We met up with Jeff Foxworthy on a February morning in Troup County in 2001. The Realtree Video Productions crew was busy getting cameras and gear ready for their final shoot before finishing Jeff’s second comedy hunting video, “The Return of the Incomplete Deer Hunter."
Problem was, the star of the show was missing.
No, Jeff wasn’t being fashionably late. Not his style. Instead, he and Glenn Garner, one of the Realtree cameramen, had gone out at daylight to try to see some turkeys in a food plot. They got the truck buried to the doors in a mud hole and only made it to the video shoot after Glenn lifted the truck out of the hole with a front-end loader.
Not a typical morning for a celebrity, especially one who has sold as many books and albums, had the number of sold-out live shows, or appeared on a network, primetime television show named after him. But Jeff Foxworthy is hardly your typical celebrity. He was just one of the guys all morning at the video shoot — joking, talking hunting, talking baseball, a dad talking about his kids.
Then after lunch in LaGrange, Jeff signed autographs for 15 minutes while we all waited in the truck. The people who met Jeff that day at the restaurant really met Jeff Foxworthy, they didn’t just get a piece of paper signed.
Jeff Foxworthy can make rednecks laugh about rednecks because…. well, Jeff is one of us. The same can be said about his comedy videos about deer hunting. If some L.A. city-slicker made a video poking fun at deer hunters, we might take offense. But Jeff is one of us. And his sense of humor ain’t bad either.
Ask a die-hard hunter, an addict, what makes them get up at four in the morning and drive for hours to sit in a tree all day. You’ll get a variety of answers. Some like the peace and quiet. Some can’t get enough of the adrenaline rush when a deer finally appears — that heart-racing, blood-pumping consumption of the senses.
For Jeff Fox-worthy, like most hunters, his love of the outdoors is a combination of feelings.
“I think you’re almost born with it,” Jeff said about having a passion for the woods. “Then when you’re growing up people can nurture it and turn you on to other things about the outdoors, but I really think it’s something some of us are just blessed with. For the people that are really into it, it’s almost an instinctual thing.
“I always got turned on as a teenager feeling like I was watching stuff happen that no one else in the world was watching happen. Things that went on every day, whether it was a hawk trying to catch a mouse, or a raccoon crossing a creek.
“I don’t think I ever spent a day in the woods where I came out and said, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that.’
“I think now with a lifestyle where I’m gone so much and the phone rings so much, hunting is just such a great time to just sit and be quiet and be still.”
Jeff grew up in Hapeville, down by the Atlanta airport. After his parents divorced, his dad went back to Sandersville and bought the Washington County farm where he had grown up.
“We’d spend the week with my momma, and on the weekends we’d go down there to Washington County,” Jeff said. “Me and my brother Jay had the best of both worlds. I remember we learned to drive when we were about 10 years old. Daddy put us out in the middle of a hayfield in an old truck. He just said, ‘This is how you go, this is how you make it stop.’ We thought he was being nice, and we learned later he was just getting us ready to be put to work,” Jeff said in that so-familiar drawl when he’s telling stories or jokes.
“We had a lot of quail down there back then, and daddy liked to bird hunt. He had a couple of dogs, but every year for Christmas my brother and I would get a new pair of briar britches. He’d take us out… ‘Climb down there in that ditch and kick around!’
“That’s where I learned to hunt. I remember being four or five years old and he’d take me squirrel hunting, you know just trying to teach you to learn to sit still. Like most kids, I started out squirrel hunting and dove hunting. We’d always have two or three dove shoots a year down there. And I still enjoy all those, but when I got to be a teenager he started letting me deer hunt, and that was just the start of an addiction.
“This was in the early 70s. There weren’t any deer down there when my dad grew up. He remembered when they brought some in from Wisconsin and put them out 15 to 20 miles from the farm.
“Looking back, it’s amazing that we ever got a deer, as little as we knew about it. I mean we’d sit on the same stand every time, we never checked the wind… just went and climbed up in a tree that you had put a pallet up there in. Never thought about food sources or wind direction. I hunted three years before I got my first deer, and then I got one two weekends in a row and was just hooked forever. I was hooked before I ever got one,” Jeff said.
Compared to his early days as a comedian when life on the road left little time for hunting, Jeff’s current schedule allows more time for his pursuits.
“When I got into comedy, I went from getting to hunt all the time to about a decade where I never got to hunt. At that time I didn’t have the money for a license, and when you’re in one place for one day, you never had the chance to hunt. The last four or five years, I slowed down some. I moved back to Georgia — you know it’s kind of hard to hunt in L.A. Since moving back here, I’ve just jumped back in to hunting with both feet.
“I’ve never taken the celebrity part of my life very serious at all. My wife laughs at me, she’s like: ‘You turn down going to the Academy Awards, you turn down going to the Grammys… But you never turn down a deer hunt somewhere.’”
Meeting the guys at Realtree, founder Bill Jordan and David Blanton, Michael Waddell and Glenn Garner, has taken Jeff’s hunting to a new level of excitement and intrigue.
“Hooking up with the Realtree guys was great… Bill, David, Michael, and Glenn — we’re friends. We talk every week all year long, but it ain’t a bad little sidekick to be able to go to some of the greatest whitetail spots in the world. It’s like, ‘Perlitz Ranch or Herradura? Oh… yeah, I’ll go with ya.’
“I’d put up with ’em even if they weren’t friends for the places that they go! But what it’s done, it’s taken it to a whole new level for me, learning from those guys.
“Here in the last couple of years I started bowhunting and that just took it to an even higher level. You take a deer with a bow and you feel like a predator. You have done something.”
About that time during the interview we asked Jeff about turkey hunting.
“Oh gosh… dang turkey huntin’ — just what I needed to get into,” Jeff laughed.
“We never had turkeys when I grew up hunting, but then when I started hunting with David and Michael and them, they’d always try to get me to go turkey hunting. For a couple years, I’m like, ‘Y’all, it’s a stupid bird, they all look alike, they don’t have horns, I’m not interested.
“Then I went with them one time, and I knew 30 minutes into it, I should not have started this. Gooood night man! It’s one of those things that after the third week of the season you’re so tired, every time you sit down you fall asleep. You start trying to justify it, ‘Well I’ll just hunt for an hour this morning, then I’ll go do the stuff I need to do.’ Then you get a turkey locked up about 45 minutes into it…. ‘Alright 10 more minutes, 10 more minutes.’
“Turkey hunting is about as bad an addiction for me now as deer hunting, and that’s bad.
“I got two turkeys this year — with one shot. I had my little girl with me, actually it was Glenn, David, my little girl and me. Three longbeards came in. It was beautiful.”
Jeff still does between 80 to 100 live performances a year, currently with his Blue Collar Comedy tour, but that’s a far cry from doing the 300 shows a year he did when he started out in the business.
“What I’ve dropped in comedy I’ve picked up in other areas. I’ve been the chairman of the Duke Children’s Hospital group in Durham, North Carolina for six years. It’s just a great place. They don’t turn anybody away based on ability to pay. You show up at the door and say, ‘My kid has cancer and I have a dollar and a half,’ and they take you. I’m constantly doing fund-raising for them. We gave away $52 million in care last year. And then I do a lot with Egleston and the kid’s cancer center there. Just last week I was down at Camp Sunshine with my wife and two daughters and we hosted a talent show for the kids. That kind of stuff is a big part of my life now.”
The “Incomplete Deer Hunter” video series came about like most good ideas — a few friends kicking stories back and forth.
“Several years ago Michael and Steve Finch (director for Realtree Productions) and I were driving to a ranch in Texas, and we just started talking about the different things hunters do. We started cracking each other up. Later on the idea of doing a comedy video came up.
“It used to be that in every hunt camp you’d sit around and you’d read an old Outdoor Life, but now almost every hunt camp has a TV and a VCR and they sit around and watch huntin’ videos. We thought the comedy video would be a good change of pace.”
Speaking of hunt camps, I always thought a good judge of a man was how he’d fit in at the hunt camp. I’ve met some “celebrities” who I’d rather not hunt with or swap stories with around the campfire. After meeting Jeff Foxworthy, I can’t think of anyone with which I’d rather share the camp.