M y first memory is two teenage neighbors bringing over a big cottonmouth they killed in the brushy field down the street.
The next thing I remember is sitting with my dad on the docks at the Port of Orange catching croakers and black drum. After that it is watching him catch a seven-foot long alligator garfish at one of our roadside fishing holes.
We aptly named the armored beast “Moby” and although it was not a white whale the pursuit of such creatures would lead me to a number adventures throughout my life.
From the beginning, I have been obsessed with wildlife. Whether it was big, tall, great or small it has piqued my interest at some point or other and led to an incredibly fulfilling, adventurous and unique life.
I was a child of the wild.
I was born in 1973 so my formative years were in the ’70s and early ’80s when things were much simpler than they are now. Most of us only had three television channels to choose from. There was no Internet, and you had to go an arcade to play a video game. For those of you a decade or so younger than me, it might seem as if I am describing the dark ages, but this was reality.
Being an only child, I spent a lot of time alone and with my parents, and at a very early age my mother read to me. She did this every single day. By kindergarten I was reading at a second grade level. Sports Afield, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and other outdoor magazines were strewn around the house and became reading favorites. Soon though, my parents started buying me wildlife books, two of which stand out.
One was from the classic Golden Books line and was simply called Reptiles & Amphibians. The other we ordered from the Time Life series on television was called Dangerous Sea Creatures. I would read the texts over and over again. I stared at the photos imagining myself encountering king cobras, saltwater crocodiles and going down in a shark cage like ocean explorer extraordinaire, Jacques Cousteau.
During these years you could take a class full of first graders and ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up. At least half would say marine biologist or ocean explorer. Cousteau, who had invented scuba technology, had frequent television specials viewed by millions. Children around the world were captivated by his exploits and that definitely included me.
Another major influence was a program that came on every Sunday evening called Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. It was hosted by an eloquent zoo manager named Marlin Perkins and his younger, more adventurous cohort Jim Fowler. They traversed the world in search of wild creatures of all kinds and had amazing on camera chemistry.
Perkins would see the animal and talk about how incredible it was to be so close and then send the younger Fowler out to tangle with it. I remember watching them getting super close to Cape buffaloes in Africa, toying with alligators. It was a big deal when Perkins got in on the action as they both wrestled with a monstrous anaconda in the jungle of South America.
I used to live sitting in my Dad’s lap, putting together hunting and fishing scrapbooks from his hunting and fishing magazines. We eventually expanded into going to the local thrift shop and wiping out their supply. They sold for a nickel apiece, so dumping out my piggy bank would yield several dozen at a time. They were like gold to me.
I would look at the photos, imagine myself pursuing the amazing creatures splashed across the pages and live vicariously through the hunters and anglers pictured within.
One of our early finds was a full-page photo of a man with a nice mule deer he took with a bow and arrow. I thought the muley was great, but I was convinced it was my uncle Jackie Moore in the photo. I still have this scrapbook and the guy is an absolute dead ringer for my late uncle.
Another favorite was a group of men loading a 15-foot-long black marlin onto a boat. Billfish were pretty fascinating, and I had never seen one so big. Since that time, black marlins have been near the top of my fishing dreams.
Many of the photos were of wild, exotic animals and fish from Africa, South America and Asia, but some of my favorites were animals that I knew lived in our local woodlands.
Back in the early ’80s, North American Hunter would have a centerfold of some game animal or bird in each issue. I cut out a stunning photo of a wood duck drake that haunted my imagination every time we would go out to my Aunt Ann’s property in southern Newton County.
There were lots of woodies in the creek bottom there, and the thought of shooting one of those beautiful birds inspired me. In fact, simply looking at the mounted wood duck drake that I shot a few miles from her property brings me back to that photo. The scrapbooks helped define my interest in the outdoors.
My all-time favorite shot was another North American Hunter centerfold of a gigantic cougar slinking along some rocks in the Sierra Nevadas.
We truly hope this magazine gets used for the same purposes. For 25 years through the vision of Roy and Ardia Neves thousands of kids enrolled in wildlife classes have received this magazine to use as an educational tool. On top of that for the last four years we have provided a weekly e-newsletter for teachers that links to pertinent stories at fishgame.com and gives lesson suggestions based on those stories.
We want more “wild children” out there. If thumbing through the digital edition on their smart phones or cutting out some of the photos for posters in their room helps, then we have done our job.
Email Chester Moore at [email protected]