The Charlie Elliott Story
A legend in the outdoor field, the Georgian's stories have entertained sportsmen for more than 60 years.
Mention Charlie Elliott and you’ll immediately touch a nerve that tingles to the tune of the finest of writing. Whether it is his favorite, the outdoors style, his fascinating, incisive novel on the life of his friend, Coca Cola founder Robert Woodruff, or a textbook on one of his early jobs, forestry. Mister Charlie is a legend among us, a man of whom I have never heard a statement uttered in anything but the utmost respect. Recently, he and his lovely wife Polly were gracious enough to share their home and a day with me. If you’ve never been introduced to Mister Charlie, it’s high time.
The room is one of my dreams, where a man can be a man amongst mementoes that are treasured trophies maybe only to himself, but trophies nonetheless. The huge fireplace at one end is flanked by a bookcase containing many off the 20 or so books written by the elderly gent presently perched at his desk in the corner. Bookcases and gun racks, with all the trimmings, cover almost every inch of space along the ways.
Between the desk and a gun cabinet are three rugs. Two are of black bear, one of which is almost cinnamon in color, and the third a huge wolf pelt. Near the wall-length bookcase is a gigantic polar bear rug. Just to the right of it, stashed over behind a chair, is the head of a monster grizzly. It is that head that gets Charlie going with his first story. On the day, we will swap 2- or 3-dozen, because the man has done little else but hunt, fish and write for the greatest portion of his 83 years.
January 1990 marked his 40th year as field editor of Outdoor Life magazine, and the long bookcase contains leather-bound copies of every edition of that publication since January 1950. He has hunted and fished from the Arctic Circle to Argentina, with trips to all 48 contiguous states, as well as Alaska. For 25 years running, he hunted big game with the legendary Max Wild in the wilderness of Wyoming. But Georgia has always been home, and our state’s quail and turkey populations kept a grip on him that he has never been able to escape.
His first wild gobbler was taken in 1923, his last in 1988, when he was 82 years of age. Mister Charlie’s eyesight is fading a bit now, so his hunting is pretty much a thing of the past. But his memory is as sharp as an eagle’s claw, and those turkeys will be with him forever.
“Back when I killed my first gobbler, we just didn’t have turkeys in Georgia to amount to anything,” he recalled. “I went up in the mountains, drove my old piece of car as far as I could, then stopped at an old man’s place to ask him where to hunt. He mentioned something about an old fallen-down house on up a piece where a turkey or two had been seen over the years but told me I’d never see one because they were so smart and scare.
“I was young, hard-headed and didn’t have sense enough to know any better, so I went right on up there. When I walked into what used to be the old yard, a big gobbler flew up right out of the shrubbery by the front porch, and I shot him down. Ten minutes later, I was back at the old man’s place with the bird over my shoulder. You’ve never seen such a shocked fella in all your life.”
Charlie has hunted and fished with some of the giants of the outdoors business and others, with names like Jack O’Connor and golfing immortal Bobby Jones among them. In fact, over that fireplace are prints from each of Jones’ golfing grand slam victories when he was an amateur, each with an autographed messaged. One, from the British Open wins reads, “Charlie, you swing better than this!”
The grizzly bear that started all this reminiscing is one of the largest I have ever seen. It was once a complete rug, but wear and tear over the years compelled Charlie to cut most of it away. The bear was taken on a trip with another hunting legend, Alaska’s Johnny Luster.
“This was in ’49, and we were after sheep, moose, caribou and bear, and we had been maneuvering around a good bit. We had killed quite a bit of meat, and it was kind of warm, so the guides took it down to cold storage. They all left, and three of us stayed in camp. There was me, Johnny and one other hunter.
“That afternoon, I was out crawling around up on a hill above camp and spotted a bear a pretty good ways off. We went up, tied the horses and the fellow with us went one way and Johnny and me went the other. The bear was feeding on huckleberries about 150 yards away, and I stalked up, shot and he went down.
“But he was right back up in a hurry and went on over a ridge there. We went out on a ridge parallel to him and saw the bear raise up about 200 yards down the other ridge. I shot at him, and he went down again, got up again, and I shot him the third time. When he came back up again, he grabbed a tree, hugging it, and Johnny said he was finished, that when they did that, it was all over.
“But Johnny also said that this wasn’t the first bear we shot at, so we went back to the first blood trail and got within 40 yards of the other one before he raised up. I shot, and he sort of flattened out. I looked at my gun and found that I had one shell left. I thought if I could make him raise his head, I’d finish him, so Johnny said he’d get his head up.
“He picked up a handful of rocks and started throwing them at the bear, and it came after us, roaring like the dickens. I knew I only had one bullet, so I was going to wait as long as possible, until I knew I could make a killing shot. Meanwhile, Johnny thought I had frozen at the controls, so he headed off up the mountain like he was shot out of a cannon. The bear saw him and turned away from me, but Johnny outran it and lost it in the rocks.”
The bear eventually gave up the chase, for the time being, and took a break. When it did, as Charlie says, “I put the rifle on him and shot him right between the eyes, and you can still see the scar on the mount. We let that one die good and dead and went back to the other one, which was already dead as a hammer. I handed my rifle to the third guy, and he threw a couple of shells in it and handed it to Johnny, who was going after the dead bear.”
Well, almost dead bear.
“When Johnny got to within 10 feet of that bear, it stood up on its hind legs, and he shot it in the chest. It lunged for him, and they were off to the races again, this time coming down the mountain with the bear swiping just behind Johnny’s shirt tail. Somehow or other, while he was running, he managed to put the rifle backward over his shoulder and shoot that grizzly one last time, breaking its spine. But when I got up there to him 30 minutes or so later, Ol’ Luster was still sitting up on a pile of boulders, throwing rocks at that dead grizzly!”
Charlie’s works are full of anecdotes like this, and he got his latest book, “Dogs, Geese and Grizzly Bears,” on the market late last year. His first published story, by the way, was sold to a national magazine in 1926. What keeps him going?
“I just have to stay busy,” he says. “Like I was telling Polly the other day, the last thing I’ll ever do on this earth is crawl across this workroom floor on my hands and knees, reach up to the typewriter and hit the wrong key.”
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