While speaking at a Lion’s Club meeting a few weeks ago, I was posed a question that I am often asked, “How did you get started as an outdoor writer, Luke?”
Looking back through the years, I am pretty sure that I didn’t have a long-term plan to become a writer but, I’ve been writing about the outdoors in one form or another since the age of about 14. I was using my mother’s little “Kodak” box camera while in grade school to capture pictures of birds and animals around our farm in rural northeast Texas. I remember “stalking” up close to rabbits and squirrels, attempting to get a close-up photo. Without the advantage of a zoom lens, my images were obviously less than magazine material but I remember being very proud of the little snapshots. Little did I know that even back then, I was laying the groundwork for what would later become my life’s work.
As a young teenager, I would load my Marlin 30/30 rifle into a flimsy zip up gun case, board a Greyhound bus and make the long ride down to Houston via old highway 75. Could you imagine getting on any public conveyance today with a rifle in a case?
At the Houston bus station, my uncle and aunt would meet me and the next day drive me down to Waller, Texas where I would spend a glorious week each fall with “Poppa Dinkins” hunting deer and listening to the old man’s story of the old days. Back in 1964 when I was 14 years old, Poppa was 85 years young. Imagine the stories he related to me from the old days. He was born just prior to 1880 and lived the life of a cattleman, making his living in the outdoors. Well into his eighties, Poppa continued to hunt deer. I remember his old Damascus steel 10 gauge double barrel hanging on the wall. In the den of his old farmhouse, he had a total of 37 whitetail buck shoulder mounts. I’m sure many of them were taken decades before, some probably around the turn of the century.
Poppa bought a brand new ford Truck every year and he drove them the way we use 4 WD off road vehicles today. His rule of thumb was that if a tree was less than 2 inches in diameter, he drove OVER it rather than around. Although I didn’t yet have a driver’s license, he would turn me loose in his truck to hunt on his 2,500 acre ranch. Back in the mid sixties, deer numbers are not nearly as great as today but I did manage to kill a couple of deer back in those days and, I learned a great deal about hunting and life in general from the old man. Everyone needs a “Poppa” in their life, but looking back, I’m positive that mine was a unique situation. For the several years that I spent time with Poppa, I was educated by someone that had lived in by-gone era and who had learned things by actually living off the land and spending every day in the woods and fields.
The “writer” in me began to bud about this time. I found myself writing lengthy letters on a Big Chief tablet and mailing them back home. I would tell about the red fox that came trotting under my deer stand or the buck I occasionally got a glimpse of. A couple of times I had the opportunity to tell the home folks about a deer that I had killed but mostly I just wrote about my days in the woods.
In school, I discovered Journalism class and although I was less than a stellar scholar, I absolutely loved learning about writing. I had no idea that one day I would be writing newspaper and magazine articles about the outdoor life that I loved. I just knew I enjoyed relating my thoughts and experiences to others.
Then, about thirty years ago, I made an agreement to begin penning a weekly outdoor column with a local newspaper. The column you are reading now got its beginnings almost 30 years ago and I’ve been writing it every week since I began. A newspaper publishing group picked the column up and in a few years, it was running in several newspapers. I “branched out” and began writing for outdoor magazines back in the early nineties. I was then freelancing a weekly fishing tips and outdoor cooking column for the largest newspaper in Texas.
Through the years, I had the privilege of hunting and fishing with and writing about a great number of very knowledgeably outdoor folks. I learned a little from each of them and this knowledge helped me become more successful as a hunter or fisherman. I’ve enjoyed hunting and fishing camps from the wilds of Canada to deep into Mexico. I even traveled to Japan once to cover a fishing match for a lure company that was beginning a mail order business, supplying tackle to Japanese anglers.
About twelve years ago, I was a guest on a friend’s outdoor radio show and later I was prompted to begin my own show. It began slowly one radio station at a time and, much to my surprise, I am now doing three different radio shows each week, two for public radio and “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” that airs on about 20 radio stations. Looking back, I never dreamed that I would “do” radio but as it turned out, it proved to be a great fit for my writing and outdoor lifestyle. Larry Weishuhn, “Mr. Whitetail” has been a regular on the weekly show for almost 8 years now. The show, like much of my writing covers the gamut in the outdoors and I now that I am experienced and comfortable doing it, recording the show with my friends is a highlight of my week.
I will turn 68 years old by the time you are reading this and I’m thankful for the good health I’ve been blessed with. I don’t know where the next decade with take me but rest assured I have no plans to “retire.” For me, the outdoors has always been much more than a place to go occasionally to catch a fish or hunt. It’s a lifestyle that I plan to enjoy as long as possible.
“Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” has a brand new website www.catfishradio.org. Check out the site to learn the radio stations near you or, to listen to the show online.