At nearly 90 years-old, Charles Willcox hasn’t let the years stop him from what he enjoys the most: hunting and fishing. Willcox remembers when the shopping centers off Route 281 and Groton Avenue were all farmland — he grew up in Cortland back when that was the case.
He will be 90 in December, but sitting in his Solon home where antiques and mounted deer line the walls, the sportsman said the only place he feels his age is in his knees.
Willcox is still an active fisherman, hunter and golfer— he got his second hole-in-one at the same hole (the 13th) on Knickerbocker Country Club in July.
Hunting is his passion, though, and one he keeps up. Willcox shot a wild turkey last spring and plans to do more of that this season, saying he hunts as much as he can — though he now needs a four-wheeler to get around.
Hunting season is starting — Fall turkey season is Oct. 20 to Nov. 2. The bowhunting season for deer is Oct. 1 to Nov. 16, while hunters like Willcox, using a rifle or shotgun will be out from Nov 17 to Dec. 9.
And Willcox finds his attitude about hunting has changed.
While in the past he used to get frustrated if he missed a shot at a buck, now he has a different philosophy.
“If he doesn’t come out, he doesn’t come out,” Willcox said.
Willcox is the younger brother of former Cortland County Legislator Newell Willcox, and he said with Newell’s death in May 2017 he lost a good brother and fellow sportsman. The two grew up hunting together — chipmunks, woodchucks, whatever they could get — and would often fish together in their later years in a camp they had on the St. Lawrence River.
Turkey hunting tips
• Successful turkey hunters sit and call.
• Don’t wear red, white, blue or black.
• Most turkey hunting injuries happen when one hunter stalks another hunter.
• Assume anything that sounds like a turkey is a human — calls or footsteps.
• If you see another hunter: Don’t move, or wave or nod; don’t make turkey or animal sounds; and speak up clearly, saying “STOP.”
• If you see a turkey: Be 100 percent sure of your target and beyond.
• To prevent another hunter from mistaking you for a gobbler, avoid using a turkey “reaper fan.”
Source: The state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Charles Willcox’s grandson, Michael Whittaker, of Syracuse, recalls many hunting and fishing expeditions with the Willcox brothers.
“In the early years they were taking me and in the later years I was taking them,” Whittaker said.
They would all go fishing on the St. Lawrence River, Whittaker said, seeking out bass, walleye and perch.
But turkey hunting was always a favorite of Charles Willcox, said Whittaker, and he has lasting memories of those trips.
One in particular stands out to him. Charles Willcox would sometimes nod off while waiting for the prey to show, but one time it was Whittaker who fell asleep.
“When I woke up the turkeys were there and I fumbled and scared them away and they went right to him and he was able to get one,” he said. “I heard about that one a lot, he liked having the shoe on the other foot.”
Whittaker is among seven grandchildren from Willcox’s four children. And there are also four great-grandchildren.
And Whittaker is struck by the generational aspect of hunting.
Years ago a hunting buddy of Charles Willcox’s introduced Whittaker to his own grandson who lived in North Carolina, and was visiting New York for Thanksgiving that year, so that the two could go hunting together during his visit.
That friendship has lasted to this day, and the two continue to hunt and fish together, said Whittaker, and it’s all because their grandfathers were hunting buddies too.
Willcox finds that laughter keeps him young. That and making friends with young people — he attributes his younger social circle to keeping him youthful. But his one recommendation for people who are aging is simple.
“You’ve got to do things,” he said.
Hunting and fishing have always been his chosen activities, but he said any activity that keeps the mind and body going is good.