Nana and Me

| April 07, 2005

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.

“A lot of times I came away frustrated; I never got to fire an arrow,” says Byrd. “But that feeling of frustration goes away quickly when you think back and realize that while you didn’t get anything, you were there, 25 yards away from a big buck – not 200 yards away in a shooting stand. I love that closeness. With a bow I find I have to rely on my wits more and keep trying to use my experience and the education I have had in how deer think and react and move.”

The singer says bow hunting has left him with some great stories, not all of them about successful hunts. “There was one hunt when I went out for four straight days after the same buck and never even got a shot at him,” he recalls of a bow hunt in Livingston, Ala., on a Mossy Oak hunting lease. “What a hunt – it was great! I went out for those four days, and he came in every day. I made a lot of different moves on him, but I never made the right one. He knew I was there, and I knew he was there. He was a magnificent animal, a gorgeous 12-point trophy animal. We really went at it, him and I.

“It was exciting. At the end of some of those days I’d sit back at the camp and tell everyone what went on. I’d tell them, ‘Well, he came in from the east today and walked the creek bed, and I was up here, and I moved down there on him,’ and the story would go on all night. That was part of the hunt, going back over every move. Talking about it is as much fun as being out there doing it.”

Mossy Oak’s Public Relations manager C.J.Davis says that deer’s antlers, shed in the fall, were found months after the hunt. “I don’t believe anyone ever got him. So he fooled a lot of very experienced hunters, not just Tracy.”

Byrd’s dream hunt is coming up in September. Just about the time he is set to be on the stage at the Great American Trucking Show, he is planning to hunt elk with a bow, something he’s never done before. He’ll be out in the wild with fellow country singers Blake Shelton and Andy Griggs, also avid bow hunters. And the camps, says Byrd, will be an amazing place to be. “There’ll be some stories, I know that,” he says.

Tracy Byrd says becoming skilled with a bow has brought him a new level of satisfaction when he hunts.

When you’re hunting with Byrd, it’s easy to forget he’s a country star, says Mossy Oak’s Davis. “If you put aside what he does for a living, you’d think he was just another guy crazy about hunting. He’s out there helping set up the camps and cleaning the deer and doing the dishes.”

When he hunts with a bow, his weapon of choice is a Matthews MQ1 with Easton arrows and Satellite broadheads. If he’s gun hunting, Byrd has a good arsenal to choose from: a Bennelli Super Black Eagle for waterfowl and, for deer, a Browning .270 with a Leupold scope or a Remington 7mm magnum with a Zeiss scope.

And, of course, Mossy Oak camo, which he has called “simply the best concealment on the market.”

Hunting fits well into a lifestyle dominated by his family – wife Michelle, daughter Evee and sons Logan, 5, and Jared, 10 months.

“I work hardest in the summer; tours take a lot of time, and that starts to slow down in the fall, and by winter I have time on my hands. I hunt close to home, about 10 miles away, so I can go on a morning hunt and be back at the house by 8:30.”

If Byrd has one single memory of his life as a hunter that stands out, it came just a few years ago. “A couple of years before she passed away, I took Nana turkey hunting,” Byrd says. “Funny thing, she’d never done that before. We didn’t have them in southeast Texas when I was a boy. We do now; they brought some birds in, and they’re doing really well. I took her down to the King Ranch in south Texas, and we went hunting on a ‘Mossy Oak Hunting the Country’ show.

“Well, she got one, so now a lot more people than me know who she was and how good she was as a hunter.”

There are still avid hunters who say Nana’s episode is their favorite “Hunting the Country.” Tracy Byrd is one of them.


Owner-operator Monty Hale helps clean up a friend’s back yard in west Texas.

Rods & Barrels

Freeze!

As a boy living in Sweetwater, Texas, Monty Hale was used to rattlesnakes. He started hunting them when he was just 12 years old, and now he teaches people not only how to catch them but how to avoid being bitten by one if they stumble upon it.

“Out there in Sweetwater they were everywhere,” says Hale, 54, an owner-operator leased to Mercer Transportation for the past 15 years. “I guess you got used to them as a kid. Before we’d go out the screen door a lot of times we’d have to push one out of the way so we could get the door open and then kill it. They were pretty much everywhere. It’s prime breeding country for them.”

The Sweetwater Jaycees hold an annual rattlesnake roundup every year in March, and Hale has been part of the event for more than 20 years. While he admits rattlesnake hunting and catching can make parents nervous, it was a “pretty natural thing for a boy around here to do,” says Hale, who hauls oversized loads, driving a 2003 W900 Kenworth with an XL trailer with a removable hydraulic gooseneck hookup.

These days Hale uses his skill from years of rattler hunting to help people all over the country who might run into one in the wild.

“I go to trucking companies and oil companies out in the open country and talk to them and do shows about safety and what to do if someone comes on one. Do the same for schools and organizations like Lions or Kiwanis clubs,” says Hale, who has been bitten seriously “only twice.” He keeps doing shows, he says, because “I may save a life or someone’s arm or leg. These snakes are lethal; I respect them.”

So what do you do if you come face to face with a rattler who is rattling to let you know he’s there?

“Freeze, become a fence post,” says Hale. “Stop dead still. A rattlesnake will only strike at a moving target. You can shout and holler for help all you want – they can’t hear you – but don’t move. He’ll crawl away after a while.”


Off-Duty Destinations
Hot Springs National Park

Because the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas will be a destination for so many drivers next month (Sept. 26-28), here’s a park that’s not too far out of the way and a great place for some soothing R & R.

People have used the waters of the Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Ark., in therapeutic baths for more than 200 years, looking to ease the ache of anything from rheumatism to travel fatigue. Here, 800,000 gallons of hot (147 degrees Fahrenheit) water bubbles freely from the earth each day.

The visitor center is downtown, and you can soak away your tiredness in eight historic thermal bathhouses along famous Bathhouse Row. Try the wonderfully restored Fordyce Bathhouse right there at the center. Or try the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which the Park Service operates in much the same manner as the other bathhouses in their heyday. The Grand Promenade is a landscaped walkway behind Bathhouse Row, and from it you can see the historic and protected springs.

Oh, and there’s a 5,500-acre outdoor park to visit as well. Hot Springs is actually the smallest and oldest of the parks in the National Park System. It was established in 1832, some 40 years before Yellowstone National Park, to protect the 47 naturally flowing thermal springs on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain.

Phone – (501) 624-3383, ext. 640 or (501)624-2701

How to get there: The park is in downtown Hot Springs; Bathhouse Row is on Central Avenue with the mountains of the park flanking the street. Hot Springs is 55 miles southwest of Little Rock and easily reached via highways (marked for Hot Springs) running west from Benton, Malvern or Arkadelphia, on I-30.

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