A sign reads, “Rule Number 1: No tales told on this islands shall be repeated on the mainland!” The Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum in Leland, Mississippi, is a huge repository of stories from throughout the state. The Mississippi Outdoors Hall of Fame is located there. You don’t have to be from Mississippi to recognize some of the legendary names represented. Billy Johnson explains why he thinks Mississippians have influenced the entire US hunting industry, and what makes folks candidates. Good stuff.

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Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to MOJO’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast. Today I’m in Leland, Mississippi, Washington County, my home stomping grounds where I was born and raised, right down the road in Greenville, Mississippi, at the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum. You all have met today’s guest plenty of times, Mr. Billy Johnson. Billy, how the heck are you?

Billy Johnson: Doing good. Good to see you again.

Ramsey Russell: Man, I’m glad to see you, too. I walked in and every time I walk in to this Wildlife Heritage Museum, Billy, it’s grown. You all done added a whole another wing. You got a lot more cool stuff in here. But I walk in and you’re meeting with some folks that had come in to see you this morning and you showed me a picture of you and the late Hank Burdine that I had taken a picture of right here with iPhone right here in this very museum.

Billy Johnson: Back in March.

Ramsey Russell: Yep. And I tell you, the world lost a treasure. Washington County, the Mississippi Delta, the entire world lost a treasure with our friend Mr. Hank Burdine. Did you know Hank? Cause you all from the same stomping grounds.

Billy Johnson: Oh, yeah. Hank and I have a lot of similar interests. He was a Delta historian –

Ramsey Russell: Of epic proportion.

Billy Johnson: And he – people remember things that they’re interested in.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Billy Johnson: And Hank was interested in the Delta. And people like Sonny Rich, who won the state trap shoot, 13 out of 14 years and stuff like that. That’s the people – Hank like to hang around with Delta legends and learn from them.

Ramsey Russell: He was a Delta legend.

Billy Johnson: Oh, yeah, he was. Long time duck hunter. He knew more about Swan – Swan Lake Hunting Club was the first incorporated hunting club in the state of Mississippi and the government took it away from them and made it part of Yazoo Wildlife Refuge down there. But Hank had a lot of the old history of –

Ramsey Russell: Well, he and his dad were members of that camp.

Billy Johnson: Oh, yeah. But duck hunting changed a lot over the years in the Delta. Well, back from time when people used to hunt on the river. They’d have big wooden houseboats and they’d take a couple of skiffs out there with them and they’d find the area where the geese and the ducks were. And Hank knew all those old guys that hunted together and he interviewed them and wrote stories about them and preserved a lot of waterfowling history that without him, would have been lost. But Hank took a big interest in the development of this museum and going and talking to people about that, they needed to donate memorabilia and artifacts and all to the museum. And everything Hank Burdine ever told me he was going to do for this museum, he followed through and did it.

Ramsey Russell: Absolutely.

Billy Johnson: And that’s his heart was in the outdoor history of the Delta. He probably knew about more about Holt Collier The old guy that got it, Theodore Roosevelt, on his bear hunts here and whole history. And a whole lot of the stuff that mattered to Hank Burdine will matter to these younger generation of duck hunters that we have now. One thing about this museum, Washington County. The guy named Tom Walsh, he was an accountant from Greenville and he had a flock of English colon mallards and a pen in his backyard, instead of a dog like most people have. And he would come home from his accounting business and sit back there and listen to those mallards and talk to them and all. And he won the very first World Duck Calling Championship in Stuttgart in 1936. And then Herman Callouet, he was a relocated Cajun and he could call anything with his natural voice. And he won the 1942 World Duck Calling Championship, calling with his natural voice. And Hank would always tell these younger duck hunters, you all need to go over that museum and learn about the history of what you all doing. And he said, well, it’ll mean more to you. And I don’t know how many times I’d be in this museum and people would come in and shake your hand, meet them and next thing they’d say was, Hank Burdine sent us. So, he understood the importance and the significance of preserving the history of the outdoor legacy in the state of Mississippi.

Ramsey Russell: Born and raised in the Delta in Washington County, Mississippi, he also appreciated the whole entire culture beyond hunting. For example, the last time I met with you here, Billy, we talked about the hell hole of Mississippi. Leland, which was Leland back in the day, that you had paper tiger boos and blues players on every corner. And Hanks was an avid fan and of the paper Blues.

Billy Johnson: Yeah, he was. They were building highway. His daddy and them had Burdine and Ross Construction Company and they had the contract redoing highway 12. And he found out, well, Sam Chapman lived down there, one of the early Mississippi, the earliest blues artists. And he got to be close personal friends with him and got to be close personal friends with son Thomas, who was another blues legend from right here in Leland. So, Hank had an interest in all things involving the Mississippi river. He served on the levee board. And when I got the call and Hank died, the first thing that popped up in my mind was during the 2016 flood, wherever a ball or something or a weak spot and water, I’d be trying to come over the levee or through the levee or whatever. I could get a crew of folks and go down there and they work night and day, keeping us drying. I mean the water came within 5ft up to the top of the levee. And I always remember, Hank taking that personal interest in the job he was doing with the levee board. So every generation of people that God makes, they sprinkle a few on top to teach the rest of us what’s important. And Hank was one of those people.

Ramsey Russell: True American icon. True Mississippi icon. Speaking of which, he introduced me to one of his long time duck hunting buddies one time who was also on this podcast, Mr. Sidney Bo Weevil Law. And I walk in and one of the first things, new acquisitions you’ve got for your museum. I noticed this in 1 grand, which that thing must weigh 12 and a half pounds sitting on the counter. And I picked it up and on the side of it, it’s got some duct tank with yardage range, a little charred on the side written down. And I said, what is this? Tell the story about this gun.

Billy Johnson: That’s the gun that Sid won the State Rifle Championship.

Ramsey Russell: Do you call him Sid or Bo Weevil?

Billy Johnson: I usually just call him Sid. It’s easier to say than Bo Weevil. But he won – the army gives us distinguished Rifleman award. It’s the highest civilian honor that they give. And he had won several Louisiana State Rifle Championship, Mississippi several times. And they gave him that award. So he gave us that old, had that gun accurized by a famous gunsmith, I think his name was Clint Fowler and got a peep sight on it. And he gave me a couple of targets that he had won state shoots with – I talked to several people over the years that duck hunted with Sid Law. And I asked him, I asked one of them, old guy named Sam Pendergrass, that lived down there is a real good duck hunter. And I asked him, I said, is Sid as good a shot as everybody said? He said, Billy, let me just put it like this. I wouldn’t want him shooting at me. But they kept up with the ducks down in the south Delta and along the river and down there around Lake Washington and all. And Guy told me one time, said, when you duck hunt with Sid Law, if you see a duck, you won’t – you better shoot him. Cause if Sid lays down on him, that’s going to be the end of it.

Ramsey Russell: That’s the end of it. What a small world, especially, right here in your museum. In and of itself museums are repositories for stories. When I walk into a museum like this and you’ve got all the pictures and all the game heads and all the memorabilia, every item in here, every ball cap, every stuffed animal, every saddle, every canoe, every boat and outboard and shotgun.

Billy Johnson: Means something.

Ramsey Russell: It’s got a story and it was given to you by somebody and it represented something significant to their lives.

Billy Johnson: Well, one thing, Ramsey, a lot of things happen, evolve in the outdoor world. I mean, you take like the evolution of the game camera. When these game cameras first came out they’d have a roll of film in them and you’d have to take them and go get them developed, and then they got where they had the cameras had these chips and now they got it where they’ll send them straight to your phone. One thing, this museum, we’ve got the Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame in here. And when I was a kid learning to crappie fish and all back in the 60s. We fished with cane poles. We use minnows for bait. And when we clean the fish, you take a spoon and scale him and gut him and cut the head off and fry him whole. Well, if you go in this Outdoor Hall of Fame, it’s 3 people in there that changed all that. Now, you fish with graphite poles. Most of the time you using jigs, hair jigs or rubber jigs for bait and you fillet the fish. Billy Joe Cross is in the Outdoor Hall of Fame and he had, I don’t know, 15 cookbooks.

Ramsey Russell: A bunch of them. I still got a bunch of them.

Billy Johnson: Yeah, he was on, I think, 16 or 17 televised, nationally televised cooking shows and he taught people how to fillet fish and how to cook the fillets. His good fishing buddy, Eddie Slater, is in the – his showcase is right next to Billy Joe Cross. And Eddie learned to tie jigs and develop different types of jigs to crappie fish with. And his jigs sold all over the world now –

Ramsey Russell: Slaughter jigs.

Billy Johnson: And people like, I mean, Eddie Slater and Billy Joe Cross would fish together and they won, I think, 6 or 7 State Crappie Championships together. And Jack Wells was with B & M pole company.

Ramsey Russell: Where were all these people from?

Billy Johnson: Billy Joe Cross grew up in Meridian and he ended up being head of what was then was the Mississippi Game & Fish Commission. Now Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks. And Eddie Slater was born on the Sunflower river in Sunflower County. And I’m not sure about Jack. I mean, I know he’s up in –

Ramsey Russell: I think it’s up in northeast Mississippi, being in M pole, maybe up from Aberdeen or West Point.

Dynamic Turkey Population: Exploring the dynamic nature of turkey populations and the efforts to maintain their stability.

And that’s through his ingenuity and willingness and desire to spread the turkey population across the state of thousands of people are enjoying the opportunity that they wouldn’t have had, had it not been for somebody like Billy Joe Cross.

Billy Johnson: West Point. So, during the depression, it wasn’t money to buy things and people that wanted to hunt and fish would develop things on their own, like duck calls and turkey calls and things like that. So an Outdoor Hall of Fame tells a lot of stories that you knew about, but you didn’t know all it was to know about. And it’s a lot of people hunting turkeys in areas of the Mississippi right now that didn’t have turkeys 50 years ago. And people like Pee Wee Horton and Billy Joe Cross and I think it was a game warden named Wayne Saunders, I believe was his name. But they learned how to trap turkeys and they would take them and do secret releases in counties and in areas where they didn’t have turkeys, they’d get with a large landowner who would protect them. And Billy Joe Cross probably did more for the state. Far as in his tenure with the Game & Fish Commission, he understood that the turkey population was never stable. It was either going up or it was going down. And they would trap turkeys on these clubs next to the Mississippi river that had too many. And they learned where they would trap them after the hen had her poults had hatched and get the hand and the whole poult and move them. And that’s through his ingenuity and willingness and desire to spread the turkey population across the state of thousands of people are enjoying the opportunity that they wouldn’t have had, had it not been for somebody like Billy Joe Cross. So –

Ramsey Russell: And on top of that, he brought his interesting culinary skills to the scene by way of wild game cookbooks.

Billy Johnson: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: Like, I did not know that he – That I remember growing up and nobody filleted fish. We caught bluegills. We caught crop. Heck, we caught small bass and we took a kitchen spoon or the back of a knife and scaled them and gutted them and cleaned them and cut the heads off or not and fried them. And he did bring – So Billy Joe Cross is who brought fish fillets to the state of Mississippi.

Billy Johnson: Well, I mean, he’s the one that popularized.

Ramsey Russell: Popularized, yeah.

Billy Johnson: He showed. He explained on his shows how to do it and how to cook them and how to care for them. And Billy Joe Cross, he was a big proponent of taking care of what you catch and what you kill between the woods to the table. And he had cooking classes where he would teach people how to cook deer meat 8 or 10 different ways.

Ramsey Russell: Because a lot of people really don’t know how to cook, but one way, if at all. It’s like a morning dove. You take a morning dove or a duck breast and ask anybody how to cook it, what do you think they’re going to say? Bacon wrapping poppers.

Billy Johnson: That’s right. We had an old guy around here named Guido Palasini and he was Italian. And he had a lot of different recipes. He had a Squirrel Cacciatore recipe. He taught it to a lot of the ladies around here how to cook. It ended up in several cookbooks. So, people that hadn’t ever eaten properly prepared venison, I mean –

Ramsey Russell: Or squirrels, for that matter.

Billy Johnson: Yeah. Most people had only eaten squirrel stew or fried squirrel and both of them are good. But it’s a lot of different, other ways to do it. I had a friend named Tyler Miller and he loved frog hunt. And he came up with a recipe, where you baste them and bake them in white wine.

Ramsey Russell: And not fried.

Billy Johnson: No. And Billy Joe Cross had a bunch of different frog recipes. Well, they’d be so tender, to me to just fall off the bone. And it’d just be surprising the different ways – when the Cajuns came, people like Gerald Fry and Red Hampshire around here, they taught people all the different ways, like cook a wood duck pot roast or stuff a duck or goose and bake it. It just weighs from their culture that they brought from Louisiana to here.

Ramsey Russell: I think the highest form of tribute to a wild game animal that we hunt that can possibly be bestowed upon it is cooking it right. And presenting it and eating it. I think that’s just the highest tribute to the game animal. It’s becoming a lost art.

Billy Johnson: We do this Christmas on the creek. Deer Creek runs through Leland, and the chamber of commerce, they put floats and Christmas trees and have a concert and everything. And the last couple of years, Hank Burdine and I would get together and cook wild game, have a wild game buffet here at the Wildlife Museum.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah.

Billy Johnson: And Hank could have duck cooked 2 or 3 different ways. And I got a venison shish kabob recipe. And you marinate that deer meat and pineapple juice and wishbone dressing. Put a little bit of lean pear in there and a little bit of lemon juice and marinate it for 4 or 5 days and then just make a regular shish kebob out of it was put a sauce on it and all. And we had some of those ladies came through and they had ate a plate full of that shish kebob. Never knew it was deer meat. But we had my son, Ben Johnson, had fixed up a big 5 gallon batch of his duck gumbo. So, at a lot of these old hunting camps, it’d be one, maybe one guy that has a squirrel stew recipe. And when that opening weekend of squirrel season comes, they let him cook him cook it and then that’s it. And then somebody else may have a – we had old guy, Jimmy Nichols, up at the Ponderosa Hunting Club and the one thing he knew how to cook was a hind quarter. And he would trim all that white connecting tissues and stuff off and trim that hind quarter up real good. And he had put everything in it that you would normally put in a roast. Onions and carrots and potatoes and celery. And then he had put some turnip bottoms and some sweet potatoes in there with it. And he’d cook it about 225 or 2500 for about 6 hours. And I’m going to tell you something, man, you smelling that thing in that kitchen for that long, it didn’t last long.

Ramsey Russell: I bet it was tender too.

Billy Johnson: Oh, man, what you talking about.

Opening Day Dove Tradition: Exploring the tradition of going dove hunting on the opening day of the season.

You know what I started doing is, I go out, opening day of dove season, I love it. I get so nostalgic in the Delta, because we all come up here to the Delta dove hunt.

Ramsey Russell: You know what I started doing is, I go out, opening day of dove season, I love it. I get so nostalgic in the Delta, because we all come up here to the Delta dove hunt. And man, it is like nostalgia weekend coming up Labor Day weekend into the Delta just reminds me of my childhood and my grandfather Russell. And both of them, for that matter, neither one ever breasted a dove. I can remember sitting out there around Inverness dove hunting and we were always the last ones out of field because he insisted that they be whole plucked. And my granddaddy on my mother’s side, my Papa, his recipe was whole pluck doves and he sauteed them in a pan, which is already different. Cause most folks just throw it on the grill. My grandfather would, Russell would put them in stews and whatnot, but my Papa would saute them with seasoning and a little bit of bacon grease or butter and then add Worcestershire and lemon juice, butter, a little bit of hot pepper sauce. And it wasn’t until I was much older eating at Lusco’s restaurant eating their shrimp, that I realized that was predicated on their seafood sauce. So now on dove season, opening day, I’m after those. Me and my 2 boys go hunting. I want those 45 doves and I’ll split them in half. But it’s just become almost like a family tradition that on opening day now, I butterfly them and kind of spatchcock cook them instead of just a whole dove like he did in the skillet. But then I add that Lusco sauce, let it reduce a little bit. And it is – I mean, nothing just says Labor Day and fall and opening hunting season, like that restaurant thing.

Billy Johnson: Oh, yeah. It puts you in the mood.

Ramsey Russell: It puts me in the mood. It sets the stage. A lot of folks celebrate New Year’s Eve as the start of the new year. My new year is Labor Day. That’s when my new year starts. Labor Day.

Billy Johnson: Well, you get those first 2 or 3 cool mornings in September and leave start to fall and all, and your priorities start changing.

Ramsey Russell: I know mine are changing. It’s 850 out there, which sounds hot, but that’s a cool spell for now. We’re sitting there talking about Mr. Billy Joe Cross, Mr. Slater, Mr. Joe Wells of B & M Poles, how they changed crappie fishing and they’re all represented in your Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame here at the museum. Who else is in that museum?

Billy Johnson: Oh, man, it’s about 55 or 60 people now. I mean, we’ve been putting in 6 people a year, I guess, for –

Ramsey Russell: Pick some off your list there and tell me some stories, Billy. Because they’re all interesting. You got these beautiful displays for them.

Billy Johnson: Well, a lot of these stories turn back into other ones. You take people like Preston Pittman, who recently inducted into the National Wild Turkey Federation Hall of Fame. He won the World Turkey Calling Championship, 5 times, I think and over a couple showcases from him is Jack Dudley, who won the World Turkey Calling Championship with his natural voice. I’m going to tell you something. As far as people that have done a lot for the sports with an outdoorsman of Mississippi, it’s 2 people in that Outdoor Hall of Fame that their stories need to be talked about. That’s Melvin Tingle and Paul Ott.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, boy.

Billy Johnson: Melvin Tingle worked for the Game & Fish Commission for like 40 years and he was a longtime host of Mississippi Outdoors. And Paul Ott had his show Listen to the Eagle. And I don’t know, maybe 20, 30 years ago, the Game & Fish Commission or Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, as is known now, started reworking a lot of the state lakes and the state parks. And I think they hired Mississippi State football coach Bob Tyler to help with a lot of that. But no matter what you got in the state, if people don’t know what’s there. And those 2 guys, Melvin Tingle and Paul Ott, they made hunters and fishermen in our state aware of what these state parks had to offer. They redid a lot of the state lakes and put Florida strain bass in them. And I think the state record bass came from one of those lakes, 18 pounds and something. So –

Ramsey Russell: Who was Paul Ott? I see, I remember him on listening to the eagle, high school and college days and later. But I can also remember being a real little boy in Greenville, Mississippi. And at 06:00 on Saturday mornings, there was a little hunting show. Back when there wasn’t hunting shows, you didn’t have 3 channels. I believe this is on the public channel. The first thing that came on in the mornings. But on Saturday mornings, there was a little Mississippi hunting and fishing show. And I can remember, what I can remember from the highlight reels when the music was playing, a Paul Ott was saying about his coonhound named Blue.

Billy Johnson: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: And there was some video footage of coonhounds treeing. And the funniest one I always wanted to see was the 2 old man sitting on a log with their buckskins and they pulled the trigger on that black powder gun and fall off the back of the log. But that was Paul. He was hosting the hunt show way back then.

Billy Johnson: Yeah, well, he would have different guests on that Listen to the Eagles show. And then people would call in and ask the guests different questions and all. But he, if I’m remembering correctly, he had a program, listen to the Eagle that he presented. And I think he did that program for over a million school kids all over the country. And I know he did his program about America and to all the 50 states governor’s conferences at one time, one time or another. So, when you think about conservation and you think about America in Mississippi, Paul Ott’s name comes up. But those 2 guys made a lot of people. I mean, let me back up a minute. When you look at our state, God bless Mississippi with vast natural resources. If you look at the Mississippi river, it’s the center of the Mississippi Flyway for waterfowl, world class catfishing, world class duck hunting, deer hunting, turkey hunting and that’s just our western boundary. That’s more outdoor opportunities and resources than some states have.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

Billy Johnson: And you look at the people that were here before us, the Indians. The Indians survived on all the different rivers and creeks and streams in Mississippi and they had their hunting legends, just like, we do now. And people like Paul Ott and Melvin Tingle, they made people aware of what they could do in Mississippi where they could do it. And it showed people what you can do and never leave the state of Mississippi. I mean, you can get in a Camper Winnebago or whatever, and go to all the state parks in Mississippi and it would be time well spent.

Ramsey Russell: Melvin Tingle was an interesting personality. I had hunted with him a lot of times. I think several years, he would come over to camp. We’d blue winged teal hunt as a part of that Mississippi outdoors and then working in the federal government for NRCS. He was also a soil and water conservation district board member.

Billy Johnson: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: And from Neshoba County. And I actually went to his house one day to meet with him and he had a, like, an old clapboard house. Behind it was his museum.

Billy Johnson: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: And it was all just masterfully restored. And he collected stuff about that era and about that period about growing up Mississippi. And it was fascinating. We spent an hour just walking through there, taking a look.

Billy Johnson: Oh, man, he had those little tap sticks that the Choctaw, those little hickory, Choctaw Indians would hunt rabbits with and stuff, knowing what to ask somebody. A lot of these older hunters and fishermen, they just not going – I mean, they know so much. They just don’t and I mean, that’s one thing Hank Burdine was good at. He knew the questions to ask people and that’s what Melvin Tingle was good at. And Paul Ott. But if you look in. If you look in this Outdoor Hall of Fame, it’s a lady in there named Fannye A. Cook.

Ramsey Russell: Fannye A. Cook.

Billy Johnson: And she – Mississippi was the last state in the union to have a Game & Fish Commission.

Ramsey Russell: Did not know that.

Billy Johnson: And she went around in the late 20s and she would go to the state fair and the county fairs and got people to sign a petition, asking the state to have a Game & Fish Commission. And she, I think in 1932 was when it was formed. When Governor Connor signed that bill before he took up, picked up that and sign that piece of paper making it signing the law to establish it. We were the only state in the union didn’t have one.

Ramsey Russell: I had no idea.

Billy Johnson: Fannye A. Cook was instrumental in starting a natural science museum.

Ramsey Russell: Really? What’s her story? Where is she from? What was her interest in all that?

Billy Johnson: She was from Crystal Springs. She was just interested in outdoors and what all we had. I think she helped open 18 different museums in the state. But she would go in an area and learn about all the different birds that were in a certain part of the state. And she laid the groundwork for what a lot of people coming along behind her would do.

Ramsey Russell: Well, so far, all these folks belong in the Hall of Fame Museum. Who else got on there?

Billy Johnson: Oh, yeah, it’s one of my favorites was a guy named Ronnie Foy.

Ramsey Russell: Never even heard of him.

Learning from Elders: Recounting Milner’s experience learning fishing techniques from older fishermen.

So, Mr. Milner especially, he started carving when he was a kid. He started making his own fishing jigs and carving his own fishing plugs.

Billy Johnson: Ronnie lived down in Madison County, out from Canton. And he was one of the state’s first hunting guides. And when people were starting opening outfitters, businesses and stuff in the state, Game & Fish Commission would get Ronnie Foy to teach the class. And he just was a true outdoorsman. I mean, anytime you around Ronnie, you going to learn something. And just looking on this thing, 2 of my favorite people that are in there is E.O. Mitchell and Henry Milner. And they were telegraph operators for the railroad. And at the time, Mr. Mitchell lived in Winona and Mr. Milner lived in Vaden and they were interested in turkey hunting. And when they took down the old telegraph lines, they were on 100 year old cedar poles and they’d break up a lot of them, poles and all. And the railroad people gave them to them and they ended up making 1000s of turkey calls, scratch box calls and all out of that old cedar. So, Mr. Milner especially, he started carving when he was a kid. He started making his own fishing jigs and carving his own fishing plugs. He said that during the depression, his daddy had him working for one of the neighbors, picking cotton for $0.50 a day. And he said that it set into raining and it was a couple old guys that catfished out on the Big Black river. And he went out there and they taught him how to make a net and they taught him how to catch catfish on trot lines and stuff. And he brought them to town and sold them, said the first little mess of fish he had, he sold them for $0.50. And he said he didn’t have to scratch his head, but once he’s going to bring that $0.50 back and give it to his family, he’d rather catch fish and pick cotton. So –

Ramsey Russell: I heard that.

Billy Johnson: Guys like that, I mean, Mr. Milner showed me how to make a net and –

Ramsey Russell: Like a big old long hoop net?

Billy Johnson: Yeah. Or yeah, he made hoop nets and then he made the big –

Ramsey Russell: Seine.

Billy Johnson: Big seine nets. And when he made that, those nets, he had lay them out on a table in his backyard and he would take a stick of beeswax and go over both sides of the net and let it sit out in the sun for a couple days with one side up and then it turned the other side up and the sun would bake that beeswax and those knots would never slip. And he had these knot gauges, like if you wanted a net with 2 inch squares in it or 2 and a half or 3, and he would take that knot gauge and he would slide them knots and make it, make –

Ramsey Russell: I bet that took some time.

Billy Johnson: Oh, yeah. But I mean he used those nets and those trot lines and stuff, as a kid. I mean, to make money for his family in a way that –

Ramsey Russell: By picking cotton.

Billy Johnson: They pick cotton. So over the years, Mr. Milner made between 1500 to 2000 spinnerbaits that he gave to kids trying to learn to fish. And I mean, he was one of those guys that, like I was talking about earlier, you have to know what questions to ask him to find out what all he had done. He and E.O. Mitchell learned to make the calls together. But Mr. Miller never sold any. He always gave them to his friends or gave them to some children, teach them how to turkey hunt and all that. He said he knew if he ever started selling calls, it’d be an episode that lasts the rest of his life. And he didn’t want that. But Mr. Mitchell, he went into the commercial call making his big turret calls. They used to take these tortoise shells and plane a piece of that 100 years old cedar for a resonating board and put it in there and they’d get a striker, they’d take a piece of a corn cob on the top end and the stylist part, the prong would be hackberry.

Ramsey Russell: I’ll be dying.

Billy Johnson: And that’s how they’d make those calls. And it’s a couple of E. O. Mitchell’s calls in the Smithsonian. So, it’s a lot of important people. It’s a lady Eleanor Roessler, that, she grew up turkey hunting with her mom and daddy, and her daddy would make these mouth calls and she came up with a triple stack call.

Ramsey Russell: That turkey call.

Billy Johnson: Yeah, turkey call.

Ramsey Russell: The mouth call.

Billy Johnson: The mouth call.

Ramsey Russell: Really.

Billy Johnson: And she would make them and teach the – she hunted on a place called Jackson Point or Ham Island. It’s west of Clarksdale on the Mississippi river. And she taught a lot of children how to call turkeys, how to hunt turkeys and she’d take pictures of them when they kill the first birds and all, and promoted the sport. Just like Mr. Milner would always tell you, when you go to a lake or you go in the woods, you leave it just like you found it. If you see somebody throwing a beer can down or ice bag or whatever, you put it in your pocket and you take, you bring it out of there. So a lot of the Outdoor Hall of Fame, it’s not just what they accomplished, but what they stood for. What they passed on, the legacy they passed on to younger –

Ramsey Russell: Well, so interesting, you start talking about people that are represented in something like a Hall of Fame. They weren’t extraordinary people. For starts, they were just hunters. They were just regular folks.

Billy Johnson: People that dedicated, people that dedicated their lives to –

Ramsey Russell: The passion turned into something.

Billy Johnson: That’s right. And a lot of these people had been honored nationally. And then I remember I was in the Buffalo Bill historical center, is what they called it then. I think now it’s Buffalo Bill center for the west in Cody, Wyoming.

Ramsey Russell: Cody, Wyoming. Yeah.

Billy Johnson: And I walked around the corner and there was a thing about the Wyoming in the Outdoor Hall of Fame. It had Kurt, I think Kurt Gowdy was from out there. Had Kurt Gowdy in there. And it just kind of planted a seed in my mind. And I came home and made a few calls and realized we didn’t have one in the state and we just decided to make it part of the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum. It’s touched a lot of people, a lot of people’s families.

Ramsey Russell: How do you all come across ideal for candidates? How do you find a candidate? What makes a candidate for something like that?

Billy Johnson: Respect, just like this past June, we put Mr. Fox, ACE in there.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, boy. Yeah.

Billy Johnson: And I mean, one of his sayings is that if you do what you love, you’ll never lose your passion for it. Well, he’s turkey hunter for 75 years, he was very instrumental in turkey’s being released and subsequently protected up there in Clay County and all where he was living. And I mean, but it don’t matter what you catch or what you kill, when we all hit the rock and chair or worse. I mean, all you leave is the legacy. That’s what had hunting and fishing.

Ramsey Russell: How you affected the resource, how you affected the people that you shared time with or the people that you left behind one day.

Billy Johnson: And you look at the 50 or 60 people that we put in the Outdoor Hall of Fame, the one thread that connects them all together is respect. They’re highly respected in the areas of the outdoor world that they’re known for. Paul Elias, Bass fishermen from South Mississippi he’s in the National Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. I think he caught the heaviest stringer ever been caught in a B.A.S.S tournament. So, when you think of bass fishing, you think of Mississippi, you think of Paul. You think of Paul Elias. So, Rabbit Rogers and his wife Jane, very instrumental in the sport of Crappie Fishing and promoting it in our state. So, I mean, it’s what you leave behind. Just like we talked about Eddie Slater. We talked about Billy Joe Cross. When you pick up a Billy Joe Cross cookbook and you cook one of his recipes, you keeping his memory and his legacy and what he lived for alive. So that’s, to me, being able to live your whole life and still on the trail that you started on. It don’t matter what generation of kids it is on a Saturday morning, some boys going to get up and start fooling with a bicycle. Some going to watch comedies on tv. Some going to call their friends and play some kind of ball. Some of them going to pick up a fishing pole and go dig them some bait and go fishing or a BB gun and staying. I don’t think hunting and fishing are sports. I think they’re instincts and I think those instincts are stronger in some of us than others.

Ramsey Russell: You wrote a lot of hunting and fishing stories over your career, didn’t you?

Adapting to Changes: How hunters have adapted to changes in wildlife populations and hunting opportunities over time.

So hunting, fishing is a legacy that’s been passed down from one generation to the next in Mississippi. And over the years, a lot of things have changed.

Billy Johnson: Yeah, a couple of books I wrote about the people that I revered, growing up, the good hunters and good fishermen and stories about them. And I grew up hunting on Montgomery Island, the Mississippi river. We didn’t have no running water, we didn’t have no electricity, we had butane heat and lights and stove and fireplace. And a lot of those people in that hunting club, they never hunted a deer or turkey till they were 35 or 40 years old. They grew up in parts of the state where the daddies would give them a handful of 22 short shells and a single shot 22 rifle, and they going to bring in a mess of squirrels for supper. And I mean, I don’t care what generation it’s from. If you can bring a limit of 8 squirrels to the table and all of them shot in the head with iron sight 22 rifle, if you can slip up on a squirrel and do that, you can hunt anything. So, I mean, like I said, some of the best deer and turkey hunters out of my father’s generation, didn’t have them to hunt when they were kids. And they learn how to squirrel hunt or in the summer, they take the same little 22 rifling and shoot bull frogs for the table. So hunting, fishing is a legacy that’s been passed down from one generation to the next in Mississippi. And over the years, a lot of things have changed. I mean, some of the men that I hunted with as a kid growing up, they were big quail hunters and they had always had good quail dogs, always had plenty of quail to hunt. And a lot of those men had seen a 1000 covey rises in their life. And now, for the most part quail are gone.

Ramsey Russell: Quail hunting is passing the annals of time. It’s a turn to page. It’s over.

Billy Johnson: In certain parts of the southeast, we still some of those big quail plantations, in South Georgia, north Florida. There’s some up in northeast Mississippi. And talking about this Outdoor Hall of Fame, a lot of the old bird dog trainers are in the National Bird Dog Hall of Fame up in Grand Junction till they see.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah. I’ve been there.

But things change in the outdoor world. I mean, if you look at the state of Mississippi due to market hunting and then the depression in the early 30s, they say it wasn’t but 1500 deer in the state of Mississippi. And the Game & Fish Commission was formed. They started protecting them and by 1965 it was 250,000 deer in the state and the annual harvest was 25,000. And by 2005 we had almost 2 million deer in the state. Annual harvest was 250,000. So being able to respect a resource is what outdoor legacy is all about, and teaching that to kids. But a lot have changed. I mean, when I was growing up as a kid, bass fishing, my big goal in life was catching a 10 pound bass. And it was a few caught in some farm ponds and all in the hills. But, I mean, at that point in time you had to go to Florida. And now, you got these F1 hybrids and Florida bass, Stockton Lakes, state lakes and private lakes all over the state of Mississippi. So, in some ways in my lifetime, we’ve lost things in the state and then we’ve gained things.

Ramsey Russell: Pick another name to tell me a story. This is all fascinating.

Billy Johnson: Well, Mike Stewart with Wildrose Kennels up in Oxford –

Ramsey Russell: He ushered in the whole British retriever in the world. I mean, who’d ever heard of that before he come along.

Billy Johnson: Ain’t many Mississippi duck hunters ended up on the cover of Forbes magazine.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

Billy Johnson: He did. So, he learned how to train dogs. And the key to train the dog has got to be smarter than the dog.

Ramsey Russell: That’s what my granddad always said.

Billy Johnson: Now he’s taught a couple more generations of people, dog trainers, how to do what he’s learned. So we used to have these guys that train bird dogs all over the state and now that’s kind of gone. But now the big thing is, they train these labs to be retrievers. They train them to find wounded deer. So, Mike’s just one of the stories. People that are in that museum, I see Joe Mac Hudspeth picture here.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, boy.

Billy Johnson: As I said earlier, God bless Mississippi with vast natural resources and nobody has captured that and preserved it in my lifetime more than Joe Mac Hudspeth has. All of his photography just amazingly talented person to be able to go out and find all the things that he’s found.

Ramsey Russell: A lot of folks in your Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame, their reputation and their influence goes far beyond the state of Mississippi.

Billy Johnson: That’s right. Like I said, a lot of these people in several different national Hall of Fames, you look at people like Will Primos who took his hobby of making game calls and he sells calls all over the world.

Ramsey Russell: Transformed the whole hunting industry.

Billy Johnson: That’s right. The old guys that my daddy’s generation that I grew up hunting with, they wore army surplus clothes.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I did until Mossy Oak came along.

Billy Johnson: So, having people like Tuxy and his brother in law Bill and the guys that have worked with Will Primos. I was in a north 40 outfitters in Havre, Montana, 2000 miles away from home and went back to sporting goods station park and there’s a big Primo’s outdoors speak the language banner and looked over there by it, and it’s Mossy Oak. And it hit me, the relevance that those guys have in the outdoor world, I mean, people, it’s like when you think about the duck commander, you think about –

Ramsey Russell: Louisiana.

Billy Johnson: Louisiana. When you think about Primos, Mossy Oak, you talk about Mississippi. It’s a guy here, Bill Tinnin and he’s a coon hunter. And that was his thing. 75 years he hunted coons and he came up with a light, tenon light and that coon hunters use. He worked on lights and stuff for people. And he raised dogs and traded dogs, with people all over the country and coon hunters anywhere. When you think of Mississippi, you think of Bill Tinnin. We call him the dean of the Delta Coon hunters. He was from Inverness. He was telling me about when he was a kid, he would take his dog and his carbide light and his axe and a 22 rifle, and he could go off walking in any direction around Inverness and coon hunt. And he said, then they started getting these deer and people got touchy about the land and said, then when them big deer come along, said, man, he cut out on the hunting opportunity. So, it’s a guy here, John Harrison, he’s one of the best crappie fishermen in the state of Mississippi ever produced. His grandparents had a bait shop and they raised minnows. And you go to their house and it was a buzzer. Anytime, day or night, you hit that buzzer, and they’d come out there and sell you minnows or crickets or whatever. And his grandmother, Miss Elva Gordon, would take him to Grenada Lake when he was just a little boy. And I mean, so it’s –

Ramsey Russell: Still some of the best crappie fishing in America right there.

Billy Johnson: Oh, yeah. A turkey call maker here, a good friend of mine, Albert Paul, he first started tinkering making calls in 1965 and when he was a retired school teacher, math teacher and he started making and marketing his calls, like in the 90’s. So he practiced for 30 years. And now his calls are highly valued by not only hunters, but call collectors. So, it’s just a lot of people. John McClanahan from Columbus, when I was a kid trying to catch a 10 pound bass down in Florida, he was the man. People came from all over. Now, this is at a time before Florida Bass had been introduced in all these and spread to all these other states. And John McClanahan, he was – I remember Bill Dance came down and did a show with him. So, he was highly respected.

Ramsey Russell: I appreciate you taking me on a tour of this museum, this Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame Museum. There’s a lot to think about. We go and live our lives and we get by day and day. We’re just caught up in our passions and doing what we can and loving what we love and one step at a time. But you look back and you’ve left a legacy if you ain’t careful.

Billy Johnson: Well, that’s right. It’s funny. 2 or 3 nights ago, I had a dream. We were back up at the old Ponderosa Hunt Club. Tyler Miller was cooking for us and everything. And I woke up the next morning, I remembered that dream and something hit me. Tyler would cook the night before opening day and then he’d give his talk about safety. And one thing he’d tell the kids is all the deer that’s ever been bred ain’t worth the price of one man dead. And he had that written on a piece of a cardboard box. He had it over the door in the kitchen. And I think about that every time, opening weekend of deer season, I always think about Tyler telling the kids that. So it’s important to teach the kids the right things about hunting and fishing, because they’re the future of it. Sun’s going to rise one day and Billy Johnson, Ramsey Russell, they’re going to be gone. And what we love to do and what we spend our lives doing will be there for somebody else to do, for them to have the opportunities to do stuff like that. You go back and you think about Billy Joe Cross and Melvin Tingle and all those kind of guys that were instrumental in us being able to do it.

Ramsey Russell: And somebody’s got to carry that cross, Billy. But, I mean, with those great men now gone, they blaze the trail. But for hunting and fishing and conservation to continue we have got to pick it up and go with it.

Billy Johnson: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: We’ve got to keep moving forward with it, don’t we?

Billy Johnson: Well, those guys at those old camps that’d sit down and teach a kid how to sharpen a knife and how to clean a deer and all that kind of stuff they can get on the Internet now and find out, but it’s not the same when something’s passed down from one generation to the next. How to take a rat tail file and sharpen the treble hooks on the topwater lure and all that kind of stuff, those old guys, somebody that we don’t even know, taught them when they were kids and then they learned more about it in their lifetime and they pass it down to the next generation. That’s why we got what we got now, because somebody preserved and took what people took the time to teach them, and then they did just like Tyler Miller passed it down to the next generation. Tyler used to have a fishing rodeo for the kids every year and he would save fish and have them in the freezer and he had all kind of old trophies for them. First fish and last fish. Biggest fish, most fish. And looking back now, that was the most important day of the year at the Ponderosa Hunting Club in Holmes County was when Tyler and his friends would get together out to McIntyre and they’d cook for the kids, fry fish and man, they’d go out there a couple of weeks before the rodeo and they’d weed eat all the way around it. If it was fire ants, they would treat the fire ant mounds and all that. And it was something that a lot of those kids have grown up. Now they got kids and they bring them in the museum. Mr. Billy, tell us about the fishing rodeo. It was things that they remembered in their lives. So, all you can do for a younger hunter or fisherman is give them an opportunity, introduce them to it and give them an opportunity to do it. And hopefully, it’ll be something that they can enjoy the rest of their lives.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Billy.

Billy Johnson: I appreciate seeing you.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, you all been listening to my buddy Billy Johnson in Leland, Mississippi, at the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum. We’ve been talking about the Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame and the legacy those folks left. You all come by and see them if you’re ever in the Mississippi Delta. Come to the Mississippi Delta to see them if not. Thank you all for listening to this episode of MOJO’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast. We’ll see you next time.

[End of Audio]

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