Ray Murski was selling Texan Reloaders and a few other lines of sporting goods back around 1970.
"Everything I sold, nobody wanted," is the way he defined his business. Then he made a cold call on the Ben Franklin Stores in Arkansas and, fortunately, the owner of the franchise was a quail hunter. The owner arranged to have him show up at a store of his in Popular Bluff, Mo., and demonstrate the reloaders on a Saturday. He even ran ads saying Murski would be there.
Murski was born in Brenham, Texas, and tried to play football at Texas A&M for Bear Bryant. He went on his first deer hunt in 1958 in Maverick County and, in his words, "haven't been normal since."
After college, he went into the military and was in the artillery. Maybe that's where he developed a taste for Ultra Mags. During that time, he also played football for an Army team, delivered top secret information in Vietnam and proposed to his wife Susan by long distance from Okinawa.
He packed 24 reloaders -- all his Mercury station wagon would hold -- and hit the road. By noon that Saturday, he had sold out. When he returned jubilantly to settle up, the owner told him if he had any -- well, let's just say, cojones -- he'd have sold 48! That man with the high standards for his salespeople was Sam Walton.
By now, an image may be forming of a man who allows neither time nor distance to keep him from his goal. Returning to Texas, he went to work selling insurance for Connecticut General and applied that drive to break a 100-year record for selling group policies in a year. The next year, he broke his own record.
"I was bullet-proof," he said.
With money to invest, he left the insurance business and financed Outdoor Times, a tender trap of a hunting and fishing tabloid. "Bad move," he said with 20-20 hindsight. He also invested in Buddy's Landing, a marina on Cedar Creek Lake that might have paid off had it not been for a three-year drought just setting in. And, to frost the cake, he drilled a dry hole or two.
While selling ads for Outdoor Times at the Houston Boat Show, the man in the next booth asked him if he'd like to sell sporting goods. After all, he'd always really wanted to be a manufacturer's rep for women's wear, so it wasn't all that of a stretch to get into sporting goods. And that brings us back to where this story started.
Murski ran his business well and had a stable customer in the fledgling Wal-Mart stores. In 1971, Sam Walton invited Ray and others to invest in the IPO of stock in his expanding business. The rest, as they say, is history. The stock has split 11 times since then.
Murski soon bought into a larger sporting goods business, which is now known as Murski-Breeding, Inc. Ray is also owner of Strike King Lures, the nation's third-leading freshwater lure company.
Not surprisingly, former athletes comprise a significant amount of his sales staff.
"It takes a competitor to be a salesman," Ray said. "They don't want to get beat. That's what we look for."
In 1985, he bought the first 400 acres of his Flint Creek Ranch. Looking at it today, you'd never imagine the driveway once was littered with chicken bones. He took his father and mother over it in a Jeep when he first got it, and his father said it was "the worst piece of land " he had ever seen. Nowadays, it's a 1,500-acre study in natural beauty. Cedar has been cleared from around the base of trees, and more trees have been planted.
"We need trees for cover and browse," he said."We've planted post oak, burr oak, chinaberry. And we've left some cedar for cover."
With the help of Jon Henderson, a retired ag teacher in Meridian, he has put in food plots.
"We're always experimenting," he explained. "We're now trying lucena, a South Texas legume."
As we glassed a couple of young bucks and a doe along the edge of an alfalfa field, he grinned and said, "People said you can't grow alfafa on rocks. They're wrong."
Supplemental feed containing high mineral content is custom made and fed. With 22 ponds -- two of which are 17 acres each -- the deer always have a drink waiting for them.
"Bosque County always has had good genetics in its deer," he said. The deer on the wall in the lodge testify to that. "But we're also experimenting with some northern and South Texas genetics in our breeding pens."
Murski, a TWA director, has been a member for 13 years and on the board for 12. His generosity toward kids is legendary.
"We figure we've helped give 50,000 kids their first experience in the outdoors."
Binoculars, sleeping bags and rifles are annually provided for the TWA-Y.O. Ranch Youth Hunt. The kids keep the sleeping bags and he still gets letters from ones who received a sack 10 years ago.
TWA President Jaimie Hayne recognizes Murski's numerous contributions to the TWA family:
"We are so fortunate to be associated with Ray Murski. TWA is thankful to have an individual involved in its organization so dedicated to the future of hunting in Texas. He not only donated or arranged for the donation of eqipment and supplies for youth hunts, he has worked with John Anderson to provide items requested on TWA's wish list and hosted a field day."
David K. Langford, TWA's executive vice president is equally grateful:
"Ray Murski's contributions and involvement in providing sustenance for our organization go way beyond what he actually gets credit for. Behind the scenes, at every opportunity, he promotes and represents TWA and its philosophy both in the community and within the hunting industry itself. Ray is generous in every sense of the word with his time, expertise and resources especially when it comes to TWA and Texas A&M University.
Possibly his most amusing contribution was the night he bought "Lone Star," the Mediterranean donkey at the TWA auction for $2,600.
"You had it bought at $2,100, but you kept outbidding yourself!" he was told the next day.
Ray recently won the TWA membership contest with the highest point total ever, eclipsing Jack Carmody's record. How he did it was not reported, though. He got his first Life Member in the contest from one of his customers. He then photo copied the check and showed it to a number of customers and friends and it soon became a matter of pride. He ended the contest with 24 new life members.
Ray sees a solid future for TWA.
"For anyone interested in the outdoors, it's a must," he insisted. "It ought to be patterned and shown to other states as a model."
"The most amazing thing about Ray, aside from his phenomenal salesmanship, is he's the most conscientious guy I've ever met," Langford said. "He's humble and smart and, well, it just doesn't take him long to look at a horseshoe. Ray's a quick study, and you can always count on him to assess a situation and quickly come up with an opinion or workable solution."
On the future of hunting, he's a little more concerned: "We've got to take care of the blue-collar hunter. If all we have left who can afford to hunt is a small bunch of rich people, it's over."