The outdoors lost a gem this week with the passing of James Lee Vaughn. Deeply rooted in faith, family, and passion for outdoor pursuits, his legacy lives on with those fingerprints he leaves on so many that follow in his footsteps. Although his name may not be a one you recognize, with no Instagram account, Facebook profile, Twitter feed, or books written about his life...those steps navigated quite the journey and leave behind a legacy to inspire those of us fortunate enough to have made his acquaintance.
A man of principle, he answered the call of country by joining the Air Force where he perfected a craft on the competition rifle team shooting 30-06 Springfield's that remained with him until the very end. Even as the mind faded and body fell victim to time, the ability to steady a target and trigger pull held true...once a shooter, always a shooter. A craft so finely honed over the years and leaned upon throughout life was inevitable to be passed down to children and grandchildren. I've seen it first hand, the passion and skill is alive and well.
A chance station in Idaho, during his tenure with the Air Force, eventually opened doors with the state providing employment to hunt and manage deer herds. An assignment that certainly added fuel to an existing fire of passion. That passion for the pursuit, proved a critical element to a 55 year marriage that produced 5 hungry mouths and ensured freezers were never empty. Meat was secured over many decades from adventures in the wild which ranged from harvesting elk and mule deer in the Colorado backcountry, chasing Wyoming pronghorns among the sage, tagging whitetail throughout the Missouri hardwoods, skinning bears in Idaho, and bagging pheasants on the great plains.
James was also a fireman for many years until a broken back forced retirement from battling fires but never broke his spirit. One of those, "never met a stranger types" with a bellowing laugh one could almost feel, my introduction came through my daughter who befriended James' granddaughter. Our first meeting found the conversation almost immediately shifting to hunting and various other outdoor pursuits. While a lifetime of expeditions had finally taken its toll and his journey into the wild having ended, his eye still sparkled as we talked about chasing birds in the uplands.
As I consider his lifetime in pursuit of wild things, I probably shouldn't have been surprised when I received a gift after taking his son and granddaughter on a wild bird hunt in Kansas. While I love to hunt and spend time in all wild places, the pursuit of birds in the uplands is all consuming and therefore brings me great joy to introduce it to others. I suspect, a gift from such a man as James Vaughn was a true outdoorsman giving that "nod" to another passionate hunter in that unspoken way that encourages you to stay the course, hold the line, and pay it forward...and a sincere "thank you" seeing his family continuing full steam down those footsteps he left behind.
The passing of certain men leave larger holes but we are holding the line. I've hunted with the next generation and my hopes are high, we have good hands reaching out to be pulled forward. It's now our turn to be those giants and inspire their journey into wild places chasing wild things.
In memory, James Lee Vaughn.