Described as the dean of Texas outdoors writers, longtime Dallas Morning News staffer Ray Sasser is remembered by a generation of Texans who were delighted twice weekly by his words about the state’s great outdoors.
As a longtime resident of Texas, it isn’t unusual to get a news tidbit from Steve Lightfoot, the veteran Texas Parks and Wildlife Department communications guru.
But this time, instead of exciting talk of a massive whitetail or a double-digit largemouth, the news was somber and sad.
“The dean of Texas outdoor writers, Ray Sasser, passed away last night. RIP my friend,” wrote Lightfoot in a Feb. 22, 2018 social media post.
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Lightfoot’s post confirmed that the 69-year-old Sasser, the longtime outdoors writer for the Dallas Morning News and a 2016 inductee into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, had succumbed to a long and arduous battle with lymphoma.
News reports indicate that he is survived by his wife of 48-years, Emilie; his son Zachary; his daughter Emily Misslin and her husband Dylan; and two grandchildren, Lilly and Levi.
When news of Sasser’s passing began to trickle through the outdoors world, the outpouring of admiration and grief for the Meridian, Texas, resident was quick.
Consider this statement from well-known Oklahoma oilman and billionaire T. Boone Pickens:
- “Ray Sasser was not just one of the greatest outdoor writers in Texas, he was one of the most respected outdoor writers in the country. His success and following were rooted in the fact he didn’t just cover the outdoors, he loved all that it meant to hunters, fishermen and conservation as a whole. To me he was much more than a talented writer who cared about the outdoors, he was a good friend who I will miss. We should all have such a passion for life and our chosen professions.”
There was also a stirring tribute from Dr. James Kroll, professor emeritus of Forest Wildlife Management at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, a longtime Outdoor Sportsman Group TV co-host and magazine contributor for North American Whitetail, a deer hunting expert known to millions around the country as “Dr. Deer” thanks to a story that Sasser once wrote.
- “We had so many fine days afield and I shall miss him!” Kroll wrote on his “Dr. Deer” Facebook page. “He was a scholar and a word smith. He once wrote an article about a bird hunt we had, he opened with this phrase: ‘The German shorthair was locked tighter than the lug nuts on a junk yard Chevrolet!’ The world will never again enjoy such prose.”
There was also a tribute from Gordon Whittington, longtime editor of North American Whitetail:
- “RIP to one of the guys who put Texas deer hunting on the map from a national perspective.”
A voice for a generation of Texas outdoorsmen, Sasser grew up in the Pineywoods of East Texas, eventually attending Stephen F. Austin. While a Lumberjack at SFASU, Sasser began his outdoor writing career at the Lufkin Daily News, followed by a stint as the full-time outdoor writer for the Port Arthur News.
Eventually, he found his way to the vast Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, going to work for the now defunct Dallas Times Herald in 1983, followed by a move to the Dallas Morning News in 1986.
When the move to the Metroplex happened, the vast state of Texas became Sasser’s wordsmithing canvas, one that he painted for more than 34-years with a column on Thursday and a full-page spread of stories on Sunday.
Along the way, he wrote countless newspaper stories, numerous magazine articles, and 11 books. The latter included a Collector’s Covey published volume of Texas deer hunting essays, View from a Tower Blind, along with a series of coffee table books filled with Sasser’s prose on Texas game animals along with stunning images by official Texas state photographer Wyman Meinzer.
In those writings, Sasser penned some remarkable words including the following:
“A deer camp ought to be at the end of a road. It shouldn’t be a paved road, either. It ought to be of dirt or rock – the sort that discourages ordinary traffic.” — View from a Tower Blind
“The excitement crackles before dawn, when you pull up to a dove field and try to pick a spot where you’ll be hidden by a shade tree, or, at least, a row of sunflowers. You’re setting up the gear as the stars dim and the gray light in the east brightens to a Technicolor dawn. The whistle of wings and the streamlined silhouettes of mourning doves, dropping through the sky on backswept wings, tells you that you’ve chosen a good spot. It’s still five minutes until legal shooting time, so you relax and enjoy the incomparable show. The silhouettes are coming with increased regularity. Time to load up and relearn the lessons of dove shooting.” — Opening Day of Dove Season Is About More Than Just the Hunt
“The best euphemism to describe killing a deer is “letting the air out of him.” Did you ever notice how most of that air escapes from the buck’s antlers?” — View from a Tower Blind
“I once asked Murphy Ray, the taciturn co-author of the Texas bible of whitetail management, for the best time to kill a big buck. “I’ll take the rut,” he said. “You can have everything else.” — Decades Chasing After Bucks Easily Yields a Ton of Great Stories
“There is something magic about driving south on the wings of a norther, December looming unstoppable on the horizon, the full moon of whitetail madness hovering in the predawn sky. I just point the Suburban road hog down the asphalt serpent called Interstate 35 and let the big sow eat. I keep my fingers crossed that highway patrolmen are deer hunters, too, and that they understand how Christmas comes early for hunters with the keys to a prime South Texas gate.” — View from a Tower Blind
And then there were these words that Sasser once penned in a quail hunting story, starting the Too Perfect to Be Random piece off with a quote from his good friend M.F. “Bubba” Wood, the founder of Collector’s Covey and the man who will deliver the eulogy for Sasser at a 3 p.m. memorial service on Monday, March 5, 2018, at the Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.
“The best proof for the creation theory of intelligent design lies in this irrefutable chain of facts — there is a bobwhite quail, there is a dog that points quail and there is a 20-gauge shotgun. It’s too perfect to be random,” Sasser quoted his friend as saying.
Sasser finished the story off with his own take on Woods’ statement: “What makes a dog point birds when its predatory instinct must dictate that it chase the birds? What makes a bird hold tight to cover when threatened by what must seem like a different-colored coyote?
“You may as well ask why planet Earth is a perfect distance from the sun and rotates on its axis in such a way that spring follows winter. It’s too perfect to be random.”
And that seems a fitting way to describe Sasser’s unique ability to paint memorable word pictures about the Texas outdoors world – it was a writing gift that was too perfect to be random.
From Texas Parks and Wildlife YouTube