I have always craved any connection to the outdoors.
Without hesitation as a little boy, I would ask my mom to take me in to Wingate’s Meat Market in Orange every single time we passed by. And about once a month, she would relent.
It had nothing to do with their meat, but because the owner Nick Wingate had an amazing taxidermy collection featuring mainly giant fish he had caught in the Gulf of Mexico. There was a hammerhead shark, tiger shark, grouper and a huge alligator fish along with a big buck that had been killed in Orange County where we lived. All of this blew my mind and allowed me to visualize things I wanted to do in the future.
There was also a furniture store located in West Orange that had a mountain lion in a full body mount. This cat was mounted on a pole in the center and was featured in a jumping position. I had never seen a full body cougar mount, and for a kid who was already into these great cats it became more fuel for my imagination.
Living in Orange we would go to nearby Port Arthur or Beaumont about once every two weeks. I remember visiting the K-Mart off Twin City in Port Arthur and seeing a full-body, standing brown bear and a polar bear in a car dealership across the street.
Being persistent, I begged my mom to take me in and was stunned at how big those bears were. I remember the gentlemen inside getting a kick out of a kid who wanted to come in just to see the bears.
When I was old enough to read (kindergarten) 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 text over and over again and stared at the photos. I imagined 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. A 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. Then he’d send the younger Fowler out to tangle with it.
I remember watching them getting super close to Cape buffaloes in Africa, and 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 love sitting in my Dad’s lap and 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 and imagine myself pursuing the amazing creatures that were splashed across the pages. I lived 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 scrap book, 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, the black marlin has 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. However, some of my favorites were animals 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 I shot a few miles from her property brings me back to that photo. The scrap books 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.
To this day I have things that feed my need for the great outdoors. When I need inspiration, I watch Austin Stevens Adventures episodes on Youtube, or grab one of my books about fish of the Gulf of Mexico.
If you have a child in your life who loves the great outdoors feed that need by buying them books. Give them your copies of Texas Fish and Game or give them their own subscription. Perhaps you can turn them on to our digital edition so they can peruse it on their smart phone or tablet.
We can’t be outdoors every day or even most days, but we can find ways to feed the need. The more chances we give young people to get excited about the great outdoors, the better off they will be.
Then, they can turn a curiosity into a full-blown passion as adults.
Email Chester Moore at [email protected]