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Columnist: James Rutland — a straight shooter

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

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BOX SPRINGS — This is a rural community in Talbot County, 23 miles east of Columbus, not the undercarriage of a bed. In June 1853, railroad workers boxed a spring near the railroad tracks to provide water for the locomotives. Now you know how Box Springs came to be.

It is not that often that I come here, but when I do, I get a big emotional lift from visiting with an old friend, James Rutland, who was an accomplished track athlete at Georgia for Spec Towns. His uncle, Billy Rutland, was captain of the Bulldogs 1944 football team which resulted in a scholarship at Georgia.

Good enough to finish third in the national decathlon, James learned about austerity as a student and how to manage. The meet in which he distinguished himself, took place in Gainesville, Florida.

Towns gave him a one-way bus ticket to Gainesville. He stayed in a campus dorm where he was given free meals. When it was time to return home, he had to hitchhike. He put his shot put and discus in his travel bag and tied his pole vault and javelin together and thumbed his way back.

“I really didn’t think much about it,” he says. “Georgia didn’t have any money for track, but I enjoyed the experience and was getting a free education. I never felt I had any right to complain.”

He then spent his professional life coaching and teaching. With the latter, it was for 40 years.

“Coaching and teaching are very rewarding,” James smiles. “You may not help every kid, but most of the time, you can do some good for kids who are trying to find their way. I have no regrets. I had a lot of fun.”

In 1979, he bought property on Juniper Lake in Box Springs because of his abiding passion for fishing. All during his school years, he would arise early in the morning and find an opportunity to hunt and fish before school started.

When he was 12 years old, he met Lucky McDaniel, the renown instinct shooter. McDaniel, James remembers, was a tobacco salesman who came up with a creative routine to sell his product. He would throw a penny in the air and hit it with a .22 rifle. His sales pitch was that if he hit the penny the proprietor would take the order. If he missed, Lucky would give him the order. Lucky seldom missed.

Lucky taught people to shoot by using BB guns. Some of his pupils were President Dwight Eisenhower, Henry Ford, John Wayne and Audie Murphy.

James observed Lucky’s method and uses it today. Believe it or not, but his instruction is so keen, like his mentor Lucky, that if you spend an hour with him, James will have you shooting a BB gun so efficiently, you can hit a penny when tossed in the air.

As you shoot, James will patiently offer commentary and suggestions. “Take your time. The bird will never outrun your shot.”

“Lean forward, gun under your armpits.

“Left finger on the barrel, slide the gun toward the target.”

“Cheek on the stock, look over the gun sight.

“Shoot the top of the bird.”

He will then point out why you want to try to hit the top of the bird, noting that “everybody usually shoots under the target.”

A couple of hours with James and your marksmanship will improve instantly which is why the rangers at Ft. Benning come to him for instruction and coaching. In their business, you want to have the best percentage success when it comes to shooting a firearm. For the Rangers, it could result in a life-saving moment.

When I follow through with the next quail hunting invitation, assuming I can remember James’ most recent instruction, I expect to be able to bring down my supper.

An hour with James Rutland makes you feel that you have, vicariously, had an hour with the great Lucky McDaniel.

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.