By David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Buckmasters founder Jackie Bushman joins Jacob Landry, right, of "Swamp People" television fame as Landry shows off the nice nine-point buck he took during the Buckmasters Life Classic Hunt last week at Sedgefields Plantation.
While the absence of the patriarch of the Hinton family around the campfire at Sedgefields Plantation was truly felt, the 19th annual Buckmasters Life Classic Hunt was a celebration of the legacy of Jimmy Hinton Sr.
"This past December, we lost the chairman of the board at Sedgefields Plantation," said Jackie Bushman, Buckmasters' founder and CEO. "Mr. Jimmy passed away at 88 years old. He went quail hunting before he passed away. Mr. Jimmy left this world as a great husband, a great father, a great grandfather, and one of the great outdoorsmen we've had in Alabama. We're going to miss him."
The Buckmasters Life Classic Hunt plays host to a group of disabled and seriously ill hunters from around the nation for three days of hunting deer on arguably one of the finest pieces of property in the state.
"The thing I'm going to miss is that Mr. Jimmy would take me around the place, and I've seen every big oak he sat down at to call up a turkey," Bushman said. "Of course, I got the narration, too. I'm going to miss that. He loved this place, and he loved putting on this event. There are not many people in this country that would open up their place, 11,000 acres, for us to do this. He did this for 23 years, the last 19 as the Life Classic Hunt. It was a big deal for him. He wanted these kids to get a deer."
That wish came true for Clay Pearson, who suffered a spinal injury while racing ATVs in Pennsylvania. Pearson missed his first chance at a buck, and his guide ended up losing his shirttail after kangaroo court. However, Pearson scored the next day, bagging a nice eight-point.
"That's my first deer," said the teenager from Cullman. "That was awesome."
Through the use of adaptive equipment and three-and-a-half months of preparation by the Sedgefields staff and a large group of volunteers, the hunt can accommodate any disability.
"This was daddy's favorite thing to do," said Jimmy Hinton Jr. of his father, who served 19 years on the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board. "With the family's blessing, we hope to do this another 25 years. We take people hunting all season long. This, without a doubt, is the most rewarding thing we do. Daddy would always come over and sit by the fire and talk to everybody. He loved this hunt."
As part of the Buckmasters' Taking Heroes Hunting program, a pair of military veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan joined in the Classic hunt. Chris Wooten, left, of Phenix City, and Chris Duke of Franklin, Ga., bagged trophy bucks on the same day.
If the deer hunting was not enough, Buckmasters also lined up celebrities to join the hunt, including New York Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson, Bill Busbice of Wildgame Nation and Troy and Jacob Landry, stars of the hit reality TV show "Swamp People."
Robertson, the setup pitcher for Yankee legend Mariano Rivera, had a 4-0 record in 2011 with a 1.08 earned run average with 100 strikeouts. The Tuscaloosa native said it was a natural for him to join the Buckmasters hunt.
"I've been a big hunter and fisherman all my life," Robertson said. "I grew up dove hunting and deer hunting and bass fishing. It's an addiction. Now I'm hooked on archery hunting. Now my wife and I live in St. Petersburg, Fla., so I've gotten into the inshore fishing.
"When I was contacted about coming to this, I was tickled to come. It's a great event that's put on very well. It's exciting to see these hunters get a chance to take a nice deer. It's fun, too, because I get to do a little hunting myself."
For the father and son team of Troy and Jacob Landry, hunting is a way of life, although they are known for alligator hunting that is the basis of the reality series, which was originally planned for only a documentary.
Clay Pearson of Cullman, who suffered a spinal injury in an ATV crash, celebrates his first buck with Buckmasters founder Jackie Bushman during the 19th annual Buckmasters Life Classic Hunt at Sedgefields Plantation near Safford. Photo courtesy Ryan Noffsinger, Buckmasters.
When the History Channel contacted the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the agency referred the network to the Landrys. After filming the month-long wild alligator season in Louisiana, the documentary idea was ditched in favor of "Swamp People," a runaway hit.
"When they went back to New York to put the documentary together, they decided to make a series out of it," Troy explained.
"When we first started, we thought it was going to be a pain more than anything with the camera crews and everything," Jacob said. "Then we thought, ëwhat the heck; what we got to lose?' We're going to be out there catching gators anyway so let's see what happens. Look at us now."
Although Jacob remains somewhat subdued, Troy's TV persona has blossomed into something he never imagined.
"We were watching home movies the other day when Jacob was about 2," Troy said. "I was holding Jacob and when the camera swung around, I ducked my head behind my cap so they couldn't see me. It's a little different now. It's overwhelming, really. To come from a little bitty community, being in the bayou and swamp all our life and then being in the spotlight. They're sending us all over the country every week. It's a big change, like day and night.
"It's very demanding on you and your family. It's not for everybody. Some people couldn't handle it. But I don't have a problem with it because I know it's not going to last forever. When I get tired of it, that's what I think. When it's over, I'll just go back to doing what I used to do. I'll go back to the houseboat where nobody can find us in the middle of the swamp."
The Landrys hooked up with Buckmasters after the Buckmasters camera crew noticed a Buckmasters sticker on the windshield of Troy's boat.
"Jackie's cameramen were watching our show while Jackie was at home watching ëAmerican Idol,'" said Jacob, who took a nice nine-point during the hunt. "His cameramen had to go back to tell him about the Buckmasters sticker on our boat."
"That was a long time ago when I put that sticker on there," said Troy. "We always watched Buckmasters faithfully. We'd watch Wonderful World of Disney and then Buckmasters. I was proud of that Buckmasters sticker. I put it there where everybody could see it. It's still there today."
When Bushman got in contact with the Landrys, they were guests on the Jackie Bushman show. After the show, the Landrys invited Bushman to come to Louisiana.
"They invited me to come do a one-day gator hunt, and that was an eye-opening experience," Bushman said. "Here I am afraid of snakes and I'm going to pull in something that wants to eat me. They were laughing at me. We had so much fun. I told them I wanted them to come up for this hunt. When they heard about it, they wanted to be a part of it. They fit in perfectly, and they haven't forgotten who they are. Only in America can you be a rock star and shoot alligators on television."
As for the Life Classic Hunt, Jacob called it a "life-changer," while Troy said it just reaffirms what he has thought for a long time.
"Long before I came here, in my heart, I knew we didn't have nothing to complain about," Troy said. "We should never complain, because you don't have to look far away to see people less fortunate than we are. This has opened our eyes even more."