Bill Tinnin, the Dean of the Delta
by Billy Johnson
A lot has changed in the Delta in the last 75 years. Farming has gone from using mules to three hundred horsepower tractors guided by satellite technology. Kids have gone from shooting marbles and flying kites to using cell phones and video games. The deer population was only a fraction then of what it is now.
But there is one thing that hasn’t changed; Bill Tinnin is still hunting coons. In his lifetime he’s seen the sport go from nearly nothing to being really big. Then it has gone back down again. Coon hunters are a special breed to start with. The heart of the sport is the dogs the hunter’s raise. That relationship between a hunter and his dogs is what coon hunting is all about.
I’ve heard Bill Tinnin’s name in hunting circles all my life. I’d been waiting to meet him and it was worth the wait. It’s been said that walking is good for your health. Walking the woods behind his dogs for 75 years has kept Mr. Tinnin in good shape. At the ripe old age of eighty-five he is still hunting. As a matter of fact he bagged a trophy ten point buck this past deer season.
Mr. Tinnin has a sharp mind and he is a virtual walking encyclopedia when it comes to coon hunting. He was born in Inverness in 1924. His father raised bird dogs and coon dogs. He became interested in hunting as a young boy.
“We mostly hunted possums to start with. Men worked for 50 cents a day during the depression and coon hides were worth a lot of money. People just about wiped the coons out. It wasn’t until the late ‘40’s that we got a good population of coons back in the Delta.” Mr. Tinnin recalled.
In the early days Mr. Tinnin could walk from Inverness and hunt most anywhere he wanted. Coons destroyed corn patches and stole chicken eggs and folks wanted you to hunt them then. But now it is a different story.
“So much of the woods I hunted have been cleaned up and folks are real touchy about their hunting land. Now coon hunting has mostly died out around here and trophy deer hunting has taken over. There’s really not much hardwoods left in our part of the Delta,” Mr. Tinnin said.
As a young man he hunted with a carbide light, a .22 rifle, and an axe. He’d put on a pair of hip boots and follow his dogs all night. In the ’60’s and ’70’s coon hunters started riding mules. Later four wheelers replaced the mules. “Mules are a lot of trouble. You got to feed and water them and keep them up in a dry place. They take a lot of time to tend to,” Mr. Tinnin remembered.
Through the years coon hunters upgraded from the old carbide lights to the wheat lights that coal miners used. They are bright headlights with a wet cell rechargeable battery the hunters wear on their belt. Mr. Tinnin got the dealership on wheat lights and sold them all over the world. He sold $50,000 worth of lights in one month in the early ’80’s. He’s got letters from people from places like Brazil and Alaska that he sold lights to. He later designed a brighter light he sold called “The Tinnin light”.
He has fond memories of his many friends and all the years they hunted together. “We made three TV shows for Mississippi Game and Fish Commission and one for Paul Ott. John Weathersby helped with the shows. He hunted with us, but liked to stay in the road a lot. Chris Potter from Hollandale helped with one show. We did one on frog hunting, too.” Mr. Tinnin said.
In the late ‘50’s he started deer hunting at Catfish Point Hunting Club. They had a good turkey population that was being thinned by an overabundance of coons. Well, in eleven nights Mr. Tinnin, his hunting buddies, and their dogs bagged one hundred and two coons.
Mr. Tinnin raised deer dogs and ran them on Catfish Point. His scrapbooks are a virtual history of that club where he hunted nearly thirty years. He has many photos of his hunting buddies like Dr. Lewis Farr, and Pee Wee Horton, but it was one photo that really got my attention.
It was a picture of a sign in the woods at Catfish Point that said “Tinnin’s Waterloo”. It is a good picture and has a good story to go along with it. “Well, they got me good that time. We were always pulling tricks on each other. They put a stuffed deer and hide in a tree top where I was going to be hunting. I saw it and shot it. It looked so real. It was a lot of good people in that club and we had a lot of good times.” Mr. Tinnin recalled.
For a man who’s spent his life raising dogs, Mr. Bill didn’t hesitate answering the question of which one was his best dog. “It was black and tan named Ben. That dog was the best I ever had. It got cancer and died when it was nine years old.” He remembered.
He and his partner, Bill Bennett put on “coon-on-log” contests all over the country. It was good entertainment at fairs and field trials that people really enjoyed. “We had a guy from Ohio that would send us real big coons with some weighing up to 25 pounds. He’d send them down on the train. We’d use those in these contests. Your dog would have a minute to knock the coon off the log. We never made any money at it, but we had a lot of fun,” Mr. Tinnin remembered.
I had looked forward to meeting and interviewing Bill Tinnin, but was anxious to pick his brain as well. I was not disappointed. I’ve always been interested in nature and somebody that’s hunted 75 years thoughts on that subject are of keen interest to me.
“Well, nature has a way of taking care of itself. Habitat changes and the animals change with it. I think everyone has the instinct to hunt. Some are just more interested in it than others. What man does affects nature. When catfish farming got big in the Delta, these birds came in here to feed on the catfish. Those birds like frogs, too, and they really cut down on the frog population in the Delta.” Mr. Tinnin said.
Flipping through all the articles that have been written about Bill Tinnin over the years made me realize that no one article could tell his story. It is enough material to write a book. There was one article in American Cooner magazine entitled “Legends of the Sport” that really portrayed his love of the sport.
What is a legend in the hunting and fishing world? To me, a legend is a person who’s passion is for that one particular thing that they do. It is a person who preserves the traditions of what they do and passes it down to the next generation. In Bill Tinnin’s case it is many generations. It is a person who’s earned the respect of his peers and hunting buddies.
The Delta has produced many nationally known sportsmen who I consider to be legends. Dock Cavender was known for his crappie fishing. Tom Walsh and Herman Caillouet are known for winning the world duck calling championship in Stuttgart. Sonny Rich is known for his trap shooting. In the coon hunting world, Bill Tinnin is nationally known.
He is a modest man that is thankful for the good health he’s had to still be hunting at the age of eighty-five. He’s proud of the dogs he’s raised, the friends he’s hunted with, and a lifetime of memories from thousands of nights of running his dogs. In the words of the old timers, Bill Tinnin is much man. Anybody that can catch a falling coon with his bare hands ain’t afraid too much. Anybody that loves to hunt and fish can only hope and pray to one day be where Bill Tinnin is: still at it at the age of eighty-five years old.