Remembering “Hairy” Zumbo

Peanut butter and Spam finger sandwiches for appetizers

Legendary outdoor writer/tv show host, Jim Zumbo, had recently “experienced” open heart surgery.  He had recovered sufficiently where his doctor “released him” and allowed him to travel to southern Texas.  Prior to my old friend’s arrival in San Antonio, he had sent me a message, “Got a full beard, you may not recognize me!  Not going to shave until after the hunt with you and Rick.” 

When he arrived, Jim indeed was a bit hairier than the last time I had seen him, months earlier In spite of a life-threatening ordeal.  And, he looked amazingly fit.  Our mutual friend Rick Lambert agreed. “Zumbie, you sure you had heart surgery, looks more like you had “face replacement”?   You trying to look like Weishuhn?”

“Heavens No!” came Zumbo’s quick response, “Just decided not to shave….. Color is sort of similar though!”

We had just stowed our gear in the camp on the Thumbtack Ranch near Batesville when Tom and Mike Snyder, our hosts and honchos in Trinity Oaks, the charitable organization Jim, Rick and I all serve as spokepersons for questioned, “What do you guys want to have for supper?”

Before either “Hairy” Zumbo or I could respond, Rick did, “Spam and peanut butter sandwiches!  One of my favorites!”  We all looked questioningly at him!  “Hey, it was one of the few things we could afford back when Miranda was a little girl!”  He hesitated then continued, “I’ll bet it’s still a favorite of hers even to this day..”  All those listening rolled our eyes…

Says Tom, “In your honor we’ll prepare some peanut butter and Spam finger sandwiches for appetizers.   Rick you’re in charge of making those.”  He continued, “Zumbo, Larry, Mike, ya’ll be in charge of the shrimp, and I’ll take care of preparing the steaks.” 

As a youngster I had occasionally eaten Spam,.  Said I to Rick, “It’s not that I do not like Spam… there are just simply many other things I like better, like boiled shrimp and rib-eye steaks!”

“Mmmmm!” he replied.

“We going hunting this afternoon?” questioned “Hairy” Zumbo.

“Grab your shotgun.  I’ll drop you off a little way from the Leona.  Heard several gobblers there this morning before y’all came in.” said Mike.   “We’ll take care of the shrimp after we get back.  Larry, you and Rick get your gear as well.  I’ll drop you off, then pick you up at dark.” 

Texas allows the use of rifles in South Texas during spring turkey season.  I had brought two Ruger Number 1s. One was chambered in .270 Winchester and the other in .450-400 NE 3”.  Hunting turkeys, I intended to use the latter loaded with Hornady’s 400-grain DGS, solids.  My intentions were to call a gobbler into within less than 40 yards before squeezing the trigger, no different than if I would be shooting my Ruger Red Label 20-gauge shotgun. 

The property we were hunting, which is used much by Trinity Oaks for wounded warrior hunts, and youngsters hunting, particularly those who are experiencing debilitating illnesses, holds native whitetail deer, exotic species such as Axis deer, blackbuck, and wild hogs.  With the .450-400 NE 3” I would have “an appropriate rifle” in case I ran into wild hogs or an Axis doe.  Should such happen I intended to switch to Hornady’s 400 grain DGX (expandable) loads.

That afternoon I hunted on the backside of a stock tank about a half mile or so from the river bottom.  I did see two gobblers.  One was a real ground-dragger.  But he was unimpressed with my calling. Both were following eleven hens.  I got within about 75 yards of the gobblers, but had decided earlier, unless I could call a gobbler to within 40 yards or less I was not going to shoot.  The only wild hog I saw was a huge spotted boar as he ran across a narrow sendero.

Both Rick and “Hairy” Zumbo had the same luck as did I.  Zumbo worked three different gobblers that came to within about thirty yards of him, but, thick thorn brush and cactus prevented a clear shot.   Rick had seen a gobbler following hens and could not entice him to within shotgun range. He also saw a couple of Axis does and some hogs, but not within range of his Hornady Turkey loads. Said he that night, “I should have taken the .416 Ruger I’m taking to Africa this summer to hunt Cape buffalo.”  Before I could say anything thing, “I know, Larry, you told me to take that big bore for just such an opportunity.”

Embers trailed skyward as we sat satiated with food and drink around a mesquite fire.  Rick had just finished playing his guitar and singing his daughter’s “The House that Built Me” when he turned to Zumbo, “Ate a bunch of those peanut butter and Spam sandwiches when we live in that house…So tell me what did y’all think?”

“How about them Cowboys!” questioned Mike Snyder!


We were up well before first light.  Jim headed to the rolling hills on the east side of the ranch, Rick took the center and I went to the river pasture.


When we gathered for lunch, Jim told of spending the morning working several gobblers, but again those that got within less than forty yards were behind a wall of thorn bush.  Rick had a gobbler headed his way, but was cut off by a hen. 

I had taken my box call, one Jerry Martin had given me during my days with Bass Pro’s RedHead Pro Hunting Team and my Convergent Hunting Solution’s Bullet HP along with my Ruger Number 1 RSI in .270 Win shooting Hornady’s 130-grain American Whitetail.

As gray light turned “seeable” I switched on my Bullet HP.  A couple of minutes into the sequence, jack rabbit in distress, a big bobcat stepped out of the brush and came my way.  He stopped less than five yards from the call, inquisitively watching the “wiggler” on top of the call.  Unlike others I had seen in the past in the immediate area, this cat was a gray drab.  He twitched his stubby tail then walked around the call.  At one point I thought he might pounce on it.  But he did not.  I let him walk away.  Had his pelt had big rosettes I would have shot.  But I decided not to. 

About nine I called in and shot a coyote suffering horribly from mange.

At ten, I switched to my box call.  I hoped the gobblers had made their rounds, and were again on the prowl.  I have called in more mature gobbler starting mid-morning than I have at first light!  Ten minutes later, I called in eight jakes.

That afternoon, I trailed Zumbo hunting on a nearby ranch and called in five gobblers, three long-beards.  Our agreement with the rancher was only Jim could take a gobbler.  I am proud to say he did in an honorable and fun manner.

Today, Zumbo’s beard is gone.   He is totally recuperated from heart surgery and is back running the roads, hunting and fishing.

Jim, Rick and I had planned to be in South Texas near Easter.  Unfortunately, after several phone calls we postponed our spring get together, but are scheduled to hunt Axis deer and wild hogs in June.  

“Hey Zumbo, ya gonna grow a beard again?”

North American Hunter Top Stories