Having lived in the Rim Country for more than 35 years, there are not many places I haven't heard about or maybe visited for an outdoor getaway.
During this tenure, I had the opportunity as a high school teacher, to meet many of what I would call pioneer families of the area, and they would often give me hints on where I might find a quality, remote hunting spot.
The Brunsons happen to be one of those clans that enjoyed the outdoors and were avid hunters, with their father leading the charge.
The patriarch of that family, Charley Brunson, is still going strong as an octogenarian. To this day, he enjoys taking his family on point-to-point hikes and telling his grandchildren local history of these remote areas.
He has probably set foot in more canyons and on more mountain peaks than most Payson residents, while taking his family on their annual deer hunt for the past 50 years.
A generation ago, it was common in small, rural communities for schools to close down for the opening day of deer season, as families created hunting camps for three or four days.
Deer tags were a bit more plentiful because of healthier deer numbers and the population of Arizona was not what it is today. As a result, a family may have had multiple tags to fill.
The Brunson family often harvested quality mule deer because Charley knew those remote areas where the big bucks lived.
This scenario is now history. The extended drought and predator mortality on fawn survival have taken a toll on mule deer herds in unit 22.
The Brunsons have kept their family tradition alive by journeying north to Utah for the family deer hunt. The boys are now grown, so the family dynamics have changed a bit, but Charley still leads the charge, and yes, he got his Utah buck this year and let his grown boys know that he could take care of it and pack it to camp on his own.
This was quite an accomplishment considering his age and having had both knees replaced and a shoulder repaired in the last decade. During that time he also had a bout with cancer and open-heart surgery.
None of this has slowed the senior Brunson down, as he is planning the next deer hunt to Utah, which could include a great grandchild or two.
Charley and his wife Sherry have been married for 55 years and happen to be third-generation northern Gila County pioneers. They have lots of stories of the Payson area and how it developed.
If you happen to see Charley Brunson in the community and want to know a little pioneer history or maybe some local geography, take a few minutes and listen. You won't be disappointed.
As a former coach, I often used many one-line anecdotes to motivate wrestlers to do their best and I remember one that fits a man like Charley Brunson and that is, "It's time to Cowboy Up."
He happens to be a special person to many people in this community.
This Christmas season, enjoy your family and the outdoors, God's creation.