Just over two years ago, while back at my childhood home in West Tennessee filming for Season 1, I met a man named Shane Hall. As the Coordinator of TWRA’s Moment of Freedom program, Shane’s life revolved around providing access to the outdoors for those with disabilities. And what was scheduled to be a quick interview covering the highlights of the program, turned into an all-day affair as Shane took to the crew and I like we were long-lost brothers.
Shane was one of those people you were instant friends with. His positivity was infectious and his sense of passion and purpose were unparalleled. Interestingly enough, Shane was also one of the rare few who claimed to have gained their positive outlook on life when they found themselves suddenly looking out from the perspective of a wheelchair. What for most of us would have been a devastating accident, was ultimately for Shane a catalyst to care.
The last time I was fortunate enough to spend time with Shane, he pulled me into a bear hug before smacking me on the arm and asking me why I hadn’t done more with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation. “Look to Lynnville,” he told me,”It’s just a humble farm town with a lot of heart. And there won’t be thousands of people there, no, but there’s something special going on. Remember, every mountain stream starts with just a few drops of rain.”
Young Guns (with Long Range Shootout):
Soon after seeing Shane, my Producer and I picked up the phone and called the folks at TWRF, telling them we’d received a tip that they might be up to something special. “Well, really, it’s a story in two parts,” they told us. “We’ve got two big events coming up and if you can, we really think you should come out to both. You’ll see why.” So, out came the iCals and the weekly planners, with everyone marking off two weekends in late October, not altogether sure what to expect.
With anticipation running high, the first weekend finally arrived and the crew and I sat back to document all the goings on. Turned out, we weren’t alone. In fact, everyone was sitting back… waaay back. We’d found ourselves in the middle of a private fundraiser set out on a breathtaking piece of property that stretched as far as the eye can see. And that’s a good thing, because the reason folks were in attendance on this particular day was to take part in TWRF’s annual Long Range Shootout, featuring custom rifles, shotguns, and muzzleloaders, with the ability to hit targets from 400 to over 1,200 yards.
And as the laughter, light refreshments, and raffle prizes started to flow, so did the donations. Folks had come out to enjoy a day of good-hearted competition, but based on the size of their contributions I could tell this was hardly the main event.
As we pulled up to the event barn that second weekend, TWRF’s Director of Development and coordinator of the event, Johnny Allred, greeted the crew and I at the door, stepping away from some pre-dawn sausage and biscuits to give us the game plan for the morning. There’d been a cold snap overnight, so everyone was bundled up and the conversations were hushed in that still sleepy sort of way. One by one he pointed around the room, explaining the story of each family and why they were there: A little girl who had lost her hearing, a bone cancer survivor who lost his leg, a young man struggling with cerebral palsy. For each family, Johnny listed a piece of technology or customized piece of equipment he had called in to ensure that each hunter had a full, uninhibited experience. We each had a roll to play to make sure the day went off perfectly, with our Director of Photography, Cody, splitting off to help guide out in the blinds and the others staying behind to help check-in each harvest as they came in. “Everyone’s pitched in on this one,” Johnny explained, an eager smile across his face: “We gon do all we can to make sure these kids have a good one, because they deserve it!”
As the sun rose and first light came over the hills, one by one the shots started ringing off in the distance.
As the harvests for the day started to come in back at basecamp, I sat down with TWRF Executive Director, Julie Schuster, to talk about why she and her staff feel it’s important to put on events like the Young Guns hunts, as well as how events like the Long Range Shoot Out make hunts like these possible.
As the last of the morning chill slipped away, I headed to the back of the barn to help check in the morning’s harvests. First in for the morning was a young man whose childhood cancer resulted in an amputation. Explaining that most weekends he could be found playing basketball or wrestling and now having nabbed his first buck, it was clear this kid had incredible perspective on what’s possible.
One after another the hunters started to come in, each eager to share the stories of their success, each enamored with having the experience of spending the morning in the blind.
As we said our goodbyes for the day, the TWRF staff encouraged us to take a look around downtown Lynnville before we hit the road, telling us that we’d find a whole lot more of people wanting to do things the right way, rather than the easy or cheap way instead.
If you’re the kind of person who can sit in the midst of a landscape like the Smokies and appreciate the rocky crags peppered amongst the wide stands of yellow birch and sugar maple, then chances are you’re also the type of person who can appreciate the individual texture and palette that a genuine piece of leather takes on over the course of a lifetime. For those who appreciate fine craftsmanship and leather that tells a story, the goods at Colonel Littleton’s are among some of the finest in the world.
I had a great afternoon with the Colonel, but it didn’t take me more than a few minutes to see that he’s more than just a Colonel, he’s a gentleman as well. A gentleman whose penchant for quality is hand-crafted into every product that bears his name.
With the smell of leather still fresh in the air, I wanted to make one final stop to make sure that the flavor of Lynnville was still fresh on my lips as well.
Still relatively new to the distilling world, the folks at TennSouth bring an old-world commitment to quality that’s difficult to find these days. That commitment means more narrow profit margins and a more trying production process, but it also means that every bottle that emerges from the white oak barrels here at TennSouth literally contain more “heart” than your average whiskey.
While the whiskey we made today will sit and age for three to four years, it only took me a few minutes to understand that the flavor here at TennSouth is steeped with the kindness and compassion I’ve found throughout my time in Lynnville thus far. Once again, I’ve been truly honored and humbled by my time with Clayton and his staff, and leave knowing full well that the local commitment to quality is more than coincidence-- it’s culture.
As I mentioned earlier, I came to Lynnville on a tip from a good friend with a great heart. As fate would have it, Shane passed away from a long battle with cancer just a couple weeks shy of us beginning to film this episode, a timing that made his passing all the more difficult to accept or understand.
Too often, when we lose friends and loved ones years before their time, we think back over missed opportunities and unfulfilled plans. In this instance, however, that couldn’t have been further from my experience. Instead of looking out over the lush, rolling hills of Lynnville thinking about what could have been, this episode provided me with two weekends of getting to see Shane’s greatest dreams realized-- children challenged with disabilities overcoming obstacles and taking back those moments of freedom that make us all feel grounded and grateful.
And as I look out over the hills on my way back home, I’m taking a bit of that hope along with me. Hope that Shane was right and that there is something special happening in Lynnville. But, moreso, thanks to folks like the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation, hope that this Volunteer vision burns bright orange in every corner and cabin across Tennessee.