Last of a breed had right sporting philosophy

Although he never accumulated very much in the way of worldly goods, my grandfather was a complete success in ways that really matter.

Much of what I know about nature and the outdoors was learned from him and he was the first honest-to-goodness conservationist that I ever knew.

Grandpa fished and hunted when the notion struck him, but he never took more than he needed. If sportsmen today followed his philosophy, no game and fish laws would be needed.

As a small boy, I followed him patiently. Together we fished the farm ponds of north Mississippi and the little lakes and bayous of the Tallahatchie River bottom.

Fishing, squirrel hunting, and shooting bullfrogs with a .22 rifle were his favorite pastimes. Believe me, he was frugal with his ammunition.

When asked what he bagged on a squirrel hunt, he would invariably reply, "I got three shots," or "I got five shots," which simply meant that he had bagged exactly than many gray or fox squirrels.

Grandpa was not a quail hunter, but he liked them on the table, so he trapped them with great skill and cunning.

Many times I saw him capture an entire covey, but he always released several pair to insure another covey the next year.

The habits of all the wild things living in our region were an open book to him. He taught me how to build a box trap for rabbits, to "twist" a possum from a hollow tree with a bent wire coat-hanger, and to rob a tree without being stung.

Fish bait was never a problem. We found what we needed after arriving at our lake or pond. Earthworms, grubworms, grasshoppers, crickets and minnows were there for the taking.

Our favorites were the big yellow grubs that inhabited rotten logs. With one of these tough critters, you could sometimes catch a half dozen "goggle-eyes" (Warmouth bass) before losing your bait. The goggle-eye is a foolish fish. He will bite and keep on biting until you haul him ashore.

Occasionally, when turning over a rotten leg, we would uncover a spotted salamander that we called a "ground-puppy," thus assuring a catfish. I defy any man, even today, to bait a set hook with a ground-puppy and not catch a catfish.

Grandpa loved to wade after his fish. He simply pulled off his shoes and walked right in. One of my most vivid memories of him is finding him one day when he was well past 80 years old, standing up to his arm pits in a farm pond trying to reach just a little further to where he was sure to catch a prize bream or goggle-eye.

Grandpa understood squirrels better than they knew themselves. Hunting with him along the little creek bottoms and on the hickory ridges, I learned the art of patience. He could wait out a squirrel as long as necessary - 30 minutes, an hour, or even more. And, when his quarry finally appeared, he always quietly insisted that I take the shot.

Grandpa prevailed in a less-hectic time and was one of the last of a breed of totally self-sufficient men.

I was convinced he was immortal, but one warm summer day in his 96th year, he fooled me. Returning from a two-mile walk to a country store, Grandpa simply sat down by the side of the dusty road, leaned comfortably against a fence post and stopped living - as you and I understand it.

They preached his funeral in historic old Davis Chapel, a country church in Panola County, Miss., that dates back to 1841. The minister knew him well. In fact, I think he baptized him in the Tallahatchie River one day when the two of them were squirrel hunting.

His text was altogether fitting, coming from the Old Testament and concerning a man who "stalked the earth like a lion" for a hundred years, doing the work of men and God and influencing all those around him.

Finally we marched to the graveyard behind the church where headstones date back 200 years and where members of my family on three different sides have been buried since before the Civil War.

A couple of fox squirrels were playing in the oaks between the gravestones and from across the dusty road the distant baying of a hound chasing a rabbit could be heard.

There was a faint whiff of woodsmoke in the air that made me think of autumn and the hunting seasons to come. I remembered suddenly that Grandpa had promised that he would never consider dying when any of the hunting seasons were open.

Like always did, he had kept his promise.

Mabry Anderson continues to recuperate from recent surgery. This column is one of his favorites, reprinted from the Jan. 29, 1993, issue of Delta Farm Press.

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