Uncle Burris was a true sportsman. Growing up, he was my go-to guy for all things hunting and fishing. Uncle Burris was the only person I knew who hunted all the time—unless, of course, he was fishing. I suppose he had to take some time off from the fun stuff to make a living, but what I saw, and what interested me, was the hunting and fishing part.
Most of the men in our family hunted occasionally, as did we boys, but that was mostly squirrels, rabbits and quail. Uncle Burris was a big-game hunter.
The Wonders in the Basement
Besides hunting deer and boar in Tennessee, Uncle Burris would travel to far-off, exotic lands … such as Colorado … to hunt mule deer, and he would mount the antlers on the wall of his den. The den was like any other living room, but instead of the useless, boring living room junk on the walls, his den walls were covered with antlers, full shoulder mounts, huge fish mounted on plaques and the gun rack. To a 10-year-old boy, the gun rack was something really special to behold. Uncle Burris didn’t keep all his guns on the gun rack; I was later shown the good stuff he kept in the gun cabinet. In this cabinet were the hunting rifles, plus a pistol or two.
I remember one summer (I must have been about 12) I was shown what went on down in the basement. The basement was a type unlike the basements seen today. This basement was a hand-dug space with a low ceiling, very dark, with just one, lonely light bulb.
The interesting stuff was back in the corner. That corner was the holiest of places. It was where I saw my first-ever reloading press. I had never even heard of someone loading their own ammunition. But my Uncle Burris did. Back then, this was akin to voodoo or witchcraft—very interesting stuff for a boy who dreamed of someday owning a
real deer rifle!
Practicality Does the Trick
When I was about 20, I decided I was going to get serious about bass fishing. I had fished leisurely most of my life up to that point, targeting whatever fish I could get to bite my hook. But I had decided I was going to dedicate my remaining fishing time on this Earth exclusively to catching largemouth bass, and I needed to properly equip myself for that endeavor.
I carefully studied every available fishing equipment catalog. Money was no object; I was going to have the best! Knowing that Uncle Burris caught more bass than anyone I had ever known—and I mean the big wall-mount kind—I went over to his house to see just what kind of high-dollar rod/reel combo would be the best.
Taking me out to his garage, Uncle Burris showed me his gear for bringing in the big ones: a 6-foot jigger pole. It was nothing but a 6-foot cane pole with about 8 feet of line attached and a hook at the end.
He would slide his tiny boat into the shallow water where the lily pads grew and toss that pole around, popping a big worm or lure among the pads, where the big fish lay in wait. He would go in there and get his feet wet where the “expert” bass fishermen in their $30,000 bass boats could not go. He caught more fish, bigger fish, every time. I was disappointed that I did not need a high-dollar fishing setup, because I was ready to spend some bucks; but it did teach me a lot about fishing.
Uncle Burris was that way in most things: highly practical. He used what worked. He had a few annoying habits such as eating raw oysters and boiled crawdads, but all that could be forgiven. He was always ready to help someone. Uncle Burris was just that kind of guy.
One year, he was deer hunting back on the farm, and on the way out, he stopped by my house. I figured he needed some help bringing a deer out, so I met him on the porch. He had not killed a deer that morning, but on the way out, he had seen a monster buck with an enormous rack about 300 yards behind my house. It was bedded with two does on a sunny hillside. Uncle Buck had the buck sighted in his scope, but he decided not to shoot, leaving him for me, instead.
When I stepped out onto the porch, he said, “I’ve got a present for you, Hoss. There’s a huge 12-point on that left-hand ridge, about half way up. If you sneak up there just right, he’s probably still there.”
I went up that ridge and saw the deer. Uncle Burris was right: He was the biggest I had seen around here in several years. When I spotted him, he was moving out fast, the two does right behind him.
I couldn’t get a clean shot at him and never fired the ought-six. But seeing those huge antlers, I realized just how hard it must have been for Uncle Burris to pass up that deer, because it was bigger than either of us had ever killed.
I hunted that buck hard for the rest of the season, but neither of us ever saw him again.
Jeff Quinn is a full-time writer/ reviewer on Gunblast.com, an online gun magazine started in 2000. He has also written for the Gun Digest Annual and enjoys living life in the woods of Tennessee, where he raises Longhorn cattle … and his grandkids.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.