Being the gracious host he is, Mr. John Blackburn immediately offered me a drink upon my entrance from the rain, into the great hall of his family’s historic ranch home. “Bourbon on the rocks con agua, por favor.” The room was a homage to the life of the avid hunting sportsman. Stuffed quail, pheasant, duck and dove are mounted mid-flight. A black bear stands in the corner, frozen in attack mode, claws and teeth exposed. To the far side of the room, an imposing metal door to the gun safe lies open, in anticipation of this evening’s shoot.
My visit was an occasion to meet a true South Texas gentleman and friend of John’s - Mr. Matt Grayson. Matt isn’t a born and bred Texan, but one could say it was in his blood. Naturally drawn to the topography and lifestyle of South Texas, Matt’s family heritage coincidentally descends from several of the original settling families of Texas. Accomplished in his own right in the world of finance and investments, the South Texas lifestyle serves as an escape for Matt. It’s a slower-paced world that values friendship and a higher quality of life steeped in tradition and class. Leisure is also an important aspect of the South Texas lifestyle. Leisure is the basis of culture; it signifies a higher standard of civilization and progress that affords man the time to participate in activities that exist beyond our basic needs of life sustenance. South Texas is certainly a distinct and remarkable culture that fully embraces the value of leisure.
For rancher gentlemen like Matt and John, that leisurely lifestyle is marked by pursuits such as hunting, world travel (sometimes simultaneously), art, society, literature, and of course developing a refined palate for whiskies and other libations. In the course of our conversation, I learned the nuances that link that lifestyle of leisure with the distinct culture of the South Texas gentleman. For example, an affinity for speaking in Spanish harks back to the tradition of upper classes holding fast to their European heritage. We move into the library with our drinks. Matt and John describe how the life of the gentleman doesn’t just participate in hunting sports, but admires its aesthetics away from the field as well. We discuss the revered sporting artist, Percival Leonard Rosseau, and we admire the Rosseau original that has been in John’s family for generations. Rosseau’s impressionist style romanticizes the hunting experience with hazy woodland scenery, and highlights the special beauty that is a sportsman’s loyal partner - the sporting dog.
Conversation soon turns to hunting, or as the gentlemen corrected me - they consider themselves more sportsmen than hunters. Being a sportsman implies a sense of class and conservatorship, cultivating the land to encourage a healthy game population. Conservation of the natural habitat is a way of giving back to nature in gratitude, and ensuring an environment that fosters bountiful wildlife for its own sake and for future hunts. The outdoorsman also enjoys nature for the occasional moments of self-reflection, the comradeship shared with friends, and self-competition. It’s not about shooting as many birds as possible, it’s about perfecting your form, your aim, and enjoying the total experience.
During the course of this conversation, we’ve finished our whiskey and the dogs are getting restless. Rebel, an English Cocker Spaniel, climbs onto the couch and insists on attention from Matt. Fergus, a German Wirehair Pointer, stands by, content enough to be in the presence of his beloved master, John. Both John and Matt’s canine companions had graced our presence throughout the evening, asking for the occasional head scratch. Every traditional hunter has one sporting dog who transcends their role as retriever, flusher, or pointer, and becomes the gentleman’s best friend. The connection between Rebel and Matt was clear. John’s pointer, Fergus, is a little more stoic which befits his ‘wise old-man’ appearance. It’s uncommon to find a human-friend so attentive, responsive, loyal, trusting, and loving as a good dog. This connection between man and dog serves a vital role in fulfilling the gentleman’s social circle.
We hardly noticed, but the storm passed while we were entrenched deeply in conversation. The sky is now clear, and weather acceptable for a round of skeet. About a quarter of a mile further down John’s driveway, lies the Bar J skeet field. Matt and John joke around in Spanish as they fill the skeet thrower with clays, unwind the pull cord, fill shell bags and prep shotguns. Rebel follows Matt closely, half expecting to retrieve bird out of habit of nature. This is old hat for Matt and John, and before you know it, earplugs are in and Matt begins at station one. The comradeship observed throughout the round is one of support, personal betterment, and jovial banter. One can clearly see why the men try to make this a regular social engagement with each other. Round two begins before you know it. If it weren’t for the diminishing light, I am sure they would have kept going for one or two more.
Penny for our thoughts...
The Bethune & Son blog captures the lifestyle of the South Texas gentleman. From men's clothing, to recreations, food and values - this blog tells you all you need to know about being a Bethune & Son gentleman.