February 21, 2013
John Wootters 1928-2013
By David E. Petzal
John Wootters, 84, went to the Great Sendero in the Sky in Ingram, Texas, the last week in January. John was a great gun writer in a time of great gun writers. He was a hunter of worldwide experience, and probably the first genuinely scientific whitetail hunter. His book, “Hunting Trophy Deer,” which was published in 1977, was decades ahead of its time.
John was a droll Texan, a very bright guy and, for about a year and a half, the Rifles Editor of Field & Stream, back when Uncle Robert Brister was handling shotguns. The arrangement didn’t last because John developed very high blood pressure. His doctor said it might be good if he worked less than 100 hours a week, and F&S was one of the jobs he dropped to keep his heart from detonating.
A couple of Wootters stories: John went into the Army, and then to Korea, in 1955, when there was still occasional shooting going on, and he said the only thing that kept him going was the thought that when he got home, he was going to get one of the then-brand-new Winchester Model 88 lever-actions. He did, a .308. John put a Stith 4X Bear Cub scope on it, tinkered with the bedding until it would group, and then proceeded to shoot the hell out of it, about 6,500 rounds. It was a whitetail rifle supreme, and John called it “Jumper,” because if a deer bolted, the 88 just seemed to jump to his shoulder and drop it.
But by the early 60’s Jumper’s groups spread from 1½ inches to 3 inches, and at the same time John got the yen for a long-range elk rifle, and traded Jumper for a beat-up Remington Model 700 ADL. Not long thereafter John realized what he had done, but Jumper was gone. Years later, he had the great gunmaker Joe Balickie build him an exquisite custom Model 88, but it was not the same. Jumper’s serial number is 5303, and if you happen to acquire it, take care of it. That rifle belongs to John forever.
Second story: At the first SHOT Show, which was held in St. Louis in 1979, John and I had dinner, and for some reason, got into a discussion about the fact that armadillos are the only mammals besides man that can contract leprosy. At the table next to us were a half-dozen men, and one of them overheard what we were talking about.
To say that it upset him is an understatement. “WHAT? WHAT?”, he bellowed, “NOBODY KNOWS THAT. HOW THE HELL DO YOU KNOW THAT?” If we had been discussing the noises his wife made in bed he could not have been more worked up. We did not ask why. In true gun-writer tradition, we got the check and got the hell out of there.
John’s lifetime ambition was to take a Boone and Crockett whitetail. He got some huge deer, but never one that big. I hope that in the next world he does. Adios, amigo.