Bill Tarrant, Field & Stream's gun dog editor, is probably the
most decorated, yet unheralded, outdoor writer in America today. The reason for
this contradiction is simple: he has always promoted the gun dog, not himself.
Plus, he's always lived 2,000 to 3,000 miles from New York where the worth of a
national-class writer is determined by his Big Apple peers.
recognition that has come to Tarrant has been based on the votes of his fellow
writers in the field and the loud applause of his readers.
It could be no
other way. Tarrant is a man of the outback, a loner, a scholar and scrapper.
Generally regarded as the Pollyanna of the outdoor writers, for he always looks
for the silver lining in every cloud. Nevertheless, when he campaigns for
something he becomes forthright and relentless.
Like his demand that something
be done with traditional retriever Field Trials. It had developed, so he says,
that the game had departed from both it's charter and God's intent in placing
the dog on earth. Animals were forced to trip over their own instincts to win a
trial. And if they couldn't be false to themselves, they were brutalized either
to win or washed out.
Tarrant hammered away at these points: 1) a Field Trial
must simulate a day's hunt in the field, 2) any Field Trial club must exist only
to improve the breed, and 3) all dogs should be brought to their peak through
intimacy and not intimidation. He repeatedly made those points in his books and
his Field & Stream column.
Return was slow in coming. He says
"I knew I was a voice in the wilderness, but still ... it was those in the
wilderness I had to reach ... the hunter, the farmer, Mr. Lunchbucket. It was
the boys going for meat on their tables, who were scrapping their own kennels.
These were the guys with simple, moral values that had to surface to take over,
to make the difference that had to be made."
Then it came to pass
selected Field Trial clubs tested a new trial format, handlers wearing camo,
duck calls being blown before birds were thrown, the handler carrying a gun. And
all agreed it was fun. Fun - that's what was important. The handlers had fun,
the helpers had fun and the dogs had fun.
Then a group of Louisiana duck
hunters began staging true-to-life dove and duck hunting tests. They held the
first licensed Hunting Retriever Hunt in history on September 24 and 25, 1983.
Tarrant was there, judging both the walk up and the duck hunt tests in the
Finished Hunt. It was a dream come true. Everything worked. All was won.
when the event was over, the duck hunters asked him to say a few words and he
told them, "I was the pamphleteer who demanded a better way, but it was
you, you here today, who put the rivets in the dream. I'll be ever grateful to
you. The Hunting Retrievers of America and the men who take them to the marsh,
will be forever thankful."
Known as the godfather of the working
retriever in America, Bill Tarrant was not always a man of the field and country
sensibilities. He as born May 4, 1929, to young and impoverished parents in
Wichita, Kansas. He was a sickly child, poor in school, small in size, his
essential joy being in the coax-home dogs he eventually would bury in the
grassless backyards of his other side-of-the-tracks homes. For the dogs all died
of distemper, or scratched themselves to death from the mange or got hit by
cars. Bill would pester his mother till she'd make the dogs hot gravy spread
over days-old bread and he would crawl under the front porch to nurse the dogs
to their inevitable end.
Never successful at anything as a boy, young Bill
failed school repeatedly and maintained a running skirmish with his stern and
overworked father. Then at 15, the boy left home, become a soda jerk, then a
drug store assistant manager. But at 18 he enlisted in the Marines. By now his
frail body had been labored into shape and his attitude changed to stand and
fight. The Marines put him on their boxing and wrestling teams at 147
Then came Korea and Bill served there a year, coming home to
muster out and start college on the GI Bill. For he had not known he was bright.
All through school he'd been told he was dumb, but the IQ tests given in the
service said he rated around 168. This was soon borne out. He got his bachelor's
degree in two and a half years and accepted a scholarship to the University of
Oregon for a master's in journalism.
Finishing his master with honors, Bill was soon offered a
scholarship for a PhD in journalism at Michigan State University. He went there
and had finished all the course work, plus passed both foreign languages, when
his father committed suicide. During Bill's absence from home, his dad had
started a small electric machinery repair firm. Bill reluctantly headed home to
salvage this bankrupt business. He wanted the community to remember how his
father lived: not how he died.
In four years Bill had the largest business of
it's kind in the state. He also started manufacturing electrical equipment. Then
he ran for city commissioner of Wichita and was the youngest man ever elected.
Later he became mayor. There was talk he would be the next governor. The
governor of Kansas appointed Bill to the board of trustees at Wichita State.
Bill felt his dad could now rest in peace.
But not himself. He cared nothing
for the money, the prestige and the clout. He kept thinking of the dog and
underdog, man or canine. So he left the city, walked out of his industry and
begain to write. He wrote for five years with nothing but rejections. Then Jack
Samson, then editor at Field & Stream, discovered him and asked that he
become gun dog editor of his magazine. At that time, Bill had 28 dogs in his
backyard and had campaigned retrievers all the way to the National
But also in his kennels was a mongrel - the coax-home dogs of
his childhood. He loved them equally, if not more.
This is what he wrote
about, beginning with Field & Stream in 1973. Since then, Bill has won 14
national writing awards, including the first person ever named Write of the Year
by the Dog Writers Association of America, and the only dog writer to ever win
the prestigious Deep-woodsman of the Year award, for the best outdoor story of
the year in all media, given by the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
now feels he has come to the end of his check cord. The projects he wanted to
see created are all in place. There are no more awards to win. Only his love for
the dog keeps him at the typewriter.
There at the typewriter his work is
voluminous. He answers some 300 letters a year from puzzled dog trainers. He has
written three dog books. More than 140 dog columns have been produced in 10
years. There's hardly a major dog magazine in the English-speaking world that's
not covered his copy. He is the only journalist ever invited by a British
monarch to write a story about the royal kennels. He has filed copy from 33
But you won't find him at the banquets. Nor place a crowd assembles.
Instead, he's out on a mountain someplace with his strong of dogs to front. He
wants nothing more and will accept nothing less.
Bill may be the only dog
writer in America who belongs to the National Professional Journalism Society.
His professional ethics will not allow him to participate in anything he must
He lives on a hardrock mountain in Phoenix, Arizona, with
his beloved wife Dee and a houseful of mutts, having moved to the Valley of the
Sun to help the arthritis that hobbles his walk and sometimes welds his hands
shut so he can't type for weeks.
Not a convenience Christian, but a commitment
Christian, Bill tells all he meets the story of Jesus. How Jesus said to the
woman who asked him to help her daughter, (Ml. 7:26) "Let the children
first be filled: far it is not proper to take the children's bread, and to cast
it unto the dogs." But the woman answered, "Yes Lord, yet the dogs
under the table eat of the children's crumbs." And Jesus thought at this
for a moment then said, "For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out
of thy daughter."
And it was because of a dog, Bill likes to point out,
Christianity was first given to a Gentile.
Then he likes to tell you,
and does so in his books, "The American Indians told their white-eyed
conquerors, 'God made the earth, the sky and water, moon and sun. He made man
and bird and beast. But He didn't make the dog. He already had one."
dog has always had its friends and spokesmen. Among them, history will have to
list Bill Tarrant.
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