On a summer morning in West Point, Mississippi, a blue and yellow crop-dusting plane sits on the tarmac in the rising heat while its tanks are being filled. It isn’t herbicide that’s being loaded in the tanks, though, but millet. Or, more accurately, Mossy Oak BioLogic Guide’s Choice, a special blend of millet that Toxey Haas and the rest of the GameKeepers at Mossy Oak have developed specifically for waterfowl managers.
When the plane is heavy with seed the propeller cranks and hot air blows in all directions. The crop-duster taxis to position, nose pointed down the runway. The RPMs increase as the plane starts forward, rushing headlong over the tarmac before rising on the warm air currents then banking to the right. The goal of this run isn’t to knock back weeds on agricultural land. Today, the objective is to conserve wetland habitat.
In 1986 Toxey Haas took a handful of Mississippi dirt and leaves in his hand and saw something that everyone before him had overlooked. He saw perfect concealment, nature’s own camouflage. That handful of leaves would help him create a brand, and that brand would become a dynasty. What started as a man peering into a handful of Mississippi soil became the genesis of the Mossy Oak brand.
Mossy Oak is about more than concealment, and anyone who knows Toxey Haas understands why his keen eye recognized the broad-reaching potential of a camo pattern. Today Mossy Oak is everywhere. It’s on hats, on sofa covers, pickups, dog collars, and, of course, guns. But Mossy Oak is hardly just a camo pattern.
“I dearly love whitetail hunting and spring turkeys will probably always be number one for me, but I have become completely obsessed with ducks and managing for ducks,” Haas said in a new documentary, Duck Dreams, on the Mossy Oak GO streaming service. “You can’t just show up, not around here. You have to put in time in the summer and even in the fall leading into season.”
Mossy Oak, like Harley Davidson and John Deere, is a brand that has come to represent a lifestyle. For Toxey Haas and his team that lifestyle is being outdoors in nature, a year-round obsession that’s as much about conservation as it is about harvesting game.
The Rise of GameKeepers
“In 2000 we bought a 200-acre piece of property,” Haas says. “It had originally been timber land but they had screwed up the drainage and killed the trees.” Toxey and his family began converting the wasted timberland into a waterfowl impoundment, manipulating water levels and planting crops in the area to draw in ducks.
“In a couple of years that area became a major landing point,” Haas told me. “That became our sanctuary. We called it the Refuge.”
The Haas hunting land isn’t on the Mississippi Delta but rather in the state’s “Black Belt,” a strip of fertile land that stretches into Alabama. That part of Mississippi isn’t in the heart of the flyway, but those initial efforts paid huge dividends. Now Haas says that when he plants the area and water begins to rise he’ll see very large numbers of ducks in an area that was once home to a handful of birds.
“Without taking care of the land, without being a gamekeeper first, nothing happens. Mossy Oak is based on conservation everything else is a subset of that.”
Toxey and the rest of the team at Mossy Oak soon had another brand under their umbrella—GameKeepers. The objective of the GameKeepers is to provide support for private landowners who want to conserve wildlife on their property and to shine a light on the efforts of landowner-driven conservation efforts through their magazine, television show, social media and email. Mossy Oak’s BioLogic brand offers the highest-quality seed blends available to help landowners meet the critical habitat and food resource needs required for increased productivity on their property.
“It doesn’t matter if you have two acres, 200 acres, or 2,000 acres. Private landowners can take matters into their own hands, and that benefits wildlife.”
Just how important is private land management for waterfowl? Perhaps more important than we ever imagined. In talking to wildlife biologists, Haas learned that the primary limiting factor in nesting success of waterfowl isn’t just the condition of their prairie nesting grounds but also the condition of the birds when they reach those nesting areas. When waterfowl complete their northbound spring migration their body condition dictates whether the birds will be able to successfully survive the nesting season. When that northward journey takes the birds over areas that are devoid of food and habitat it stresses them, and stressed birds have lower odds of reproductive success. That means that every landowner who lives along the flyways (and even those who live outside the primary migration routes) can play a vital role in conservation.
“It’s not just the state fish and game department’s job to conserve these birds. It’s not just DU’s job.” Haas says that landowners play a pivotal role in creating enough habitat to help birds thrive.
It’s like a sport,” he says. “Wildlife management is like golf or baseball or hunting.”
And when landowners win the management game all hunters—and wildlife—share in the victory.
The Haas Formula for Success
The original 200-acre refuge that the Haas family constructed in 2000 is still intact, and it’s still a sanctuary for birds. Thousand of birds. The Haas family has built impoundments around that area, but birds in the Refuge are off-limits. Toxey says that formula has proven successful.
Outside the refuge, the Haas family uses a multi-pronged management program to attract and hold waterfowl. Of course, BioLogic Guide’s Choice plays a vital role in that, but it’s not the only technique that Toxey uses to improve habitat.
“When you have corn with food underneath it like barnyard grass it holds birds,” Haas says. “Some ducks, particularly mallards, don’t like to spend much time in the open. They’ll feed and then they’ll look for shelter.” Standing corn with waterfowl forage below (which Haas says is referred to as “dirty corn” by many duck hunters) provides both cover and food for the birds, and that makes property much more attractive and productive. He also says that organic material in corn feeds the invertebrates below, adding to the biological diversity of the wetland area and providing yet another important food source for ducks.
Water level management is key, Haas says. If you’re able to install risers and other water control systems it’s a real benefit, but even tearing out beaver dams works. Toxey likes to lower water levels after the Fourth of July, and that gives moist soil plants a chance to emerge.
“Ducks learn where to find those areas real quickly,” Haas says. By manipulating habitat landowners not only increase the value and potential of your land but also help to increase the overall health of migrating populations that require stopover points with food sources for maximum breeding success.
Teaming Up for Conservation
Mossy Oak has become one of the leading voices in conservation, and they are the official camo of Ducks Unlimited which means a portion of the purchase price of Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades and Mossy Oak Original Bottomland camo goes directly back toward DU’s vital conservation efforts. Additionally, Mossy Oak’s support of Duck Country and other private land conservation efforts is poised to help improve the overall health of waterfowl populations across the continent. That’s why we’re proud to help Mossy Oak in an effort to educate private landowners on the technical aspects of waterfowl conservation. More importantly, that collaboration is a rallying cry for all waterfowl hunters to get on board with private land conservation. More ducks means better hunting opportunities, and that grassroots efforts will help wetland conservation efforts in the future. And those who love waterfowl understand that duck hunting more than a passion—it’s an obsession. And that obsession can pay big dividends for generations to come.