NCBA Memorial Endowment Fund

Joe Don Sawyer

1955 - 2007

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Joe Don Sawyer

Joe Don Sawyer, 51, of Scranton, NC, passed away on Sunday, September 16, 2007 at his home.

Joe Don is a long time NCBA member and supporter of bowhunting in N.C. Many of you may know him from swan hunts taken with him at his home or in nearby Tyrrell and Hyde counties. He holds the current NCBA record for the largest Tundra Swan in NCBA's "All-Time Records" at 147 4/8" from Tyrrell County (2004).

Joe Don was a commercial fisherman, trapper and hunting guide by trade. He was a very knowledgeable outdoorsman and hunter.

There was a funeral wake and viewing Tuesday, Sept. 18 from 6 - 8 p.m. at Bryan's Funeral Home in Swan Quarter. The funeral was held on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 2 p.m. at Epworth United Methodist Church in Scranton, NC.

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North Carolina loses a sportsman...... "O Death, won't you spare me over to another year?" . RALPH STANLEY By: Craig Holt (Editorial article from North Carolina Sportsman Magazine; November 2007)

The first time I met Joe Don Sawyer I didn't see him. I only could hear his laughing voice, stretching familiar words into odd-sounding shapes as he spoke in his lilting Down East brogue to his best friend, Tonnie Davis of Roxboro. It was in pre-dawn January darkness four years ago. We were in a field near Scranton in Beaufort County . Joe Don and Tonnie were setting up tundra-swan decoys, handing out white plastic coveralls to about a dozen hunters and showing them how to hunker down in a black-earth ditch so the swans wouldn't see them after daylight. "You get in the ditch next to Joe Don," Tonnie said. "You'll hear and see something amazing." About 30 minutes after daybreak, we heard the eerie "whoo-eee" calls of the swans. They'd flown off the waters of Lake Mattamuskeet , the Pungo River , and Pungo Lake where they'd spent the night and now were winging toward local grain fields. "Joe Don's the best I've ever seen at calling swans," Tonnie said. "And he uses his mouth, not a call. Not only that, he wears glasses and can see a swan before I can with binoculars. There's some (swans), Joe Don said, pointing at the horizon. I saw nothing. "Whoo-eeep," he called, his hand cupped beside his mouth. Soon a flight of six swans, dots in the air, turned and headed toward us. They'd been a mile away when Joe Don called. That day each hunter bagged a swan, lured within shotgun range by Joe Don Sawyer's magical voice. "He was a natural man," Davis said. "He earned his living from nature." Later the hunters descended upon his late mother-in-law's two-story frame house at Scranton where Joe Don served as a gracious host and cook. Each year, he left Friday evening and returned with a couple bushels of salty Rose Bay oysters. He surprisingly served us corn on the cob he'd frozen in the husks during summer. His wife, Phyllis, added wild pig and deer roasts. Shrimp, seafood stew, flounder and other Down East fare filled our bellies as well.

Last year during a deer hunt he was slung off a truck tailgate and slammed into the asphalt. Seriously injured, he was flown by helicopter to a hospital. Although Joe Don thought he was covered by his wife's insurance policy, he wasn't. With his shoulder's muscles and tendons damaged, he refused an operation. "I'm getting better," he said, lifting his arm above his shoulder last January. A man who always had a smile on his face, Joe Don was a salt-of-the-earth human being. He'd give you the shirt off his back and his pants, too, if you'd asked. Apparently, a lot of people asked for his help, considering the size of the funeral procession that stretched September 19 from Bryan Funeral Home in Swan Quarter to tiny Epworth United Methodist Church at Sladesville. More than 150 friends who arrived 30 minutes before the service couldn't find seating inside the church to hear three pastors preach his funeral. It's a cliche, but men like Joe Don Sawyer aren't made today. His friends, family and community will miss him sorely.

I first met Joe Don Sawyer on a swan hunt with him and Tonnie Davis in Tyrrell County. I think it was when I shot my first swan with a bow in 2002. Pink Atkins, Jay and Becky Campbell were also on the hunt. I do remember that all six of us shot our swans with a bow in a time period of about 1 1/2 hours. For some reason, we ended up at Joe Don's home in Scranton, NC the next day. All of us had taken swans with bow and arrow, including Joe Don. It was his first one with a bow also. He showed us around his home and property. He had a smokehouse where he prepared batches of venison jerky. He always carried a big pouch of his jerky on swan hunts and shared it with everyone up and down the ditch where we set up the swan decoys. He had a number of paper shell pecan trees in his yard also and the year I was there, the ground was covered with pecans. I scooped up a grocery bag full of them and feasted on pecans throughout the winter. I put a few dozen of these pecans in the freezer with plans to plant them later, hoping they would sprout. Later that year, I put one pecan in each of about 10 gallon cans of mulch and watered them frequently.. Then, I watched and waited. Six of these nuts did sprout, and before the next spring, I planted them in the pasture by my home. Five of them survived. They stand about 5 feet tall now. I may be around when these trees grow large enough to begin bearing fruit, and maybe not! But every time I see them, I think of that first of many meetings with Joe Don Sawyer, and I remember his friendly nature. Many say that he was the best at calling swans with nothing but his mouth and an inborn talent for communicating with nature. I sat beside him in a ditch blind on many occasions and took photos and videos of him calling swans. I took the photo at the top of this page in January, 2007 while on another swan hunt with him. As the 2007-08 swan season approaches, there will be something.. and someone missing from our annual swan hunts that cannot be replaced. This is how I'll remember Joe Don Sawyer... Submitted by: Ramon Bell (December 4, 2007)

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