I often spend time at my desk looking at old photos, reminiscing about my past hunts and the many people that I have hunted with. God has blessed me with so many good hunting buddies that I got to thinking about, “What makes a great hunting partner?”
The obvious is of course that you need to like, respect and trust each other. No one wants to spend numerous hours, many times in close quarters, with someone you don’t like. It’s nice to be with someone who has similar views. When doing mountain hunts the most important thing is being in as good of shape physically as your hunting partner with a similar drive. Nothing ruins a hunt faster than someone that can’t climb or hike on your level or even worse refuses to climb or gives up. I have had a few partners like that but I learned very quickly that my hunting was way too important to get mixed up with the wrong partner. I have known quite a few hunters that only hunt solo because they can’t find someone that they trust or feel comfortable with.
I personally would rather hunt with friends for both the comradery and the safety factor. Alaska is a wild and rugged country. When you get in trouble and you will, it is nice to have reliable help. I know that over the years some of my partners have saved me and vice versa.
As a young man growing up in WV I hunted mainly with my relatives. I truly believe that if I hadn’t left my hometown and joined the Air Force I probably would still be hunting with them today. Being in the Air Force and stationed in Alaska opened up a whole new world of hunting to me and allowed me to meet many different individuals who became good hunting buddies. Gary Wadkins, a young airman like myself, was the first. He was from California and had never hunted before and of course I had only hunted small game. The second one was SSgt. Chuck Berry my supervisor. He had been stationed at Elmendorf for over two years and had killed a goat and a moose. He took us under his wing and showed us how it was done. Chuck was my mentor and was with me when I shot my first goat and sheep. He was reassigned the following year but returned to Alaska in the mid 70’s. We hunted together for another four years.
The tour length for Alaska was three years with the possibility of extending one or two more years. That varied depending on your career field and the needs of the Air Force. That was both good and bad for hunting partners. The bad of course is once you’ve found a good partner they probably will leave in the next year or so. The good was we always had new hunters coming in from which to choose. Since I had been successful on many of my Alaska hunts I always had lots of hunters wanting to go so that gave me choices.
After Chuck left the first time, I met Doug Simmons who was also in the Air Force but didn’t work in my squadron. Doug and I hunted sheep, black bear, brown bear and moose. I also hunted with Dennis Bush who was the first Special Weapons NCO to arrive in Alaska. In June ’68, I rotated to the states for a year and then was reassigned to Galena and then to King Salmon to finish my year remote.
When I returned to Elmendorf in 1970 I started hunting with Russ Langston and Russ Ludke then added Skip Phillips. Russ Langston and I hunted together the most as he ended up spending two tours in Alaska. I could always depend on Russ no matter what the conditions were. We hunted sheep, goat and black bears.
In ’72 I was moved from the missile shop to Quality Control. There I met Earl Boucher. He wasn’t in Quality Control but his office shared our breakroom. Earl and I become close friends and started hunting together that year. I have hunted with Earl probably more than any of my other hunting partners. We have hunted together numerous times over the last forty-five years. In fact, I hunted deer with Earl and his son Brian last fall. I could always count on Earl for about any hunt especially caribou, moose, black bear and goat. Earl and I also hunted with a young airman named Marv Buckley or better known as “Buck.” We hunted sheep, goat, black bear and caribou during a three year period.
I was reassigned to the states in ‘74 and returned to Galena, AK in ‘75 for another remote tour. After my year at Galena I came back to Elmendorf and was the NCOIC of the missile shop for the next three years and then was moved to the Munitions Branch where I became Munitions Branch Superintendent until I retired in the spring of ’83.
During those six years I continued to meet and hunt with some incredible people. I met Ron Watts sometime after my fall hunt in ’67 for moose/caribou. He was a young Army 1st Lt. who had just arrived in Alaska and couldn’t wait to start hunting. Because of me leaving Alaska in ’68 and not returning until ’70 we lost contact but after I returned the second time in ’76 we started hunting together. He became my number one sheep hunting partner. He was always in shape, had that necessary desire for sheep and was ready to go no matter how hard or far it was. We also hunted moose, caribou, black bear and he was my first Sitka deer hunting partner. My last hunt with Ron was in 2006 when we hunted Sitka deer on Kodiak with his son Philip and my grandson Jared. That was a wonderful hunt.
I hunted sheep, goat, caribou and moose with Charles James, a young SSgt. from Louisiana. He was another go-getter. Then in the late 70’s and early 80’s I hunted with Scottie Bailey a young airman that worked for me in Munitions Control and my new boss Capt. Mike Herbert. That is also when I started hunting with Capt. Dan Schwarzer, my soon to be partner in the guide business, and my commander Lt. Col. Lyle Thompson. All of these guys were great hunting partners.
As you can see I have had more than my share of outstanding hunting partners. Please don’t think that if your name didn’t appear that you weren’t a good hunting partner because I didn’t name anyone that didn’t go on at least three or more hunts with me. If I had, the story would be twice as long.
In December ’83, Brent Jones and I became the ultimate hunting partners starting AAA Alaskan Outfitters, a big game hunting service. Even though I had only hunted once with Brent I knew when it came to hunting we were on the same level. That proved to be correct as we became one of the largest and most successful guide businesses in Alaska. My old hunting partners, Earl Boucher, Ron Watts and Mike Herbert guided for AAA and of course Dan Schwarzer who became a partner in ’86.
During our years in the guide business we met many clients that booked and hunted with a partner, but no hunting relationship can compare to that of Jerry Lawson and Jerry Moore or as we called them “Bubba and Bubba.” They were from Barboursville, WV and lived across the street from each other. I met them at the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show in 1992. They told me that they had been hunting out west and were thinking about coming to Alaska to hunt. They said they only hunted one time with each outfitter and were thinking about hunting brown bear but thought it was too expensive. I told them if I was only going to come to Alaska one time I would come on our three specie hunt for brown bear/moose/caribou in our Western Alaska area. That was around the same price as our expensive Alaska Peninsula spring brown bear hunt. I told them the bears were usually a little smaller but we always took big moose and caribou so they would really get their money’s worth. They took all of our literature and said they would think about it and come back. The last day of the show they came back and booked that hunt for the fall of ’93.
When they arrived for their hunt they were really excited. You could tell they were really close friends. Jerry Moore harvested a 64”moose, good caribou and an 8’ brown bear. Jerry Lawson harvested a 62” moose, B&C caribou and missed a brown bear at 150 yards. They seemed to have a blast.
They came to see me at the ’94 WV Hunt Show and said they wanted to book another hunt. I said, “I thought you guys only hunted one time with each outfitter.” They said that they had had a blast and loved hunting with us, and besides Jerry Lawson needed a brown bear. Since Jerry Moore had taken a brown bear they had to wait four years so they booked an Alaska Peninsula brown bear hunt for the fall of ’97. They came back to the show the following year and said they couldn’t wait three more years without coming again so they booked a two hunters per one guide caribou hunt for the following year. They came on that hunt and killed two caribou. The following hunt show they booked two sheep hunts for ’98. They loved it and told me that they had never taken a hunt alone, only together. They came and both killed brown bears on the ’97 peninsula hunt.
I talked to them at the ’98 hunt show and told them to make sure they were in good shape for the up-coming sheep hunt. They assured me they would be. I’m not sure what the date was in March but I got a shocking call from Jerry Lawson. He told me that Jerry Moore was jogging with his wife and had a massive heart attack and died on the spot. He was devastated and told me there was no way he could come on that sheep hunt without his friend. His call was only a couple of days after Jerry’s death as he didn’t want me to miss out on booking their hunts. I told him not to make any decisions for a couple of weeks and that I appreciated his call. He called me back after the funeral and told me both of their wives thought he should come on the hunt, because Jerry would have wanted him to.
He showed up that August a different man and I guided him to a beautiful 37 ½” ram. We took pictures with him wearing a shirt that his buddy always wore. His sheep was for Jerry Moore.
I saw Jerry Lawson the following two shows and he told me he had quit hunting. The loss of his hunting partner was just too great. Now that’s a true hunting partner.
During the last ten years in my guide business I started hunting with my family again. As I have written there is nothing more fun than hunting with your loved ones. That was especially true hunting with my soulmate. It was so much fun sharing what I love to do with the ones I loved. Karen was a great hunting partner. Hunting with my grandkids has also been very special. Now in their early 20’s they have become great hunting partners and are such a joy and a blessing to me.
My number one hunting partner now is my son-in-law Sagen. He has been with me on all of my hunts with my grandkids. Without him I’m positive they would not have been as successful. He is the type of hunting partner that everyone is always looking for including me. I wish he had been around in my younger years as we would have had many more hunting stories to tell.
I want to thank all of you that have hunted with me and for all of our special moments and memories that we have shared. Thanks for being my great “Hunting Partners.”