Johnnie Taylor is about to embark on what the locals refer to as his World Tour in pursuit of trophy whitetail deer. Every fall he chases the ultimate buck from state to state and usually it’s not, if he will get a trophy, it’s how many. Johnnie is a revered local character, not only because he puts into practice what all hunters dream of, in large part because of his personality, his infectious good humor, and his leadership in the community. Perhaps his Granddaughter captured the sentiment best in a Facebook post to wish a “Happy Birthday to our tobacco spitting, watermelon growing, deer slaying Grandpa.
She certainly got the watermelon part correct, Johnnie is the largest producer of melons in the region and that is certainly responsible for at least part of his notoriety. I recently stopped to visit with the Taylor family on a blistering hot August day while the harvest was in full swing. Johnnie grinned and winked at me, “JD, I probably won’t weigh 275 pounds when this is over,” making a joke at being slightly heavy. As the last trailer truck load of the season left the dock Johnnie was loading his pick up with choice watermelons to bring with him on his “public relations” trip, a yearly visit spanning several states where he brings melons to the landowners who allow him to hunt their property.
The trip begins in Arkansas through Missouri then to Illinois. Kansas and Nebraska are next then back home, all to secure hunting privileges. Beginning in mid October he will travel to whichever state has an open season at that time, modern firearm, muzzle loader, or his old standby bow hunting. He spends the winter like a Nomad, hunting and sightseeing, returning home often but always ready for new horizons. I asked him why he goes to all the trouble of traveling when he could hunt closer to home, he simply said ” I’d rather look at the world through the windshield of my truck than sit on the couch.”
Johnnie Taylor was born in 1949, delivered by a local midwife on the family farm, and attended a small two room school in the community of Palatka, Ar. Growing up in rural northeast Arkansas everyone chopped cotton and money was scarce in every household. For entertainment everyone gathered at a country store up the road where the old men played dominoes while the children played marbles or some other game, it almost sounds like an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, minus Barney Fife.
Johnnie was drafted and sent to Vietnam where he served his tour in 68-69, then returned to the farm with out a scratch. He was later shot while turkey hunting by a poacher with a .22magnum rifle (only shotguns are legal). The bullet entered his abdomen and lodged near his spine but he eventually made a full recovery.
Johnnie Taylor went on to build a successful watermelon business, raise a family, and pursue his passions of bass fishing and hunting trophy whitetails. He continues to dedicate his time, money, and efforts to these passions and to spoiling his three beautiful Grand Daughters.