Nana and Me
Lifelong outdoorsman Tracy Byrd, one of country music’s brightest stars, says hunters are ‘the first conservationists.’
Tracy Byrd likes to take his 9-year-old daughter Evee to his favorite deer hunting spot in the woods. There are no guns or bows along, just the two of them sitting, hidden behind cover, watching deer.
It’s a time that clearly reminds the country music star of his own youth, when he was only 3 or 4 years old and the beloved grandmother he calls Nana took him into the great outdoors of southeast Texas and instilled in him what is now a passionate love of the life in the wild.
“Hunting and fishing with my grandmother when I was just a kid is still a very vivid memory; I can still see myself out in the woods with her when I was just a little kid,” says the singer who made hits such as “The Keeper of the Stars,” and “The Watermelon Crawl.”
When he was 6, Nana bought him a Sears & Roebuck .410 shotgun. He shot his first squirrel with it, and he was hooked. As he grew he went hunting deer, duck and small game with his grandmother.
Byrd, who will headline a free concert at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas in September when Volvo will pick up the tab for attendees’ tickets – and who’s new single “That’s the Truth About Men” (on an album of the same name) is his fastest climbing hit yet – is the genuine outdoor article. He’s real enough at it to be the popular host of the country’s top outdoors television show, “Mossy Oak’s Hunting the Country.” He also hosted “TNN Outdoors” from 1998 to 2000 and co-hosted a BASSMASTERS Classic in 1998. Byrd has also put together a compilation album of various stars’ material called Wonders of Wildlife to help wildlife conservation.
“The outdoors kind of rules my world in a way,” says Byrd. “And it has for a while. I’ve being doing this since I was a wee, wee child. It didn’t seem that unique back then, but those years are very special to me now. Most boys get into hunting and fishing from their fathers or grandfathers, but not me. Every waking hour I wasn’t in school or at church I’d be out with her. She had a place on the banks of Neches River. And she could do it all. She’d fish, hunt deer and small game, run trotlines and trap.
“I’m passing that on from her to my kids,” says the man from Beaumont, Texas, a town near the Gulf Coast and only a few miles from the Louisiana line.
Byrd’s grandmother, Mavis Vaughn, who died three years ago, learned her outdoor skills from her father, and they were necessary skills as her family struggled through the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“Outdoor life is part of the fabric of what you’re made up of,” says Byrd. “At least it is with me. Every so often you run across someone who is just a meat hunter and a killer, and they miss so much. For me being in the woods means watching the sun come up, the squirrels come out, the deer start moving and the ducks start flying. It means feeling close to all the life around you out there.
“Hunters are the first conservationists. We’ve been educated so much about the woods and the wildlife. But conservation is a science now, especially with shrinking habitats, and we’re really armchair scientists. We can help as much as anybody in keeping woodlands filled with strong, healthy game because we know first hand what it takes.”
Byrd is a convert to bow hunting, especially as it required him to get closer to his quarry. “I love to bow hunt, that’s my thing now. It goes back to the whole sportsmanship thing. There’s nothing at all I don’t like about gun hunting; it’s just that I wanted to move on. I wanted to go one on one with the animal, to be where all of my senses and instincts and all of the deer’s senses are at work. I wanted head-to-head contact in the wild.