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.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 1 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Arrieta 4
Houston - WP: T. Sipp 5 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Allen 1
San Francisco - WP: T. Hudson 10 FINAL
Washington - LP: D. Fister 3
St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 5
Chicago WSox - LP: D. Webb 3 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: D. Robertson 4
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Smyly 8 FINAL
Toronto - LP: M. Stroman 0
Atlanta - WP: D. Hale 3 FINAL
Cincinnati - LP: M. Parra 1
Seattle - WP: D. Leone 5 FINAL
Boston - LP: K. Uehara 3
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 6 FINAL
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 3
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 8 FINAL
Milwaukee - LP: Y. Gallardo 3
Detroit - LP: R. Ray 6 FINAL
Minnesota - WP: R. Pressly 20
Miami - WP: H. Alvarez 13 FINAL
Colorado - LP: F. Morales 5
San Diego - LP: O. Despaigne 1 FINAL
Arizona - WP: J. Collmenter 5
LA Angels - LP: J. Grilli 3 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Gray 5
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 2 FINAL
Los Angeles - WP: D. Haren 6
Carolina 7 FINAL
New England 30
NY Giants 35 FINAL
NY Jets 24
Jacksonville 12 FINAL
Detroit 13
Oakland 21 FINAL
Green Bay 31
Chicago 6 FINAL
Seattle 34
Tampa Bay 8/23/14 3:30 PM
Buffalo
Tennessee 8/23/14 6:00 PM
Atlanta
Dallas 8/23/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Washington 8/23/14 6:30 PM
Baltimore
New Orleans 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Indianapolis
Minnesota 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Kansas City
St. Louis 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Houston 8/23/14 8:00 PM
Denver
San Diego 8/24/14 3:00 PM
San Francisco
Cincinnati 8/24/14 7:00 PM
Arizona
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:00 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
UCF 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Penn State
Real Salt Lake 1 FINAL
FC Dallas 2
Montreal 16 FINAL
Winnipeg 24
Toronto 8/23/14 3:00 PM
Edmonton
Calgary 8/24/14 2:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8/24/14 6:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 2:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Chicago 80 FINAL
Atlanta 77
Los Angeles 72 FINAL
Phoenix 75
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close