Remembering John Wootters.
I’ve often said the best part of my job is not all the guns I get to shoot but rather all the grand people I meet. I was very fortunate to have my growing up years as far as shooting is concerned be parallel to the advent of gun magazines beginning with this very publication in 1955. Over the next 5 years or so three more gun magazines arrived and I subscribed to every one of them.
The men who wrote in these magazines were my teachers. Men such as Charlie Askins, Kent Bellah, Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, Bob Milek, George Nonte, Skeeter Skelton, Hal Swiggett, who are all gone now, however I did eventually manage to meet and know all of them except Kent Bellah. The last of the old time writers who was still active and was a special favorite of mine has also now been called Home. John Wootters, Mr.
Whitetail, left this vale of tears on the last Tuesday of January 2013.
John was born in 1928 in Crockett, Texas, which also happened to be the same year Skeeter Skelton was born in Herford, Texas, and these two were destined to become great friends spending much time together and also hunting together. It was on one of their hunts together in Canada they picked up something which would become very special later on and which we will address shortly. I first “met” John Wootters through the printed page and many of his articles are found in my files. Special favorites are those he did on the versatility of the .357 Magnum, including its use in a lever action Marlin, and one he did in the 1970s concerning making belts and holsters. Since I have dabbled in holster making since I was a teenager I found this article especially valuable.
Our mutual friend Bob Baer said it well with “he was a man for all seasons.” John Wootters was a diverse individual with many talents and interests. He was, first and foremost, a writer of great stature and at his passing he was still writing for the local paper in his beloved Texas Hill Country. He was also a Boy Scout leader teaching young men the ways of the outdoors, and a conservationist giving talks on raising quality deer and also managing deer. In fact he was a pioneer in the study of producing the best possible whitetail deer by each ranch owner practicing sound management. John was also an archaeologist with a special interest in Indian artifacts which he studied to learn the what, why, and where of Indian tribes.
Sixgunners together all shooting custom Rugers are (left to right) Bob Baer, Taffin, John Wootters, Bart Skelton, Jim Wilson and Terry Murbach.
As a biologist and naturalist he knew the scientific names of all the animals as well as their habits. He was also an expert on World War II aircraft. This is something else I can identify with as I have a collection of books on the fighter planes and bombers used in World War II. John was a handloader and ballistician writing many articles for various magazines as well as two excellent books for the handloader, The Complete Book of Practical Handloading and The Complete Handloader. These books date back to the 1970s and 1980s however they cover all the basics and are still a valuable resource for anyone who reloads.
In the 1960s the gun control advocates really began pushing resulting in the Gun Control Act of 1968.
The NRA was at a very important crossroads at this time. Should they continue to emphasize duck hunting or should they get into legislation? All this came to a head in Cincinnati in 1977 when the two groups did battle. Known as the Cincinnati Reforms the result was a new path for the NRA with Harlon Carter chosen to lead as the NRA became deeply involved in legislation and pro-gun politics.
John Wootters was one of the prime combatants at this time and lost some he thought were friends because of it. John went home to Texas and began creating clubs not just for shooting but also for legislative activity. I shudder to think what this country would be like as far as firearms possession today if it had not been for the Cincinnati Reforms and men like John Wootters who continued the fight as long as he lived.
Although I was familiar with John through his writings I was not to meet him personally until the mid-1980s. It was at an NRA Show and I looked up and saw this gentleman coming towards me dressed in cowboy boots and a nicely tailored suit and realized it was actually John Wootters. I introduced myself and we soon found we had several common interests and then in 1991 John and his wife Jeannie came to the Shootist Holiday and we were able to shoot together. I also hunted with him on the YO and the Shanghai Pierce Ranch. We liked the same sixguns and leverguns with both of us being particularly fond of Marlins. At each of these gatherings John was wearing a unique .44 Special Ruger.
This particular .44 Special had been in progress to be presented to Skeeter Skelton and was worked on by Bob Baer, Bill Grover, and Earl Long while Skeeter was in the hospital. Unfortunately, Skeeter died before it was finished. I earlier mentioned the Canadian hunting trip and what Skeeter and John Wootters had found was the horns of a mature Stone Ram in British Columbia. Each of them took one horn and John now used his horn for grips to complete what would have been Skeeter’s last sixgun.
John Wootters was the hunter’s hunter: “I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt most of the world’s most glamorous big game, from mountain sheep in the Cassiars of British Columbia and jaguar in Central America to Cape buffalo, lion, leopard, kudu, and elephant in Africa. And I still think a trophy whitetail is the single most exciting and most demanding animal on the face of the earth. You can’t buy one, and when you hang one on the wall you can be justly proud because he’s the best proof of the world that you’re a hunter.”
John’s best-selling book Hunting Trophy Deer, was written in 1977 and has never gone out of date. In one of the last columns he wrote for his local paper he answered the question “What is a Trophy?” with these words: “If you ask a serious Kerr County deer hunter for his definition of a trophy, his answer will most likely be phrased in terms of inches of antler, Boone and Crockett score, and record book. Ask a Safari hunter the same question and he’ll begin speaking of Safari Club International score or Rowland Ward the record book for African animals.
“A tournament golfer, trap shooter, tennis player or professional athlete may mention a silver cup or belt buckle or engraved statue. But according to Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language all these are too narrow. Look it up for yourself; the preferred definition of trophy is a memento of personal accomplishment.
“For big-game hunters, that’s perfect, it’s exactly what a mounted head on the wall or a bearskin rug is: a memento, a memory-maker. I admire my trophies every day, and each one takes me back to a better day, a day when I was younger, stronger, up for any challenge, it might have been climbing a mountain for a wild sheep or mountain goat, or walking 20 miles on an elephant trail to get a look at his tusks, and if one was broken, turning around and walking 20 miles back to the truck… and then doing it again the next day.
“They remind me of obstacles overcome, risks taken, and hard decisions made, long crosswind shots pulled off… and some missed. Perhaps, most of all, they remind me of spectacular mountain vistas, cloud-wreathed peaks and misty valleys, snow-melt streams stumbling down to the river below. Or vast stretches of true wilderness, without a fence or a road for two day’s travel in any direction, places where you may be able to go only afoot or on horseback. They speak to me of the brooding mystery of forests and jungles devoid of human footprints, and savannas where wild antelope stand and stare in wonder at a hunting vehicle passing nearby, taking no alarm. More than once I’ve told myself this must be how the Garden of Eden was.”
I had a long conversation with John by phone around Christmas time. He sounded well and was doing well and we talked about a lot of different firearms. About 3 years ago he had a stroke and was continuing to battle back from that; and then came a heart attack. Bob Baer called me to let me know and when I saw Bob was on caller ID I knew what he would be telling me.
I celebrated John Wootters’ life last night as I loaded his favorite .44 Special load consisting of the Lyman 429215GC bullet and Unique powder. I’ll think of him again every time I shoot these loads through my Ruger .44 Special tailored after the one he and Bob Baer had designed for Skeeter. John Wootters certainly made his mark and his shoes will not be easily filled if at all. He died peacefully with his wife of 60+ years, Jeannie holding one hand and his pastor holding the other.
By John Taffin