Jack Atcheson – Hunter and Public Lands Champion

Jack Atcheson, hunter and public lands champion.

There’s a tradition on the popular CBS news program, Sunday Morning, that on the last Sunday of the year they do a “Hail and Farewell” segment, highlighting the passing of notable personalities during the year. The December 31 program highlighted a number of people, primarily from the entertainment industry, such as Mary Tyler Moore, Roger Moore, Mel Tillis, Glen Campbell, and Rose Marie, or the political world, including John Anderson, who ran as an independent for president in 1980, or in sports, boxer Jake LaMotta and football coach Ara Parseghian, and many others. As always, you don’t really appreciate the impact of this review of deaths in a year until you put them together into a long list.

If the program took a broader look at the “who’s who” of obituaries, they might have included a Butte man, Jack Atcheson, who died on December 27, at age 85.

What the people featured in CBS’s Hail and Farewell meant in the various worlds of entertainment, politics, and sports, Jack Atcheson was all that and more in the world of the outdoors, particularly big game hunting.

I’ve been reading outdoors magazines since I was a kid, starting when I’d check out outdoors magazines from my hometown library. A name that recurred again and again, especially in the context of big game hunting, was Jack Atcheson of Butte, Montana. When reading accounts of exotic big game hunts by the likes of Jack O’Connor or Jim Zumbo, and other famous writers, chances are the article would have a credit to Jack Atcheson for making arrangements for the hunt, and often would further indicate that trophies were sent to Atcheson Taxidermy of Butte.

As it happened, shortly after I transferred to the Butte Social Security Office in 1988, I saw a man sitting in the office waiting area. All our interviewers were tied up so I asked if I could help him. Sure enough, it was Jack Atcheson, and he had questions about Social Security to help with retirement planning. After I answered his questions I had more questions for him, as well as conversation regarding our shared interests in hunting and the outdoors. I remember advice he gave me. “Always have a camera with you. You never know when you might have the photo of a lifetime.” Also, he advised, regarding outdoors activity, “Go now, while you’re physically able,” a recurring theme in his two books, Hunting Adventures Worldwide and Real Hunting and Campfire Humor.

After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Jack came home to Butte and started a taxidermy business, and through contacts he developed with outfitters around the world he, with his wife Mary Claire, who had a travel agency, started making arrangements to book hunts around the world. In the process, he went hunting around the world, often to check out the services of outfitters. In short, over his many years in the business, he went virtually everywhere in the world, and the adventures he had, and the people he hunted with or met in the process of travel, could probably fill many books.

While Jack was a celebrity in the hunting world, he took much of it with humor. In a chat before a past Montana elk and deer season, Jack smiled and said, “There’s a lot of luck with trophy hunting. Usually it’s the guy stuck as camp cook that gets the biggest elk.”

We once met in a grocery store parking lot and Jack asked what I had going on. As it happened, the next day I was planning to go on a horseback trip, covering a conservation project of the Backcountry Horsemen. He chuckled a bit and said, “Be careful. I’m often asked ‘What’s the most dangerous animal you’ve encountered?’ I tell them it’s the horse. I’ve known several people who were killed by horses.”

Jack’s inscription when he autographed his first book to me in 1995 would make a good epitaph. “I wish I could do it all over again. Life is too short.”

Hail and farewell.

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