Life Lessons From an Old Outdoor Writer
The other day, I was sitting on a Current River gravel bar watching a grey squirrel bounce around in a treetop. My fishing pole was resting in the bow of my canoe. It was one of those moments when you slow down enough to realize how lucky you are, and then my mind drifted back to an old timer who was one of many to inspire my path.
“Bayou Bill” Scifres is one of the most read outdoor newspaper writers in history. He penned his Lines and Shots column for the Indianapolis Star for nearly 50 years. He also founded the Hoosier Outdoor Writers Association, of which I am a proud past-president. Bayou Bill passed away October 29, 2009, but so many lessons he taught live on. Bill coined a term for combining squirrel hunting and fishing. He called it “squirrelishing.” I’ve enjoyed the term since he shared it with me.
When I first began writing my outdoor column, I drove up to the north side of Indianapolis to meet with Bill seeking advice about his early days in the industry and how his career progressed. He greeted me at the front door with a warm welcome and a big smile on his face.
He said, “Hi, I’m Bill Scifres.” I didn’t remind him we had met a few times already. We entered his living room overlooking the White River. Bill offered me a place to sit in view of the water rolling by.
“So you want to be an outdoor writer?” Scifres asked.
“Yes sir, I do, along with a few other things,” I said.
“Let me tell you what you need to know,” he said. “First, you need to know a little bit about everything outdoors. There are too many experts today, and not enough everything men. Second, you need to know how to sell yourself. If you can sell yourself, then you can sell your materials. That’s all it takes my friend.”
Bill told me when his column ended a 45-year run in one newspaper, the next day he picked up the phone and called another, then another, and another.
“They all wanted my column. They all knew how many readers I had generated for the Star and now their papers could benefit from my column. And I got to sell my column to more papers, which makes more money. Not really a bad deal, wouldn’t you say?” Scifres said.
I nodded my head in agreement.
“I don’t have time to be mad. I’m an old man, and if I sit around mad, before long, I won’t have any time left. That’s a good lesson for young people too, you know. Believe me, before you know it, you’ll be an old man like me, and you will regret it if you spent your time mad and upset. No, no I just keep moving on,” Scifres said. “If your good enough at what you do, someone will always want to hire you, even if you’re as old as the hills you write about.”
Bill taught me a lot in a short time. I’ve always enjoyed learning from more experienced, older folks. Even as a young boy, I was drawn to wisdom. Knowledge rooted in experience holds more weight with me. Bill showed me what it’s like to work a lifelong passion. He had already suffered a stroke, yet he was thinking about incorporating his writing business. He asked me if I knew anything about that. I just shook my head and said “no.” I was in awe of his character, good nature and desire for life.
According to his website, which is still functioning (www.bayoubill.com), Bill won Hanover College’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Sagamore of the Wabash from Purdue University, the Conservation Communications Award from the National Wildlife Federation, Conservationist of the Year from the Indiana Wildlife Federation, and was elected to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. He was posthumously inducted into the Indiana Conservation Hall of Fame in October 2011.
See you down the trail…