Larry Benoit: The whitetail king

Larry Benoit: The whitetail king

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There’s a lot to be said about heroes. Not so much the fictional, comic-book kind, but the real-life men and women whose actions and lives influence us and shape us into who we will become. I remember perfectly one cold November day back in Vermont. I was eight years old and a friend’s father took me outside to his garage and opened the door so I could see the buck hanging there. It was a giant 10-point, dead yet somehow still regal, honored in death as the family’s winter meat. I remember that day so well because it was the day I knew that I wanted to become a hunter. That proved to be a more difficult undertaking than I could have imagined. No one in my family really hunted, and though I had some early success based on luck, I quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing and found myself on my own in the hunting world. That is, until my mother gave me a book titled, “How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life” by Larry Benoit. Then, everything changed. Through the book’s pages I discovered not only a method of deer hunting, but a philosophy of the sport. What was more, I discovered someone I could emulate and follow. Larry Benoit became my hero.

I am not alone in my admiration. Since the 1970s, Larry Benoit—along with his sons, Larry, Lani, Lane, and Shane—have been reshaping deer hunting as it was popularly known. In a world where big buck hunting is so influenced by TV shows and magazines with content based on instant gratification, where tree stands and ground blinds are set up over open meadows and deer feeders, the Benoit methods of tracking and still-hunting make for a stark and refreshing contrast. Their success at harvesting giant whitetail bucks in areas around Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, where there simply aren’t many deer, was unprecedented. Local people would flock to the Benoit home outside of Waterbury, Vermont just to see the plethora of giant bucks hanging from the front porch. The Benoits’ accomplishments in the whitetail world spread and soon took them from local legends to minor—albeit reluctant—celebrities within the hunting world. Soon there were seminars, magazine articles, books, and films made about the Benoits and their hunting success and methods, creating a small empire that stands as one of the last bastions of hunting as an art form. It is known as “The Benoit Way,” and it all began with Larry.

Lanyard “Larry” Benoit was born in East Berkshire, Vermont, in 1924. Though his father worked as a blacksmith and managed a modest living, Larry’s parents had him in the midst of the Great Depression, when food was scarce and hunting was a necessity. So, once he was old enough, Larry was quickly instructed in the art of hunting, and more specifically tracking—a hunting method that enables the hunter to specifically target larger bucks. These deer provided more meat for the family. Under his father’s tutelage, using skills passed down in the family through generations, Larry’s tracking abilities grew. Soon he was the best hunter in the family, rarely if ever failing to come out of the woods without a big buck in tow. When he was 15, Larry Benoit joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built roads and shelters for families without means. Larry hunted for them, providing meat for other workers and for families in need. It was during this time that other hunters began to take notice of Larry. Soon the young man was being asked to take others out hunting, and to teach them what he knew. It was the start of a path that would shape young Larry Benoit, transforming him into one of the most celebrated deer hunters in the history of the sport.

In 1970, when Larry Benoit was in his late forties, he was featured on the cover of the magazine Sports Afield, with the headline “Larry Benoit—Is He The Best Deer Hunter In America?” By that point Benoit was already fairly well known in the northeast, where he gave seminars on deer hunting and acted part time as a guide, but the article propelled Larry into countrywide fame. Hunters became interested in his methods and his philosophy of hunting. At a time when most hunters sat and waited in cornfields for deer to come along, the idea of going into the forest after them was radical, and it proved something many wanted to try. Larry Benoit was always baffled by this, since, to him, deer hunting was synonymous with tracking and still-hunting. Yet he bore the questions and visits from curious hunters with a smile, realizing that others simply wanted to learn. So, in 1975, with the help of his friend Peter Miller, Larry Benoit co-authored and published the groundbreaking deer tracking book, “How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life.” The book sparked a nationwide interest in the art of tracking and continues to influence and inspire hunters to this day.

The hunting methods that Larry and the other Benoits taught are old ones remaining from the days when going hunting didn’t require trail cameras and a dozen tree stands to achieve success. Still, the Benoits’ style of tracking is a testament to the art of woodsmanship. An understanding of the wilderness and the animals within it. It is a method of patience and determination, where the hunter may spend all day on a buck’s trail, following it for 15 or 20 miles unsuccessfully, yet having the fortitude to get up the next day and do it again. “The Benoit Way,” is an art form of understanding tracks. Of learning and hearing what the buck in front of you is telling you and being able to respond accordingly. Big buck tracking is a primal and challenging method of hunting, but one that Larry Benoit helped bring back into the limelight. And with more than 200 trophy-sized whitetail bucks to his name, it is a method that Larry proved can be incredibly successful.

Larry Benoit passed away in 2013 at the age of 89 in his home in Duxbury, Vermont. The entire hunting world mourned. With a hunting career that spanned almost 80 years, Larry Benoit shaped himself into perhaps the greatest deer hunter of his entire generation. And for 40 of those years he shared and taught what he knew to other hunters, sparking a revival in the art of tracking. Together with his sons, Larry Benoit showed us that deer hunting was about so much more than just killing deer, and that the whitetail world stretched so far beyond big antlers and bragging rights. Larry Benoit showed us how to respect and honor the whitetail and in doing so etched his name into hunting history.

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