Wyoming Game & Fish Biologist Honors Elderly Hunter Friend Who Lived 2,000 Miles Away
By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
When wildlife biologist Erika Peckham was first approached by an older hunter from Vermont about 12 years ago, she wasn’t sure what to think.
The man, Reginald Benjamin, asked for her business card. Peckham had just started her job as the Gillette region wildlife biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Because she frequently worked alone in remote areas without cellphone service, Peckham said she learned to be wary around strangers.
But “Reggie, as she affectionately calls him, turned out to be a long-lasting friend.
“He was quiet, so I didn’t know what to think of him at first,” Peckham told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “Once he opened up and I got to know him, I thought, ‘Wow, he’s just a harmless, kind, nice man.’”
Reggie had come to Wyoming to hunt and wanted to make some local contacts. Peckham learned that he lived alone on the same Vermont farm where he’d been raised.
Peckham recently learned that Reggie, 80, had passed away at home.
Cats Share Wyoming Adventures
Game and Fish has a handful of employees in Gillette but no office there, Peckham said. So back when she first met Reggie, she and other agents would set up in the Gillette visitor center near downtown. There, they would greet the influx of out-of-state-hunters each fall, answering questions about hunt area boundaries and other matters.
Reggie would park his pickup-bed camper nearby and always took time to visit with Peckham and the visitor center staff. Lasting friendships formed.
“He would send the girls from the visitor center care packages from Vermont with candy in them,” she said.
Reggie told Peckham that he had hunted once in Montana, then discovered and fell in love with Wyoming.
“He found a little spot of public land to hunt near Gillette, and he just loved it,” she said.
Reggie also would bring his cat, “Kitty,” to Wyoming with him. The cat would hang out in his camper while Reggie was off hunting. He would also walk Kitty around on a harness.
After that cat grew old and died, Reggie showed up with a replacement, and Peckham asked what its name was.
“He told me, “’Kitty No. 2,’” Peckham said. ““I laughed and said, ‘No other name?’ And he laughed and said, ‘Nope. Just Kitty No. 2.’”
The Vaunted .270
As lifelong deer hunter, Reggie swore by the .270 Winchester as his favorite hunting rifle cartridge.
“He liked it because of its flat shooting trajectory at various ranges,” Peckham said.
When Peckham began having trouble with her own .270 hunting rifle, Reggie went to the gun range with her and helped her work things out.
When it came time for her to get a new rifle, her conversation with Reggie was predictable.
“I told him, ‘I don’t suppose I don’t even need to ask what caliber you’d recommend,’ and he just laughed,” she said.
A Mostly Solitary Life
Even when Reggie grew too old to visit Wyoming, he and Peckham stayed in regular contact.
He’d inherited the farm in Vermont from his grandparents, who had raised him, and he never married or had children of his own.
“He told me his parents had him when they were very young, so they gave him to his grandparents to raise,” she said. “He said he had a great childhood with them.”
His parents had more children later, but Reggie didn’t have much to do with his siblings. He had a long career with UPS, but except for a few close friends, such as Peckham, he apparently kept to himself.
Peckham said the thought of Reggie being out on the farm all alone worried her, but he was fiercely independent – although he expressed concern about his beloved cat.
“He had told me last winter that he was getting anxious and worried about what would happen to his cat if something happened to him,” she said.
Loss From Afar
In September, after not hearing from Reggie for an unusually long time, Peckham called law enforcement in his community to go do a welfare check on him.
On about Sept. 25 “they called me back and told me he had passed away,” she said.
She searched the media in his home community for an obituary and any word of a funeral or memorial service, but found nothing.
“It just really bothered me that he could have lived in a place for his entire life and for there to be nothing,” she said.
Peckham recently posted a moving tribute to Reggie on Facebook and said she has since heard back from some of his other friends, thanking her for honoring him.
Peckham also made some calls to ensure that Kitty No. 2 made it safely into an animal shelter.
She’s not sure if there’s anything else she can do.
“I mostly just honor him in my mind,” she said. “I’ve also thought about making a donation to a cat rescue organization in his name, because he loved his cats so much.”
While Reggie’s passing brings sadness, Peckham said she also feels fortunate for having met and befriended him.
“The worst part of my job is some of the people I’ve met. And the best part of my job is some of the people I’ve met,” she said.
Reggie was one of the latter.
“He had a way of making people feel special,” she said. “He made me feel special.”