Hunting & Heritage  |  12/06/2022

The Legacy


Grandpas, grandsons and golden memories

By Dr. James Johnson

We had anxiously waited for October 24 as if it were Christmas Day and we were all eight years old.

Four of us, including my grown son, were headed on a two-day road trip to Mitchell, South Dakota for three days of chasing ringnecks. We were guests of George, a Patron Member of Pheasants Forever.

When I first met George, it was over a phone call. He told me about a private farm in South Dakota he has hunted for over two decades. 1,000 acres of corn stubble, milo and thick native grasses. He told me of past hunts when they limited out in under 90 minutes. He emotionally shared names and stories of past hunting buddies that are now gone but continue to be fervently remembered every October.

While listening to George reminisce, I found myself re-living cherished times and past friends I used to hunt with. Then an unexpected blessing occurred. George invited me to come hunt with his family and friends and encouraged me to bring my son and a couple of our friends.

Finally, the day arrived. We met at a local diner for breakfast with George and the rest of the hunting party, about 16 in all. We took our seats at the long table as strangers but quickly became friends. Hunting does that: At the end of the three-day hunt we left as family.

Seated next to George was his 13-year-old grandson. This was a special young lad. His deep drawl gave away his Southern roots. His vocabulary of “yes sir, thank you ma’am, and his eye-to-eye firm handshake all validated a strong upbringing. His love for and admiration of his grandpa was obvious to all. And believe me, it was reciprocated from his Grandpa George.

On the first down of the hunt, I was honored to block with George. The conversation started with stories of his past hunts on this same land with good friends over the years. However, the focus quickly turned to his grandson who was hunting in front of us. George took on a serious tone as he expressed concern about the future of the land and hunting. Mainly, he was concerned about the future of our youth. These thoughts, along with his love, motivated him to be a solid influence in his grandson’s passion for conservation and hunting.

We had a productive harvest and headed for the cleaning shed. It had been a beautiful crisp morning. The congregation of hunters had shot well, the birds flew fast and high, and the dogs did their job with excitement. Lunch was gumbo, bar-b-que, venison, pheasant sausages and maybe just a little trash talking about missed shots.

After lunch everyone went their separate ways until meeting for a traditional steak dinner that evening. My group decided to visit a local gun shop. When we arrived, we each expressed that we were just looking and were not there to buy anything.

As one of our group headed to the truck with his new Winchester, I was not far behind with a new Benelli. However, the smile on my face toting out a new Ethos was broadened even more when I saw George and his grandson in the same store. I am not sure who had the biggest smile, me, George … or the new owner of a sweet Browning. A grandpa bought a grandson his first gun. The legacy continues.

The last morning of the hunt started the same as the first, breakfast at the diner (except somehow, I ended up with the bill). I was honored to assist George register his grandson as a Life Member of Pheasants Forever, passing on The Legacy. Then, off for the final 10:00 down of our hunt.

Left to right: Life Members Clayton Parr, South Carolina; Jonathan Johnson, Georgia; Duke Washmon, Texas; PF & QF Development Officer James “Dr J” James Johnson, Tennessee

Another crisp, blue sky with just a slight breeze. A perfect day to end a perfect South Dakota pheasant hunt.

As we all were getting prepared for the first pass on this final day, I observed George sitting in a side-by-side next to his grandson. George was looking through his glasses at the hunters loading up and the dogs bailing out of pickups. I could tell he was seeing more than any of us. His mind’s eye was bringing back scenes of hunts gone by. Golden memories of past hunts. Yet, at the same time, in his heart, he was holding a vision of his grandson walking this same field with his own children…passing on The Legacy.