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Fox Haas's History with the Wild Turkey

Toxey Haas on his dad Fox Haas's life-long obsession with the wild turkey. Interviewed by Jessi Cole on March 9, 2023.

mr fox with a turkey

Jessi Cole:

Your dad is, to put it mildly, held in high regard in the turkey hunting community. A lot of people, though, don’t know his full story. And it’s a great one. Let’s start with this:

When did your dad kill his first turkey?

Toxey Haas:

He killed his first wild turkey in 1944. It was in the fall season. It was the next year that he actually killed one that was gobbling in the spring.

JC:

How old was he?

TH:

He was 14. He was born in 1930.

JC:

Do you think it was an instant obsession for him?

TH:

So, I think you know at first, I think it was just another thing to hunt. He was just a really big outdoorsman. He was a woodsman and outdoorsmen even as a child; he’d ride 20 or 30 miles on his bike just to go out and hunt. Later on, when he was older, he was always thought of as the great woodsman of his hunting club, even though there were some other great hunters and woodsman in the bunch. I always took pride in that.

JC:

Who taught him to turkey hunt?

TH:

I remember him telling a story about a guy, a gentleman named Neil Frederick. He taught him how to make a mouth call and how to turkey hunt. So that’s another thing, he was running around with the people who invented the mouth call. And the turkey hunting club he joined in the ‘60s had been around since 1926, back when the turkey was almost extinct. Those people in the early days of that club may have had a lot to do with the reason the wild turkey and turkey hunting survived.

a group of men in old army camo

Fox Haas and a group of his turkey hunting friends.

JC:

He killed a turkey every year after that first one. The streak is at 75 seasons, as of right now. There are a couple of lost years in that streak, though, from when he was sick. Can you talk about that?

TH:

He had tuberculosis. He was in the sanatorium; you know, most people died from it. But he was in there for two years. He was flat on his back for 12 months, near death. He got out after a year then relapsed, and he had to spend another 12 months flat on his back, just as close to death. That’s one reason he’s such a patient man.

They gave him an experimental drug that ended up being the one that saved people. So, he was lucky. His dad, who I’m named for, died of tuberculosis. His brother almost died of it. They also took out 2/3 of one of his lungs. He’s really lucky he’s even alive. And he’s now 92 and a half.

JC:

And when did he meet your mom, Mrs. Evelyn?

TH:

When he got out of the sanatorium in ’53, when he was going to school. And they were married in November of ’56.

JC:

Was she supportive of his hunting obsession?

TH:

You know, she embraced it and supported it. That was his thing. She knew he loved to hunt and that he would be gone hunting, and her daddy had grown up hunting and fishing, too. She understood it, and she was an outdoor mom. You know, I lived in that house. I never saw one squabble. Not one. Never. And part of that is you know, you can’t make him argue. He said, “it takes two to argue.” I remember my grandmother saying one of the secrets to having a successful marriage is to let them go do their passion. If that’s not including you, that’s okay, you’ll have some stuff too.

fox and Evelyn haas on a motorcycle

Mr. Fox and his lovely wife, Mrs. Evelyn, having fun.

JC:

Absolutely. That’s a good way to look at it.

So, Mr. Fox successfully reintroduced the wild turkey in West Point, MS--Clay County. Tell me about that.

TH:

It was 1977. He put in for it with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife. He was friends with the local game warden who was actually the head district game warden, Calvin Walker. And he helped arrange it for him and they got the turkeys from over on the Mississippi River, at a place called Catfish Point, and flew them in a little private plane to get them over here right away and turn them loose out at Cottrell Lake. They released ten hens, but they weren’t allowed to take any gobblers. A few months later, a land owner let them have two jakes.

We know for sure that 6 of them successfully nested. 2 of the hens died--one got run over and one got eaten by a bobcat. So, 6 out of 8 hens were successful. The predators around here did not recognize turkey eggs as a food source yet. And, so, they did so well that in about 10 years we let them trap here and they moved ones from here up to north Mississippi where they didn’t have any.

a document of wild turkeys being released in clay county

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' record of 10 hens being released in Clay County, February 1977.

JC:

What did the community of West Point think about him releasing the turkeys?

TH:

You know, it wasn’t really acknowledged. But then people started seeing them when they were deer and squirrel hunting and started asking questions and getting interested.

He’d asked for five years before any hunting season opened up for them. After three years, the population had taken off and people started petitioning to open up a season. So, he had to go to Jackson and testify and hold them to the original agreement. I actually think they opened it the fifth year instead of the sixth year. So, he held them off for four years. Back then people took for granted what we don’t take for granted today--how hard it is to manage a wild population.

JC:

Did he kill one of the turkeys when the Clay County season first opened?

TH:

Yes, he did. Actually, I killed the first one. On the first morning of the first season, I killed one about three seconds after his feet hit the ground. But yes, he killed one that year, too.

JC:

How did that make him feel, for you both to kill a turkey that had come directly from his efforts?

TH:

Oh, he was so proud. But it wasn’t just because he and I had killed one. It was that he had done something. He loved turkey hunting so much and he was so excited to have them in the town where he lived. He was so proud that his efforts had worked.

JC:

Tell me about your first turkey and your dad teaching you to hunt.

TH:

He first took me dove and squirrel hunting. That was cool--a rite of passage. I then went deer hunting. Most of our deer hunting was deer drives with dogs. I think I killed my first deer around 7 or 8. So getting to go turkey hunting was kind of like graduate school. I think I was 9 or 10 before he took me turkey hunting. The first time he took me, I went just to be there with him, to experience it. That’s when the lightning bolt hit me. Hearing one on the roost, in the black dark, in the middle of the Alabama river swamp. He ended up shooting him; it was amazing. I was bit from the first day.

I killed my first one actually in January, when I was 10, in the fall season. We were hunting and rounded a curve and way up the road on the edge of a field we saw some birds. We ducked down and built a little blind and he started calling. Maybe, 20 or 30 minutes, here come a bunch of jakes through there, and I killed one. That was my first turkey. I was so proud.

Toxey and Fox Haas pose with two turkeys

Toxey and his dad on a fine spring morning.

JC:

How about the first one that you called up by yourself. Was he with you?

TH:

No. Uncle Bud and Daddy dropped me off by some woods to hunt and they went on to hunt elsewhere.

One was gobbling, and I worked him all morning long. Finally, about 10:00, he actually circled around behind me and came in and I killed him. That may have been the most excited I’ve ever been.

They were coming across the pasture later to pick me up and they couldn’t see that I had a turkey because I had it over my shoulder. When they got closer I set him down. Daddy wasn’t ever, like, a real hooping and hollering kind of guy. He was always calm pretty much all the time. You know, he wasn’t real huggy back then--he is now. But I think he just shook my hand.

He did say something to me once that always stuck with me. It was right after I had taken an old 20 gauge out to the woods and brought back a rabbit. He said, “I’m real proud of you, son. When a boy is old enough to take his weapon, take a gun out and bring something to eat back to the family, that’s one of a boy’s first steps to becoming a man.”

I remember that distinctly, when I shot that rabbit and brought it back. He also said, “Don’t ever just shoot something for the heck of it. You shoot stuff for family.”

JC:

That’s awesome. Definitely a proud moment for you both.

Your dad is a great example of a gamekeeper. How else did he give back to the land and wildlife?

mr fox in the tree nursery

Fox Haas at Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries, the tree nursery.

TH:

Well he’s always loved planting trees. He’s reforested no telling how much stuff. Planting things for wildlife, like wildflowers, food plots, wheat fields, oats. He loved doing all that. When he finally bought his own place, that’s when it really took off.

In the mid-90’s we had planted some pine trees on our place at Shumulla. I remember him killing a turkey in 2008 or so with his back against a pine tree we had planted. That was pretty cool. And then I killed one with my back against a pine tree that we had planted.

JC:

Tell me about when you started Mossy Oak. What was his reaction?

TH:

He at first was like, you’re going to do what? He and Mama said, “You got this good paying job. You’re fixing to start having kids.” He had to watch for a while, but he saw how determined I was, and how much I wanted to do it. He was more worried about being sure to have my back. Making sure I didn’t fall flat on my face.

But he had to work, you know. He was high up the food chain at Bryan Foods. My mom jumped in and sewed and designed the first head nets. But he didn’t start working at the company until he retired a good many years later. We took him on some hunts, though. In the early years it was me, Diane, and my mom. And then Bill came along, then Carsie Young, then Cindy Cliett and Bob Dixon and Cuz. That was the original first group.

He taught me about leadership from example, which I have tried to relay to my sons Daniel and Neill. He would say, “Have people around you that you trust and then just worry about how much you can do for them. And the rest will take care of itself on its own. It’s a very pivotal brand philosophy for Mossy Oak.

newspaper article about fox haas

Mr. Fox Haas's official title within Mossy Oak is now Chief Gamekeeper.

JC:

When you started taking your kids hunting, did he have a part in that?

TH:

Oh yeah, I was mirroring what he’d done for me. He never once, in all those years, ever told me I was going hunting. Or put any kind of pressure on me to be a hunter. He wanted to know if I wanted to go, and that was it. And we became best friends because of hunting. Best hunting buddies. He’d tell my mom, “I’m gonna get my best hunting buddy there and go hunting at the bluff this weekend.”

Fox Haas and his grandsons

Fox Haas talking to his two grandsons, Daniel and Neill, and Will Dixon and Jake Orman.

JC:

Your dad took you hunting for so many years. What was it like to make that transition of you taking him, and setting him up on turkeys?

TH:

Probably for a good 15+ years now I haven’t wanted to go anywhere at all. Some company things in Texas I’ve gone to, I’ve been a few places, but not much. But these last few years, I just don’t go anywhere. In the past ten years, he could barely get along in the woods by himself and often wouldn’t be feeling good enough to go. I always wanted to be home in case he felt good enough to go. There was no scheduling it out, you just had to be here and be available.

You know, he always showed me unconditional love. And the family. He has your back on every single thing, every time. So, I’m programmed that way. He can’t go without us these days. And I don’t want to miss being there. I wasn’t here for a couple of times, and I know Daniel and Neill loved to take over and be the ones responsible for taking him, but I hated to be away.

You know, nothing lasts forever except love. And all my greatest memories early in life were going hunting with him. And we get to relive those every year, hopefully.

Toxey and Fox Haas walk together

Toxey Haas helps his dad on a Spring 2018 turkey hunt.

JC:

Your dad’s story is one that resonates with a lot of people. His actions, his values—it’s all relatable, attainable. It’s a humble story of a man obsessed with turkeys and doing everything he can to give back to them. Why do you think people are inspired by it?

TH:

He has a demeanor that is so pure. People have gotten to know him through video clips, and through the exuberant love of his grandkids. People read that and read what kind of person he is. He’s a man of few words, but when he does speak, it’s so prolific. Like, “The good that men do will live long after they’re gone.” He can give you so much wisdom in a sentence.

Also, I think he’s one of them. He’s just like one of their friends. The last thing he wants to be is some icon or something. It’s just the story got told to a lot of people. He’s genuine. He just is who he is. I think people see that and it resonates in them.

Even people around here have always held him in super high regard. He’s like a dad to a hundred people who have lost their dad.

And how much he loves it, turkey hunting, has kept him alive. Turkey season has always kept him going and pushing hard to stick around to do it again.

JC:

The Mr. Fox Vest. Let’s talk about that. It’s a beautiful honor to your dad’s legacy. How does it make you feel to see so many people rally around it, build custom calls for it, stand in line for days for it?

TH:

I just want everyone to be happy. We’re going to do the best we can for everybody that wants one.

He has come to stand for the goodness. I believe that most hunters want to know that what they do is right and true and honorable. When someone like him comes along, and for so many years now, the boys have filmed and recorded and presented it to people, and they see that he’s a great example of right and true and honorable. And handling himself in such a way that hunting is right and true and honorable.

And he does love turkeys so much. And let me tell you something, for all that conservation and caring for wildlife and being such a gentle, patient, kind, best friend anybody could have and all that—he’s a true hunter. He likes to pull the trigger; he loves to see them roll. He’s not just about calling them up and seeing them walk off. He wants to put his foot on one’s neck.

mr fox posing with a turkey and the mr fox vest next to him

Mr. Fox killed a turkey with the Traveling Mr. Fox Vest in Spring 2022.

JC:

Well, I just have one last question for you. Are you going to hunt in your Mr. Fox Vest?

TH:

I honestly think it is the best vest I have ever worn. I like it that much. I’m going to hunt in mine. One because the importance of it to me and celebrating Daddy, but two because I think it’s the best vest I’ve ever worn. That’s what I’ll have on all the time.

Watch Mr. Fox's successful turkey hunt from last season below:

 

 

mr fox surrounded by family

Mr. Fox surrounded by his son and grandsons his most recent turkey from Spring 2022.

THE COLONEL AND THE FOX, a feature-length Mossy Oak documentary about Mr. Fox Haas and Col. Tom Kelly will be available for free to the public April 3, 2024 at 7 PM CT.

colonel and the fox

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