We were saddened to hear the news of the death of Dr. William Antonioli, who died on July 22, at age 99. He lived a long, happy and active life and loved the outdoors in many ways.
Some years ago, he told me the story of a long ago pheasant hunting trip, which became the basis for a chapter in my first (yes, there will soon be a second) book, Sweeter than Candy, titled, “Victory Pheasants.”
Bill was a medical student at the University of Michigan in 1945. It was a non-stop grind, as the curriculum was accelerated to turn out doctors for the war effort. Then, suddenly, in August 1945, the war was over. The University declared a six-day break at the end of October. He weighed his options, studied train schedules, and for $20, bought a round trip ticket from Ann Arbor to Tripp, South Dakota, a small town in southeastern South Dakota, on a branch line of the old Milwaukee Road.
He got off the train, with a suitcase in one hand and a Winchester Model 12 shotgun in the other and spotted a small (10 rooms) hotel and booked several nights lodging for $3 a night. The hotel owner noted his shotgun and said, “If you’re planning to hunt, you’ll need a license,” and directed him across the street to find Henry Voss, the local game warden.
Henry sold him a hunting license and then asked what his plans were. Bill didn’t have any except walk out of town. Henry said, “I’ll pick you up at 9 a.m.”
True to his word, Henry picked him up at 9:00 and they went hunting. They’d drive country roads looking for birds. Bill recalled, “There was some kind of ‘one foot on the ground’ rule. If Henry saw birds in the roadside he’d slam on the brakes, and by the time he had one foot on the ground he was shooting.”
The next day, a young Army officer back from the war, along with his father and brother, joined them. With five hunters, they collaborated on classic Midwest pheasant hunts, walking harvested cornfields, or edges of cattail sloughs. Bill remembered flocks of 150 pheasants or more, getting up on just about every walk. On one of those walks, they even put up a flock of guinea hens, presumably escaped from a farm and gone wild.
For three days, the shooting was fast and furious. Bill didn’t consider himself a great shot, but with all the pheasants they put up he didn’t have any difficulty getting his possession limit of 24 pheasants, based on a daily limit of 12 birds, either sex. He sent the birds, cleaned and packed in ice, on a westbound train to his mother in Butte. He had another break at Christmas and traveled home, getting to dine on some of his pheasants.
Bill’s story is a glimpse back at a golden time, for a lucky few, for hunting pheasants. With so many young men serving in military service, relatively few people had been hunting pheasants. No Trespassing signs were non-existent. If a farmer saw hunters, there’d be just a friendly wave. Of course, a game warden taking several days off to take out hunters would be unheard of these days. As for Bill’s train trip, the Milwaukee Road bellied up in the 1970s, and today’s Amtrak doesn’t even go through South Dakota.
Bill graduated from med school in 1946 and a couple years and a residency later came home to Butte with his bride, Jo, to start a family and a private practice. In 1950, there was a new war in far-off Korea. Bill got a letter from the government offering him the choice of being drafted as a private or enlisting in the Army Medical Corps as a commissioned officer. Bill accepted the commission, and requested assignment to the Far East. Naturally, he and his family were sent to Europe.
Dr. Bill had a long, varied and distinguished career in medicine, and also continued to indulge his love of the outdoors, including solo hikes in the mountains, well into his 90s. Rest in peace, my friend.