OUTDOOR LIFE was my favorite magazine. When growing up, I read it cover to cover. Jack O’Connor, the Shooting/Hunting editor, was one of my heroes. I read every article, sometimes twice, especially his feature stories that would take us on his faraway adventures. From time to time, Jack would write about one of his companions, Jack Atcheson Sr. I knew that Jack Sr. lived in Butte, Montana, and wondered if I’d ever get to meet him.
As it happened, I met Jack at a meeting in Butte, and we immediately hit it off. As the years passed, we hunted together many times, for whitetails in Iowa, pheasants in South Dakota, mule deer and elk in Montana, two Alaskan adventures for moose, antelope in Colorado, and others. Every trip has its own set of memories, and I cherish them all.
Jack was fun to hunt with, a laugh a minute. Having said that, he was extremely tough, savvy about the quarry, and didn’t know when to quit. He was one of my favorite mentors. He drove a suburban, which was totally full of "stuff". It appeared that a bomb had gone off in it, but he had the amazing ability to quickly locate every item he needed, even if it was buried two feet under other stuff. His pet rifle, a .338 Mag, looked like it had been through two wars and run over by a couple tanks, but it worked, and he shot it with incredible accuracy. He liked to tell people his gun had "character".
I’d like to relate some amusing stories about our hunts together. I need to say that Jack and I cussed each other so much in public that people who didn’t know us thought we were always mad at each other. Too much fun.
I think the most profound moment I ever had with Jack was during a dinner we had together, after a busy day at a hunt Expo. We chatted about hunting, which was almost always the case. At one point I casually mentioned that I wondered where Jack O’Connor had made his last hunt.
"I was with him on his last hunt, "Jack said calmly, like it was no big deal.
I was astounded! "What did you, say?" I stammered. "You were with him on his last hunt? Are you serious?" "Yes," he said. "We hunted whitetails in Eastern Montana. He passed away shortly afterward."
The wheels quickly turned in my brain. I couldn’t believe it. Here was the story of the decade, a bombshell.
I quickly called the editor of Outdoor Life magazine in NY. He couldn’t believe it either. As it turned out, I wrote the story as an ATT (As told to). When it appeared, the credit said, by Jack Atcheson Sr., as told to Jim Zumbo.
There was a picture of Jack O’Connor on the cover of the magazine in a hunting scene. As I understand it, the issue sold very well. No surprise there, and thanks to Jack Atcheson for sharing the story.
I invited Brad O’Connor, Jack O’Connor’s son, to hunt antelope with me. I planned on filming it for my TV show. I also invited Jack Atcheson. As it turned out, Brad had open heart surgery several months before the hunt, and his cardiologist was advising him not to hunt. Then, a few months before the hunt, Brad’s doc cleared him to go, and the trip was on. To our enormous surprise, Brad brought along his Dad’s Winchester .270, the very rifle that Jack O’Connor used on many of his hunts. It was because of that rifle that O’Connor was responsible for the huge surge in popularity for the .270. To Jack Atcheson and I, and Dick Dodds, the outfitter, that gun was akin to the Holy Grail. When the hunt began, a respectable buck antelope was spotted, and Brad made the stalk with Dodds and my cameraman. I stayed behind, to reduce the size of the party. The hunters eased over a rise, and I said a silent prayer that Brad wouldn’t wound the animal. I had no idea what shape he was in due to his open heart surgery. I scrambled over the hill when he shot, and was delighted to see the antelope on the ground. Jack Atcheson hunted next, using a .270 cartridge that Jack O’Connor had given to him specifically to shoot an antelope. Jack Atcheson obliged, and made a great 300 yard shot. After the hunt, we retired to the lodge and poured over old photos that Brad brought along in a scrapbook, showing both Jack O’Connor and Atcheson on numerous hunting adventures. It was a historical night, and one to remember.
Many of our elk hunts were in the Centennial Mountains, whose high peaks were the border of Idaho and Montana. We hunted with our dear friend, the late Keith Rush, an outfitter who lived in a tiny community called Lakeview. Other than Keith’s family and employees, only a handful of people lived there. It was also the headquarters for Red Rocks Lakes National Refuge. On one hunt, Jack and I took off from the lodge before dark and hiked up the nearby mountain. It was bitterly cold, with a foot of snow on the ground. At one point we had the option of going around a steep ridge, or over it, which would have been exceedingly difficult. Jack was adamant about going over, so we did, but before doing so we built a small fire and warmed up our sandwiches on forked sticks. On thé back side of the ridge, we came across a fresh set of bull elk tracks. We followed, and an hour later saw where he’d walked up to our old campfire so closely that he must have smelled the warm ashes. "So much for elk being frightened by campfire smoke," Jack said. We never did catch up to that bull.