- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

Outdoors

The man who heads the 350,000-member Buckmasters deer hunter organization, Jackie Bushman, ought to take his story-telling talent on the road. He could easily fill a large hall with eager listeners as he chats and recounts true incidents concerning the celebrities hes accompanied on a hunt. Over the years, Bushman played host to race car drivers Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Neil Bonnett and Ward Burton, athletes Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs, comedian Jeff Foxworthy, actor Jim Varney and country music entertainers Irlene Mandrell and Clay Walker, to mention a few.

"My favorite was Jim Varney," Bushman said recently during a lull in the busy shooting schedule for his Buckmasters cable TV show. As he sat relaxed in a quiet office, his annual Buckmasters Expo deer hunting show was under way in the Montgomery, Ala., Civic Center, drawing thousands through the turnstiles.

Bushman remembered Varney, the silly-talking Ernest of TV and film fame who passed away a few years ago, as a wonderful actor who could recite Shakespeare at the drop of a hunting cap. "The man loved to hunt and I really enjoyed being with him," said Bushman, "but true to his stage persona he was always doing something that had us in stitches."

Like the time Varney showed up for an archery deer hunt dressed in a suit that looked like a wild turkey, feathers and all. Varney told one of his friends to follow behind him, crouching down, bow in hand, while he would, well, turkey-walk up to the deer that stood in a field. "The deer wont be spooked when they see a turkey," he told the incredulous, early-morning onlookers. "They see em all the time." Then he turned to his hunting companion and said, "When I get close enough, I will jump aside and you get the deer, but this time dont shoot me in the butt. OK?"The gang broke out in riotous laughter.

"I miss Jim. I think of him a lot," said Bushman quietly.

Then there was the time when Bushman invited his friend Earnhardt, the famed NASCAR driver who was killed in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500.

"Earnhardt was a fine deer hunter and a good shot who, oddly, liked putting up deer stands in trees as high up as 75 feet," Bushman said. "Once, we flew out West for a hunt on a big ranch. But we made a big mistake when we rented one of those small Ford Astro vans and told him that one of us would drive it because he wasnt used to handling little vehicles like that. Besides, wed have to drive along a dirt road that was miles long to reach the ranch and hed never been on that road."

Thats all it took for the tough Earnhardt to get his dander up. He announced he would drive, ordered everybody into the van and told Bushman and his TV film crew to buckle themselves in. "And I mean real tight," he said.

Then he got behind the wheel, eventually found the entrance lane to the ranch, sped the little van up, suddenly slammed on the brakes, the van wildly turning in the dirt until it pointed backward. "Earnhardt hooked his right arm over the back of the front seat, looked out the rear window, and drove backwards over bumps and ruts along that winding dirt road as fast as a car could possibly do it in reverse, clear to the ranch house," recalled Bushman.

"I cant remember when Ive been more scared," said Bushman with a laugh, "but I guess it was Dales way of telling us not to challenge his driving skills and we never did again. He was quite a man. What a shame that hes gone," Bushman said sadly.

Of course, there were also celebrities who took their deer hunting more seriously, for example 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton.

The slender Burton showed up at the annual Buckmasters Classic last January to be a part of the festivities during a celebrity hunt and a special deer outing for the physically handicapped that Bushmans organization foots the bill for.

Burton, impeccably dressed in neatly ironed camouflage clothing and a bright fluorescent orange hat, was told he could stake out a spot in the woods of a well-supplied Alabama plantation to try and get a deer.

He wasnt gone very long. Burton soon returned with a fine whitetail buck that he dropped with one shot at a long distance. It was clear that Burton meant business.

Thats not necessarily true of Irlene Mandrell, one of the three lovely Mandrell sisters. Miss Mandrell, who appeared at the same Buckmasters Classic where Burton shot his buck, has been a sporting clays shooter and deer hunter for many years, but at the Classic she wasnt in any great hurry to sit in a tree stand and wait for a deer. She spent much of her time autographing photos, patiently listening to interminable hunting stories told by Alabama country boys who worked on the plantation and were overwhelmed by the presence of the pretty celebrity.

Miss Mandrell was a total delight and obviously very comfortable in the company of deer hunters - especially Buckmasters members.

Look for Gene Muellers Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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