Most passions are either bred into us or adopted at early ages. For Gary Stanton, that proved true for both hunting and music. He was introduced to fishing as a young child and hunting soon after. He took guitar lessons early on, too.
It wasn’t long before he chose music as his path in life. He went to college with that in mind, and eventually moved to Nashville to write songs. Soon after arriving in Music City, he met fellow picker and singer Charlie Muncaster. They clicked and decided to work together. And so, Muscadine Bloodline was born.
“We’ve been at it for seven years now,” Stanton said. “It’s been great to travel across this great country and see the whole thing grow. We’re living out a dream.” That dream includes hard work and a grass roots approach. “We’re an independent band. We don’t have a record deal or publisher. You’re not going to hear Muscadine Bloodline on the radio. This is a word-of-mouth kind of thing.”
With more than 100,000 YouTube subscribers, almost 120,000 Instagram followers, and nearly 200,000 Facebook likes, along with continual performing, their music is heard by hundreds of thousands. They’ve even played the Grand Ol’ Opry.
Muscadine Bloodline’s approach to music is similar to their hunting and conservation efforts; low key, grassroots and quiet dedication. Stanton was introduced to the outdoors by family and friends. Muncaster came to the party a bit later. It was his best friend and Muscadine Bloodline bandmate Stanton who introduced him to the thrill of hunting.
A Hunter Is Born
Stanton is no stranger to turkey hunting, but until 2021, Muncaster was. They jumped at the opportunity to hunt with National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) Director of Communications Pete Muller for an episode of Turkey Call TV. It was the perfect opportunity for Stanton to share his passion with Muncaster.
Their destination was the Black Hills in Wyoming. The area consists of rocky canyons, intermittent pines, and open ground. It’s typical Black Hills country. They rented a cabin from a guy who let them hunt his property, which is loaded with Merriam’s turkey.
“It was 18 degrees the first day we were there, and then it dropped 7 inches of snow,” Stanton said. “I was like, there is no way we’re going to hear anything. But the first morning, we heard 15 or 16 gobblers on the roost. It was incredible.”
Muncaster was on the trigger first. Right away, they moved in on a big group of gobblers, but those were henned up. Soon after fly-down, a lone gobbler fired up, and the hunters set off after that bird.
Using the terrain and foliage as cover, they slowly moved closer to the turkey. It gobbled every five to 10 minutes, which helped keep a bead on the bird’s location. Once close, they set up on a ridge above the turkey in a spot where it must crest a rise to check out their calling.
It worked. After some soft calls, the turkey committed, followed a lane, and appeared within range. It breached the 30-yard marker, and Muncaster made good on the shot.
Since Stanton had a tag, they kept hunting. The way they filled his tag was unconventional. “We ended up tracking one in the snow,” he said. “You want fresh tracks. So, I got on fresh sign, and we kept moving on it. Finally, we looked over a ridge, and spotted one at about 60 yards.”
They attempted a classic hunt and tried to call in the bird, but it didn’t respond. So, they crawled to get in position, which took an hour. Eventually, once in range of the turkey, Stanton got his shot — a quick, clean kill. Both hunters had plenty of wild turkey for meals to come.
Without conservation efforts so many hunts today would have never come to fruition. Historical conservation efforts made today’s hunt possible. Today’s efforts do the same for the future. “It comes down to understanding the full benefits of conservation,” Muller said. “Without all of our efforts, there might not be the birds we see today. These things really are important.”
Over the past several years, the NWTF’s Northern Plains Riparian Restoration Initiative has partnered with the Black Hills US Forest Service to protect the headwaters of streams emanating from the Black Hills National Forest. Conservation work in the Black Hills extends well into South Dakota, too. There, it’s a joint effort between the NWTF and the Bureau of Land Management to remove unwanted conifer species, such as pine and spruce, and improve wildlife habitat diversity by providing healthy aspens.
Of course, conservation takes place across the country. And no one loves the wild turkey, or any animal, more than the person who hunts it. Hunting license sales, the Pittman-Robertson Act (which collects an 11% excise tax on guns, ammo, and archery equipment for conservation efforts), and other sources of hunter-provided revenue, all culminate into millions of dollars that hunters generate for the well-being of wild animals and wild places.
“When I think of conservation, I think of teaching,” Stanton said. “If you teach someone to appreciate the resource, they’re going to do everything in their power to protect it. Hunter’s understand better than anyone how important it is to ensure that species are healthy and populous. Conservation renews, regenerates, and preserves.”
Hunting and conservation are complex, no doubt. It’s sometimes hard to express the warring emotions of preserving these animals we love, while hunting them for sport but also harvesting them to feed us and our families. But despite the noise, and the inexplicable difficulty of expressing this undeniable tide of feelings, it’s honorable to take pride in conserving wildlife, and enjoying the God-given bounty in a sustainable manner.
“I think our love of animals gets pushed to the wayside,” Muncaster said. “But we know how important conservation is. It’s a fight we battle to help people understand why it’s important. The more we take care of animals we love, the more we’ll enjoy the outdoors.”
So, if you want to help wildlife, one of the best things you can do is very simple — just hunt. But don’t just take it for yourself. Share it with others. Introduce someone new and plug in to conservation efforts near you.