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Bowhunter Says Goodbye to John “Maggie” McGee

by M.R. James   |  October 25th, 2017 0

“I am not a famous person in any way, shape, or form. I have never won any major archery tournaments, nor do I have any animals in the Pope and Young Club records. I work in an Ohio factory, at a job which I hate, eight hours a day and sometimes more to get extra money — which is never enough. I have a wife, three daughters, and a dog, none of whom are registered.

John-"Maggie"-McGee

Here, Maggie is imitating me (author M.R. James) during a skit at a bowhunting banquet. He wore my plaid shirt, turtleneck, and sport coat, which my wife, Janet, loaned to him without my knowledge. Notice that I’m wearing a bear claw scrimshaw pendant, and ol’ Mag had to mock that, too. Maggie was one of a kind, and could always make me laugh.

“In physical appearance, there is nothing to distinguish me from a million other guys all living the same sort of existence. But I am also a bowhunting nut. I eat, sleep, talk, and think about bowhunting all the time. Although bowhunting is my main interest, I am crazy about anything that has to do with bows and arrows. This ‘sickness’ started about five years ago when I acquired a cheap fiberglass bow and some wood arrows. Right away the backyard became a target range. I have been broke and happy ever since…”

With those candid and self-deprecating words published in his first-ever Bowhunter column unveiled way back in early 1978, John “Maggie” McGee launched his decades’-long love affair with this fledgling magazine and legions of fellow hunters.

Not only did our regular readers identify with Maggie’s workingman’s struggles and bowhunting misadventures, a good many non-hunting spouses and other family members liked “Maggie’s Meanderings,” too. Even my own mother, who never once drew and released an arrow in her 95+ years, admitted that each time she opened the latest issue of Bowhunter, she’d thumb to Maggie’s column before reading her only son’s Editorial, column, or feature article.

John-"Maggie"-McGee

“Maggies Meanderings” appeared in this magazine from 1978 to 2011. Maggie’s character, and those of the “Dumb Bunch,” were brought to life by illustrator John “Lefty” Wilson.

Maggie’s mix of broadhead-sharp wit, a unique sense of humor, and tale-telling talent quickly made him not only a favorite columnist, but also an eventual star of the archery banquet circuit, where clubs and organizations host celebratory postseason gatherings all across North America. Each time we shared a stage as guest speakers, I knew it was best to play straight man to his wacky comedy shtick instead of trying to get laughs on my own. Simply put: Maggie connected with folks in a way few people could.

Never one to be politically correct, he once elicited peals of laughter from a black bowhunter by saying with a smile and mischievous twinkle in his eye, “Man, I’ll bet you save a small fortune on camo facepaint.” He also regularly cracked up audiences by imitating or poking fun at “celebrity” bowhunters, at himself, and at his hunting buddies collectively known as “The Dumb Bunch.”

Besides ringleader Maggie, the appropriately nicknamed group included a brother-in-law, Rotten Randy, and Animal, the bearded 325-pound mountain of a man in bib overalls. Also, there was bespectacled Owlface and the skinny, furtive Ferret, along with others sporting appropriate monikers like the Old Man, Slick, and Bear Breath. He even dubbed Melaney McGee, his latest long-suffering wife, “Three.”

John-"Maggie"-McGee

Maggie killed this deer on a hunt at the Hot T Ranch near Montrose, CO, during the 1980s.

The truth is, Maggie could always stir up laughs, even from editors like me who rarely read anything that evoked a small smile, much less a hearty chuckle. But ol’ Mag was different. A handful of his “daffynitions” proves the point: A trophy hunter is “what I am the first 10 minutes of every deer season.” A blood trail is “what I leave on the carpet between the living room and bathroom each time I sharpen broadheads or knives while watching TV at the same time.” Small game is “every deer I ever got with my bow.” And…well, you get the idea. That’s vintage Maggie McGee.

He called himself “The World’s Worst Bowhunter,” which he wasn’t. Yet each time I wrote or said something positive about his bowhunting talent, he’d dismiss any compliments by smiling and saying, “Don’t spoil my bad reputation.”

What Maggie was, actually, was bowhunting’s goodwill ambassador and good-humor man, delivering a positive message of legal, ethical, and safe hunting wrapped up in a cornball comedy routine. Sure, readers and listeners laughed as they forgot about their own troubles, but they also listened and learned laughter is good medicine for whatever ails you. That was Maggie’s goal all along.

A tool-and-die maker who retired from a General Electric factory after 37 years, John “Maggie” McGee also wrote his Bowhunter column from 1978 until 2011. He died in his native Ohio on June 4, 2017, just eight days shy of his 73rd birthday. Maggie’s longtime friend and Bowhunter Publisher, Jeff Waring, perfectly summed up the feelings of past and present magazine staffers with these words:

“He was one in a million — a good man and a real character. I always loved working with Maggie, and I could tell when he called the Bowhunter office because not only did he have a way of making everybody laugh, he also had a way of making folks feel good about themselves. He will be greatly missed but remembered well by the Bowhunter Magazine crew.”

— M.R. James, Founder

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