This is turkey season- a rite of Spring that gets the blood flowing and adrenaline pumping like no other hunting season. For turkey hunters everywhere, the story of how Mossy Oak camouflage came into being and revolutionized the sport is an important and historic milestone. 

A few weeks ago, we reported on a lifetime achievement award given to Col. Tom Kelly at the Monroeville Literary Festival.  Here, I met Daniel Hass, one of the presenters, whose family built the worldwide known  Mossy Oak brand of camouflage. Daniel and I agreed to schedule a call to get the story, and asked his twin brother, Neill Haas, to join in.

At the Festival, I learned that a full-length film, The Colonel & The Fox: The Greatest Generation’s Fight to Save America’s Greatest Game Bird, will debut on the Mossy Oak YouTube channel later this evening. The film recognizes Col. Kelly and Fox Haas, father of Mossy Oak founder Toxey Haas, and acknowledges their lifelong commitment to the wild turkey, preserving the traditions and conservation of the sport.

First, let's explore a little history. The story begins in Mobile with Neill and Daniel Haas’s great-grandfather, Toxey Daniel Haas, a two-sport athlete in track and basketball at the University of Alabama. There, he met and married Maureen Cottrell from West Point, Mississippi. Dr. Toxey Haas practiced medicine in Mobile and they had three sons, Albert, Fox, and Toxey.

When it came time for young Fox to attend college, he wanted to pursue an agriculture degree. Two schools offered programs: Auburn and Mississippi State. “It was an easy choice,” says Daniel of his grandfather. “He went to Mississippi State.” While at Mississippi State, he met and married Evelyn Nash, from West Point, Mississippi. He wanted to go to Auburn, but his staunch Alabama fan dad told him he’d have to pay his own way. So he went to Mississippi State.”

After earning his Agriculture Business degree, he began working with Bryan Foods (later purchased by Sara Lee Corporation) in West Point. He became VP of Procurement, traveling throughout the South and Midwest building relationships with farmers on a handshake. 

“Bryan Foods was doing over a billion dollars in revenue annually. Papaw was doing north of $100 million a year in procurement and only had one contract that reneged in his whole career purchasing farm products on a handshake.” It’s obvious that this kind of loyalty, trust, and “man-of-your-word” made a lasting impression on the entire Haas family.

With his travels with Bryan Foods, Fox became close friends with Bud Nixon who knew the land well, in Livingston, Alabama. When he was financially able, Bud helped Fox purchase land near Livingston that became known as the Haas family’s Turkey Camp. Fox was also a member of Choctaw Bluff in Clark County, and with his brothers, young Toxey hunted turkeys there. 

At Choctaw Bluff,  a large Post Oak tree, less than a mile from the camp house, was used as a reference point for describing the distance where hunters heard or saw turkeys. Covered with Spanish moss on a sandy bottomland, they called this old tree, ‘Mossy Oak.’ 

Young Toxey noticed that it was hard to hide from turkeys, wearing the conventional hunting clothes of the day while leaning against a tree. Turkeys have keen eyesight and spook at any movement they detect. Hunters would build blinds in the woods to better hide, but that prevented them from moving about to position themselves for a clean shot.   

At age 25, Toxey designed a camouflage pattern that allowed hunters to blend into the surrounding woods. If you were resting quietly against the trunk of a tree and were able to call a turkey in close enough to get a shot, you could hunt undetected. If the turkey moved away, you could quietly adjust your position. 

This new camouflage was a game changer. With help from his mom, Toxey began producing this pattern into basic elements; shirt, pants, vest, gloves, and hats.  He called  the pattern “Bottomland.” He knew he was on to something. Driving down the road with his father, Toxey contemplated what to call his newfound business. Fox said, “It’s a no-brainer, it’s gotta be Mossy Oak.”

Toxey Haas incorporated the Mossy Oak brand in 1986. He was 26 years old. “The first 4 or 5 years the brand became regionally popular,” says Daniel. “The original Bottomland pattern was designed for turkeys, bow hunting deer, and duck hunting. It allowed you to bring the turkeys in close, and it worked. Mossy Oak’s reputation grew quickly. It became the uniform for hunters who hunt with their back against a tree.” 

In 1987, the next pattern added was called Greenleaf. The following year, they added a darker pattern called Treestand for late fall and early winter hunting. Within a short time, Mossy Oak sold a full basic line of clothing products to hardcore hunters. Toxey is fond of saying, “We started with a fistful of dirt.” Within 3 years they offered everything a hunter could ever need. 

From the mid-90s to 2000, the brand exploded. Licensing became a big deal in 1990, the same year Neill and Daniel were born. “Nationally-known heritage brands wanted to license the Mossy Oak pattern. These were the more technical outdoor brands, and business soared.”

Daniel tells me that 38 years later, the original Mossy Oak apparel is sought-after by collectors. “There is a cult of Mossy Oak collectors. People are paying $1000s of dollars for the original stuff.” Each subsequent pattern they created has the original pattern in the background, and they have continued to stay true to their roots. 

As the brand grew, so did Mossy Oak’s commitment to conservation and sustainable practices.

Toxey says, “Without the critters, there would be nothing for us to hunt. Without good land, there are no critters.” As long as he has been around, he has made sure that Mossy Oak is known for taking care of the land, taking care of wildlife, and leaving it better than they found it.

In 2006, Toxey created Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries, a tree nursery where Neill and Daniel first worked as teenagers planting acorns in the summer. “Yes, that’s how my dad spelled Nativ, he always likes to take the path less traveled,” says Daniel. “Truth be told, my mom gets credit for the tree nursery. She was tired of all the oak trees that he planted in the yard and told Dad he had to do something with them.” 

The boys talk about how Mossy Oak has shaped their lives. “In the late 90s, Dad created Mossy Oak Biologic, producers of food plot seeds and other wildlife forage products. With his friend Chris Hawley in Livingston, Alabama, he started a real estate company, Mossy Oak Properties, - originally only planning for it to be one office.” 

Daniel tells me the day after Mossy Oak Properties’ first print ads were published, the voicemailbox was full of people from all over the country leaving messages. “They weren’t asking to buy or list properties, they wanted to franchise the name for their own real estate companies.” 

Today, there are almost 100 Mossy Oak Properties in 30 states in the U.S. The scope of the business now includes Gamekeepers Magazine, TV shows, and podcasts, all with its roots in the Mossy Oak brand. “It’s all about being good stewards of the land,” says Daniel.

Toxey and Diane’s neighbor had been training dogs in their backyard pond for years and they had grown close through their love for Labrador retrievers. Now, there is Mossy Oak Kennels where Bill Gibson serves as Kennel Master, and whose title is the Director of Gun Dog Operations. They breed and train British Labrador Retrievers primarily for duck hunting.  “Mom calls it Hobbies Gone Wild,” says Daniel.

“Ideas flow freely at Mossy Oak. We are a very entrepreneurial company,” says Neill. Anytime someone tries to give credit to Neill or Daniel for an idea, they are quick to tell them they have a dusty old playbook from 1986 to 1999 to work with. “We just ask ourselves, “What would dad do?”

Not everything is about making money. Two years ago, Mossy Oak began producing conservation stamps, which used to be fairly prevalent among states to help raise funds to support conservation efforts. “We made a stamp using an image of a painting that hangs above the fireplace at the Turkey Camp. It is two long beards in the woods with a father and son with their backs against a tree.”

Every dollar generated through sales of the $15 stamp goes directly to conservation volunteers and biologists through Gamekeeper Grants. Last year they gave over $100,000 in grants. Mossy Oak is also the official camo of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited.  

A few years ago, the boys learned that their grandfather, Fox Haas, and Colonel Tom Kelly, a forester, grew up less than three miles from each other in Mobile, but had never shared a hunting camp.  Before serving in WWII when Fox Haas was still too young to serve, Col. Tom Kelly began turkey hunting. At the time, there were only a  few pockets of healthy turkey populations in the United States. By the 1930s, wild turkey populations were extirpated to dangerously low levels. 

Because the wild turkey defined both men’s lives and because they were one of the few remaining turkey hunters from the generation who saved turkeys, Neill and Daniel set out to have the men spend time together at Turkey Camp. Both men are now well into their 90s and represent the history and survival of the wild turkey.  

“What began as an idea to capture the two men on film at Turkey Camp grew into a professionally made full-length movie. It’s such a unique story, and they represent the last remaining hunters from Turkey Hunting’s Greatest Generation. The wild turkey resurgence was the result of thousands of passionate folk just like them from different parts of the country. 

The film will air for free tonight, April 3 at 7 PM Central on Mossy Oak’s YouTube channel. The story of Mossy Oak is about a tight-knit community who are stewards of the land. With the roots of the company embedded in America’s Wild Turkey, it’s no surprise that the opening day of turkey season is a company-wide holiday!

Apr 3, 2024
People & Business Profiles

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