by Jeff Quinn
Photography by Jeff Quinn
January 2nd, 2005
Burris B. Byrd was born back in the late 1920s. I donít know much about his childhood, as I did not show up on the scene until 1959. Uncle Burris was married to my motherís only sister, Aunt Christine. We used to go over to visit with his sons, who happened to be our cousins, for a week or two each summer. Visiting over there was always a welcome treat for us when we were kids. Around their place, there was always a lot of stuff to pique the interest of us youngíuns.
Uncle Burris was at that time the only person that we knew who hunted all the time, unless of course he was fishing. I suppose that he had to take some time off from the fun stuff to make a living, but what we saw, and what interested us, was the hunting and fishing part. Even his job was pretty interesting to me. He worked in the weapons repair shop as a civilian at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Most of the men in our family at that time hunted occasionally, as did us boys, but that was mostly squirrels, rabbits, and quail. Uncle Burris hunted the more mysterious animals. He hunted wild boar and whitetail deer, and back in the 1960s, there just werenít very many of those around our part of Tennessee. He was the only man we knew that hunted deer, and he would sometimes raise the door to their garage and show us the antlers and salted hides from the deer that he killed. Aunt Chris was also the only person that we knew who cooked deer meat, and it was mighty tasty.
Besides hunting whitetail deer in Tennessee and Kentucky, Uncle Burris would travel to far off exotic lands like Colorado to hunt mule deer. He brought those back, and the better ones he would mount the antlers on the wall of his den. Thatís right, he had a den. Back then, every family had a living room, including Uncle Burris and Aunt Chris, but he also had a den. The den was like another living room, but instead of the usual boring living room junk on the walls, the den walls were covered with antlers from various deer, full shoulder mounts, huge fish mounted on plaques, and the gun rack. Thatís right, he had a gun rack. To a ten year old boy, the gun rack is something really special! He didnít keep all of his guns on the gun rack. I was later shown the good stuff that he kept in the gun cabinet. Thatís right, Uncle Burris had a gun cabinet! In this cabinet were the deer rifles, and a pistol or two. Back then, all handguns were pistols to me. I didnít know that there was a difference between pistols and revolvers.
I remember one summer, I must have been about twelve, that we were shown what went on down in the basement. The basement was a type unlike the basements seen today. This basement was a hand-dug space with a low ceiling, very dark, with to the best of my memory, just one lonely light bulb. Down there was a lawnmower and garden tiller, and probably some more stuff, but the interesting stuff was back in the corner. No, not the corner with the water softener where we would eat the rock salt, but in the other corner. That corner was the holiest of places. It was where I saw my first ever reloading press. It wasnít just the first press that I ever saw; I had never even heard of someone loading their own ammunition. Uncle Burris loaded his own ammunition! Back then, this was akin to voodoo or witchcraft. Nobody with good sense loaded their own ammunition. Uncle Burris loaded his ammo out of necessity, for he had rifles that fired cartridges that werenít even listed on my Federal Ammunition Guide that rode permanently in my hip pocket. He had a .25-06 that was built on an Ď03 Springfield action. He showed me the process for turning the empty .30-06 cases into the .25-06, and the cans of gunpowder and boxes of primers and such. He also necked down new .30-06 cases from which he had pulled the military armor-piercing bullets, replaced the powder, and loaded the twenty-five caliber bullets back into the cases. Very interesting stuff for a boy who dreamed of someday owning a real deer rifle!
As I grew up a bit and started hunting for whitetail deer, Uncle Burris was always there to give advice on setting up in the right places, reading sign, and just general deer hunting advice. Uncle Burris did not use what anyone else would call a deer stand. You could walk right past his stands and not even realize it, as I have done on numerous occasions. Mostly, his stand would be a dead log propped into the low fork of another tree. It looked as if it had fallen there naturally. He would walk up the log and stand there for hours in a forked tree, waiting for the right deer to come along. It did not have to be a trophy deer, or a particular deer, just a legal deer. I never knew him to take a game animal illegally. Not until just a few years ago did he start using anything that remotely resembled a deer stand, and that was mostly to accommodate a hunting partner from time to time. Once, after I had killed a pretty nice eight-point buck, I had skinned him out and threw the head and hide into the back of my truck to haul it off, as it was just an eight-point after all. On the way to the dump, I stopped off to see Uncle Burris for some reason, probably just to let him know that I was successful that morning, and to see how he had done. Finding out that I had the head in the truck, he wanted to look at it. Grabbing it by the two antlers and giving it a good once-over, he stated in his famous Uncle Burris voice, "Lemmee tell you what Hoss, thatís a pretty dern good deer!" When making such profound statements, he liked to call me "Hoss". He didnít use that name for me only. It was applied to whomever necessary as the occasion required. As it turned out, that eight-point scored high enough to make the state record book, and I was going to throw it away. I have never since killed a buck that scored as good as that one.
Besides deer hunting, Uncle Burris pursued the elusive wild turkey; not the bottled beverage, but the feathered type of wild turkey. Today, this is not unusual, as the wild turkey population in the United States has made an amazing comeback thanks to the efforts of sportsmen and state game management officers. However, Uncle Burris hunted wild turkey back when it was a bird that most of us had never seen. As much as he loved hunting the birds, he got even more enjoyment from calling a bird in for another hunter. He was with me when I tested the Realtree Ruger Red Label this past spring, and called in the last bird that I shot with that gun. It was the last wild turkey that I killed of the season, as a matter of fact.
When I was about twenty years old, I decided that I was going to get serious about bass fishing. I had fished leisurely most of my life up to that point, for whatever fish that I could get to bite my hook, but for some reason, I was going to dedicate my remaining fishing time on this Earth exclusively to catching the largemouth bass, and I needed to properly equip myself for that endeavor. I had ordered a catalog from the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, Missouri, and had carefully studied the numerous bass fishing reels and rods available, and money was no object; I was going to have the best! Knowing that Uncle Burris caught more bass, and I mean the big wall-mount kind, than anyone that I had ever known, I went over to his house to see just what kind of high-dollar rod/reel combo would be the best. Taking me out to his garage, he showed to me his gear for bringing in the big onesÖÖ.a six-foot jigger pole. It was nothing but a six-foot cane pole with about eight feet of line attached and a hook at the end. He would slide his smallest boat into the shallow water where the lily pads grew, and toss that pole around, popping a big worm or lure among the pads where the big fish laid in wait. He would go in there and get his feet wet, where the "expert" bass fishermen in their thirty-thousand-dollar bass boats could not go, and catch more fish, bigger fish, every time. I was disappointed that I did not need a high-dollar fishing setup, as I was ready to spend some bucks, but it did teach me a lot about fishing.
Uncle Burris was that way in most things, highly practical. He used what worked. He had a few annoying habits like eating raw oysters and boiled crawdads, but all that could be forgiven. He was always ready to help someone. When I built my house, he would show up often and spend all day hammering boards together, pulling wires, or nailing plywood on the roof. He did the same when we built my parentís house. Nobody asked him, he just came over and worked. Uncle Burris was just that kind of guy. Last year, he was deer hunting back on the farm, and on the way out, he stopped by my house. I figured that he needed some help bringing a deer out, so I met him on the porch. He had not killed a deer that morning, but on the way out, he had seen a monster buck with an enormous rack about three hundred yards behind my house bedded with two does on a sunny hillside. He had the buck sighted in his scope, but decided not to shoot, leaving him for me instead. When I stepped out onto the porch, he said "Iíve got a present for you Hoss. Thereís a huge twelve-point on that left-hand ridge, about half way up. If you sneak up there just right, heís probably still there." I went up that ridge, and saw the deer. Uncle Burris was right, he was the biggest that I have seen around here in several years. When I spotted him, he was moving out fast with the two does right behind him. I couldnít get a clean shot at him, and never fired the Browning, but seeing those huge antlers, I realized just how hard it must have been for Burris to pass up that deer, for he was bigger than either of us had ever killed. I hunted that buck hard for the rest of the season, but never saw him again.
This past deer season, Uncle Burris hunted during the muzzleloader season a bit. He came over, but we split up to different parts of the farm. It was bucks only for the first muzzleloader season, and both of us saw a few bucks, but decided to let them grow another year or two. We never saw that huge buck again, and decided to wait for the doe season to kill meat.
Just before opening day of the statewide big game season, Uncle Burris had the first of a series of strokes. I kept waiting for word that he was getting better to go see him. On New Years Day, 2005, the world lost a true sportsman.
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