Who is going to fill their shoes?
By V. Paul Reynolds
The late country singer George Jones had a big hit with this sad lament: “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” Jones, who was not that far from his own final exit, recounted the icons of country music, who were fast disappearing from the Nashville billboards. It was a double-edged lament, not only for their passing, but that there seemed to be no new country singers coming along that could quite measure up.
There may be a parallel here with trophy whitetail hunters in northern New England. Most of these fabled trophy buck hunters have published books. In 2007, I wrote a foreword for trophy buck hunter Ralph Norris’ book “Hunting Top End Bucks.” Part of the foreword reads: “My observation is that there are three basic kinds of deer hunters: 1) The casual hunter 2) The meat hunter, and 3) the trophy hunter. The majority of those who take to the woods in November fall into one of the first two categories. Skillful, dedicated, truly obsessed trophy deer hunters are in the minority. In fact, if truth be known, you could probably fit Maine’s cadre of bona fide big buck hunters in the cab of one full size pickup truck. (Well, maybe you would have to put a couple in the truck bed). There ain’t many. Count’em. There’s the Berniers, Hal Blood, Lee Schantz, Ralph Norris and, perhaps, a few others whose names escape me.”
Not mentioned in my foreword was the Daddy of them all, the acknowledged King of North Woods big buck hunters: Vermont’s Larry Benoit of Duxbury. Benoit, a contractor by vocation, began gaining attention in the hunting community for one simple reason. He consistently tagged bucks in the 200-pound plus range fall after fall. Many deer hunters, even the dedicated ones, go years without a true trophy buck that tops the scales at more than 200 pounds. Benoit and his sons parlayed their hunting success into a cottage industry selling books, videos, seminars, and hunting attire. A cover story about Benoit in Sports Afield, which called him the “Best Deer Hunter in America,” helped catapult him to legendary status in the hunting fraternity. If you own one of Larry’s books the inscription is: “Clear tracks and short drags.”
Hunter Ron Boucher from Wallingford, Vermont, who knew and greatly admired Benoit, said that what Ted Williams was to baseball Larry Benoit was to the hunting fraternity. Part of Benoit’s appeal, besides his skill as a buck hunter, was his backwoods authenticity and his no frills approach to the hunt. He was a woodsman as well as a tracker. Like all of the trophy Maine buck hunters, he was tenacious on a track, and never worried about getting back to the truck before dark. He eschewed technology. Didn’t believe in scent sprays or estrus scents or rangefinders. He made the green and black checkered hunting coat trendy, not to mention his hunting rifle, the Remington 7600 pump in 30-06 with iron sights. Insofar as I can tell, most, if not all, of Maine’s most high-profile buck hunters, like Hal Blood for example, use the Benoit signature deer rifle.
Larry Benoit died at the age of 89 on October 7, 2013. This fall on Sept. 24 at the Rutland Recreation and Community Center in Rutland, Vermont a special Larry Benoit Family Celebration was held in the large gymnasium, complete with Benoit family members, friends, vendors and a roster of guest speakers. Among the speakers were Larry Benoit’s son, Lanny Benoit, a trophy buck hunter in his own right, and author Bryce Towsley, who wrote a couple of books about the Benoits. The event coordinator, Ron Boucher, said that Sept 24th was Benoit’s birthday. He would have been 99.
Boucher said that as far as he knew Larry Benoit never kept a count of his cumulative buck harvest. Those in the know estimate that he tagged close to 200 trophy bucks in his long hunting career. Boucher contends that in the ranks of North Woods big buck hunters, there “will never be another like him.”
Perhaps not. Time has a way of changing things. Buck hunter Richard Bernier is gone. So is Lane Benoit, Larry’s son. Hal Blood is still on the track, but in private moments concedes that, when it comes to the legs and the endurance, it “just ain’t like it used to be.”
Oh, looking ahead, a Maine trophy buck and a happy hunter will still make the magazine covers, but there is no heir apparent waiting on stage left, no latterday Larry Benoit or Hal Blood, at least not as far as we can tell. So, those of us who keep tabs on these sorts of things have to ask. Who’s gonna fill their shoes?
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.com.