My old friend Durwood Hollis left us on Aug. 22, 2020, peacefully but unexpectedly, just a couple hours after a visit to Bass Pro with hunting buddies Jim Matthews and Charlie Merritt. Durwood celebrated his eightieth birthday on July 8. In 2005 Durwood retired from a 35-year career with the Los Angeles County Health Department, but he had been a frequent and prolific contributor to outdoor magazines since the 1980s. SCI members will probably remember him most immediately as SAFARI Magazine’s knife columnist, for many years now penning the popular Knives & Other Sharp Things department.
Born in Los Angeles, Durwood graduated from Cal State LA in 1969, working as a private investigator before joining the health department. After retirement he simply described himself as Outdoor Writer. For sure, being outdoors was a major passion. Although he hunted widely throughout the West and elsewhere, I always thought he got the greatest satisfaction from the California hunting that he grew up with and pursued avidly throughout his life.
Although hot and difficult, the August “coast zone” deer season was a favorite, followed by valley quail, then ducks, spring turkey and, of course, hogs the year around. Name the season and Durwood usually knew a good place to try. California hunting is tough, especially within striking distance of the big cities, but Durwood was a master at ferreting out pockets of public land. During the 15 years I was in the Petersen Publishing offices in LA, Durwood was a wealth of local knowledge.
Most of us know that Idaho’s Snake River country is famous for chukar hunting but to this day not a lot of people know that there’s pretty good chukar hunting within a couple hours of LA, up in the high desert hills above the Mojave. The first time we went up there wasn’t the first, last, or only time I thought Durwood Hollis was nuts. He had a pretty good Brittany spaniel and my springer was just coming on, so when he insisted he knew where to find birds, I relented. Sure enough, very good chukar hunting. That was close to home, but a lot of our expeditions took us halfway up the state and, bottom to top, California is a very big state.
Durwood lived off to the east and worked odd hours. I lived a bit north of L.A., so often we’d gather at my house, sometimes as late as midnight and head up I-5 or 101. Our usual goal was to hit one of our hunting spots just before daylight. For hogs or deer, as far north as King City or, during duck season, Mendota. You don’t have to be completely crazy, but it helps. We all worked in or around the city and Durwood, alone among us, had young children. We cherished the chance to get away and into the back country, even for a day. Often, it was just a day. We’d hunt hard morning and evening, maybe catch a nap during midday hours. And then, after dark, we’d turn back south toward the LA Basin. The “we” varied. Often, Payton Miller, Bob Robb, Todd Smith; a couple of times Jack Lott, maybe Jim Matthews, or another of Durwood’s friends from the east side.
During those long drives in the wee hours you get to know people pretty well. It was on such a drive that Durwood suggested he might try his hand on a knife column for Petersen’s Hunting magazine. That was the beginning of a long and successful second career as an outdoor writer. Durwood was a dedicated, serious, and hard hunter and fascinated by the smallest details. Game care and recovery; ferreting out new hunting spots in a state where, let’s face it, such knowledge is precious, and hard-earned; and uniquely able to instantly grasp the value of a new, seemingly mundane piece of equipment and turn it into a good story. Durwood Hollis was a very good writer. Just yesterday, learning of his passing, I read one of his final columns in the current Safari magazine.
It was a great little piece on a favorite knife he constantly carried and, as always, I was impressed by the detail. I read it carefully, twice, and I learned a few things. It carried me back to those long drives up to the Central Coast and the many things I learned from Durwood Hollis at the dawn of my own career. Durwood did a great job with our knife column for Petersen’s Hunting, and finished with his excellent “Knives & Other Sharp Things” in Safari. In between and over nearly 40 years, he wrote dozens and dozens of stories on gear, guns and game, and included four books in his credits: The Complete Guide to Hunting Knives; Knifemaking with Bob Loveless; Hunting Upland Game & Waterfowl; and Hunting North American Big Game.
Durwood loved the August coastal deer season, earliest deer season in the West. It gets blistering hot during the day, but that region has major temperature swings, so mornings are pleasant. There aren’t many deer and no monsters, but Durwood taught me to love it as well. We weren’t always successful. Hardly. But we shot a lot of bucks, often stumbling into camp well after dark, dehydrated and exhausted. During deer season, we’d do it again the next weekend.
We hunted with pack-frames, mature bucks generally small enough to pack out whole, more or less. Not everybody got a shot on every outing and on any given day it was unusual to have more than one buck to pack out. This was probably a good thing because we could take turns or divide the load. I’ll never forget one amazing day, hunting rough canyon country just after an overnight rain, when Durwood, Payton Miller and I each took nice bucks and our camp was a long distance away. Just as well not every day was like that one.
Hog hunting was year-around, so we’d do our pig hunting in more temperate months. In those days, most of our pig hunting was on public land, usually steeply uphill from an access point. At least most of the packing-out was downhill, but still plenty tough. We tried to avoid shooting big boars—smaller pigs are tastier, as well as easier to pack. Unfortunately, we couldn’t always resist. So, Durwood’s Rule applied: If anyone messed up and shot a big hog, we’d converge, divvy up the meat and get it packed out before continuing the hunt.
Although he appreciated big horns and antlers as much as anyone, Durwood Hollis was neither a trophy hunter nor a collector; he was a hunter, skilled, effective and eclectic. And, for sure, he was an outdoor writer, honest and thorough, with genuine knowledge to share. Durwood is survived by five children and a dozen grand-children and Anita, his talented and beautiful wife who, I believe, made Durwood’s last decades some of his best.
Shame on me, I hadn’t seen Durwood much in recent years. Now that he’s gone, the memories of so many great hunts keep flooding back. I think I’ll go back to some past issues and re-read some of Durwood’s columns. There are bound to be some tips and tidbits that I missed.–Craig Boddington