May 03, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
If your inbox was anything like mine recently, there were a lot of new messages noting that Friday, April 22, 2022, was the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day. And to be certain, that’s quite an accomplishment.
But while the date itself is noteworthy, the adoption of a lifestyle that seeks to put back more than we take out is even more worthy of celebrating.
In two instances over the last several days, I’ve seen evidence of that giving back mentality, one from a well-known figure in the outdoors industry and the other from a person that few will ever know outside of a small North Texas town.
In the case of the former, countless people celebrated late last week when Mr. Fox Haas, the 91-year old father of Toxey Haas — the founder of Mossy Oak — kept a streak going that has captured the imaginations of many in recent years.
“Congrats to Mr. Fox on an iconic milestone,” said the West Point, Miss. company’s social media platforms last Thursday. “This morning at 91-years old, Mr. Fox with his son and grandsons called in this fine Mississippi long beard, and he has now killed a turkey 75 seasons in a row. Thank you for everyone who’s sent prayers our way and cheered him on. This morning was one we’ll remember forever.”
Mossy Oak intends to keep those memories going for Mr. Fox and many others for years and years to come, recently introducing its own Wild Turkey Conservation Stamp to help lovesick toms strutting through the woods for several more generations. The $15 limited edition Mossy Oak stamp — which brings back memories of the U.S. Postal Service’s own wildlife conservation stamp featuring wild turkeys in 1956 and the National Wild Turkey Federation’s wild turkey conservation stamp program in 1976 and beyond — features the artwork of Dan Morteon and is an actual stamp that measures some 1.5” x 2”.
“In keeping with our motto of leaving the world better than we found it, Mossy Oak will donate 100% of the money raised from the sale of the Wild Turkey Conservation Stamp to help directly fund wild turkey research projects to ensure the wild turkey population is around for generations to come,” states the well-known outdoors industry company, which will rely on projects chosen by Dr. Mike Chamberlain and Dr. Marcus Lashley, gamekeepers and advisory board members with Mossy Oak.
While Mossy Oak certainly isn’t the only company that is concerned with the concept of leaving the world a better place, especially in the outdoors space, the idea is more than a slogan or e-mail header for the Haas family.
“My dad taught me a lot of things growing up in the woods with him,” states Toxey Haas of Mr. Fox. “From an early age, he instilled to always leave my piece of dirt better than I found it, and to love and respect all critters we hunted, but especially wild turkeys. Later in life, we started calling that being a gamekeeper.
“The wild turkey hasn’t always been here,” Toxey continued. “In West Point, Mississippi, my home and where Mossy Oak remains, we didn’t even have wild turkeys when I was born. I had to drive down to Choctaw Bluff in South Alabama to hunt them. I can’t imagine a spring morning spent without the chance to hear one of the sweetest sounds in all of nature — a wild turkey gobble. And we dang sure want to do everything we can to ensure our kids and grandkids don’t have to wonder what that sounds like. No disrespect to so many other animals we love, but the wild turkey is the grandest of birds.
“Without wild turkeys there would be no Mossy Oak. And it’s our responsibility to do everything we can with the time we have on earth to ensure the turkey hunting community leaves the wild turkey better off than we found them. Turkeys are a precious resource, and they’re more vulnerable than most of the animals we hunt.
“We’ve always helped look after them, but we’re really proud to create our first wild turkey conservation stamp. Every cent we raise from this stamp will go directly toward conservation research projects with nothing else left over. If we can improve the dirt we have been given and everyone reading this does the same, we’ll have left it better than we found it.”
Keep that last statement by Toxey in mind — more on that later.
Certainly, the folks at Haas’s camo-making company know something about the concept of putting back more than you take, as do many other companies in the outdoors industry. In Mossy Oak’s case, the company that Toxey founded when he walked into a textile mill with a fistful of dirt, twigs, and leaves and a flaming desire to get closer to wild critters, the passion and commitment are core values in their everyday lifestyles and business endeavors.
Those same values drive many other outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen around the country, people who love to get outside and enjoy — and take care of — the third rock from the sun that we all live on.
Against that backdrop, there is much to celebrate, right? Take, for instance, the graphic put out by Mossy Oak last week that shows a “Then to Now” timeline of the recoveries of many of North America’s top big game species.
The white-tailed deer is at the head of that list, moving from 500,000 or so in the early 1900s to more than 25 million today. The Lone Star State of Texas — home to more than 5 million whitetails at last count — had a recent annual harvest of more than 850,000 deer and nearly 450,000 of those being bucks!
The success stories don’t stop there, either. Around the time of Pearl Harbor, the nation’s elk population had dwindled down to around 41,000 animals nationwide. Today, there’s more than 1 million wapiti bugling their way across a September mountainside. And staying out West, by 1950, pronghorn antelope numbers had declined to around 12,000 or so, rebounding today to more than 1 million.
Not all of the big game success story news is confined to the American West, either, since black bear numbers east of the Mississippi River have rebounded from near extinction in the early 1900s to more than 300,000 bruins today.
Birds have also been an integral part of the success story too, a story born out of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The wood duck, so prevalent in many swamps and wetlands of the southern and eastern U.S., was facing near extinction in the early 1900s. But today, thanks to countless wood duck nesting boxes and the conservation of the watery timber habitats they need, woodies number some 4.6 million.
And then there’s the wild turkey, a bird that keeps Mr. Fox heading into the springtime woods, and a creature so wonderful that Benjamin Franklin wanted it to be the avian symbol of our nation instead of the scavenging bald eagle. While turkeys aren’t thriving everywhere these days, the species still has seen its own success story in years gone by.
How so? Well, in 1940, not too long before Mr. Fox began his Ironman turkey hunting streak, simply hearing a gobble in the spring was a lot more of a challenge when you stepped outside since the wild turkey numbered only about 30,000 birds back then. But today, there are more than 6 million turkeys roaming the wilds of America, although the species is declining in places and much more conservation work remains to be done.
For wild hens and gobblers, that work includes joining conservation organizations like the NWTF, which has just announced its own urgent “Help the Yelp” initiative.
And if turkeys aren’t your thing, there are numerous other hard working conservation organizations worthy of joining too if you desire to leave this outdoors world better than you found it. Such organizations include Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, the National Deer Association, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Pope and Young Club, and Bowhunters United just to name a few.
Keep in mind that while the concept of leaving the wilds of Creation better than we found it can certainly be embraced through the purchase of a wild turkey stamp or in joining a conservation organization putting money into the dirt and water, there’s another way of living all of this out.
And that’s to be like my friend Tommie, a retired widow who regularly visits a lake I like to fish in North Texas. While she’s never been turkey hunting to my knowledge — or hunting for any other critter or fishing for anything that might bite a hook — she loves the outdoors world and does what she can to leave it a better place on her daily walks.
So much so that this very morning, I saw her walking along the lake’s shoreline, pushing and rolling logs back into the water after a weekend flood event. Why? Because it’s fish habitat and she knows the bass I like to catch love to sit next to a laydown in the water.
She was also carrying a couple of trash bags with her to haul out refuse and debris like soft drink bottles, leftover bait containers, and other items that had floated in on the heavy inflows set off by more than five inches of rainfall.
Why is that important? Because for Tommie, and for Mr. Fox and the Haas family too, the concept of Earth Day isn’t an event to mark and celebrate on the calendar every year. Nor is it an e-mail that one makes sure to get into the Inboxes of customers and clients every April.
Instead, the very idea of taking care of this planet and leaving it better than we found it is an everyday lifestyle that people like Tommie and the Haas family readily embrace and will carry with them to the grave.
If our wild places, wildlife, and fish have any chance of surviving another century as our nation grows and grows and grows, it’s a mindset and lifestyle that we all must make sure is carefully tucked away in our own back pocket.
And that’s to leave the dirt we live on a better place, especially under that old Mossy Oak tree.