A popular writer, some years ago, was Robert Ruark, a newspaper columnist who broadened his work to include magazines and novels. For a number of years he wrote a column for Field & Stream magazine, titled, “The Old Man and the Boy,” telling stories of growing up in the rural south and learning about hunting and fishing from his grandfather. The theme recurred in his novels, such as Something of Value or Horn of the Hunter, stories set in Africa.
I was lucky enough to have my own Old Man and the Boy experiences, even if I had already achieved middle-age at the time, and the Old Man was just 10 years older than I. I’d gotten acquainted with John Banovich in the first couple years we lived in Butte, after I joined a morning coffee group. John and I soon discovered we had the outdoors in common, and we often shared stories of our outings for trout or birds.
Looking back at my hunting journals, it was in the fall of 1992 when we first went duck hunting together, and outings increased over the next few years, especially after I was able to retire from my previous career as a government manager. This isn’t exactly what he said, but it’s close, “Now that you’re through ‘messing’ around at the Social Security office we can get in some more hunting and fishing.”
Through the 1990s we accounted for a lot of trout, ducks, grouse, pheasants, deer, my first elk, and a couple years later, his last elk. I’ve hunted and fished all my life, but aside from our son, Kevin, I never really had a hunting and fishing partner, and once Kevin finished high school, we lived in different states most of the time. Over a long career in government, we frequently moved, so outings with other guys never had the chance to mature into a real partnership, because we’d move again.
This time, we had enough time to develop this partnership, though much of the time it was more of a mentorship. John was just 10 years older, but he’d had a depth of experience far more than mine, and he was a direct connection to an older generation of Butte hunters and anglers, including people like Fran Johnson, for whom John occasionally did some guiding. I have a Black Creeper fly tied by George Grant, and it was one that John bought when Grant still had a fly shop in Butte, and John had several more in his fly vest when he gave it to me.
Every outing, whether for trout, ducks or big game, was an experience. He was a continual fount of stories, jokes, and even the occasional song. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the mountains, creeks and rivers of southwest Montana. He was an expert in field dressing and butchering game. On one outing I’d gotten a whitetail deer. I started working on it, when he said, “You’re just going to ‘mess’ it up. Get out of the way.” When others in his family had successful hunts they usually brought it to him for processing.
Significantly, he had contacts, which brought us access to private land, and introductions to landowners who were his longtime friends and have, in turn, become my friends.
Age and health issues eventually put the partnership out of business, though that doesn’t diminish those cherished memories of our outings.
As it happens, of that old coffee bunch, that included people such as Howie Wing, Bill Hitchcock, and Bill Pesanti, John, who died two weeks ago, was the last, as one by one, they’ve all passed on. The thought occasionally crossed my mind, years back, as we were trading jokes and laughs over coffee at Joe’s Pasty Shop, that, as youngest, I’d likely be the last survivor. We should have each thrown a few bucks into a pool to buy a bottle of Cognac, so like in a memorable M.A.S.H. episode*, I could wish them all one final farewell.
Rest in peace, my friends.
*Season 8, Episode 17