I’LL NEVER FORGET the first time my father and I sat in a blind together on our friend Robert Scherer’s property in Jim Hogg County.
Most years growing up, we could barely afford to hunt a day lease for a weekend, much less hunt on a highly managed trophy whitetail ranch in South Texas. This was dream come true stuff for Dad and for me.
Dad was like a kid in a candy store seeing all of the deer along with bobcats, javelina and gorgeous green jays that sat on a limb a few feet away from the blind.
This was the moment I felt most blessed to work in the wildlife industry. Scherer had me down to hunt, not because I was going to write an article but because of a friendship we made through a company he owned called American Rodsmiths.
If nothing else I ever did mattered, getting my Dad an opportunity to hunt on a place like this was worth it.
We grew up on a tight budget but Dad grew up poor. Real poor.
The only Christmas gift he ever remembers getting was a wind-up caterpillar and he and his siblings had to suffer all kinds of issues because of poverty.
When I came along he changed his life and although he and I often butted heads, he did everything he possibly could to make my life better. And a huge part of that was introducing me to the great outdoors. That meant listening to my constant questions on what was the biggest deer he ever saw and if he had ever seen a wild turkey.
On the fishing front we spent an incredible amount of time together from the time I was four until he passed away at 71 when I was 41. I was born on Dad’s 30th birthday so his age was always easy to remember.
I have constantly been given tackle to try out over the years and I got so much it was impossible to use it all so I loved showing up at Dad’s house with rods, reels, lures and tackle boxes. I love getting gear but being able to see Dad light up when he got new fishing gear was special.
Getting him to use it sometimes was tough. When people grow up in poverty they are sometimes scared to ruin good things they get so I constantly had to tell him he should bring out the new stuff.
One of the most special things he ever did for me (along with mom) was take me for three days bass fishing at Toledo Bend when I was nine. I had never been and at this point bass were like the white whale in Moby Dick-amazing!
We caught gar, drum and I hadn’t yet discovered flounder so to me bass was the ultimate trophy.
After all that’s what Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, Roland Martin and Orlando Wilson caught! I bass fished vicariously through those guys for years.
I will never forget him throwing out a Devil’s Warhorse, twitching it once and seeing a bass boil under it. He handed it to me, I twitched it again and I caught my first bass! It was about three pounds but it might has well have been a world record. That was a special catch for both of us.
A few days before I wrote this story I walked into Bass Pro Shops in Pearland, Texas and tears came down my eyes. The last time I was in this store Dad was with me and everything I saw reminded me of him and how much he loved me and showed me that love through the great outdoors.
One of my greatest desires in life is to be truly authentic in the things I do and what I write. In other words I don’t’ want any agenda or lack of courage about sharing true feelings to creep in. I want it all to be real. In the business of wildlife journalism and the outdoors industry it is easy to put agendas first. For me it’s always wildlife/resources first and then the everyday outdoors lover and then me. Trust me, if I had played my cards differently I could be at a different high dollar lodge on someone else’s coin every couple of weeks.
I do that sometimes but only when it’s in a genuine setting and I always make sure to bring something back information wise everyone can enjoy.
In this moment I was as raw and real as I had ever been with myself and I realized that quest for honesty is for my Dad. It was just his sincerity that shined through in moments as simple as walking into a beautiful Bass Pro Shops store.
I can’t bless Dad now because he passed away nearly five years ago on the same ranch I spoke of at the beginning of this article, two years after he shot the biggest buck of his life there and the night after he shot his second biggest buck ever.
I can however bless his memory and let it live on.
I thought of burying his deer rifle on that property and walking away from deer hunting altogether because it hasn’t been the same since Dad left our family. But my friend Josh Slone has rekindled my love for whitetail and I will hunt this year exclusively with Dad’s rifle.
Dad also loved hunting exotics at our friend Thompson Temple’s ranches.
I recently found Dad’s bow and a bunch of arrows armed with broadheads. I am going to go ram hunting out there and take the Texas Slam (corsican, mouflon, Texas dall and Hawaiian black) with that exact bow. And for each ram I will donate $100 to the Wild Sheep Foundation in his name to help the bighorn sheep of America. Dad and I always shared a love of them, although we could only afford to shoot a Texas slam. Ha!
I learned conservation because I grew up hunting with a Dad who loved wildlife and fished with a Dad who respected the resource.
And I had good heroes like Marlin Perkins, Jim Fowler and Peter Gros from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Jacque Cousteau to watch with him on television.
If your Dad is alive do what you can to bless him with an outdoors experience and if he is not, honor him by pursuing his favorite game or fish and donating to a wildlife nonprofit that helps those critters and habitat.
My quest to do this begins right now…
MY MOTHER REFUSED to go fishing with my Dad.
As the story goes, they were fishing Lake Livingston on an unseasonably cold early spring day. As my Dad recalled the day, he caught bigger crappie in one sitting than he ever did in his life elsewhere, combined.
My mother, after sitting in the boat and sipping on sodas, had to go to the bathroom, but Dad refused to leave—for hours.
When she hit the shore, she promised never to go fishing with him again…and she didn’t—that is until I was born.
I wanted mom to tag along on some trips, so mom went with Dad and me. We sat on the rocks at Pleasure Island and fished for alligator garfish. On the shores of Cow Bayou we soaked dead shrimp and cut bait for catfish.
But after a few trips, Dad and I flew solo.
Mom and Dad had a good relationship, but fishing was a point of contention. I am sure many women reading this totally get it. I am sure more than few men would have done the same thing as Dad. I mean after all, he was catching crappie in the two-pound class!
My mom was never into hunting, although she certainly appreciated it. However, she loved it when we brought a backstrap home from deer camp for her to fry.
More importantly she loved seeing my smiling face as I recounted tales of seeing wild turkeys on the Winkel Ranch day lease in Llano. She would break out the Polaroid to take shots of me with redfish we brought home to clean in the backyard; and she supported me in the earliest stages of my career as a wildlife journalist.
Many people don’t know I started doing all of this when I was a teenager. Although my mom wasn’t much for waking up at 5 a.m. to climb into a treestand, she often drove me to Houston, so I could shoot photos of animals at the Houston Zoo.
She and my grandmother, the late Ruby Pickard, both took me on these types of expeditions. Before I ever envisioned all of what I am doing now, they allowed me a platform to do something I loved with wildlife.
Mom hated going into the reptile building, especially after a large cobra struck at the glass when I was face to face with it. After that she stood at the entrance and allowed me to view the snakes on my own.
I would not be where I am today in the world of wildlife journalism without my mother’s love and support.
Some mothers take a more active role in hunting and fishing as many take to the field. There are special clothing lines, guns and even outdoor television shows for women now. but just a few years back this was nonexistent.
In earlier times, women were never really mentioned in the outdoor industry. Although it’s awesome that this has now changed, we should remember with respect the women who went into the great outdoors when few welcomed them.
Growing up, I remember seeing a lot of older women who took their grandkids fishing in canals near my home. Sitting on a white bait bucket or a lawn chair, they brought cane poles, earthworms and chicken liver and caught whatever bit. The catch was usually bream or bullheads (mud cats), but for the kids who accompanied them it was fishing bliss.
My uncle told a story of seeing an old lady who was always on one of the aforementioned white buckets. She would keep literally every single perch she caught no matter the size. Some were only palm-sized.
When he asked her what she did with them, she said, “Fry them whole.”—I’m talking without skinning or scaling!
I love stories like that.
Not everyone grew up watching The Food Network and figuring out 100 ways to cook a fish. Some ladies just threw them in the grease after dipping them in batter and fried them up.
Many women from impoverished families grew up knowing that whatever they caught or killed was going to be dinner. Since they were most likely the ones who would cook, they might as well enjoy the pursuit.
As a child, I remember meeting some of these ladies with sadness in my heart. As a man looking back, I realize it wasn’t so much sadness, but just an appreciation for their humility and perseverance.
It was obvious they loved to fish, but they weren’t exactly cruising the lake in the latest bass boat. This was fishing in poverty.
In a culture that loves the rich, famous, political, connected, controversial, beautiful and talented, we often not only ignore the humble but outright run them over.
Even today in the outdoor media there is an idea that women in the outdoors are supposed to be buxom blondes with big assets and Victoria’s Secret model looks. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.
But once you’ve seen some chick in a bikini fight a marlin on a television show you quickly realize two things:
A) They were probably put on television for their looks, not their skills.
B) They didn’t have fishing shows like that when you were a kid. The only blonde we had was Jimmy Houston. I love Jimmy, but it ain’t the same.
There are real women who hunt and fish. Some real women get their hands dirty gutting deer and hogs and scaling redfish and crappie.
Some moms stay back and cook at deer camp to make things comfortable for the families they love so much. Some of them look like models, but most just look like America, real, proud and hard working.
I salute all outdoor mothers whether you were like mine and operated behind the scenes, or taught your son or daughter how to skin a buck.
You are greatly appreciated.
—story by CHESTER MOORE