Brad Whatley was anxious when he got his first glimpse of the west Texas wilderness.
But these were “good nerves,” the kind kids get waiting to tear into presents on Christmas morning. After all, Brad was the guest of honor on one of the quail hunts his dad always raved about.
Keith Whatley piloted the 1985 Dodge pickup. His best friend, Mr. Donald Ray Brown, sat on the right side of the bench seat. Brad, 9 years old at the time, was wedged between the two men. A liver-colored pointer named Susan sat huddled in the dog box behind them, likely just as excited about the trip as the boy inside the truck.
Young Whatley loved to hunt birds back home in Bivins, Texas, a tiny town tucked into the northeast corner of the Lone Star State. But the real action, as his dad often reminded him, was about eight hours west in a town called Aspermont, a place Brad remembers as “The Bird Capital of the World.”
It was a long ride for the eager young hunter, but Brad always liked being with his dad.
Back home in Bivins, he often would tag along when dad went to inspect one of the family’s shallow oil wells. Keith and his own father co-owned the OK Whatley Oil Company, a small business that never made the family rich like oil did for some lucky souls in east Texas. The Whatleys did alright for themselves, though, with hard work and discipline the pathway to a steady and honest living.
Brad remembers his dad having Elvis or Buddy Holly on the radio when he drove around Bivins, and as Keith Whatley urged the ’85 Dodge westward to Aspermont, Brad wanted to fiddle with the radio, too. He soon learned, however, that dad and Mr. Donald Ray preferred friendly conversation to rock and roll on these trips.
It was the first of many lessons Brad learned on his first quail hunt in west Texas.
Content to listen to the men share small talk and funny stories, he leaned back and began to relax.
The flat earth stretched beneath the Dodge and an unending west Texas sky soared overhead. Out there, past the lonely farms and dusty ranches, was the stuff Brad had dreamed about – the fantastic quail hunts, of course, but just as much, time with his daddy.
“If you’re like me, your dad is your idol at that age, so just getting to spend time with him, to be around the adults, was a huge deal,” said Brad Whatley, now a 38-year-old rookie on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“That first trip quail hunting with him was special. It’s a different world out there (in west Texas). You go there to get away from the world. It’s a place where you can go to think.