February 21, 2023
You know something is pretty big when a legend in one field announces his retirement—from competition, that is—in a sport he has dominated for more than 30 years, then competes in that sport before quickly leaving for a crowded show floor miles away.
That happened last week after bass angling GOAT Kevin VanDam told the world that 2023 is his final tournament season. Soon after, he fished in the Bass Pro Tour Stage One event in Florida, then rushed to Nashville for the National Wild Turkey Federation Convention as the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary.
"I was like a kid in the candy store at NWTF convention today," wrote VanDam on his social-media accounts over the weekend. "So much cool stuff to see. Trying to get my hands on one of those commemorative Mr. Fox turkey vests for sure! Even ran into a few hunting buddies."
If you're a turkey-hunting fan, then you probably know the name Mr. Fox, just like you probably know the moniker KVD if you're a bass-fishing fan. In both cases, turkey hunting and bass fishing, nothing more needs to be said to identify one of the legends of the two sports than just a couple of simple names.
Mr. Fox is 92-year old Fox Haas, the father of Mossy Oak Camouflage founder Toxey Haas. That nickname belongs to one of the legends of turkey hunting, a man who has killed spring gobblers for nearly three quarters of a century (except for a couple of years when Fox Haas was a young man and had a bout with tuberculosis).
According to Mossy Oak, Mr. Fox called up and killed his first turkey with a scattergun back in 1944 in the heart of the Alabama River swamp country. And ever since that fateful spring day, Fox and his family have been obsessed with chasing wild gobblers every spring. Committed gamekeepers, the family also clearly understands the challenges that wild turkeys have faced over the years. Because of that, Mr. Fox and the Haas family have been committed to doing what they can to conserve the precious resource that turkey hunters enjoy each year.
That commitment now includes the production and sales of the commemorative Mr. Fox Vest, a limited-edition turkey vest produced by Mossy Oak and available this spring. They're likely to sell fast.
To understand the developing mania over these Mr. Fox Vests, there are really three things to understand, the first being the primary reason that the vests are being sold—to help conserve wild turkey now and into the future. That echoes the sentiments of Mr. Fox, that "The good that men do will live long after they are gone."
Few outdoors enthusiasts have ever epitomized those words more, and the Mossy Oak vests being produced to honor the conservation lifestyle that Mr. Fox has embraced certainly carry a deeper meaning. They symbolize the company's commitment to being a gamekeeper, giving back more to the resource, and serving as an example for generations to come.
There's also the inspiration for the vest itself, beyond that of Mr. Fox. If you're a longtime turkey hunter and/or fan of Mossy Oak camo, then you probably know the name of Bob Dixon, a man who left his own powerful legacy.
The late Dixon, one of the original members of the Mossy Oak executive team, led sales for the company back in the late 1980s. Alongside founder Toxey Haas and Ronnie "Cuz" Strickland and Bill Sugg, Dixon was a part of the Mossy Oak camouflage revolution thanks to an old Mossy Oak tree in Alabama and Haas' desire to get close to critters.
But in 2000, Dixon was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, a deadly malady he would fight heroically until the Good Lord called him home on April 11, 2003, right in the middle of turkey season.
A couple of years later, Sheldon Lovelace, Clay White, Ben Maki, and Steve Culhane decided to do something to honor and memorialize Dixon and what he had meant to so many. The result was a vest idea that Toxey Haas quickly signed off on. "Ol' Hollywood Bob Dixon, he was a pioneer in so many ways for us and with us," Haas said in a news release. "He was really a pioneer in the use of a vest."
The result was a canvasing of the country by the group of four, looking at any turkey vests that were being offered during the first few years of the 21st Century. And by the time the Mossy Oak crew was done, they had designed arguably the best turkey vest ever created. Produced in a limited run of 1,986 that corresponded with the year Mossy Oak was founded, the first 100 Bob Dixon vests also came with special-made turkey calls that Bob himself loved, swore by, and would have been carrying in his own vest, even down to the strikers for slate calls.
According to Mossy Oak, those calls in the first 100 vests included ‘The Green Machine' glass and slate call from Cody Calls, a ‘Purple Heart' Primos Box Call signed by Will Primos, a box call created and signed by Preston Pittman of Pittman Game Calls, and an ‘Unfair Advantage Box Call' replica by Woodhaven, crafted with permission from the family of Doug Camp of Camp Callers.
Each of the calls were numbered to correlate with the number on the vest. And if you know anything about the world of turkey calls, then you likely realize that the names above are at the top of the heap when it comes to turning out box and slate calls. Incorporating Mossy Oak's Break-Up pattern and the company's iconic Bottomland pattern, the final prototype of the Bob Dixon vest was signed off on by Bob's wife Faye at her home in Pine Apple, Ala. And after that, the rest, is history, as they say, as Mossy Oak honored Dixon and tried to do all that it could to help make cancer history.
All proceeds were to go to cancer research, specifically the ALS Cancer Research Fund. And some of the first vests offered would go to honor Dixon's family left behind after his passing, including Bob's son Will getting vest #0001 and his daughter Braden getting vest #0039.
The success of the vest was stunning as they disappeared like hotcakes from a post-hunt breakfast table. According to Mossy Oak, Dixon Vest #0002 was auctioned off at the 2007 Shot Show, landing on a $10,000 price tag with proceeds going to NWTF and the ALS Cancer Research Fund.
The remainder of the first 100 vests were sold through auction batches on Ebay, often being bought by industry professionals and friends of Dixon. Mossy Oak Apparel would release a few vests every week, each Dixon Vest going to the highest bidder. Through such sales of the first 100 vests alone, $65,000 was raised for cancer research.
According to Mossy Oak, Dixon Vests #101-1,986 were released to retailers around the country, selling for $149.99. They were bought up quickly and the vests were sold out in a matter of weeks. Today, about the only way to see one of these turkey hunting cult favorites is to have one willed to you by a family member, finding one on Ebay, or seeing Dixon Vest #0003 in the Mossy Oak Museum in Mississippi or #0006 at the NWTF museum in South Carolina.
In a powerful way, just like Dixon's legacy, the vests have created a life of their own. "This vest, when we did this, I never dreamed it would have the magnitude of today," said Lovelace. "I've manufactured a lot of projects in the outdoor industry, and out of all of the products I've done, this is still number one, it means the most."
Maki agreed. "You rarely see a big company that puts its shoulders behind an initiative that wasn't about profit, that was about honoring someone," he said. "When it represents something larger than itself it becomes timeless. A good man that lived well and had a deep unadulterated passion for something."
And that brings us back to the Mr. Fox Vest of this past weekend, a limited edition run of 1,944 vests that corresponds with the year that Fox Haas killed his first turkey. Like the Dixon Vest did more than a decade ago, the current commemorative vests are creating quite a firestorm as they did this past weekend in Nashville.
That's when 400 vests--#'s 201 through #600--went on sale to the public for the first time, creating the kind of ruckus that you might envision for those trying to get tickets to an SEC rivalry football game. So strong was the anticipation that the NWTF's public relations manager Pete Muller indicated that even though the 2023 event didn't open until 7 a.m. last Thursday morning – and the exhibit hall didn't open until 11 a.m. – there were a number of hunters so "eager to buy the vest already were lining up the night before."
"It's incredibly humbling, and it's hard to find the word to describe the feeling," said Neill Haas of Mossy Oak, in regard to seeing the crowd lining up for a vest honoring his grandfather. "We knew people were pretty excited about the vest, but when you see all those people waiting all night and sleeping on the ground, it really puts things into perspective."
At 7 a.m. last Thursday morning when the show opened, those in line were given a numbered card from #1-200, enabling them to purchase the coveted vest. By the way, Mr. Fox will receive Fox Vest #0001, also known as the Traveling Fox Vest, since his three grandsons hunted with the vest last spring and all killed gobblers with Mr. Fox's Winchester Model 12 shotgun that was used back in 1944.
One of those lucky enough to get a golden ticket was Scott Marrow of Birmingham, Ala., who received ticket #200. "What drew me to the Mr. Fox Vest is its heritage and vintage look, and I am a big believer in the Mossy Oak brand," said Marrow. "I always wanted a Bob Dixon Vest, and this just resembles it in every step of the way. So, I am very happy to be able to get one."
So was an auction buyer on Saturday evening when the Feb. 15-19 event was capped off with the NWTF's signature dinner and auction, held in a packed house ballroom at the Gaylord Convention Center. "Fox Vest #5 with custom calls just sold for $31,000 at the Grand National Auction," trumpeted the NWTF's Instagram account.
Interested in getting your own Mr. Fox Vest? Well, good luck, but there's a chance since the remainder of the numbered vests will go on sale at the Mossy Oak Store in West Point, Ms., on Saturday, March 11. And on Monday, March 13, any remaining numbered vests and a run of unnumbered vests will go on sale at Mossy Oak's online store. There's little doubt that the remaining Mr. Fox Vests will sell out quickly.
"The vest we made for the late Bob Dixon has endured for 15+ turkey seasons, and we know that both of these are more than just a turkey vest," notes Mossy Oak. "They are made to stay in the woods, hang at the camp for decades and be passed down. To carry on the legacy of Mr. Fox, Bob Dixon and the rest of the their generation of turkey hunters. And we hope we've made a vest worthy of that.”
Mr. Fox and the late Bob Dixon probably think so. Because a few thousand other turkey hunters obsessed by Mr. Fox Vest mania certainly do.