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by Steve McCadams

Before deer herds roamed and turkey gobbled along the banks of Kentucky Lake there was Elmore Price. The year was 1947, not long after the war to end all wars. That's when a tall, lean country boy from Benton County started watching out for wildlife. 

 After a career spanning 35 years he still likes to share the woods with the critters. In fact, they seem to watch out for each other. At the age of 83, he's still in command of a razor sharp memory. In the shade of towering oaks and scaly bark hickories along the banks of the Big Sandy, I was the beneficiary of interesting stories of yesteryear. After all, there were a lot of fond memories to choose from.

 "I remember when Edgebert Freeman killed the first deer ever taken around here back in 1951," recalled Price, who started working for the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission before any real programs were in place. "I stocked the first turkeys on the old 23rd district back in '58." In those days he wore many hats, ranging from wildlife biologist to game warden. The job meant long hours, hard work and the pay wasn't exactly at the top of the financial ladder. Yet his rewards have been many as he saw the fruits of his labor come to bare when habitat improved
and wildlife resources responded.

 "Deer were never stocked in Benton or Henry County. They just migrated from the old Kentucky Woodlands, which is now Land Between the Lakes. The river counties had a few deer and they would swim the river to the other side. We had to protect them, however, and began management programs," he said. 

"I remember folks talking about the first one they ever saw around here. It was so rare in those days." In the early days, Price was labeled as the "Father of Tennessee's Deer Herd", a title that brings a grin when mentioned.

 "I knew every judge and every violator in the area. I had some good people working with me and we really believed in what we were doing. Enforcement was part of it but I never feared for my life. I wasn't afraid of anything back then," he said, sporting a sheepish grin. "Heck, I was 6 foot, 4 inches tall!"

 "When I'd catch someone breaking the law I would often sit them down on a log and explain why we had game laws to protect the animals. Instead of making an enemy I often made a friend for wildlife. Some of the law enforcement people might not have liked how I did things."

And, the ducks and geese were another passion. Price recalled erecting the first wood duck boxes along the islands of Kentucky Lake and having barges that carried tractors to the islands of Danville and Harmons Creek where buckwheat was planted for wintering waterfowl.

"I knew when the lake levels were right to get the equipment in and out of those places. We'd get a crew in there and get the job done. Sometimes it took long hours but we had to seize the moment when it was dry enough to work. We created habitat and the waterfowl really liked it too. Those islands would be covered up with birds."

When asked about special times or unusual situations Price paid tribute to the men who worked for him and those he worked for. Some good years and cooperation from former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge manager V.L. Childs and former boss Wilbur Vaughn stand out. They were two fine men who knew how to use common sense and get along with the public. They supported me and let me do my job."

 Price was in charge of most of the west Tennessee area when it came to managing state areas for fish and wildlife. "Reelfoot Lake was a most unusual place and folks down there thought the lake belonged to them. They even had duck blinds deeded in their will so their next generation would inherit it. But the lake belonged to the people of Tennessee and not just a few individuals."

"We had houses that were on state property but the folks there thought they had squatters rights. We had to pay 'em to get them out, even though they were on state land but we finally got 'em moved." He was there when the first duck blinds were drawn in Camden bottoms and remembers banding ducks in the Elkhorn area of the Big Sandy refuge unit. 

 "I'm disappointed when I see some of the areas we cleared and managed for waterfowl nowadays," said Price, reminiscing on the days when he and his staff lost a lot of sweat establishing some of the wildlife management units. "I look at New Hope, Lick Creek and the river islands and remember when ducks and geese really used them. Now, years of neglect has allowed them to grow up in trees and bushes."

"We had a place for the "dickey birds" back then too as they benefited from the work we did," continued Price. "Now it seems like you have to let a place grow up and loose the use of one type of wildlife so that another can use it. It doesn't make sense and doesn't seem to help the sportsmen."

 Deep in the rural ridges of Benton County is where Elmore and wife Vera have spent their golden years. After retiring back in 1982, he settled back among the tall timber with a distant view of Kentucky Lake. After traveling down many winding dirt and gravel roads, he likes the peace and tranquility of an area where his sons Jerry, Jim and Joe now share nearby homes. Daughter Nancy lives in Paris.

Indian rocks found in the old days cannot be distinguished from some that son Joe now creates from Dover flint. He keeps a few to show visitors like me who cannot tell the difference.

A box full of  faded photographs and articles from major newspapers and magazines printed in another era help trace a story of how he help build a wildlife agency. Many of the success stories modern day sportsmen enjoy and take for granted can be attributed to the efforts of this man whose family moved from Springville to the old 23rd in the year 1922.
It was a long way from the backroads of Tennessee to California where he first met Vera. Still a man of statue, Price was indeed a tall man in the old days and basketball came calling. He played college ball at Freed Hardeman and the coach from Pepperdine University saw his team play and offered the whole bunch a scholarship. That's how he got to California but his roots in Tennessee pulled him back where bobwhite  quail whistled a southern solo.

His first job was with a new agency still in its infancy called Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). From there he moved to Tennessee Game and Fish Commission. The agency changed its name to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in 1974.

 There's been a lot of changes in the career of Elmore Price but one thing that hasn't changed is his love and appreciation for the great outdoors.

As our meeting draws to a close it seemed a fitting tribute when, from the spring feed creek behind his home, meanders a spotted fawn who cannot be but a few weeks old. With ears cocked it maneuvered toward Vera's flowers and shrubs adjacent to the concrete patio in plain view of the sliding glass door and table where we are seated.

  I couldn't help but wonder if this deer descended from one that Elmore Price help protect and manage several generations ago. Perhaps it was there to say thanks and remind him that his many years of wildlife management were not in vain. Maybe the fawn was there to help keep an eye on a man that carved out a reputation long ago of helping critters that couldn't help themselves. Together they shared the land and resources where all things have their time and place in God's garden. 

The fawn watched me as I slipped silently to the truck and made my exit from the Price Plantation, taking with me almost a century of this man's life in a spiral notebook.

After several pages of notes and stories committed to memory, I realized I could never find the words to do this story justice. I faced the impossible task of trying to say what a spotted brown fawn had said without uttering a word. A place where squirrels bark, snakes rattle, geese honk and whippoorwills speak the language that few understand is where you'll find Elmore Price. 

A man at peace with himself and who is among the chosen few who seem to understand quite clearly what the creatures are saying.  Rightfully so. He's been speaking their lingo for a long time.


The information above is compiled by outdoor writer
Steve McCadams

    Steve is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris
Landing area and host of the The Outdoor Channel's television series