The first thing John Roy Brackett will tell you if you’re lucky enough to meet him in person is how very blessed he considers himself to be after having spent the lion’s share of his 91 years pursuing his outdoor passions.
“I’ve had a good life,” John Roy will tell you. “Hunting and fishing was everything to me. I am truly a blessed man to have done all the things I’ve been able to do.”
Even though that annoying little distraction called “work” occasionally got in the way of his obsession for being in the woods, there is little in the way of hunting and fishing activity in the high country of northwest Georgia that he has not mastered over the past nine decades.
What’s more, after having spent the last 50 years plying his trade in the Cohutta WMA and surrounding mountains, few men alive today can claim the number of days and hours he has devoted to his life’s passion in this part of Georgia.
Whether it was fishing for rainbows with a fly rod and a grasshopper, fishing for red-eye bass and other species with worms, grouse hunting, turkey hunting, deer hunting or killing an occasional hog, John Roy has done it all in his beloved Cohutta Mountains. He’s been lost in the fog, he’s sloshed through sleet and snow, and he’s been so cold at times that he didn’t know if he’d make it back to camp. He’s seen more than his share of splendid sunrises and crystal clear rivers. He’s killed a rattlesnake or two, and he’s spent many a memorable evening staring into the flames of a mesmerizing campfire.
Born on Jan. 21, 1925 in Old Fort, Tennessee, not far from the Georgia line, John Roy was the youngest of four brothers. Even in those pre-Depression years of the 1920s, times were tough in many parts of the South.
“There weren’t a lot of jobs around in those days, but my father worked mostly in the sawmill business,” John Roy says. “We also farmed and share-cropped. We owned one mule and mainly farmed for cotton.”
The Brackett boys hunted small game with considerable enthusiasm. Hunting was not only a fun-filled diversion from farm work, it was a necessity because of the food that rabbits and squirrels provided. As the youngest, John Roy couldn’t wait to grow old enough to carry his own rifle in the woods.
“I pretty much started out hunting rabbits, and later graduated to squirrels,” John Roy said. “Deer were scarce in our area along the Tennessee-Georgia line when I was a boy, so, like most boys in my area, I cut my teeth hunting rabbits. Later I graduated to squirrels. I didn’t kill my first deer until I was around 20. There just weren’t any before that. We always hunted squirrels and rabbits with dogs, and we always owned a good squirrel dog or two.”
As a youngster, John Roy hunted with borrowed guns. When he turned 16, he aimed to get a rifle he could call his very own. Using the family mule, he planted a field of cotton and nurtured it along. He produced a single bale of cotton that sold for around $200. With his share of the profits, he purchased his first rifle, a Remington .22 single-shot, for which he paid the grand sum of $7.
“I still have that rifle,” John Roy says proudly. “I also had enough money left over to buy myself a bicycle. That was one of the smartest things I ever did. I was able to go all over the place with that old bicycle.
“In those days, we had what were known as ‘rolling store’ grocers,” John Roy remembers. “They’d come by our house in a big truck every so often and a family could get almost anything it needed from them in the way of groceries. But the thing I liked most was the fact that they’d buy fresh rabbits from us boys for $.15 apiece. I worked hard at keeping them supplied with rabbits.”
When the U.S. was forced to enter World War II in 1941, John Roy’s three older brothers dutifully joined the Army. As soon as he turned 18 in 1943, John Roy joined the Army Air Corps. Although his brothers served overseas, John Roy worked in a hospital in Salt Lake City. At war’s end, everyone managed to make it home in one piece.
“After the war, when I was 21, I decided I needed a better squirrel gun,” John Roy said. “I got a job working on the railroad in 1946. I saved my money and bought a brand-new Winchester Model 63 .22 auto-loader. It cost $70.10. That was a lot of money in those days to put down for a gun, but it was worth it. I killed a lot of squirrels with that rifle.”
John Roy still owns that rifle today, as well.
“I had an amazing squirrel dog named Blackie,” John Roy said. “He was part black and tan mix. He was the best dog I’ve ever seen when it came to outsmarting squirrels. My uncle, Henry Silvers, who’d been born back in the 1870s, gave him to me. Uncle Henry was very good to me. He also gave me two shotguns—an L.C. Smith .410 and an L.C. Smith 12-gauge. I remember one time making four trips to the woods with Blackie over a week-long period, and I brought home over 70 squirrels.
“In those days, my mother made a mean squirrel stew that we called ‘Loupy’ (sometimes spelled ‘Loupie’). Growing up, we ate it all the time, and it was so good you never got tired of it.”
Never On Sunday
John Roy married Florence Douthitt in 1956. The couple moved south into Georgia about 7 miles south of John Roy’s boyhood home. They built a house on some land that his new bride’s family owned near present-day Cisco, just off Highway 411. Prior to that time, John Roy had done most of his hunting in the mountains of southern Tennessee. He now realized that he had a huge range of Georgia mountain wilderness to explore that was almost in his backyard, and he took full advantage of this endless hunting and fishing paradise.
“I started making a few tracks in them old mountains with some close friends,” John Roy said. “We didn’t hunt deer in the area until the late 1960s and early ’70s. That’s when they first started having some open seasons. But we hunted everything else. I can honestly say that there’s probably not a man alive today who made as many tracks in them old mountains as I did—huntin’ and fishin.’ I chased everything that walked, ran, crawled, swam or flew.
“Florence never gave me a hard time about the long hours I spent in the woods. She knew how much it meant to me, and she always supported me in every way. She always helped me clean game when I got home, tired and dirty, and she was known for being one of the best wild-game cooks around. We never hunted on Sundays. My dad had been a part-time preacher, and he didn’t believe in hunting on the Sabbath, even in places where it was legal.
“Over the years, I reckon I’ve killed somewhere around 50 deer and 50 turkeys in the Cohutta area.”
Before deer hunting became a new passion in his adult life, John Roy gained a reputation for being a notoriously good shot with a shotgun for quail and grouse.
“We hunted mostly grouse in the mountains, but we occasionally got into some quail, as well,” John Roy remembers. “I learned to hunt grouse by listening for their drumming. You’d listen a while, then you’d go in that direction and get ’em. We seldom used dogs. We would just walk in, jump ’em up and shoot. The first time I ever heard a grouse drumming, Paul Douthitt, my wife’s third cousin, was with me.
I said, ‘What in the world is that noise?’ I had no idea what it was.
‘Why that’s a grouse a drummin’,’ Paul said.
I quickly learned to recognize that sound!”
Iconic Willys Jeeps
“Earl Green, another of my longtime hunting buddies, owned a ’42 Willys Jeep, (a surplus Army model). It had a few miles on it, and it got to where it didn’t always want to start. Being way back in the mountains somewhere, we didn’t want to have to walk home, and we’d always park it on a hill so that we could roll it off. We rolled that ol’ Jeep off both forward and backwards many a time. Once, when we didn’t have a hill to park on, we had to leave it on flat ground. And wouldn’t you know it, when we got back from a long day in the woods, it wouldn’t start. So we jacked up the rear end, gave the back wheels a spin, and got it started that way.”
Years later, in 1965, John Roy bought a Willys Jeep for himself—a 1964 model. He still owns the classic vehicle today. After 51 years of exploring mountain hollows few will ever see, his $1,700 investment still runs like a charm.
“Me and that ol’ Jeep—we been a lot of places in those mountains,” John Roy will tell you with a broad grin.
One of John Roy’s early hunting mentors in the Cohuttas was a well-known old-timer named Harle Edwards.
“Harle owned a cabin near Jack’s River Falls, and we often passed his place as we were headed into our hunting area near Beech Bottoms,” John Roy said. “Harle was sort of a living legend in hunting and fishing circles. He knew the area around there like the back of his hand. We’d often stop by to see him when we were going in to camp for a few days, and he gave me a lot of good advice about the best places to kill a deer or catch a fish.”
As mentioned, John Roy loved to use a fly rod for trout or anything else he could catch.
“We’d fish for rainbows, redeye bass and occasionally bluegills,” John Roy said. “I fished the streams and rivers by wading mostly, and if I spotted a good hole somewhere, I’d just drop that line in there and wait for the action to start. I often used grasshoppers and other insects for bait. Funny thing, as many hours as I spent wading in that ice-cold water, I never had any problems later on with arthritis like most people my age did. As a boy, I’d always heard that if you ate plenty of squirrel heads, you’d never get arthritis, and I reckon that’s why I don’t have it today. I have put away a few squirrel heads in my time!”
John Roy worked for Hardwick Stove Co. in Cleveland, Tennessee for nearly 20 years—from the early 1950s to the early 1970s.
“It wasn’t a bad place to work, but derned if they didn’t start making me work on Saturdays,” John Roy remembers. “That really got under my skin because that was my day to be in the woods.”
So what did John Roy do?
“I quit, that’s what I did,” he said. “By that time, I had gotten so agitated about having to work all those Saturdays that I decided to take a full year off and do nothing but hunt and fish in the Cohuttas to make up for lost time.”
John Roy’s extended outdoor vacation actually lasted about 18 months, with the full support of his wife. After that, he landed a job with the U.S. Forest Service.
“I spent most of my time out in the Cohuttas building trails,” he says. “That was good work. What more could a man who loved the outdoors ask for?”
John Roy spent 10 years with the Forest Service. He retired in 1984 at the age of 59. Needless to say, working for the Forest Service all those years greatly increased his knowledge of the rugged Cohutta Mountains and surrounding areas.
A True Cohutta Brute
By 1988, John Roy had taken his share of mounting-size bucks in the Cohutta Mountains. During one two-year period in the late ’60s, he killed two fine bucks on two consecutive Thanksgiving mornings, five minutes apart, in almost the same spot, near his Beech Bottoms camp.
On Friday, Nov. 19, 1988, opening day of the managed hunt in the Cohutta WMA, John Roy and his good friend Paul Higdon were hunting in a spot near Little Rough Creek and Tear Britches Creek…
“You wanna know how ‘Tear Britches’ got its name?’ John Roy asks. ‘Just try walking up the side of that ridge, and you’ll find out in a hurry! Them briars will tear your clothes right off you!’
They had parked, walked in and set up camp on a Thursday afternoon. Paul’s two sons planned to join them late Friday afternoon after work and hunt on Saturday.
John Roy headed out that morning toward one of the creeks and sat down on a log. A few minutes later, he heard something approaching from behind. He looked over his shoulder and saw a prime 5-point buck.
“I knew the buck had me spotted, and if I moved, he was going to run,” John Roy said. “But I had to give it a try. So I swung around and got off a shot just as he took off, but I missed. I started slowly working my way back toward camp. Later that morning, I went down into another little hollow and sat on another log. Suddenly I heard a commotion in the woods and saw this huge buck running straight toward me.”
Using a .35 Remington pump, John Roy quickly drew a bead and fired. This time he didn’t miss. The big buck went down in a laurel thicket. John Roy and Paul later wrestled the 150-lb. animal back up the ridge toward camp. That afternoon, when Paul’s sons, Steve and Allen, arrived in camp, they asked, “Y’all kill anything?”
“Just that little buck over there,” Paul answered, pointing toward the once-in-a-lifetime trophy.
“I never would have gotten the big buck if I hadn’t missed the little one,” John Roy said. “It was pure luck!”
John Roy and Paul were treated like celebrities at the check station. One hunter, reportedly a preacher, asked if he could take some pictures posed with the outlandish trophy. Later, the preacher showed the photos to some of his friends and allowed them to think that he had killed the buck. Everyone got a big laugh after the preacher confessed to his prank. Of all the deer killed on managed hunts in the Cohutta WMA during the 1988 season, John Roy’s mountain brute was the largest by far. Having a wide-spreading, main-frame 5×5 rack with several stickers, the big whitetail grossed in the low 160s. It netted 147 inches.
In 1991, John Roy was out deer hunting about a mile from his house when he suffered a heart attack.
“I knew what it was immediately, so I lay down on the ground until I felt better. After I made it home, I was rushed to the hospital in Cleveland, Tennessee.”
A short while later John Roy was transferred to Chattanooga where he underwent a bypass operation. He made a full recovery. Today, some 25 years later, he is as healthy as a young buck.
John Roy continued his hunting and fishing pursuits until around 2010 at age 85. His beloved wife began having some serious health issues, and he wanted to stay home to take care of her. Florence passed away in 2012.
“I’ve had a good life,” John Roy reiterates. “I can’t complain. I’ve been blessed with a great family and some great in-laws, and I’ve been able to do so many things that were important to me.”
John Roy’s dad lived to be 97. John Roy hopes he’ll be able to reach that milestone, maybe even surpass it. When he does, I hope I’m invited to his 100th birthday celebration!
Meet Mr. Brackett
The Cohutta community is hosting a chance to say hello to John Roy Brackett, and he will be signing a limited number of GON magazines in recognition of this article. The event is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, Nov. 13, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Cisco Baptist Church Fellowship Hall.
Cohutta WMA History
Cohutta WMA has a colorful but checkered history. After the success of the four earlier WMAs that had been established farther east in 1936 (including Georgia’s first wildlife management area, Blue Ridge WMA, along with Chattahoochee WMA, Chestatee WMA and Lake Burton WMA), Cohutta WMA was established in 1937. It currently contains 95,000 acres.
Some deer were probably present at that time the WMA was created, but most whitetails had been killed out in the mountain counties by the late 1800s. In 1938, the first stocked deer were brought to the Cohutta WMA from the Pisgah Game Reserve in North Carolina, a total of 11. A few more deer were stocked in the area during the following years. An area manager was assigned to protect the deer and try to enforce hunting and fishing laws pertaining to other species. No open season for deer existed anywhere in the mountain region at that time.
From the get-go, little public support existed for the Cohutta WMA. According to state officials, “The local people hunted year-round and allowed their dogs to roam and hunt in the management area until 1960.” As a result, the deer herd never expanded. In June 1960, the Game and Fish Commission abandoned the Cohutta Area “due to the lack of cooperation from local people, courts, judges, juries and the indiscriminate use of dogs for taking deer by hunters.”
Several years later, the citizens of the area petitioned the commission to re-open the management area. They promised that all regulations and laws would be obeyed. The Cohutta WMA was reopened in 1968. From 1968 through the early ’70s, just over 100 deer were stocked in the area. True to their word, most of the local residents supported the state’s efforts. Today, because of its fabulous scenery, not to mention the incredible hunting and fishing opportunities, the area is one of Georgia’s most highly esteemed WMAs. In 1975, 37,000 acres of the WMA was declared a Wilderness Area because of its rugged location (approximately 1,709 acres spills over into Tennessee and is part of the Cherokee National Forest).