A friendship of over 50 years of hunting and fishing ended yesterday with his death at age 76 on March 1st. My last hunt with him was January 19th when we hunted his property for quail which he rigorously maintained for deer, quail and turkey. He called me on the 23rd after testing positive and told me that he began symptoms of Covid the day after we hunted. He fought the disease at home with fever and other complications for two weeks and was hospitalized for the last time on February 5th.
Burke was 76, a successful businessman who made his fortune hauling garbage. He bought his first company which consisted of a few trucks and an established route in the 1970s and transformed it with the aid of Alice, his former wife, into the largest privately owned trash collecting company in the Southeast. During spring gobbler season, he’d on occasion cancel our hunts when a driver failed to show up for his route in Waycross over 2 hours from his business center. He’d drive the truck himself to service the route. He sold the business to a national concern over 20 years ago. He had the foresight to build a landfill on clear cut property which he acquired when his first business began to grow. After the covenant not to compete expired, with the aid of his son, Ben, they built another successful trash company which is an ongoing, successful business.
He was a USAF navigator on C-124 Globemasters for the Georgia Air National Guard and flew missions all over the world including to SE Asia during the Vietnam War. The Globemaster could often handle outsized cargo that couldn’t be carried in other planes.
He grew up on a family dairy farm and went to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College before deciding it wasn’t for him and transferred to UGA where we first met. One of my favorite stories about Burke was told to me by him years ago. While he was student at ABAC in Tifton, GA., he couldn't take his bird dog, but he took his shotgun. His roommate and he would drive his convertible Impala on the dirt roads, looking for bird dogs on the farmers' porches. They would coax the dogs into the car and go quail hunting on the surrounding farms. They got to know which dogs were better than others. One good dog would wait for them at the mailbox. One day when they returned a particularly good dog, the farmer was waiting for them. "You boys been hunting my dog?" "Yessir" they sheepishly replied. "That's okay, he's a good one. You always bring him back home. There are two coveys in the back corner of the field. Have at'em." He had excellent dogs from his teenage years through the present. His current three English Pointers were staggered in ages and were trained by Burke and his son Ben. They were broke to wing and shot and as steady as a rock. His retriever was Gauge, a 4 year-old English Cocker dynamo. He hunted his property on a custom Jeep with two tiers of elevated seats and dog boxes below the third row of seats.
In addition to the 1500 acres of managed property we hunted in January, he has 5500 acres in another county which is under supervision by Tall Timbers for production of wild quail habitat. Burke was an accomplished blue water fisherman who fished the major bill fishing tournaments on the East Coast with a full time captain. His current boat is a 59’ Carolina built sportfisher by Weaver and at the time of his death had ordered a 60’ Norseman which would’ve taken two years for delivery.
Burke had the finest dove fields I have had the privilege of hunting over the years. Among his half-dozen or so dove fields, two were 30 acre fields with alternating rows of corn, sunflower and benne which held doves for most of the season. Deer and hog predation were eliminated on those two fields with permanent high fencing on both fields. He did this for his friends. He enjoyed the camaraderie and social gathering of a Southern dove shoot with the after the hunt gathering and celebration.
We began wild turkey hunting together in 1977 when the first season was opened in our part of the state. We were able to hunt together last spring on two occasions. He was as good a man as he was a friend. He got into the double game late but in fine fashion. He had a high grade bespoke Beretta O/U made for him after being fitted in NYC. When we last hunted in January, his gun was a highly engraved M21 20 ga. with gold inlays tastefully created by the Winchester custom shop in 1973 and purchased from Kevin’s of Thomasville, Ga. before this season. The wood is highly figured. Before he could order a letter from Cody, the virus struck.
The photos below are of Burke and me in the early 80s. He’s standing with his Ithaca Mag 10 Auto. The other photo was taken in the mid 70s after a dove shoot at Jimmy’s in Soperton, GA. L-R. Billy, Jimmy, Burke and me.