The above image is of my friend Roxanne, her brother and their late father. Their father was a devout outdoorsman who instilled in them a love for Creation. I started this blog/article/rambling 2 years ago. Roxanne looked it over for me and discussed her father and his impact on her. As the following will show, I lost my father 13 years ago. Roxanne also lost her father. I was honored to have her look over this and even more so that she allowed me to show a picture from her childhood. Parents, your kids are watching.
When I first started this piece (in October of 2016) I had it titled “What’s your why?” This morning, my gut said that wouldn’t do. I also revisited this piece over and over. I don’t know the “requirements” on blog length versus article length and so on. So, reckon this is it. Enjoy. –Tyler
For anything we do in life, we gotta have a “why”, or a “calling”-our motivation. Sometimes, we say what it is; sometimes we act like we don’t have a calling, and, perhaps sometimes, we just hide it. Your personal why applies to all the components of your life — no matter what it is. This includes: your passions, your interest, your work, your family, the list goes on.
My why for this website/blog/whatever else comes of this is multi-layered. The largest majority is that I feel my calling on this Earth is to take care and protect God’s creation and all that it entails. The other side is to help, in any way, to provide things for my sons that were not accessible to me. Obviously, the other reasons are: I love to hunt, I am obsessed with archery, I love being outside, I love watching the natural world and I love the meat. As you can tell, my reasons are pretty straightforward — nothing too wild.
My why for my hunting and conservation obsession is a bit involved; strap in folks because this may be a “hum dinger” as they say. Growing up, our family didn’t have much. In fact, I felt selfish asking for certain things, as all my siblings did. But I asked for stuff to hunt with. And I know that it broke my parents heart telling me that I would have to wait. Contrary to popular belief, if you didn’t have granddaddy’s gun, it did not matter how much public land that allowed hunting was outside your door. Guns cost money, as does the ammunition, and we were limited on it. I do not begrudge or regret growing up that way. I think it helped with the drive that myself and my siblings all exhibit. And, it also showed us to be grateful.
Since I didn’t have the stuff to go hunting, reading all the stories about the founding fathers and other notable historic figures hunting may have been rough on some folks. But it gave me a goal, something to aim for. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were my heroes until I hit middle school and was engulfed in tales of Teddy Roosevelt, reading the works of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Brian Jacques (I apologize for the nerd out) and others. My mind stayed focused and obsessed with hunting and just being outside. In the woods, I pretended I was taking a bison with TR, or grinning down a “bar” with Davy Crockett. I loved the outdoors and all its bounties, even just as a spectator.
This love for the land and the wild inhabitants led me to constantly do whatever I could to be outside. My dad and uncle spoke to me about the importance of how we interacted with the landscape. They also taught me how we utilize the land. My dad worked a few odd jobs here and there when he wasn’t at one of his three full–time gigs. I would accompany him on many of them since a lot of the handyman work pertained to being outside. We would clean up yards, take down falling and/or fallen trees, landscape, demo and anything else that was needed.
I remember being with my dad at a dairy. I remember we were helping with some real basic carpentry, nothing too involved. I remember seeing a white car pull up and an individual hop out with a clipboard and a pair of hiking boots that looked ask if they had just come off the shelf. The man had an air about him that just made me want to keep an eye on him, kind of like a politician. Then he preceded to talk down to the dairy farmer, telling him that he would place slurry ponds on the areas of the map that were indicated and nowhere else; otherwise he would be in violation of the new .0200 laws that had come out to address confined animal operations. The farmer looked it over and voiced the concern over his neighbors having to see and smell the slurry since it was on the property line and closest to the road. He offered to put it further away on his property in an area that was away from his neighbors. The gentleman in the new hiking boots began to chastise the farmer. The farmer stood his ground. I then remember hearing a phrase that would become a standard from that day on “You dumb backwoods hillbillies” (he used other spirited language) from a government official. Shortly there after, the dairy closed. In fact, where I live, at one time there were 35 dairies. There were 35 different places for folks to go and earn an honest dollar. Now there are two. And more houses dot the landscape. Since that day in 1996, I knew something in me had changed and would never be the same again.
As I grew up and stared high school, trout fishing was obtainable. I took some funds I had earned from some odd jobs and bought a few poles and tackle. I would hit the fishing holes when I could get a ride from friends or my parents. I was very blessed to be in an area with trout waters all over. And I loved getting out there. I remember wading a stretch that was deemed wild trout waters and coming upon a plethora of mud. The mud was washing in from a spot where a bulldozer had just pushed on through. The rains and terrain had forced that soil down into these waters and the increase of sediment ruined the fishing. I waded back to the main branch where my buddies, and all around them was the sediment. We set on the bank and just stared to see how long it would be before it washed. It didn’t stop. We went home, came back, still silty. Come to find out, the individual who drove the bulldozer was clearing land for a homesite. The county it was in, required very little permitting or permission, and depending on your last name, even that didn’t matter. I found myself in a weird spot. I went to the same place that the dairy debacle had gone to.
Around this same time, another thing happened. I turned 16. In NC, you have to be 18 to buy a rifle, 21 for a handgun, but for a pellet rifle, you just had to be 16. After I got my license, I drove my 1988 hand–me–down Subaru to Wal-Mart and laid $50.00 on the counter for the Grizzly. I can’t remember who made it, but it was camouflage and a pump. And I wore the springs out of it. I got my Hunter’s Safety class done, and bought my license. Squirrels and rabbits were the primary targets, and I went all over creation for them. The woods behind my parents transitioned from a place of spectating, to a place where I began participating. And the fire had a little lighter fluid dumped on it. I would meet with some buddies, and we would plink through the woods, down to the trout stream and enjoy nature.
Shortly there after, my former brother–in–law gave me a New England’s Firearms Single-Shot 20 gauge. That fire has a little diesel thrown on it. My pursuits went to more small games and some migratory birds and then turkeys. I became obsessed with turkeys. I remember the first time I heard a gobble in the morning. The world sounded like it was coming apart; my heart hit my throat like a right hook, and I never looked back. It took a lot of trial and error due to the fact and my buddies and I were primarily in the same boat regarding knowledge on turkeys.
My dad was not a hunter. He enjoyed pheasant hunting where they lived in Iowa and Missouri, but that was about it. So I did not have any hunting mentors at that point in my life. So, naturally, I was not exactly a good hunter — and certainly not one who made good decisions. In fact, you would not want me as a spokesman for the pursuit at that age. I may or may not have viewed some regulations as guidelines. All the choices I made where mine and mine alone, even the ones that I felt where not right. But, it would have been nice to have someone, or some resource, to show me the way that didn’t cost a subscription.
After high school I went and worked multiple jobs, and learned the harsh realities of living 100 percent on your own. My brother was moving to Georgia to live with my sister and her husband so he could be with her and our niece while my former brother-in-law was deployed. Georgia offered the Hope Scholarship. Little brother was(and still is) smart. Seemed like a good plan. He moved down to southern Georgia, right at the Florida line. The outdoor opportunities were everywhere down there, and I gave him all my camouflage, camp stuff, fishing poles, tackle, a few knives and my pellet gun. I kept the 20 gauge; maybe I thought I would get to slide out into the woods. I was wrong. Unfortunately, that 20 gauge didn’t last much past that point. One evening, a person, whom I thought was a friend, broke in to my apartment. He decided to throw a party. My guns (the 20 gauge and a Marlin 22 I had just bought) where stolen, as well as my roommates stuff. So I went from having the ability to chase game back to square one. The loss of the 20 gauge weighed heavier on me than I wanted to admit. I took my first turkey with that gun, my first dove with that gun, missed my first deer with that gun. It was tough.
During this time I was working for my then-future father–in-law’s company at nights and working for my buddy’s stair business during the day. I fished a lot, did some other things that I wish I didn’t, but primarily stayed where I was. I was miserable going to work and hated working non-stop and feeling like I was not going to get ahead. I knew that I did not want to spend my time hating work and barely getting by. I saw what it had done to my parents and how it affected their health and demeanor. But. I trudged on for a while like this. Then, on Christmas Eve in 2005, everything changed. My father died of a massive heart attack. He was 51. I had spoke with him the night before and was actually going to see him that evening. Life is short, folks;love on people, and chase your dreams. After this, I knew that I needed to do something else. So, I applied to a couple of schools and was accepted to a private college near home.
I started out there and discovered the pains of student loans. I also discovered why a private college is private and how a diverse amount of majors is pretty sweet. At that school, I essentially had three different majors to choose from. I opted to transfer to Western Carolina University (WNC). I had 36 credit hours and only 9 transferred in. Since I needed at least 12, that meant I had to spend a year at community colleges. At this time, I was working for a utility company as a helper. I loved the part of being outside, but I really enjoyed working with the crew listening to their stories of hunts they went on and had planned. One gentlemen, Joe, had hunted all over creation it had seemed. I would leave some days resisting the urge to call Joe and ask about hunts on Nantahala he had done.
My then-fiancé, now-wife, Britney, knew that I just wanted to hunt. So, she asked me what is the one thing you really want that would get you back in the woods. I told her a 12–gauge shotgun because at that time, I could hunt everything in NC with it. I chalked it up as a question and nothing more. That following Spring I started at WCU. I was undeclared and really wanted to get into the school of music. To save myself some embarrassment, we can just leave that there. I was not accepted into the school of music and had no idea what I wanted to do. So I went fishing with Brit and my buddy Ian on the Tuckaseegee and remembered Britney saying that we needed to run into town. Ian drove us to Wal-Mart. I got out of the truck with Brit and we walked inside. I did my usual and told her that I would be back at sporting goods. She smiled and went to customer service. Ian and I perused around the aisles and then we popped out at the desk at sporting goods where Brit and a manager stood. He had a Remington 870 12 gauge with a 3″ receiver and black walnut stock. I was wondering what was going on and turned to ask Ian if he knew. He was horse laughing and Brit said “Happy Valentine’s Day.“ The manager walked us out with my new shotgun. In that moment, I could have cried. I do not think she realized what that meant to me. I had nothing, was trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, had missed hunting so bad and was doing everything I could to get the funds back up to get back in the game. And she worked her tail off and bought me a shotgun. It might sound very redneck to folks who don’t understand, but to me, it might as well have been a brand new car, a house on the lake, or the keys to the Biltmore.
With a new shotgun and two weeks left of squirrel season, I took to the woods. The third shot from that gun put a gray squirrel in my back pouch. I felt revitalized; the fire that had dwindled had some embers glowing. Then two months after that, those embers started roasting. The King of Spring had arrived. I chased thunder chickens all over Jackson County. Never connected, but I loved every minute of it. I was excited to be able to pursue game again and started back into obsessing about the animals I wanted to go after.
Before school ended that semester, I had to declare a major. I spent a few days in some counselor’s office where we talked about everything under the sun. I took test and quizzes, personality evaluations and anything else that is supposedly the matrix to help someone decide their future in the realm of higher academia. I had every major offered in the UNC Public School System as the “number 1 option” throughout all the tests. That poor counselor was about at her wits end. So the last day I was supposed to go see her, she asked me to just talk. We talked about everything there was to talk about. She took a few notes and smiled every time I mentioned fishing. She didn’t smile, but she made a note every time I mentioned hunting. She remained silent as I responded to her questions and then she asked,“Outside of your father’s passing, are there any other events that stick out?” Obviously at this time, the only thing that resonated with me was his passing and the passing of others in my life. But my mind went back to the dairy. For whatever reason I spoke about it, and then I talked about the stream I was fishing all those years ago that got covered in sediment. She smiled and asked, “Have you ever heard about GeoSciences and natural resources, Mr. Ross?” And then it all came together. I walked out of that office having declared a NRCM Major.
The following semester, I started my major classes. I met a bunch of fellow hunters and anglers, and we hung out quite a bit. Our professor had deemed us the “biggest bunch of flunkies” he had ever seen. One of us is a doctor, two of us work public sector with our degrees and others are scattered about the U.S.fighting the good fight for conservation. We may not have been the brightest bunch, but let the record show, we where the best bunch of flunkies.
One evening after class, I went with Brit to my buddy Charlie’s house off campus for dinner. When I pulled up Charlie was shooting a bow on his porch. I then did something that I think my wife may regret, I asked to shoot the bow, and Charlie obliged. Two hours later, I went in for dinner. The fire had become an inferno. I bought that Jennings Carbon Extreme XLR from Charlie and shot it until the limbs cracked. I then “upgraded” to a Hoyt Magnatec XT2000. Two of my best friends that I grew up with took me under their wings. Jordan took me to my first Pro shop and we spent hours flinging arrows. When he was home, I’d bug him with question after question; and I still do. I was a bow hunting fool within the year. And the habitat and characteristics of the whitetail had started to eat away at me. It has plagued my entire being; it’s a thing of beauty. It has now blossomed into so much more.
Throughout my career at Western, I had times where my faith was not put into question, but more reaffirmed. You see, in the pursuit of science, there are many of us who find that what theories and laws prove just keep pointing back to an intelligent design. To me, it reaffirms my belief in God. There were times when Christians viewed science as evil, and times where science looked at Christians as a group of ignorant nut jobs. I felt a conviction when I started the pursuit of my degree, one that stays with me.
After I graduated, I did the time until I finally got an interview for a gig that required my degree. I was given the position, and it has led to an awesome career, meeting some great people from around the nation. Around that time I also welcomed my first child, a son, to this Earth. Three years later, his brother joined us. They would rather be outside, than anywhere else. They may have been bitten by the bug as well.
So, you are probably like “Wow, this dude rambles more than the Allman Brothers (#seewhatIdidthere)” and you would be right. But my calling comes from all those experiences. My calling came from that I always wanted to and my heroes of my youth held our Earth and the pursuit of wild game in the highest of respect. My calling comes from that I did not have the guidance I needed as a young sportsmen, and I want to assist someone who is in a similar situation or just needs a mentoring. My calling comes from my love of the thunder of a gobble, I live for the grunt in the crisp air, and for the fight on the line. My calling comes from the fact a stick and string resonates to the core of my being in a primal sense that connects me to my ancestors. My comes from that I want to be the one who provided my family with the most organic protein on this Earth. My calling is derived from the fact I do not believe that science shows us to stay way and “let it go natural”; that in many scenarios we must do our part to repair what we have neglected. My calling comes from the fact I am a dumb hillbilly who cares more about the land and its resources than the media would leave you to believe. I believe it is my calling by the good Lord above to protect our natural resources and preach the message of environmental stewardship. I cannot wait for the day to teach my grandchildren, and I need to be ready to make them not only better hunters and stewards, but better people. All of this, and then some.