It was just an old Louisiana-style “dogtrot” shack. It was built in the late 1800s and bore the wear of decades in the Mississippi sun. One side of the original building had weathered away long ago. The outside of what remained of the shack was covered with course planks cut on a peckerwood sawmill. They were rough to the touch and bore the patina earned only by old wood. The high-pitched roof was tin and had adopted the color of rusted metal.
Inside, the floors were rickety and sloped in odd directions. They creaked when you walked across them. There were three rooms - kitchen, dining room and bed room. The doors that made each room private had been removed long ago. The toilet was outside behind the kitchen and included an old four legged enamel bathtub.
The cabin sat in a cow pasture near Hermanville, Mississippi. Its windows were stained from years of wind, rain and dust but provided a draft of air when open or closed. The front porch was decorated with an assortment of antique tools, sun-bleached skulls of white-tailed deer and domestic cattle. The roof sloped down and away from the cabin and provided shade and shelter from the hot sun and inclement weather.
The name “Rattlesnake” stuck after owner Russell Davis, former mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, while trying to make the cabin habitable, found a huge rattlesnake in the crawl space underneath the building. He had purchased the 800 acre tract from his friend and industrialist Warren Hood, Sr. in 1975.
He managed the farm for cattle, honey bees, deer and wild turkeys. Russell was an old-school turkey hunter from Marengo County, Alabama, who took hunting turkeys very seriously. In an effort to defray expenses, in 1981 he allowed five men to hunt the property for an annual fee, and one of those five men was Will Primos.
It was rumored that Russell harassed the turkeys on the property all summer and fall to make them more difficult to kill in the spring. There were many memorable instances involving Russell. Once he left a note in the hiding place where a bottle of Old Charter whiskey was stashed. The note stated the amount of whiskey in the bottle and a promise to replace it…at some point. Another time there was a big discussion of the day’s hunt at the supper table. Mike Lingo referred to the turkey he had hunted that day as a bird. Russell immediately corrected him.
Russell spoke with a pronounced southern drawl. From his mouth turkey sounded like “tuhkee” and bird sounded like “buid.” “You are hunting a tuhkee boy, not a buid, said Russell.” Lingo bristled and replied “It had feathers, four toes and wings, if that ain’t a bird I don’t know what is!” Lingo did not receive an invitation to come back.
The front porch of that rustic old cabin was where many of the most recognizable names in the hunting industry were first introduced to the hunting world. Names like Jimmy Primos, Cuz Strickland, Chuck Jones, Jeff Sherwood, Bob Dixon, Toxey Haas, Bill Sugg, David Blanton, Mark Drury, Boyd Burrow, Mark Yarborough, Coates Head, Will Walker and Mike Lingo made their debut to hunters of the day. It was where the phrase “The Truth™” was coined. It was where a phenomenon was born that has sold over three million videos and is still going strong after 32 years. Little did Primos know the effect those first videos would have on thousands of sportsmen and how those videos would change turkey hunting into the sport we know today.
How It All Began
The idea to produce a turkey hunting video came to Primos after the release of an audio cassette that captured a live turkey hunt. That cassette featured Mississippi State champion turkey caller Buddy Hanks and Rattlesnake owner Russell Davis. Primos relied on friend, Wolf Stephenson, owner of Malaco Studios, to produce that cassette. Malaco was popular with the biggest rhythm and blues artists of the time. Primos and Hanks would meet at the studio after Primos finished his day job at one of the family restaurants, usually after midnight. By that time the recording artists were done for the night. Russell Davis recorded his part early in the mornings because he was a “morning person.”
The name of that cassette says a lot—Wild Turkey Hunting with Wilbur R. Primos and the Southern Boys. By today’s standards it was elementary. In 1983, however, it was cutting edge entertainment. It was a first-of-a kind concept that actually took the listener along on the adventure. It was the audio cassette that enticed “Cuz,” who was a fan of the cassette, to first contact Will.
That audio cassette release garnered enough interest and sales to make Primos believe he could take it to the next level by producing a video on turkey hunting. If successful, he believed videos could promote turkey hunting, attract new hunters and bring recognition to the fledgling call company he operated out of his garage. Boyd Burrow was one of the first employees of Primos Wild Game Calls, which was the official name of the company at that time. Boyd acted as marketing director, call builder and camera man. With Boyd’s help they produced the first Primos video, Spring Turkey Hunting with Primos. It featured two hunts and was crude by today’s standards.
In the spring of 1987 the effort of gathering enough hunting footage to produce another video began. It was then that Will convinced Ronnie ‘Cuz’ Strickland to join the effort.
“It was a monumental struggle,” said Cuz. “I had no idea what I was doing. Seemed to me every hunter I tried to video knew more about turkey hunting than I did. The equipment was a dinosaur! You first had to power on and hit record on a 3/4” recording deck tethered to the camera. Then you had to focus and run the camera. Battery life was poor and record time was only 20 minutes before you had to shut everything down, replace the old tape with a new one, turn everything back on and record some more! The camera equipment alone weighed over 40 pounds! To say I struggled would be an understatement.”
“We really didn’t know what we were doing,” said Primos. “Our goal was to capture as many hunts as possible and see if we could put together a video that shared the spirit and excitement of spring turkey hunting with others. I was raised in the restaurant business and really wanted to make a go at building an outdoor products company. I hoped a video done right would promote turkey hunting, the calls I was building and help grow a fledgling company.”
At the end of the 1987 Mississippi turkey season, Primos and Cuz decided they had enough footage to produce a video. That created a whole new dilemma. How do we put all this together?
“After that season Will asked me what we should call the video. I told him we should just show it like it really happened and tell the truth,” said Cuz. “That’s what we did. No fancy edits or staged scenes, just turkey hunts the way they were captured on tape. The Truth about Spring Turkey Hunting was born on Rattlesnake’s front porch and to this day we call interconnecting scenes for video and television Porch Scenes.”
“We really didn’t know the next step once we had the footage in the can,” said Primos. “I contacted Jim Dollarhide, a high school classmate who owned Imageworks, a local production house, for advice and it went from there. Dollarhide and editor Perry Trest were instrumental in getting that first video produced. They continued to advise and provide services many years after that. Once that first Truth video was produced the next step was to sell it. There were only a few hunting videos on the market at that time and they were expensive. Asking price for the first Truth video was $49.95. We targeted sporting goods dealers and video rental stores like Blockbuster. We sold around 10,000 copies of the Truth in the first 12 months. When we had to order more copies we named it The Truth I because we were working on the second video which we appropriately named The Truth II.”
The Ripple Effect
As the years passed and more videos were produced it became apparent Primos was onto something. Eventually production expanded to deer, waterfowl, elk and predator hunting videos.
They all sold extremely well and new people were introduced to the hunting public. David Cardin, Brad Farris, Will Walker, Coates Head - each of these new names represented a certain skill in calling and hunting fair-chase game. They all made tremendous contributions to the Primos video efforts.
John Brown, Jr. was influenced by The Truth Series videos as a young man. Eventually he started a television show on an NBC affiliate in Monroe, Louisiana. From there he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where he worked at “North American Hunting Club” as an associate producer of their television and video efforts. He now works as Executive Producer for the National Wild Turkey Federation.
I, like many other hunters my age, was profoundly affected by those first Truth videos and that old porch at Rattlesnake. I met some of those guys when I was just a hunter. They were real hunters, fun to watch and checked their egos at the door,” said Brown. “ I watched those tapes over and over and over again. I learned a lot from those tapes but more importantly I realized that if those guys could do it so could I. I think that is what made the whole Truth thing special. They were just a bunch of guys having fun hunting and sharing the fun with everyone who watched!
Brown was just one of many who went on to have stellar careers in video and television production after appearing in a Truth video. David Blanton, Mark Drury Kenneth Lancaster and Jim Ronquest come to mind. These men are some of the movers and shakers in outdoor television today, but there are more!
There is an entire generation of hunters who were influenced by those early videos and the porch at Rattlesnake. Today the Truth Series has a pop-culture following that “Speak the Language.” Not just through the game calls Primos makes, but in phrases coined on the porch at Rattlesnake” - “Call too much and call too loud,” “Limb Hanger,” “Roosted Ain’t Roasted,” “The Rodney Shuffle,” and “Cut and Run” were all spoken for the hunting world to hear by someone on the porch. These are all phases that are commonly used by today’s turkey hunters.
The Reality of it All
“I never thought about how Rattlesnake and those first videos affected the hunting industry,” said Cuz Strickland. “I was just infected with the possibility of making a living hunting and being outdoors. I can remember selling videos out of the trunk of my car! I bought a VCR on an installment plan to be able to watch the videos Primos produced. That’s how poor I was!”
“Even today, 32 years later, I still have people tell me they saw me on the porch at Rattlesnake and learned to turkey hunt watching Truth Series videos. If you think about it, that is pretty remarkable!”
“I never had a conscious thought of the impact of Rattlesnake and the Truth Series until Jolly called me about this story. One thing I am very proud of is the Boyd Burrow Wildlife Scholarship at Mississippi State University. Boyd died at an early age from a heart attack. The Mississippi Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation started the scholarship in his name and people like Revell Rawlings and the chapter membership made it one of the most successful scholarships at Mississippi State. I am very proud Boyd was honored in such a way,” said Primos.
“I’m just so thankful to have had the opportunity to grow the company and surround myself with great people who helped make it what it is today,” said Primos. “I am proud when people walk up and say they grew up watching our videos. I am proud of the way we have stayed consistent, honored the Lord and remained grounded. I was fortunate to have had people like Chuck Jones, Cuz, Jeff Sherwood, Kevin Meachum, Brad Farris, Troy Ruiz, Ben Brettingen and Ron Jolly head the video department and help build it into what it is today. Jimmy Primos and I have sold the company now but still enjoy promoting it and being active. Possibly the highest public honor I have received was standing next to Tom Kelly and receiving the National Wild Turkey Federation’s “Tom Kelly Communicator of the Year Award” and hearing him tell me “well done.” That was a very humbling experience.”
The highest honor may be the many hunters that have told me they did not have a father or friend that was a hunter to teach them to hunt and they learned by watching The Truth. Those were very humbling experiences.
Toxey Haas, Founder and CEO of Mossy Oak commented, “You look around and see Mossy Oak in hundreds of millions of places. Our Brand has become all and more than I ever imagined but I am not certain there would be a Mossy Oak without a Bob Dixon. I am not certain there would be a Mossy Oak without the Truth Series Videos and Primos. The way we partnered in the beginning had a profound impact. Those videos were the first video communication system for hunting. They set the trend for major media attention to the hunting industry. Before that time it really didn’t exist!”
“Looking back and recognizing mistakes or things done right is pretty easy,” says Cuz Strickland. “Will Primos and Toxey Haas were visionaries at an early age. They knew what they wanted and made it happen. It’s just hard to believe it all started on the front porch of a rickety old sharecropper house in a cattle pasture near Hermanville, Mississippi. It all took wings at Rattlesnake!”