d chide him. “Lips, lungs and liver. Nice work. Getting ready for your next 10K, I see.”

When I left Minnesota for South Dakota to begin my career in journalism, I called my grandfather every Tuesday morning and dubbed our conversations Tuesdays with Buckeye. They were beautiful theater.

My grandfather was intensely curious, and he often quizzed me on my work. One column in particular, a piece on Aldo Leopold and land stewardship, touched a chord.

“We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see the land as a commodity to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

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Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia 3 Bottom 8th Inning
Oakland 0
Toronto 5 Bottom 8th Inning
NY Yankees 2
Arizona 1 Top 9th Inning
Colorado 5
Boston - R. De La Rosa 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Milwaukee - M. Garza 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Washington - J. Zimmermann 6:10 PM
Miami - J. Cosart
NY Mets - J. Niese 6:10 PM
Atlanta - M. Minor
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - C. Archer
Cleveland - T. House 6:10 PM
Minnesota - T. May
Seattle - C. Young 6:10 PM
Houston - D. Keuchel
Cincinnati - M. Leake 6:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Wacha
San Francisco - Y. Petit 7:40 PM
San Diego - A. Cashner
Texas - C. Lewis 8:05 PM
LA Angels - J. Weaver
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
Utah 26 Delayed 7:51
Michigan 10
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
North Carolina 27 4th Qtr
East Carolina 56
Virginia 26 4th Qtr 7:48
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 4th Qtr 0:26
Rutgers 31 4th Qtr 2:28
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 4th Qtr 7:13
Kansas 17
Florida 21 4th Qtr 11:00
(3) Alabama 35
Louisville 31 3rd Qtr 12:03
San Jose St 7 Delayed 11:38
Minnesota 17
Texas State 14 Delayed 13:35
Illinois 6
Fla Atlantic 19 4th Qtr 3:15
Wyoming 17
Indiana 24 4th Qtr 15:00
(18) Missouri 17
Massachusetts 7 4th Qtr 10:55
Penn State 48
Georgia State 7 2nd Qtr 13:10
Washington 0
Appalachian St 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Middle Tennessee 6:00 PM
Utah State 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Idaho 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina 6:30 PM
(4) Oklahoma 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 7:00 PM
(22) Clemson 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9:00 PM
Louisiana 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 2nd Half 24:00
Portland 2
Houston 6:00 PM
New England 6:30 PM
San Jose 6:30 PM
Seattle 6:30 PM
Red Bull New York
D.C. 7:30 PM
FC Dallas 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 6:00 PM
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
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