Butch Towsley is my dad’s kid brother. He is 76 years old and hunts almost every day of the deer season in two states. He is a small, wiry guy with the energy of a much younger man. He is one of those guys who simply must go to the top of the mountain. Not one to sit for long, he still-hunts and tracks. If he has slowed any from age, it’s not apparent to anybody around him.
Butch’s hunting partner for decades was Harlan Gregory. They hunted in Vermont and at Harlan’s camp in Maine. Harlan was a friendly guy and always ready with a smile and a kind word. He was a talented musician and played in a local band. He was mostly, though, a hardcore big-woods hunter with several big bucks to his credit.
You might say Harlan was a victim of the VA. It took so long to get an appointment that the cancer had progressed past the possibility of treatment, and he tragically died when he was only 66 years old, the first week of the Maine deer season.
Harold Hunter is 78 years old, quick with a joke and deaf as a post. Some laugh and say that if he couldn’t say, “Huh?” he would become a mute. Still (with his hearing aids in place), he is a comical guy and always fun to be around. A building contractor and developer all his life, he keeps active and stays in shape. He also has the energy of somebody decades younger.
Harold had always hunted the big country of Vermont and Maine with his best friend, John Stone. John was another easy-going guy who lived to hunt. I had the pleasure of rooming with him on a deer hunt in Canada years ago when he shot a huge buck. We made good roommates; I snored, quite loudly I am told, and he was all but deaf without his hearing aids. As with Harold, his hearing was a victim of his military service.
Butch and Harold grew up in the same small Vermont town and both now live on the same small lake. They have known each other all their lives, but were not close friends and never hunted together.
They each took the deaths of their friends pretty hard and were feeling that maybe it was time to hang up the rifles and quit hunting. Things were just not the same. At their age, developing new partners just didn’t seem feasible. Great hunting partners and best friends are rare, maybe once in a lifetime if you are lucky, and they both had been lucky. It’s just not possible to find and develop that special bond again, particularly when one is in his 70s and looking at the downslope of his hunting life. These guys are of a different generation of men. Neither of them talked about it much, maybe just a quiet “I miss him” now and then mixed in with the hunting stories. But their actions told a different story. The fire was burning dimmer. Each deer season brought pain rather than excitement.
Good hunting partners must be on the same page. Guys who get cold and want to go home don’t mesh with guys who pound it until the bitter end of the last day. A good partner must intuitively know what you are thinking and what you will do. These guys hunt the big woods and, although they are partners, they hunt alone. So you must depend on your partner to understand and act properly. If you come out on a road miles away, your partner will come and find you. If you want to eat lunch at the truck and try another place that afternoon, you partner will be on board. If you shoot a buck your partner will spend his hunting day or days helping you drag your deer to the truck. It’s a symbiotic relationship that can’t be forced—it either works or it doesn’t. It takes years in most cases to develop. It’s even more rare when you mesh so well that you become best friends offseason as well.
Both guys were at a big summer cookout at the lake and talking about their lost partners when Harold’s wife, Pat, pointed out the obvious: “You both lost your best friend and hunting partner; instead of moping around, why don’t you go hunting together?”
They scuffed their feet and looked at the ground. Neither was really ready to face the failure that was possible in trying again. But Pat insisted.
Now, just a few short years later, Butch Towsley and Harold Hunter have hunted together in Vermont, Maine and Montana. They have become best friends and inseparable hunting partners. It’s a rare thing for both to capture again the magic they had with their old friends and partners, but it’s happened.
I hunted with the two in Vermont and Maine last year and they both climbed every mountain and walked every mile. They hit it hard from dark to dark and never missed a day. Where they find the energy at their age is a mystery to me.
Butch and Harold are “old” guys, but they don’t act it much. They get out of bed every day and head into the predawn darkness when younger guys are too worn out to hunt that day. They stick with it until the last shooting light and are excited about doing it again the next day. Big-woods hunters to the core, they walk deeper into the wilderness than hunters half their age, day after day. They think little of dragging a 200-pound buck miles back to the truck.
Clearly they understand it’s not so much about shooting a deer but about being out there, hunting hard, giving it all they have and doing it with a best friend—a hunting partner.