Blind Living

photo by Drew Stoecklein
photo by Drew Stoecklein

Blind Living

Ryan Yarnell was born and raised in Texarkana, Texas, by parents William Yarnell and Jeanette McLeod. Like many in northeast Texas, the outdoors began calling his name at a very early age. When he was eight or nine years old, Ryan’s dad took him hunting for the first time in the green timber woods of East Texas. His dad and uncles were the first people to show him the ropes, and he has been a fixture in the sport ever since.

In a blessed nation full of grocery stores, well stocked with a variety of quality meats, hunting is not like it was for the hunters of generations past. Today’s average hunter does not find himself in the deer stand or duck blind out of necessity, and for many men, it is not necessarily the hunt that matters most. It is the fellowship that makes each outing unique, laughing and exploring with friends. Quietly observing the morning fog as the sun peeks over the horizon, noticing the leaves, grass, and overall beauty of nature working together in harmony, is what hunting is all about, and Ryan knows this all too well.

As an outdoorsman, Ryan hunts deer and elk and claims he will “basically chase anything with feathers.” While he loves to hunt it all, Ryan firmly believes duck hunting has always been in his blood. “It is what I know best,” he said. “It’s what I was raised doing. I just love watching the ducks work.” “Duck hunting is what my dad did,” he said. “It made my dad my best friend. When we are in a blind, we may all have different views, but there’s no bickering in the blinds. Duck hunting brings people together around a passion for the outdoors. We all respect each other, and I get to spend time with the people I love most in this world. It centers me. The only time I’m actually quiet is when I’m in the woods.”

To this day, Ryan considers his family, and the boys he grew up with, to be his greatest influences and mentors. Ryan says he always hunted hard with the “Texarkana boys,” and still comes home every winter to go out and see family and friends. He has a camp in Arkansas and recently bought a few acres for his family on Millwood Lake, which at one point had some of the best duck hunting in the area. No matter where his adventures have taken him in the past or where he goes in the future, Ryan claims Arkansas, around Texarkana, will always be his favorite place to hunt.

Since childhood, Ryan has learned a lot on his own, from good ole’ trial and error, and all the different people with whom he has hunted. When he was a kid, he had to walk and search a little harder for each new conquest, but like with most things today, accessibility has gotten easier with technology. As he started going out in different places, he learned new things as well; he discovered how to dry-field hunt, which, for him, brought totally new aspects to the way he approached the sport.

After graduating from Texas High in 1996, Ryan’s journey took him to College Station, where he spent three years, until some old friends invited him to the Smoky Mountains. Once there, he was introduced to river rafting. It was a game changer and quickly ended his college career. He jumped in with both feet and became a rafting guide. He has since led groups through rivers all across the Southeast United States, and even into South America, including world-renowned rivers in Peru. As he continued to travel the world, he spent time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for skiing, and then on to California. There he learned the twists and turns of his all-time favorite location for rafting, the forks of The Kern River. Riding rapids will always be one of Ryan’s biggest passions.

After several years of extreme adventure, Ryan moved north to Montana. A resident of Bozeman for 15 years now, he is happily married to the love of his life, Alexa, with whom he shares a young son named Hiram. Even though Alexa is not a hunter herself, she appreciates the food Ryan brings home and always prefers wild game to anything available in stores. Ryan claims his son is his “mini-me,” and he has been taking Hiram out on boats, scouting, and exploring since he was just four weeks old.

Though Ryan is looking forward to the day he can take Hiram hunting, he isn’t quite ready to take that step and will wait until he is closer to four or five years old. “It’s safety first,” he said. “First, kids need to know how to listen, and how to be quiet and attentive. It really depends on what you’re trying to hunt, and you have to wait until you feel like they’re ready.”

Of course, every good hunter needs an even better dog. For Ryan, his dogs have always played a huge role in his career. His oldest dog, Boss, trained by the legendary Chris Akin, of Webb Footed Kennel in Bono, Arkansas, has been one of his greatest companions. Boss has picked up thousands of birds and has been everywhere with Ryan. As Boss has gotten older, he is now enjoying retirement from duck hunting but remains on the job as protector and companion to Ryan’s son, Hiram, and is a constant fixture at his side. These days Boss’ son, Clyde, is on the trail, tracking birds and leading hunts. Clyde was trained by FowlCo Retrievers in Elkins, Arkansas, and is making Ryan proud, following in his father’s paw prints.

In his current role as a professional outdoor sportsman, Ryan works for and represents VOORMI, one of the most advanced textile companies in the world. VOORMI is a company that is proudly made in the USA and manufactures outdoor gear from the world’s finest wool and natural fibers. With the title of “Field Professional,” and all-around VOORMI-sportsman, Ryan is honored to represent a brand that practices what they preach. VOORMI takes great care ensuring all their efforts have a low environmental impact, with most of their work done in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and some in Bozeman, Montana. In addition to VOORMI, Ryan has shot content for YETI, Benelli USA and other well-known brands, and it is not uncommon for him to have a professional photographer with him when he goes out to hunt. VOORMI’s mission is to “make less, make it last and make it matter.” So, as an ambassador of the brand and as an overall way of life, making it matter is what Ryan does every day.

But what if you are just getting started? For the basics, Ryan keeps it simple. He claims all you need is a “VOORMI sportsman hoodie, a trusted ol’ shotgun, a box of shells and a good place to hunt… like Arkansas.” With new hunters, Ryan always reminds people not to get discouraged. Remember, it is not just about the hunt or what you bring home. It is about the fellowship and the experience. It’s about getting outside and away from the hustle of everyday life. “Be in it to enjoy the setup,” encourages Ryan. “Experience the awesomeness of nature, and most of all…have fun with the people around you.”

To read more about Ryan, make sure you check out “TXK Roots.”


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