— Butch Towsley – November, 1971
“The magazine cover caused quite a stir when it hit the stands back in 1970. Deer hunters in general take a lot of pride in their skills and tend to be a bit competitive, so when the cover of a Sports Afield magazine asked the question, “Larry Benoit – is he the best deer hunter in America?” most hunters took notice and a few took offense. Those hunters I was running with at the time soon discovered that Larry was from our home state of Vermont and our skepticism quickly turned to pride. He was one of us and we soon enough decided he was indeed the best.
The many magazine articles, speaking engagements and the 1975 book that followed answered the question for the rest of the world and established Larry Benoit as the “real deal.” Anyone who hunted deer understood that Larry knew his stuff and he soon became well known throughout the whitetail hunting scene as a premiere hunter and teacher about whitetail deer.
The passage above is from the introduction to my first book, Big Bucks the Benoit Way. I wrote it back in 1997, just as I was starting the book and had little idea where it was all going.
I knew Larry from chance meetings at various New England outdoor shows and one magazine article I had written about him for Deer and Deer Hunting Magazine, but this was my first opportunity to work in depth with the man.
I stayed in his old, un-insulated school bus deep in the North Maine Woods for much of that deer season, alternating between freezing and burning up, depending on the status of the wood stove. We traveled hundreds of miles in a truck cruising the old logging roads, looking for tracks. We followed the tracks of big whitetail bucks for miles in the snow and we shared some God-awful lunches of cold, bulging cans of Beefaroni with a suspect history.
I spent hundreds of hours in his Duxbury, Vermont home, photographing his deer and grilling him about his hunting methods. I sat late into a lot of nights at his kitchen table, recording what he had to say about deer hunting. I coveted his wife’s homemade doughnuts and I froze in his unheated shop while he made a custom hunting knife, which he gave to my son Nathan. In short, I got to know the man pretty well. Probably as well as anybody outside of his family knew him. Things went okay between us while working on the book and I thought I had defied the odds. But once it was published, something changed. I never fully understood what.
Larry was not a complex man and he was driven by things I often could not understand. He was the first whitetail hunting celebrity, the pathfinder for all those to follow. He could have ridden that to great fame and a hell of a lot of money. But, for reasons I am not sure even he truly understood, he did not. Larry was an old school Vermonter who did things his way. He didn’t trust anybody and inevitably he would walk away from big dollar deals for convoluted reasons.
He did three books, with three different writers, including me. None of us ever wanted to go back for seconds. (Larry was not involved in the second book I wrote, Benoit Bucks.) He was a difficult man who had trouble dealing with fame and anyone who helped him achieve it.
I hope he has finally found peace. Larry passed away on October 8, 2013 at the age of 89. He was no doubt planning for yet another hunting season, as he was hunting right up to his last years.
While I was greatly disappointed that our initial friendship didn’t last, I was never surprised. I knew exactly what I was getting into. I knew his history and always understood that Larry and I were probably never going to be BFFs. But, it was still a painful time after publishing what went on to be the most successful whitetail hunting book in history. It was then that I came to realize that we had different viewpoints about life, business and friendship and that we would not be celebrating the book’s success together.
I never lost my respect for Larry as a woodsman and a deer hunter. I believed that he was indeed once the best deer hunter alive and he had a long reign with that title. While he may have been a difficult person, he was a genuinely excellent deer hunter. I felt honored to have hunted with him and to have written a book about him.
I think that deep down, all he ever wanted was to go hunting. I think that perhaps if he had it to do over he would have skipped the fame, the magazine articles, the books, the videos and just gone deer hunting.
After hearing of his passing I wrote his youngest son, Shane. In part I said: “Larry was a legend and a pioneer in whitetail hunting and he left a wide path behind. Not many men can claim that big a legacy.”
The world of whitetail hunting is greatly diminished with the passing of Larry Benoit. I hope he finds clear tracks and short drags where he is today.