Photo by Marius Bugge
I was away last week, bowhunting in South Dakota, when I heard that the great Vermont whitetail tracker Larry Benoit had passed away.
Having grown up in the Northeastern big woods, nothing in hunting stirs me more than the prospect of dogging a track deep into the wilderness and dragging home the buck that made it. And like so many other North Woods hunters, I have mostly Larry Benoit to thank for that. I’m sorry to say that I never had a chance to meet the man, but F&S contributing editor Lawrence Pyne visited Larry The Legend in the Benoit living room, interviewed the master tracker several times, and has filmed and hunted with his well-known sons. And so, I asked Lawrence to write Benoit’s obituary for this space. Here it is:
The man once hailed as the country’s best deer hunter will not be on the track of a big buck this fall. Larry Benoit passed away peacefully Oct. 8 in the comfort of his home and family in Duxbury, Vermont. He was 89.
Born Sept. 24, 1924 in East Berkshire, Vermont, Benoit learned to hunt while growing up during the Great Depression on his family’s small, hardscrabble farm in the northern Green Mountains. Hunting was done as much for food as for sport, and in an era when the annual deer limit was one, he learned to track down the biggest buck he could find because it meant more meat on the table.
Benoit honed his skills to the point where he soon had an unparalleled record of consistently bagging huge bucks in the big, rugged woods of northern New England, a region where deer are few and success comes hard. For years people would come from across the region just to see the giant deer hanging from the porch of his home.
In 1970 Sports Afield magazine named him “the best whitetail deer hunter in America.” In 1975, he released his first book, How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life, which turned generations of stumpsitters into skilled, active hunters and is still considered one of the seminal works on the art of tracking deer.
Despite a lengthy battle with cancer, Benoit remained an accomplished deer hunter to the end. He shot more than 200 deer during his lifetime, including a large 10-point main frame with a long drop tine that he took last year in Wisconsin while hunting as the guest of one of his many admirers.
In his later years, Benoit and his sons Lanny, Shane, and Lane–who are rightfully considered among the top trackers of their generation– turned the Benoit name into a brand. They released several more books and videos, and led countless seminars at sportsmen’s shows across the snowbelt.
Photo courtesy of Vermont Fish and Wildlife
But Benoit never forgot his roots. He always seemed to take as much pride in the weight of the deer he shot as the inches of antler they carried, and he never entrusted anyone else to butcher them. Instead, he and his wife of 66 years did it themselves. The gambrel they used still hangs from the ceiling of their home, just a few steps in from the front door in a living room that bristles with the antlers of dozens of huge bucks.
Benoit’s legacy lives on today on crisp November mornings across the north country, when legions of hunters clad in his signature green-checkered wool jacket and carrying a Remington pump-action rifle take to the woods. They are looking for a large, fresh buck track to follow, but they are also following in Benoit’s foot steps, using skills he passed on and a hunting style he popularized. –Lawrence Pyne