Story by: Cody Voermans
I spent an evening in 2014 enjoying good bourbon and swapping stories with my banged up 94-year-old grandfather. You see the week before my grandfather wrecked his 4-wheeler in the Arizona desert and had to be flown out of the mountains by a helicopter at the capable hands of the Kingman Arizona Search and Rescue. He had multiple broken bones and even more lacerations, one of which almost removed his left ear.
I’m not sure what the heck Grandpa was doing that far up in the hills at 94 years old but, he was never short on adventure. To hear him tell it, he was trying to jump a dry wash with his side-by-side 4-wheeler and show off a bit for his girlfriend, who was at the time, 30 years younger than he but just as adventurous. Apparently, after the wreck and during the Search and Rescue team’s effort to strap him to a backboard, Grandpa cussed each team member, telling them they were “dumb sons-o-bitches” for placing all the rocks in Arizona with the hard side out.
That’s the kind of man my grandfather was and that evening I wanted to help take his mind off broken bones and assorted contusions by sharing my copy of The Lost Classics of Jack O’Connor, compiled by Jim Casada. Grandpa loved to read almost as much as he loved to hunt so I thought the book would really make him smile. What I found instead was a memory he had about the book’s author sparked a smile bigger than any of the pages ever could.
When I pulled the book out, Grandpa had just poured his second drink of bourbon. After seeing the cover, he just smiled and sat back in his chair. Knowing how much I enjoy the writing of Mr. O’Connor, Grandpa surprised every ounce of me when he said, “That Jack could sure tell a story.”
I thought surely Grandpa was referring to Jack’s writing; he had never mentioned otherwise. But then he said, “Yep, get a whiskey in that fellow and you’re in for one heck of a tale.” I said, “Grandpa! You knew Jack O’Connor?” “Sure,” he said. “Met him a couple times down at Beumiller’s Gun Shop when he would pass through on his way home to Idaho. We used to talk guns a fair bit.”
I just about fell out of my chair. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised Grandpa knew the likes of Jack O’ Connor. He loved guns and knew just about everyone that held a similar interest. Heck my grandfather personally knew a man that fought in the Battle of Gettysburg, albeit when he was very young. Grandpa was a man full of stories that bewildered and amazed the attentive ears of everyone he shared them with.
After I poured myself a bourbon, I asked Grandpa to continue with the Jack O’ Connor story. He eagerly picked up his glass, took a sip and said “Yep, the last time I saw old Jack, he had just returned from a Safari in Africa and knowing how much we all loved guns, he told us about his travel through London on his way south.” With an extended stay in London, Jack couldn’t resist a visit to the legendary gun manufacturing company Holland and Holland. Really, I wouldn’t expect less from one of the foremost authorities on sporting arms.
The way Grandpa told it, “Old Jack marched right in there and began the conversation with the fact that he had shot nearly every firearm in the world except a 600 Nitro Express.” I guess it took a bit of convincing, but eventually Jack and a representative from H&H agreed to remedy the situation and headed a beautiful double rifle and TWO cartridges down to the range.
Grandpa began to smile when he told me, “Jack was a might upset that only two shells for that 600 Nitro made their way to the shooting range that day.” He made it sound like Jack really wanted to shoot that big gun and only two cartridges would never be enough for the world's foremost gun writer.
With even more of a smile now, Grandpa said, “Cody, it’s pretty hard to keep a straight face when Jack O’Connor tells you he went to that range in London, stepped to the firing line and shot that 600 to his heart’s content. Then, turned around and gave the other shell back!”
I just about spit out my sip of bourbon and could only respond with “Yep, Grandpa, it’s pretty hard to keep a straight face.”
I had no idea that my grandfather knew one of my outdoor writing heroes. I thought I was simply giving him a book to read while he recovered. The gift he gave me in return was more than special.
In memory of Pat McVay - March 14, 1920 – May 18, 2020