Relive the golden age of outdoor adventure with a pilgrimage to the Jack O’Connor Center in Lewiston, Idaho.
Photo above: Jack O’Connor’s Grand Slam of Wild Sheep (along with a big Dall sheep shot by his wife, Eleanor), is on display at the Jack O’Connor Center.
Jack O’Connor (1902-1978) was arguably the most famous and influential outdoor writer of all time. Even today, his opinions and experiences influence our understanding of rifles and calibers, outdoor ethics, and what it means to be a hunter. Plenty of younger hunters who have never read a Jack O’Connor story have heard his name, and most hunting rifle aficionados know him as an advocate of the versatile .270 Winchester (which was a newfangled, whiz-bang caliber when he started championing it in the 1930s).
Although O’Connor sold his very first outdoor-magazine article to Sports Afield in January 1934, it was the many decades he spent as Arms & Ammunition Editor of Outdoor Life that made him famous. His sixteen books included such classics as Game in the Desert, The Big Game Animals of North America, The Rifle Book, and Sheep and Sheep Hunting.
Jack spent his early years in Arizona, where he hunted desert sheep, Coues deer, mule deer, and other species on both sides of the Mexican border. In 1948 he moved his family to Lewiston, Idaho, to take advantage of the fantastic big-game and bird hunting in the northern Rockies, and that’s where he lived out the rest of his adventurous life, taking extended hunting trips to western Canada, Africa, India, and Iran. His wife, Eleanor, often joined him, taking a large number of record-class animals herself.
In 2006, a dedicated group of O’Connor fans honored Jack’s legacy by establishing the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage & Education Center on a scenic hilltop in Hell’s Gate State Park in Lewiston. I visited the Center for the first time this past June during their annual open house and fundraiser, and I felt like I had stepped into a time capsule from the glory days of outdoor magazines and outdoor writing. The Center contains fascinating displays of some of Jack’s and Eleanor’s finest trophies, their custom rifles, and even their camping gear and horse tack.
But the O’Connor Center is far more than a museum about a man. Its mission is to educate today’s hunters and non-hunters about the pivotal role that ethical, legal hunting plays in science-based wildlife management. The Center furthers this goal by hosting elementary and secondary students for programs in wildlife education and shooting, and it partners with Lewis-Clark State College to offer science activities and outreach. Anyone who admires high adventure and great storytelling will find the Jack O’Connor Center well worth a visit.
ATTENTION WRITERS! Have you written (and published) a story about hunting wild sheep? Enter it in the annual writing contest sponsored by the Jack O’Connor Center. Click here for details: https://jack-oconnor.org/jack-oconnor-writers-award/
Learn more about the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage & Education Center at jack-oconnor.org.