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Thrill of the hunt
Local business owner enjoys shooting game and photographs
By John Moody

Jack Robertson is a business man, right? That's how you know him more than likely - as the owner of Jack Robertson Lawn Care. But, here's who he really is. The business is a front of sorts. Anybody who knows him well would probably tell you that.

Jack is actually devoted to his business and his loyal customers, but when you get down to it and dig down just a little, not that much, you find the real Jack Robertson: Jack the hunter.

Jack is a hunting machine. He thinks about, reads about, sleeps, dreams and eats hunting. Oh yeah, and he does it, lots and lots of it in lots of places.

"I've hunted turkeys in 19 states," he says, adding that the sport has brought him friends from all over the country. He's taken all four subspecies of turkey during the years - Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Merriam's.

If it has feathers or fur, Jack has probably aimed a gun at it; his favorites are turkey and pheasants. Heck, his tag on his SUV is one word: "Gobbler."

But before you judge him harshly with a hair trigger, there's more to it than just going out and bringing down game. He takes care of the land where he hunts, and he makes certain that the land suits nature.

 "A big part of conservation is management work," Jack says. "(We want) to promote as much wildlife as we can, not just the hunting species, but all wildlife."

To that end, Jack provides food ("plenty of food"), cover for hiding, nesting and roosting. He also manages a variety of grasses ... "we burn 'em and disk 'em."

And, he's a photographer, a serious one. He's pretty good. On a trip to South Dakota back in the fall, he and his daughter, Samantha, snapped off 1,500 photos. Four or five of Jack's photos have been published in national wildlife publications.

He likes to shoot, photos that is, with a Canon Digital XT1, and he uses three different lenses.

He's also active in the National Wild Turkey Federation, where he served on the national board of directors for seven years. He's a life member of that organization and of Pheasants Forever. He's also active in Ducks Unlimited and Quail Unlimited.

Maybe none of that soothes anyone critical of hunting, but for Jack, hunting equals friendship and family. He usually heads to deer camp with his family, and they meet up with old friends from Springfield and around the Midwest. You'll not meet a man more respectful of wildlife and conservation and friendship.

As a kid, Jack's late father, Floyd, introduced him to duck hunting. That was the start of it. Jack was careful not let waterfowling take him prisoner. Duck hunters are known for often forsaking all other hunting, so great is their love or obsession for shooting ducks and geese. But not Jack; he spread his hunting interests all around.

His office is loaded with a hunter's trophies. There are three bucks, a couple of turkey tails, one full turkey and a bust of a brown bear. Jack's dad took the bear, a Kodiak brown, on Kodiak Island in Alaska in 1963. The floor is carpeted in camo; turkey calls fill a shelf. There are photos, wildlife prints and statues. There's more than that, but you get the idea.

The break room at the west-side business takes a break from birds and bears and the like: It's a shrine to, of all things, the New York Yankees. At 53, Jack grew up loving Mickey Mantle's Yanks.

But the sport of hunting is where his heart is, and taking a cue from his father, it is truly a family affair. Jack and his wife and children could show most of us a thing or two about spending good time together as a family.

They travel to and from hunts together. They stay together at deer camp. They shiver together in the field before dawn. They eat, drink and rest up together, along with good friends, at the end of a day of hunting together. All that sharing and camaraderie make for a close-knit family.

"It's extremely important to us that it's one of the strongest family activities that you can do together ... to be in the outdoors," Jack says.

Jack and Debbie were high school sweethearts. They got married in 1979. Debbie took up hunting in about 1995.

"We made an agreement that I'd play more golf with her if she'd hunt more with me," Jack says. "She's lived up to her end of the bargain more than I have."

Debbie describes herself as strictly a bird hunter.

"I'm a bird hunter - quail, turkey, pheasant, doves, but no deer. Everything but deer," Debbie says.

"And, that (deer hunting) is the best part," daughter Samantha, 22, says to her mother.

Both kids love to hunt, too. Andy, 25, is, as his father says, "an addicted bow hunter."

Now that Andy's married and has moved out East for his job, his sister is picking up the slack. She's accompanied her parents for years, but now the recent Missouri grad is a full-fledged hunter.

Jack says his daughter has been at it for a year, calling last year's deer season "her first where she was ready to harvest, her first with a gun. We put her up in a tree stand. I was with her when she got her first one. She loves it."

This most recent season, on Nov. 21, over in Pike County, Samantha got her first buck, an 8-pointer.

Her proud dad says, "She field-dresses deer and cleans birds; she fits right in with the guys."

Sometimes wild turkeys will walk right up the Robertsons' driveway out on the western edge of Springfield. The birds must not know who lives there.

Jack speaks affectionately of photography and of hunting. It's hard to say which he loves more. The two, it seems, are intertwined in his being.

Sometimes he talks about both loves in the same sentence. Looking longingly at a photo he took of a brilliant sunrise, Jack says: "It's not all about the pheasants." 

Story published Friday, January 9, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 1 )

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