Of down-to-earth, celebrity and fame: The lessons of the late Mel Johnson

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Mel Johnson, who arrowed the world-record typical whitetail buck taken by a bowhunter on Oct. 29, 1965, at a show appearance a couple years ago.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Mel Johnson held one of the most remarkable records in the outdoors world. I should say still holds instead of held.

Mr. Johnson, 84, died May 24.

But even with his passing, Mr. Johnson still holds the record for his “Beanfield Buck.” As he had for more than half a century.

On Oct. 29, 1965, he arrowed a symmetrical 13-point buck, which was formally scored at 204 4/8 inches, in a Peoria County beanfield.

As Bowhunter editor Curt Wells put in a bowhunter.com remembrance of Johnson, “RIP Mel! He once told me someone called every year and asked him how it felt to have his record broken. He said, `I tell them to call me back it is panel-scored and they never call.’ Great guy.”

I was one the guys who called or spoke with Mr. Johnson regularly. It was not every year, but often enough. Every time it looked like a typical buck might be close to challenging his “Beanfield Buck,” I called.

He would basically say some version of let’s wait and see how the panel scoring goes with Pope and Young. And he would be right.

Year after year, the record stood.

But Mr. Johnson was also astute enough of an outdoorsman to know that records in the outdoors fall eventually.

Virtually no record in the outdoors is as inapproachable as the 56-game hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio. Though I am beginning to think that Johnson’s buck holds that same esteemed place in the outdoors world as nearly unapproachable.

But that brings to me fame and celebrity.

If Mr. Johnson arrowed his buck today, he would be much more impacted by fame and celebrity. He was an erect broad-shouldered man, even in his later years, as befits a veteran.

But I am not sure that fame would have morphed into being a celebrity in any era with Mr. Johnson.

I bumped into him once in awhile, but the reason I would know is that somebody at an event would tell me, “Hey, Mel Johnson is in such and such a booth.”

I would stop by and chat briefly with him. Like normal human beings.

He was that down-to-earth.

I found it refreshing, especially since he was truly worthy of fame. He held the one world record in the outdoors that has stood more than half a century. He earned the fame of his world record, yet never sought celebrity status.

Especially in the fishing world, I sometimes find the modern cult of celebrity off-putting. A few carry themselves as though they fished with Saint Peter on the Sea of Galilee under the coaching of Jesus.

Mr. Johnson carried himself as somebody fortunate enough to arrow a world-record buck in a beanfield with a recurve bow.

Click here for an obituary.

A reproduction of Mel Johnsons buck at a Bass Pro Shop.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

A reproduction of Mel Johnsons buck at a Bass Pro Shop.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

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