J. Wayne Fears’ election to this year’s Silver Anniversary Class of the
Huntsville-Madison County Athletic of Fame posed something of a minor
dilemma for the 18 electors on the Board of Directors. Everyone agreed his
résumé was amazing. The only question was, what’s his category? Master
Outdoorsman? Writer? Hunter? Fisherman? Adventurer? Survivalist?
Conservationist? The answer is, all the above. As someone on the board
said, “For all this guy has done, he deserves a Hall of Fame all his own."
Many of Fears’ real-life adventures sound like movie fiction. Once he
was stranded alone, without a firearm and carrying only a hunting knife,
while mapping a vast uncharted section in the remote Yukon territory of
northwestern Canada. For more than two weeks, Fears had to forage
the deep woods for food, trying to stay alive. During this harrowing
predicament, he built a tiny lean-to near the banks of a small lake and
kept a campfire burning at night to fend off a stalking grizzly. He was finally
spotted from the air and rescued by a passing bush pilot, who banked
sharply and deftly landed his little float plane on the nearby lake. “I felt like kissing that guy, almost," said Fears.
Born in 1938 near the Alabama-Tennessee line in northern Alabama, Fears is the eldest of George and Aneeda Fears’
two sons. At an early age, he learned how to live in the wild from his father, a trapper and expert woodsman. He inherited a
love of the written word from his mother, a school teacher. Both acquired skills would prove invaluable in the years to come.
During his time in high school at Huntsville High, most of the boys in his class gravitated to the traditional team sports. Fears,
on the other hand, was spending much of his spare time in the woods, often alone, fishing and trapping and hunting wild
turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, and bobcats. His love of the outdoors also led him into scouting, where he mastered
map reading, compass navigation, leadership and pioneering. By the age of 15, he had already attained the rank of Eagle
Scout. His junior year, Fears and a handful of fellow students joined the National Guard, which carried a commitment to join
the U.S. Army after their senior year. The day after receiving his diploma in 1956, Fears was off to Fort Jackson, S.C., for
After a six-year hitch in the army, he enrolled at Auburn University, graduating in 1964 in a customized curriculum: Wildlife
Management and Outdoor Education. He then worked at the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service as a
wildlife specialist, earning a Master’s degree along the way and later overseeing 500,000 acres in southern Georgia as the
chief wildlife manager for the Gulf States Paper Corporation. During this period, Fears began what would become one of
the most prolific writing careers in the outdoors world. Over the past four decades, he has contributed some 6,200 articles
to nearly every wildlife magazine on the market, including Outdoor Life and Field and Stream, and has published 32 books
on such topics as shooting, trout fishing and cooking wild game.
A world traveler, Fears has hunted and fished around the globe, including all 50 states and fi ve continents: North America,
South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. “I never set out to hunt in so many places," Fears said. “It just happened that way,
but I enjoyed the journey." Among his favorite memories in the journey is the time he hunted goat-like chamois and tahr on
the steep slopes of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. “That was probably the most dangerous thing I ever did because we had
to ride helicopters to get up there, and I’m afraid of heights," said Fears. The walls of his rustic home in New Market are
lined with many of his prized trophies, including deer, a stuffed mountain lion, a musk ox head and an Arctic caribou from
the North Pole region, and the pelts of two black bears and a grizzly. A culinary aficionado, Fears has sampled nearly every
wild animal on the planet. Monkey meat “tastes a lot like beef," he says, and rattlesnake, properly prepared, is “a delicacy."
In 2012, Fears was inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame in Nashville, and just two months ago
he was inducted into the Legends of the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Tonight, he goes into the Huntsville-Madison
County Athletic Hall of Fame. “This one," he said, “is probably the best of them all. There’s nothing like being honored by
your home folks."
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