While Jim Eslinger can’t personally vouch for the earliest of hunters’ skills, he can boast of a long and active hunting career of his own.
Eslinger, who celebrated his 91st birthday a little over a month ago, has been an avid hunter for the past 81 years.
“I love to hunt and I’ve always hunted. It’s peaceful out there,” Eslinger stated. “I guess I’m the oldest hunter around here. I don’t know of any who have lived as long as I have that are still hunting. Everybody says, ‘I don’t believe you are still hunting.’ I’ll be hunting until they put me in the ground.”
The veteran hunter has lived in the southern area of Bradley County since the age of 5 when it was suggested to his parents by doctors that they take their sickly son to the country.
Before his fifth birthday Eslinger had survived five bouts of pneumonia as well as diphtheria.
“I’ve lived around here since I was 5 years old. I was born in Chattanooga, but the doctors sent me out to the country. They said to take me to the country and to turn me loose,” Eslinger said. “Three doctors told my parents that I’d never make it, but I’m still here.”
Growing up in the country gave Eslinger the opportunity to hunt various critters from a young age.
“I’ve been hunting ever since I was 10 years old. I started hunting with an old .22 rifle and an old black-and-tan hound,” Eslinger stated. “I’ve used rifles, shotguns and I’ve bird hunted, coon hunted, fox hunted; I’ve done it all. I’ve only been deer hunting for the last five years.”
Trapping was another activity Eslinger participated in for a number of years, as the area was full of fox, mink, muskrats and raccoons.
“I trapped for 50 years, before I got too old. I’ve caught a lot of fur in my lifetime,” Eslinger said. “Two years ago I trapped about 123 coons.”
Although Eslinger only hunts for deer now, he used to be quite the bird hunter.
“Deer season is all I hunt now, but bird hunting was my favorite,” Eslinger explained. “I used to hunt quail. I’ve had some good bird dogs in my lifetime.”
Eslinger trained his own dogs, although he is unwilling to take all of the credit.
“If the bird dog is any good you don’t have to train it, it will train itself. I liked setters the best,” the hunter commented.
One of his dogs, Rex, was so loyal to his owner that he would not hunt with anyone but Eslinger.
“I had him and a little black-and-white pointer dog that I would hunt with. He was a good covey dog and she would get so close to some birds that I would see them between her front legs,” Eslinger reflected.
Despite his devotion to hunting, Eslinger found something, or rather someone else that captured his devotion a little over half a century ago.
Eslinger and wife Lois, who is 10 years his junior, have been married for 54 years now. The results of those 54 years are two daughters, a son and five grandchildren.
Bobby, Eslinger’s son, passed away in 1999.
“Bobby was my hunting buddy and fishing buddy,” Eslinger stated. “I hunt by myself now. My grandkids don’t hunt. They didn’t take after their grandpa.”
The 91-year-old’s home sits on some 20 acres, and his deer stand is set up a convenient five-minute drive from home.
“I’ve got a stand built up 12 feet high back on the property with a propane heater in it,” Eslinger said. “I get up early in the morning, between 5:30 and 6, and get over there. Maybe they’ll come through, maybe they won’t. I’ll come home around 9 or 10 o’clock.”
Over the years Eslinger has amassed quite a collection of guns. Just a few in his possession are a 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotgun and a .22 automatic. Currently the tried-and-true hunter is using a .243 rifle.
“I’ve shot all kinds of guns. I just gave my oldest granddaughter a 12-gauge automatic shotgun that belonged to her daddy,” Eslinger commented.
While the sport is enough for some folks, Eslinger also eats what he hunts.
Eslinger dresses his own deer, and then the food preparation is left up to Lois.
“I shoot them, she cooks them,” Eslinger remarked.
After allowing the meat to soak overnight in buttermilk to “take the wild taste out,” Lois then roasts the meat overnight.
The roast is Eslinger’s favorite way to eat the venison he brings home.
Eslinger bagged a doe right after his 91st birthday, and has had his fair share of luck when it comes to the bucks.
“Over the last five years I’ve gotten five, six and seven point bucks. I tend to get a buck a year,” Eslinger stated. “The big bucks are sharp. I’ve seen three or four of them back there this year but haven’t gotten a shot at them.”
With one doe already claimed this season, Eslinger’s goal is to get one more before the season comes to an end Jan. 5.
Thanks to his vast years of experience, Eslinger is willing to share advice with other hunters.
“If you’re a good shot, hunting is a skill. It takes luck to see them, though. You’ve got to get out there, rough it and be patient,” Eslinger explained. “All I can tell them is to sit there and hope they come out. That’s what’s wrong with a lot of hunters; they don’t have the patience to stay out there and hunt.”