Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, walked into the main banquet room of Big Cedar Lodge, the enormous, rustic yet elegant resort he operates on Table Rock Lake, which was the host facility of the North America Whitetail Summit; and what was on the jumbo screens?
Two gigantic Cabela’s logos.
“That’s all right,” Morris said. “When it comes to conservation, there’s no such thing as competition.
“We’re all in the same boat.”
This simple statement is quite a philosophy and a quote we should all remember.
When I was 12, my family took a very National Lampoon-like road trip from our home in northwest Indiana to my great uncle’s home in El Paso Texas.
My poor parents had to deal with two boys — my brother was 8 at the time — fighting and climbing the walls of our van for thousands of miles. This was before the days of pacifying kids with video games and portable DVD players.
The highlight of the trip for me was stopping at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Springfield, Mo. Fishing and hunting already were my passions, so to walk into the megastore and see the amount of goods was cool, but it was the mounts and décor that really grabbed me.
While there I was able to feed Ethel, who at 24 pounds was the largest largemouth bass in captivity.
My dad bought me my first bait casting reel and some other tackle that day. In fact, I still have an Uncle Buck crappie rod from that trip.
Morris has been inspiring people to go fishing for nearly half a century.
He’s built an empire, but at his root, he is still a southwest Missourian who loves to fish, loves forest, fish and wildlife. He does an incredible amount for conservation.
“Hunters are passionate conservationists,” Morris said.
Morris hasn’t always been the owner of a billion-dollar business. In fact, he started Bass Pro from nothing in the corner of a liquor store. His parents grew up without running water or electricity.
He is a fisherman, hunter and conservationist first. He has been successful in business, and he knows how fortunate he is.
“I’m blessed that my passion for fishing became a way for me to make a living,” Morris said.
His father once told him, “John, when I was growing up, I didn’t see any whitetails or turkey.” Morris has never forgotten those words, and his actions have aggressively supported making sure future generations will continue to experience today’s abundance of fish and wildlife.
“I have traveled to many other countries. I’ve seen what conservation is like in communist countries. Our North American model of conservation is the envy of the world. Nothing else comes close,” Morris said.
Morris concluded his speech by saying, “To accomplish great things in conservation it takes teamwork. It takes state agencies and business and media and even Cabela’s.”
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Saturdays in the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.