KEVIN TATE: Walking in the footsteps of a legend brings the stories home

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

In the last days when wildlife conservation was more notion than law, when waterfowl clubs set their own rules and when the only real bag limit was all the ducks you could carry plus one duck, Nash Buckingham cut his teeth on the feathers that would someday carry his legend aloft.
An outdoor writer by trade and one who was plying his craft at the dawn of the 20th century, he became a leader in many of the first groups devoted to doing something truly beneficial about declining game populations, groups often founded largely on the strength and energy of Buckingham’s own passion for the outdoors.
The numbers of ducks and quail and other birds Buckingham and his fellows shot appear gaudy in today’s context, but they were taken from a resource that once seemed bountiful without end, a resource whose ultimate decline was due as much to loss of habitat as overconsumption. He and the members in the clubs to which he belonged knew the days of unlimited shooting had passed, they sensed it, they saw it, and they acted before it was too late. They acted on behalf of enforced shooting limits. They acted on behalf of nesting grounds in Canada and of the potholes and wetlands lining the continent’s flyways that see the passing birds south and north and south again. Today, those of us whose favorite game travels the skies or escapes by air still benefit from what they did and from what they didn’t do. But outshining even his actions are his words. He showed the same flair for writing he did for living, painting with words the experiences that shone in his mind’s eye.
A great portion of those experiences took place in Tunica County at a lake called Beaver Dam, a site I got to visit one afternoon last week. The landscape has changed some but the memories come to life from the dust. There’s a modest frame house of a style common to countless small hunting clubs across the South, sitting on a hill that slopes down to a little pier that looks every bit the same as its predecessor in photos accompanying collections of Buckingham’s best work. Introduced without the famous name it could be anywhere or belong to anyone, just like the stories.
The stories we tell from the memories we make can last as long and mean as much, no doubt, and it doesn’t take great fortune to make it so. Buckingham saw the same sunrises we see, enjoyed the same campfires, waded the same waters, walked the same ground. He endeared himself to a shotgunning nation not with what he did, but with how he remembered it, vividly, with vigor and reverence and fire.
It reminded me, as another fall approaches, not only to look, but to see.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.