On her sixth birthday, Haley Davis Heath ’01 lost her way in the woods while helping her dad hang No Trespassing signs on their property in Bolingbroke, Georgia. She drove away on a four-wheeler, was lost for twelve hours, and missed her birthday party. Even as darkness and a thunderstorm approached, Haley was at ease and intrigued by her outdoor surroundings. “I reasoned that if I found one of the posted signs, my dad would eventually find me,” said Haley. “I’ve always been very wood-wise. That’s just how my brain works.” This event foreshadowed what has become Haley’s destiny of spending much of her life in the great outdoors.
Being comfortable in the woods comes naturally to this all-American girl-next-door. In fact, it’s a family tradition. Haley’s dad, mom, both grandfathers, and her grandmother involved her in their outdoor activities. Haley’s dad began taking her deer hunting at the age of three and her first claim to fame was when, at the age of six, with camo-dressed doll in tow, she shot her first deer: a basket-rack, seven-pointer that still hangs proudly on her wall today.
Throughout her childhood and teen years and even as a student at Wesleyan, Haley shared her passion with friends, encouraging girls and women to get involved in the traditionally male sports of hunting and fishing. She remembers taking Wesleyan classmates hunting. “Some of the girls I took wore perfume and had their hair styled and scented. It was hysterical.”
According to figures from the National Sporting Good Association’s 2010 Shooting Sports Participation report, more women than men have taken up hunting in the United States in recent years. In the hunting world, Haley Heath is labeled as a top hunter in the industry. In 2006, Haley, then three months pregnant, entered a ‘Survivor-like’ competition on the ESPN television show ESPN’s Ultimate Outdoorsman Search. The only female contestant, Haley was pitted against men in several hunting and fishing expeditions, including hunting turkey in two feet of Minnesota snow. “It was horrible,” Haley recalled. “I was trying to shoot turkey and battling morning sickness at the same time. But I won the challenge! The experience proved what I’ve preached my entire life – women can do all of it.” Haley was one of two finalists when the Ultimate producers announced that the final competition was an elk hunt the first week of November. Haley had to forfeit and accept second place because she was due to deliver her baby the same week.
When the competition aired, e-mails and phone calls flooded in pleading for Haley to have her own show. In September 2006, producers filmed and aired a dove hunt on Haley’s family’s farm. Today Haley is the award-winning host of Family Traditions with Haley Heath, which airs on the Sportsman Channel. “We didn’t know what we were doing when we started the show,” she said. “But it has lasted seven years, which is very rare in this industry.” Family Traditions features Haley, and often her children, Gunner, eight, and Dakota, six, as she travels the world in search of big game. The show demonstrates the importance of family and spending time with loved ones and promotes the same values Haley learned as a child. Since the show began, Haley has earned much-deserved recognition. In 2008, she was the first woman to receive the “Viewer Favorite Personality” Sportsman Award. In 2009, she was appointed as the Ambassador for Hunt. Fish. Feed., the Sportsman Channel’s initiative to feed needy families during economic crisis. The same year, Haley was highlighted in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and on ABC Nightly World News.
The show’s success has led to additional opportunities for Haley. Currently, she is the only spokesperson for Remington Arms and their first female spokesperson since Annie Oakley. When the Buck Knives company learned that their hunting knives were Haley’s favorite and that she’d like to see the line redesigned for the female hand, they invited her to collaborate on a line of female-specific hunting knives. Sized down with a modified handle designed to fit in smaller hands, and finger guard for a safer grip, Buck introduced the Haley Heath ErgoHunter Adrenaline Avid Fixed Blade Knife as part of their new line of knives created specifically for women. Haley also co-hosts Yeti’s Ultimate Hunt, a fundraiser for cancer research. Throughout the year, she and her family participate in numerous appearances around the country.
Haley’s schedule is hectic to say the least. During the last eighteen months, she has been home only three or four days in row. Though she is doing what she loves, it is a tough business, especially since Haley manages every role at Family Traditions, from hunting to marketing.
When at home, Haley spends time with her children making memories and passing on family traditions. “Some of my fondest memories are of me and dad or mom just sitting in a tree stand,” she remarked. “I didn’t care if we saw an animal or not. There were no interruptions.”
Like her mom, Haley’s daughter and sixth-generation hunter, Dakota, also has a memorable birthday story. A few days shy of her sixth birthday last year, Dakota, dressed as Ariel for Halloween, shot her first deer. “It was a sight to see,” laughed Haley. “She made a great shot.”