By Ben Smith:
On a recent podcast, our guest, Carl Ray Holifield, brought up a few things that stirred my soul. Before I get to that, you might recognize that name. Carl Ray is a notorious figure in the outdoor world, especially in the turkey hunting community. A native of Jones County, he’s a turkey killing machine. Known mostly on the internet for his videos that portray him as a stark crazed lunatic hopping fences and killing your birds, Carl Ray has raised a few eyebrows in his day. Although, the character online is nothing like the real Carl Ray, he’s certainly stirred up the turkey hunting community over the years. If you’ve seen his videos, you probably formed a strong opinion of him, good or bad.
Regardless of everyone’s opinion of Carl Ray, and who they think he really is, I enjoyed our show last weekend. I had a feeling that he was nothing like his videos and I was partially correct. I was correct in that he wasn’t some crazed man hopping fences, shooting everything in sight, and being loud and boisterous about it. On the other hand, I was incorrect in dismissing his passion as merely an online character. He’s absolutely passionate about the outdoors…in a good way.
When we began the show, Carl Ray quickly pointed out how growing up in the eighties was so much different than growing up today. Memories of yesteryear, he called it, was something I could tell meant a lot to him. Memories of hunting with his family. Memories of fishing on Bogue Homa Creek. Memories of his first ever turkey. Memories. One day when we are older, everything that we do in the outdoors will be a memory, and Carl Ray seems to be doing his best to make as many of them as he can to go along with the ones he already has.
During the show, we all agreed on how times have changed. While I was alive in the eighties, I don’ t really claim to have “grown up” during that time. I was a nineties kid, and even that decade was a far cry from what the world looks like now. We talked about how kids have to many choices today. We talked about how not as many daddies take their kids hunting and fishing as they did then. We talked about the advancements in hunting technology and techniques making it easier, and less gratifying, than it was back then. We talked about a lack of woodsmanship from today’s hunters. We talked about population growth and the housing industry encroaching on what was once pristine hunting grounds. And then he hit me with one of the best comments of the night.
Carl Ray breathed a sigh and said, “I wanna get lost in the woods.” To me, it was the most profound statement of the evening. The phrase “lost in the woods” could have been a metaphor for slipping away from society for a while, losing yourself in the sounds and scenery of the outdoors. On the other hand, he told stories of getting lost in the woods as a kid, so he might have been talking about longing for the past and an adventure. Either way, it got my wheels spinning.
As Carl Ray told stories of growing up and getting “lost in the woods”, some of his stories were eerily similar to the last time that I can really remember getting lost myself. They both began with squirrel hunting. They both began on family land that led us to other land. For me, the last time that I remember really feeling lost in the woods was when I was 9-10 years old behind my grandparents’ house in Alabama. Like Carl Ray, I’d started the day going squirrel hunting along the wood line that bordered the cotton fields behind their house. In the thrill of chasing those squirrels through the old hardwoods, I’d ended up in a pine thicket not really sure of how I got there. I was lost, but I wasn’t afraid.
Armed with a single shot .410 and a box of shells, I began to walk in the direction that I thought I’d came from. Every so often I’d lose focus of being lost and attempt to shoot a squirrel. After wandering for a few hours, the sky darkened up and began to rain. Soaking wet, I made my way to an old logging road where I had to make a choice, left or right. I’d never seen this road before so I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew it would lead somewhere. Fortunately, I chose the correct direction and after a lengthy walk I ended up at Coley Chapel, which was about a mile away from my grandparents’ house. When I returned to the house, nobody had even realized that I’d been lost in the woods for several hours in the rain. However, I felt the greatest sense of accomplishment in being able to navigate my way back home.
Looking back now, it’s kind of funny to think of how I thought I’d walked for miles and miles through those woods. In reality, I hadn’t gone that far, but at the time it felt like I’d been wandering through the vastest forest imaginable. Maybe that’s what Carl Ray was meaning. As we get older, we lose our sense of awe and wonder. The world gets smaller and less daunting than it did as a child. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back and get lost again?
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