In a book published almost a century ago, “Twenty Years Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains,” the author, Sam Hunnicutt, introduces the work by stating: “I claim to be a perfect hunter and fisherman; I know the best kinds of hunting outfit to use, I know the best kind of gun to use for killing game and also the best dogs to use for hunting.”
Old Sam wasn’t really bragging. For his era and the area in which he pursued sport, he was simply stating a plain truth.
When it comes to hunting and fishing in South Carolina, recently deceased Bennett Kirkpatrick could justifiably have made a similar claim. While he would never have been so brash as to do so, those who knew Bennett well and spent time with him in a boat or afield will readily attest that he was a splendid sportsman—an outdoorsman for all seasons.
Name most any type of outdoor enjoyment available in the Palmetto State and Bennett excelled at it. Whether casting a net for shrimp, working any of the scores of crappie “hides” he knew (and in many cases had placed) in Lake Wylie, training a bird dog or following a canine companion on the quest for quail, hunting turkeys or deer, catching catfish or merely catching bait to use on game fish, Bennett was masterful.
Over the course of my life I’ve been fortunate enough to share time with numerous expert hunters and fisherman of national renown. In not one but several categories Bennett matched or excelled all of them. When it came to catching crappie, he was in a class by himself, and a day in a boat with Bennett invariably meant a filled cooler when you returned to the dock. Similarly, he limited out on turkeys year after year, and to watch him at work in a dove field was to observe a wingshooting genius in action.
Many facets hallmarked Bennett’s approach to hunting and fishing. One was preparation—he considered every outing almost a military campaign, planning meticulously and being ready for any eventuality. Another was creativity — Bennett brought all sorts of “tricks of the trade” to sport, and especially remarkable was his precision when it came to choice of equipment, knowledge of how to use it, and uncanny ability to find the optimum place in a dove field, know just where to be a fishing boat, take the best position when a dog pointed, occupy the choice seat in a duck blind, or “sit” the deer stand most likely to see whitetails on the move.
Bennett could be competitive when afield or on the water, but the reverse side of that was a deeply rooted, genuine delight in sharing with others. Bennett did quite a bit of outdoor writing in his later years, and time and again he took fellow sporting scribes out and provided them with first-rate fodder for stories and photo opportunities aplenty.
Even more significant in this regard is the manner in which he took other sportsmen, many of whom had little or no access to good hunting land, along with him. Thanks to his work, Bennett knew a great many landowners and he clearly cultivated good relationships with them over the years.
That translated to lots of places where he had permission to hunt.
Local sportsman Irvin “Spec” Plowden once told me that when he first settled in Rock Hill he had nowhere to hunt and felt lost.
“Bennett took me under his wing and we had some wonderful years of bird hunting as a result,” he said.
Similarly, Kirkpatrick took great delight in organizing dove shoots, sometimes making 30 or 40 phone calls and working out all the logistics for a big outing. Virtually every time he launched his boat on Lake Wylie there would be two other fishermen with him, and I can personally attest to the fact that a day on the water with this piscatorial wizard was invariably a pleasure beyond measure.
For all these examples of his caring and sharing though, Bennett’s greatest legacy as a sportsman surely must involve his role as a mentor, especially to youth. For his son Joe and a legion of Joe’s friends, he was the “go to” source of knowledge and sporting opportunity. That “pass it on” approach continued with his grandsons.
In looking back on a life where sport loomed wondrously large, it seems fair to say that Bennett Kirkpatrick, over the course of many decades, lovingly and selflessly fashioned an enduring, endearing gift. He shared his love of the natural world in a gracious and giving fashion, and I am but one of many who will miss his cheery presence even while cherishing memories he helped make.