I could not have found a better mentor than my father when it came to fishing, and we did plenty of it together, but he had no interest in hunting. My cousin on the other hand, who was not quite 20 years older than me was an avid hunter who was willing to fill that niche. On visits to his house, he’d let me handle his guns, show me how he reloaded shotgun shells and would share a scrapbook full of photos of game birds and deer he’d shot, as well as the contract he signed to join the St. Louis Cardinals farm system after his senior year of high school.
Given my unsatisfied interest in hunting, he was generous and tolerant enough to take me along. Before I ever owned anything other than a BB gun, he’d take me out in the evening to some stock ponds where he’d shoot the incoming doves faster than I could retrieve them. The only shotgun I ever saw in his hands was a 12 gauge Model 12 Winchester that like so many in the 1950’s was fitted with a Poly-Choke that he would twist in order to tighten or open shot pattern as he saw fit – and he was one hell of a shot with that gun. For most hunters, the ability to take a ten bird limit of fast-flying mourning with a box of 25 shells represents pretty decent shooting, but that would be sub-par for him. If it took him more than 15 shells to take a limit, he was disappointed with his shooting.
He was the first to take me to Imperial Valley which is 90 miles east of San Diego and serves as our playground when it comes to bird hunting. For the first few years before I had a license and shotgun of my own, it was my job to rally doves from their roosts in the mesquite and tamarisk of the New River, and then find them after he shot them from the top of the bank. Later, after I’d been given a used and rusted single shot 12 gauge, he made sure I got a few shots of my own and learned to handle it safely.
When his family went on a summer camping and fishing trip to the Sierras via Yosemite, he made sure to include me. Off we went with Bob and his wife Patty in the cab of his truck, and his two daughters and I loaded like sardines into the camper shell, along with all of the fishing and camping equipment. I’d never seen waterfalls or mountains like the Sierras, nor caught trout like we did in the lakes and streams we hiked to from our campsite on the edge of Rock Creek. It was a wondrous experience for a wide-eyed kid who who had only dreamed of such things, or seen glimpses in his magazines.
In recent years, Bobby was slowed by the infirmities of age, and although I didn’t get back often enough to see him, I am thankful that I got by for a visit in October, right before my trip. I’d planned to go by after my return to share some photos and stories from the trip, but ran out of time and learned of his passing before I could do so, which I will long regret.
Bobby played a huge part in what evolved as my sporting life, and I will forever be grateful.