by Jim Zumbo - Monday, April 17, 2017
One of my life's perks continues to be the opportunity to hunt with a number of celebrities. As former Hunting Editor of Outdoor Life, my boss editors encouraged me to interview and write articles about famous people. Many doors were opened for me because of my position, and I enjoyed many memorable hunts.
I met award-winning country music songwriter and singer John Anderson on a deer hunt in Iowa. For country music fans, this Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer needs no introduction, but for those who aren't aware of his work, his songs were at the top of the charts some years back. His biggest hit, "Seminole Wind," was about Chief Osceola losing his lands in the Everglades to developers. That was typical John Anderson—the consummate outdoorsman who has a passionate love of hunting and fishing.
Our Iowa hunt, the annual Governor's deer hunt, included a number of celebrities and politicians and was orchestrated by my dear, late buddy Tony Knight, who invented the in-line muzzleloader in 1985 and founded Knight Rifles. Not only did John agree to hunt, but he brought his entire band with all the stage equipment to the tiny town of Centerville, Iowa. This was a gratis performance, no admission fee required. For the folks of Centerville, this was called the biggest music phenomenon ever. Unlike most other celebs who scoot off the stage after their last song, John and his band mingled with the crowd and talked hunting—of course.
The hunt started the next morning with a fresh snow blanketing the Iowa farmlands. We divided into groups and hunted various spots around town, with several dozen people participating in the event. As the day progressed, we had reports of several good bucks being taken. Late that afternoon, John drove up to the farm with a dandy 10-point buck. We gathered around and paid homage to the big deer and took pictures of John and his buck. Soon another truck pulled up with John's brother Tim Anderson, who wore a huge grin. We soon learned why. He had an even bigger 10-point buck.
We posed both deer and hunters in the snow and took more pictures. I wanted one of just Tim and his buck, and, with tongue in cheek, asked John if he'd please drag his little deer out of the scene. John's reply was priceless. "Okay, Zumbo, but if you ever want tickets to my concerts you'd better talk to the sound man!" Tim was the sound technician for John's band and continued to smile, not only because of his big buck, but because he'd whupped his brother. We all had a good laugh. John returned for several other Iowa deer hunts, and it was always a pleasure hunting with him.
A couple years later, Tony Knight invited several writers to hunt Osceola turkeys in south Florida. John was part of our group. As it turned out, we hunted the Seminole Indian Reservation and learned that the chief of the tribe was a huge John Anderson fan because of his song “Seminole Wind,” which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Chart. The good chief planned the mother of all barbeques. We hunted turkeys, went fishing and settled in for the feast. On the menu was pig on a spit, steaks, seafood, rattlesnake, and barbecued. John and the chief caught the gar after flying to the fishing hole in the chief's helicopter.
Tony had a beloved dog that he simply called "Birdie Dog." His pet died of old age and Tony was despondent. John and I hatched a plan. We decided to get another puppy of the same breed for Tony, but we'd present it to him at the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) convention in Nashville. That year. So in front of some 2,000 people at the banquet—and Tony in the audience—John and I strolled onto the stage and asked him to come up to the podium. The puppy was backstage. Tony walked up, having no clue what was going on, and John brought out the puppy. The place went crazy as I told the audience what was happening. Tony held the puppy tightly and the little dog licked the mic. We all had tears in our eyes—and not just from laughing.
A couple years later I was invited to hunt turkeys in Tennessee just prior to the NRA convention in Nashville. I hunted with a man named Billy. The wind blew all morning, and we gave up early. As we drove out, Billy asked if I knew whose property I was hunting. I told him I had no idea.
"Belongs to Bocephus," he said. I was astounded. I was hunting on property owned by Hank Williams Jr?
"Ever met him?" Billy asked. I replied that I hadn't. "Want to?" he said. Billy might as well have asked if I wanted free tickets to the Super Bowl.
"That would be unbelievable," I stammered, "but how would you make that happen?"
"Hank and I are good friends," Billy said. "He's in town today and I'll call and tell him you're coming to the studio, but I can't join you. I’ll tell you how to get there. Be there around 3."
I couldn't believe my good fortune. I was a huge Hank fan. As the meeting time approached, I couldn't have been more nervous. I had no idea on what to expect.
I drove to the studio and walked in, confronted by a rather large, officious-looking lady sitting at a desk. She wore neither a smile nor a frown. It was sort of a bored look.
"Can I help you," she asked? I shuffled around, hoping my nervousness didn't show. "I'm here to see Hank," I said. "My name is Zumbo," I said.
She pointed down the hallway and told me to take a right into the last room. I somehow got my legs moving and entered. I couldn't believe what I saw. Sitting at a desk with his feet propped up was Hank Williams Jr., wearing a baseball cap. The cap’s logo said OUTDOOR LIFE. Hank grinned, and we shook hands. I have no idea how he got that hat, but I knew he wore it perhaps to put me at ease because I was employed by Outdoor Life. The rest of the day was a blur. We chatted about hunting, and then Hank showed me his guns—a lot of guns. Upwards of a couple thousand, stored in a variety of rooms, vaults and places. Before we left to meet his family, he stopped in the mail room and began opening boxes of handguns that had just arrived.
My next experience with Hank occurred when he read an article of mine in NRA’s American Hunter called “Surfside Bruins.” It was about a fabulous black bear hunt in the wilds of remote British Columbia where I'd see 20 or 30 bears each day foraging on the beaches for tidal grass. Hank was impressed with the story and booked a hunt with the outfitter, Milligan's Outfitting, and invited me to go with him. I didn't say no.
Two days before the trip, I called the outfitter to confirm the arrangements. I would be flying from Montana where I was bear hunting, and Hank would fly in his jet and meet me at the Canadian airport. The outfitter’s son answered the phone and said his dad, Bob Milligan, was flying to camps in and out of the hunting area. Bob flew a bush plane on floats, and I'd hunted with him on the previous trip. His son said to call back in a few hours. When I did, someone else answered the phone. I knew something was wrong. Bob, his wife, Penny, and two of their guides hadn't returned—and it was late. Another phone call revealed tragic, devastating news. Bob's plane went down, killing him, his wife and a guide. I called Hank immediately, and we cancelled our plans.
During an NRA convention a few years ago where Hank was the talent, I arranged to have a private meet-and-greet before the event with him and some of my pals. We talked with Hank about hunting until one of his people finally said it was time to meet the NRA hierarchy. Before Hank left us he said, "Don't you guys go anywhere. After I chat with these folks, I want to talk to you some more about hunting." And he did—and he was late for his concert.
Chances are, Hank will be running a few minutes late again this year at the 146th NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Atlanta, Ga., Apr. 28-30, as NRA Presents Hank Williams Jr. and special guest Lee Brice on Sat., Apr. 29. For tickets to the Saturday Night Concert, set to kick off at the Georgia World Congress Center at 7 p.m., click here.
As with John Anderson and Hank Williams Jr., so go countless other country celebrities. It's no surprise that they're so connected with mainstream America’s hunting and shooting traditions because it is obvious in their songs. Every country music celebrity I've hunted with, including Travis Tritt, Aaron Tippin, and others, have a genuine love of the outdoors. And it's refreshing to know that they express their feelings openly in support of hunters, hunting and wildlife conservation instead of remaining silent and afraid to announce their affinity for hunting and guns. Refreshing indeed!
Celebrating NRA Country
NRA Country is a celebration of American values: respect, honor and freedom. It's a lifestyle and a bond between the best and brightest in country music and hard-working Americans. NRA Country is powered by pride, love of country, respect for the military, and our responsibility to protect our great American lifestyle. NRA Country celebrates these values with concerts and events benefiting military and veteran services organizations, first responders, conservation organizations, firearm safety programs, and local charities making a difference in their communities. For more information, click here.
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