The Creation of the Infamous [Bob] Dixon Vest
Written by Jessi Cole
In 2007, exactly 1,986 Dixon Vests were created. No more, no less. The number was chosen carefully to represent the year Mossy Oak was founded. It’s only been 15 years since the vest was released, yet in that short time, an absolute lore and legend has formed around it in the turkey hunting community.
Bob Dixon was one of the original members of the force that was the Mossy Oak executive team. A team that helped launch the brand to the forefront of the hunting industry. Bob joined Mossy Oak to lead sales in the early days of the company in July 1987. Alongside founder Toxey Haas and executives Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland and Bill Sugg, Bob Dixon helped lay the foundation for a camouflage revolution, along with the many others who believed in the Mossy Oak vision.
In 2000, Bob was diagnosed with an advanced stage of colon cancer, and on April 11, 2003, he was called home to his Maker. In his too-short time on earth, he made immeasurable contributions to Mossy Oak by doing what he did best – building relationships with others. His genuine love for all people garnered countless friends in the community as well as the outdoor industry, and he always made time to be a devoted husband and father to his two children.
Photo of Bob Dixon working a turkey call.
In 2005, when Clay White, Ben Maki, Sheldon Lovelace, and Steve Culhane set out to begin a project to honor and memorialize Bob, it didn’t take long for the idea of the ultimate turkey hunting vest to form. Toxey Haas, founder of Mossy Oak and friend to Bob, says, "Ol Hollywood Bob Dixon, he was a pioneer in so many ways for us and with us. He was really a pioneer in the use of a vest."
And the four set out to do this "ultimate turkey hunting vest" the right way. Though at the time they were pressured with the normal worries of profit margins and cost reduction, they knew they couldn’t and wouldn’t cut any corners with this vest. Stronger magnets, better zippers, higher quality fabric, reinforced straps--they were designing a vest light-years ahead of its time, putting into reality every thoughtful concept a turkey hunter could even think to wish for.
They ordered every turkey vest on the market and began to piece together a design that took the best parts of every vest they had seen--and adjusting and honing those parts still further. They engineered features never-before-seen on the market, features like waterproof pockets, angled stitching for easy pocket access, striker pockets that snapped closed themselves, and the infamous green Rubber Quake shoulder straps. They wanted it to truly be a run-and-gun vest, a vest for the dedicated turkey hunter on the move.
Notes from an early design concept of the Dixon Vest.
The final line drawings for the Dixon Vest concept.
But the four didn’t want to just create the best turkey vest on the market—they wanted it to serve as a real connection to Bob.
Clay White says, “The lens we viewed everything through—we thought, ‘Is this going to be a real, legitimate connection to Bob?’ We’re not trying to make this commercialized. We want it to be real. Every turkey hunter needs to know who Bob is, and we want to make it a legacy that everyone can be a part of.”
They then came up with the idea of numbering the vests and producing a limited run of 1,986. And they didn’t stop there. They began calling call manufacturers to donate turkey calls to the first 100 vests—calls that Bob himself loved, swore by, and would have been carrying in his own vest, down to the strikers.
The calls included in the first one hundred were ‘The Green Machine’ glass and slate call from Cody Calls, a ‘Purple Heart’ Primos Box Call signed by Will Primos, a, a box call created and signed by Preston Pittman of Pittman Game Calls, and, finally, an ‘Unfair Advantage Box Call’ replica by Woodhaven, crafted with permission from the family of Doug Camp of Camp Callers.
Each of the calls were also numbered to correlate with the number of the vest.
The five calls included in Dixon Vest #0003.
Each of the manufacturers donated these 100 calls to the cause, dedicated to the spirit of helping a cause bigger than any individual company.
And the manufacturers were able to include their own personal touches. Bill Zearing, founder of Cody Calls, remembered Bob joking around at trade shows and stealing his striker that had a red “x” marked on the end. Bob knew that the marked one was Bill’s favorite striker and his go-to to grab when a customer asked for a demonstration. Bob would always return it with a smile, teasing Bill. It only seemed right that the strikers Bill’s call company provided for the Dixon Vest would be a striker with a red “x” on the bottom.
The Woodhaven box call, a replica of Bob’s favorite Unfair Advantage call, was engraved with the message “This special edition “Unfair Advantage” box call has been built in and is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Doug Camp and Mr. Bob Dixon. Cancer took these great woodsmen away from us and they both left the woods way too soon.”
These personal touches and the thoughtful care that went into every component of the vest is what created an instant legacy and an instant connection to Bob and to every turkey hunter who has left us too soon.
The design was finished with an incorporation of new meets old—the new Mossy Oak Break-Up pattern adorned the outside of the vest while Mossy Oak’s first pattern, Bottomland, decorated the inside of the vest. It was a nod to the past, a nod to origins, and a nod to the work of those before us.
Photography of the Dixon Vest #0003 residing in the Mossy Oak museum.
When the prototypes were ready to review, Steve Culhane and Clay White drove to Bob’s wife’s house in Pine Apple, Alabama, to get her blessing. The two ended up staying all day, drinking tea, eating cookies, and listening to stories and tales about Bob. They learned small details, like the fact that every time Bob came home from a work trip, he would stop and do an owl hoot in the driveway. His small son, Will, would hear the owl hoot and know his dad was home.
Clay remembers this day with Mrs. Faye as his favorite, most humbling, moment of the project.
He says, “It’s was never about the vest or the stuff that went in it. It was all about Bob. It captured his personality of ‘we’re friends if you like the outdoors.’ You didn’t have to earn your spot or prove yourself with him.”
With the blessings from Bob’s family on the design, plans to release the Dixon Vest began. They knew without a doubt all proceeds were to go to cancer research, specifically the ALS Cancer Research Fund. And they knew that Dixon Vest #0001 would go to Will Dixon, Bob’s then 19-year-old son. Vest #0039 went to his daughter, Braden Dixon.
Dixon Vest #0002 was auctioned off at the 2007 Shot Show, landing on a $10,000 price tag with proceeds going to NWTF and ALS Cancer Research Fund.
Dixon Vest #0003 hangs in the Mossy Oak museum down in West Point, Mississippi, and Dixon Vest #0006 hangs in the NWTF museum in Edgefield, South Carolina.
The rest of the first 100 vests were sold through auction batches on Ebay. Mossy Oak Apparel would release a few vests every week, each Dixon Vest going to the highest bidder. Most of these vests were bought by friends of Bob and industry professionals who respected the work he had done to kick open doors for turkey hunters across the country.
Through the auction sales of the first 100 vests alone, $65,000 was raised for cancer research.
And as for Dixon Vests #101-1986, they were released to retailers around the country, selling for $149.99. The lucky few who found the vests bought them quickly, and the entire run of Dixon Vests sold out in a matter of weeks.
It seemed as if every serious turkey hunter had to get their hands on one, and fast.
Advertisement for the Dixon Vest.
Ben Maki, one of the leaders of the project, says “You rarely see a big company that puts its shoulders behind an initiative that wasn’t about profit, that was about honoring someone. And now that project is the most long lasting, legacy projects the company has ever made.”
He continues, “You can talk about features and benefits about a vest, but very few products represent something like this. A universally loved and respected guy that everyone lamented losing so early. It struck a chord with a lot of people that can remember clearly when there weren’t a lot of turkeys around. When it represents something larger than itself it becomes timeless. A good man that lived well and had a deep unadulterated passion for something.”
The Dixon Vest represents so much for so many people. A way of life, a love for your friends, a passion for the wild turkey, a life lost too soon. To say “it’s just a vest” is to miss the entire point.
Photo of the numbering on Dixon Vest #0003.
Sheldon Lovelace says, “This vest, when we did this, I never dreamed it would have the magnitude of today. I’ve manufactured a lot of projects in the outdoor industry, and out of all of the products I’ve done, this is still number one, it means the most.”
Toxey Haas, champion of the project, says "It became a life of its own. The legend of owning a Dixon Vest has come to fruition with the limited amount made to honor him and the origins of the company. 1,986 of 'em, numbered. So for me to stand back from a distance and see him be that buzzword associated with an elite, nostalgic piece of turkey gear makes me feel good. And his son and his family get to see that today."
Mossy Oak Founder Toxey Haas and Bob Dixon circa 1987.
Hunters who own the vest know the value and the sentimentality behind it. Ben Maki owns Dixon Vest #1205, and he wears it out only once a year on a hunt just for himself, when he’s not calling for his kids or for clients, when he’s out in the woods by himself, allowing a moment to really enjoy the quiet of the morning. That’s when his vest makes its journey to the woods.
Sheldon Lovelace and Clay White represent two opposite ends of the spectrum. Sheldon hunts regularly in his Dixon Vest #0479, while Clay has never hunted in his Dixon Vest #0109 in order to maintain its original shape and preserve it for his son.
As for Daniel and Neill Haas, Toxey Haas's sons, they each have a prototype version of the Dixon Vest in which they hunt every single turkey hunt.
Will Dixon, Bob’s son, preserves Dixon Vest #0001 for his son, as well. He has plans to build a glass case for the vest in order to display it with other turkey memorabilia from his father and from his own experiences. He wants it to be seen and not just hang in the closet. Will’s sister, Braden, gave him her Dixon Vest #0039 for Christmas a few years back, and he now never misses a hunt without that vest.
Bob’s birthday is March 22, and Bob had always tried and failed to kill a turkey on his birthday. It would always happen before his birthday or after his birthday, but never on the actual day. Will picked up his dad’s challenge a number of years ago, and after years of effort, he was finally able to harvest a turkey on his dad’s birthday while wearing the Dixon Vest.
Will Dixon's turkey harvest with Dixon Vest #0039.
For Will, the vest is a way to hear stories about his father. He says, “Without people telling stories, the memories die. The Dixon Vest is a great way to help his memory and legacy live on and what all he accomplished.”
Will continues, “I feel very blessed in the fact that I am a part of something that is so much bigger than I am. It makes me want to add my impact to the legacy that has already been set. Not fill the shoes, but help them keep walking. How do I leave an impact on something I love that much?”
Will Dixon and his son, Brewer Dixon.
As we work towards building a registry for owners of a Dixon Vest, please email email@example.com with name, vest number, and proof of ownership. Please be on the lookout for Dixon Vest #1957, as Bob’s son Will Dixon is on the hunt to own the vest marking the year of his father’s birth.
Watch Will Dixon hunt Osceolas in Florida with his Dixon Vest.