Deer Hunting Legend: Ronnie "Cuz" Strickland
September 09, 2015
Sometime in 1988, Toxey Haas called Ronnie "Cuz" Strickland into his office. At the time, Mossy Oak, was a fledgling camouflage company. "We had just three or four employees," recalls Strickland. "Everyone did a variety of tasks to keep the company rolling."
Haas, the company's founder, and Strickland spent much of their time traveling throughout the South in an effort to coax retail stores into stocking Mossy Oak camo. Success was fleeting.
"He [Haas] started talking to me about how we needed better PR and how he wanted me to start handling Mossy Oak's PR," Strickland recalls. "He said, 'I think you are the guy.' I told him that sounded like a good idea. As I was leaving I turned around and said, 'What does PR stand for?'"
Learning the PR Game
Despite no formal training and not a minute of experience in public relations, Cuz went straight to work. Apparently, he was a natural.
The Mossy Oak brand is now one of the most recognizable names in the hunting industry. They don't just make and license camo patterns, though. The name is now attached to a wide variety of products and services including food plot products (BioLogic), real estate (Mossy Oak Properties), furniture (Nativ Living) and trees (Nativ Nursery).
One of his first public relations campaigns involved the outdoor media.
"They launched our business," says Strickland. "We would bring in a group of writers and take them hunting and they'd take pictures of our camo and put them in magazines. We really relied on outdoor writers for spreading the word in those early days. And they are still an important part of our business."
As a young hunter growing up in the deep woods of Mississippi, Cuz flipped through the pages of outdoor magazines, absorbing every word. As fate would have it, many of the names he read back then would ultimately become his friends and play a role in Mossy Oak's success.
The advent of cable television also helped. Although Strickland had some experience videotaping hunts for Will Primos before he was hired at Mossy Oak, video technology was still in its infancy when Haas asked him to film a brand-related hunting show. They called it "Hunting The Country."
Strickland often worked the camera and then edited the film.
"I had some experience before that, but I had a lot to learn," he says. "I just figured it out as I went."
"Hunting The Country" first appeared on the now-defunct TNN and quickly became one of the networks' most popular shows. It continues to air on The Outdoor Channel and is one of the longest-running hunting shows on television. He still produces "Hunting The Country," along with "GameKeepers" and "Deer THUGS."
Their Big Break
"We got two really big breaks in 1995. Our show started running on TNN and Browning signed on as a licensee of Mossy Oak. Both of those put us on a national platform and sales really started taking off," he says.
A company is only as good as its leaders, which is why Cuz gives much of the credit for Mossy Oak's success to his boss. During one of those media outings held near Mossy Oaks' headquarters in West Point, Mississippi, Strickland brought the writers to Haas' office.
"One of them asked Toxey about his mission statement. He reached into his desk and pulled out a small piece of paper with four words written on it," recalls Strickland. "Keep the team together."
That philosophy is one reason the company has excelled. Haas surrounds himself with capable, smart and energetic employees, including Strickland and president Bill Sugg, Haas' first full-time employee.
Instead of watching over their every move, he gives them the freedom to innovate. Even Strickland doesn't see Haas that much.
"We talk on the phone quite a bit, but I might see him once or twice a week. He lets me do my thing, but it seems like he's always three or four steps ahead of everyone else. He's a visionary and he's never satisfied," says Strickland, adding, "We disagree sometimes, but he's got a short memory. I can tell him he's wrong and he may not like what I say, but we can go out and get a hamburger afterwards. That's why he's such a unique person."
Hunters At Heart
Haas is also "a tree nerd," one reason he founded Nativ Nurseries. His inspiration comes from the woods, says Strickland, where he spends much of his time contemplating business decisions, planting food plots and researching new camo patterns.
In fact, everyone who has a hand in the company's product development spends much of their time in the field. They are hunters to the core and naturalists at heart.
Strickland is no different. He grew up in Mississippi's Homochitto National Forest, where he learned to hunt deer, turkeys and pretty much anything else that was in season. He continues to pursue his love of bow hunting, and he remains focused on the company he helped grow.
His new passion is his four grandchildren, three boys and a girl. The two oldest boys, 8 and 7, are already following in their grandfather's footsteps. Strickland bought them crossbows and was sitting next to them when they each killed their first deer. They've also had successful turkey hunts.
"I used to spend all my time hanging tree stands and doing everything I could to get them just right," he says. "Now I spend my time putting up ground blinds and hunting with my grandchildren. I think that's the most fun I've ever had."
Cuz's Tip For A Better Season
"Spend more time finding a place to hunt. You can still secure spots by offering to help farmers. It's all about the dirt. Hit the road, knock on doors and don't give up. Offer to share the meat. Take them along, mend fence, whatever it takes."