Last year’s deer season ended on December 8 in New York’s Catskill Mountains. It was a good year for members of our hunting camp, dubbed the “Over the Hill Gang,” as one must literally take a logging road over a large hill before descending to our tar-paper cabin, hard by the banks of the Neversink River. Some good bucks were taken, with one of us even taking a 186-pound black bear, the first one ever by a member of our 11-man club.
As in past years, our senior member, Jerry Kenney, long-time columnist for the New York Daily News, recorded the events of the day and e-mailed his column to the paper. Two days later, the article about opening day would appear — featuring all the successes and failures of members in our camp. Jerry usually drove over to the Big Bucks or Eden Falls clubs and got reports from those camps, as well. Hunting news from some of his many sources around the state also would be in that column — and the columns that followed, throughout the season.
Once deer season was over, Jerry moved on to skiing reports, one of his other passions, which took him straight through to the first reports of stripers running in the Hudson and off Montauk in early spring. Fishing, mostly salt water, dominated his twice-weekly columns until hunting work camps and then deer season rolled around in the fall.
To those of us who knew him, Jerry Kenney was always the consummate professional. Whether fishing for cod off Block Island, sharks off the New Jersey coast, trout in the Neversink or Beaverkill or deer hunting in his beloved Catskills, Jerry always had his notebook handy, was always ready to drop what he was doing and start taking notes. His columns showed it, with useful facts and figures that helped his thousands of devout readers pursue their own hunting and fishing. Unlike many columnists, Jerry always included the human element in his stories. One column might detail how the 17-year-old son of one of our members made out in his first year at deer camp; another might include how a certain editor of the Lyons Press shot a buck at dark and took three hours getting back to camp with a member’s 14-year-old son in tow; yet another column might touch on how a hunter from a nearby camp finally got a buck after 15 years; still another column might scrutinize the battles that our landowner, Ben Wechsler, was constantly having with the state of New York to keep his land from being taken for “the public good.”
Jerry had a life to be admired. Before joining the Daily News, he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and helped run a Landing Ship Tank, ferrying GIs from transport ships in the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy. After the war, he settled down in Jersey City, N.J., where he had easy access, not only to the Daily News’ editorial offices in Manhattan, but to the head boats plying out of Sheepshead Bay each day to the streams and woods of the nearby Catskills.
His favorite fish? The striped bass, hands down, although most saltwater fish intrigued him, from bluefin tuna to bluefish to cod and fluke. Over the years, Jerry owned six boats, all named St. Patrick. Between 1972 and 1983 he fished commercially, running some 120 six-passenger charters per year. Kevin, his son, was the mate; Jerry was the captain. They fished for whatever was running at the time — striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, fluke, flounders, sharks, tuna, marlin — with most of those trips originating in Seabright or Belmar, N.J.
I spoke with Kevin recently. Following in the family’s seafaring tradition, Kevin has moved from mate of his father’s 48-foot charter to captain of a container ship that plies the oceans. Kevin usually makes it home for deer camp and the mandatory work weekends before the opener.
When I asked Kevin if he could possibly summarize his father’s philosophy on fishing, he remembered a quote from one of Jerry’s columns: “Lots of little fish just make you tired, but one big fish gives you cause to celebrate and provides stories for a lifetime.”
Stories for a lifetime — good memories — for most of us, that’s what the outdoors is all about, isn’t it?
Hunting was a passion equal to fishing. I hunted with Jerry for more than 20 years, and I knew him to be a dedicated, passionate hunter, up and out the door well before dawn, sometimes back for lunch, but always in the woods until dark. He was a good still-hunter, moving slowly, deliberately, scanning each piece of terrain before moving another step.
His attitude was that the woods always could bring you surprises, always could bring new and different sights each day. Getting a deer is a bonus, a reward for all your patience, all the dues you have paid going day after day without getting a shot. But, as with fishing, the score didn’t really matter; what mattered was a good day afield then hiking back to camp at the end of the day, the smell of wood smoke wafting through the frigid night air, knowing that your buddies are there waiting, talking over the day’s events, planning for the next day.
Jerry Kenney wrote of these experiences and more. He lived the quintessential life of the outdoor writer, a life we all want to live.
An OWAA member for more than 25 years, Jay Cassell is senior editor at the Lyons Press, contributing editor of Outdoor Life and host of “Woods n’ Water” TV series. He lives in Katonah, N.Y.