By DAVID RAINER
For N. Gunter Guy Jr., his appointment as Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources completes his reconnection with Alabama’s great outdoors.
Having grown up on the family farm between Pintlala and Letohatchee, Guy cherished the rural life that allowed him to enjoy nature’s bounty.
“I grew up helping with cattle, fixing fences and driving tractors,” Guy said. “My dad had me driving a tractor when I was 7 years old, which, looking back on it was a great life experience. I’ve got two girls and they’ve been driving the tractor since they were about 12 years old.
“And when we weren’t working on the farm, my dad and I were fishing or hunting, whatever the case may be.”
Guy said he enjoyed the social aspect that accompanied small-game hunting and recommends it highly for anyone who wants to introduce someone to the outdoors.
“When I started to learn how to use a gun, my dad always stressed safety,” he said. “Back then we did a lot of dove hunting, squirrel hunting and a lot of quail hunting. I’d say squirrel hunting may have been the most fun. Of course, I did more shaking vines than anything else. Deer weren’t hardly even in our area of the woods back then. Turkeys started coming along about the time I went to high school.”
There were bream, bass and catfish in the Guy property’s four ponds, which continue to provide fishing opportunities for family and friends to this day.
Somewhere between the time he graduated from Lanier High School in Montgomery, received his undergraduate degree from Auburn University and then his law degree from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, Guy said life and a law practice kept him away from the outdoors more than he would have preferred.
It was his commitment to his father, who had been disabled by a back injury and subsequent surgery that brought him back to the country where he was reared.
“We were living in Montgomery and my dad was in a wheelchair,” Guy said. “I was down there every weekend, and I needed to help him. I talked to my wife (Patsy) and asked if dad gave us five acres would you move down there? Of course, she’s a great person and she said, ‘Sure.’ As things worked, when I moved back down there, I fell back in love with the things I loved as a kid. You know, when you go off to college and you’re young, sometimes you don’t necessarily lose your roots, but you move to different things. I was more about law school and then got married and started having children.
“When we moved back to the farm, my wife fell in love with it, too. She loves to fish. She tells people the reason she married me was because we had four fish ponds.”
When his father died and left him the farm with his older sisters’ blessing, Guy knew the cattle business was hard work and he couldn’t devote the time that business required. Instead, he decided to transform the farm into a haven for wildlife.
“I like turkey hunting, but deer hunting is my passion,” he said. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to hunt the family farm. It’s got two creeks on it and some high property, but there was a lot of open pasture land.”
He enrolled some land into Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and planted different plots with hardwoods, longleaf pines and loblolly pines.
“That’s my project,” Guy said. “It may create an income source for my kids, and I’m doing what I like doing. That’s my relief from work. I go down there and get on my tractor and plant corn and soybeans for the deer and turkey. I fix roads and bush-hog. It’s kind of a passion. And it’s been neat what has developed.
“My wife calls it ‘tractor time.’ There’s nothing better that getting on my tractor and doing something with the land. I love it.”
Guy also loves his time in the hunting woods, as well - not necessarily for the game harvest, but the entire experience that includes all God’s creatures.
“When I’m sitting in the stand, I’m sitting there watching the hawks, the bobcats,” he said. “What I tell my wife, it’s a good day just getting to see all those things that you cannot see unless you’re sitting in a deer stand. In the morning, you get to see everything come to life. You get to see turkeys fight or deer standing up on their hind legs. People just don’t get to see that. And birds, you don’t really pay attention to the redbirds or hawks in your everyday life unless you’re in a deer stand or turkey hunting. If you love the outdoors you love all those things.”
Before his appointment, Guy admits his familiarity with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) was somewhat limited to Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Like many people, Guy really didn’t realize DCNR also included State Lands, State Parks or even Marine Patrol. That didn’t mean he wasn’t familiar with State Parks, he just didn’t realize it fell under the DCNR umbrella.
“We have beautiful parks,” Guy said. “When I was with the Young Lawyers, we used to meet in Montgomery. I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we start meeting at state parks so people don’t have to travel so far.’ We went to Cheaha, Joe Wheeler, Desoto and Gulf State Park before Ivan.
“We need to get people to think about our parks more. We need those revenues to help State Parks, help the state. If we create revenue, we create jobs. You know, Gov. (Robert) Bentley said he would not take a salary until Alabama was back at full employment, and I want to get him back on the payroll.”
Guy said at various times he has been involved with the Alabama Wildlife Federation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited.
He was also very heavily involved with the Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt, serving as a landowner who hosted one of the guests.
“The people I hosted on my property still call me and tell me what a great experience it was,” Guy said. “I know the reason we had to quit that was because the economy was bad. One of my goals here will be to get that up and running again, because everybody enjoyed it. I think it had a benefit to the State of Alabama, bringing in folks for business development. We just need to make sure the timing is right. I do think it will happen again.”
Guy said he’s traveled to several other states to hunt and enjoys seeing how other states manage their wildlife. He thinks Alabama’s great advantage in comparison is the length of the hunting seasons.
“I think Alabama has a lot to offer,” he said. “With deer hunting, people want big bucks with big racks. Alabama isn’t necessarily known for that, although we do have good quality. And the management that Alabama deer hunters are buying into is helping to create bigger bucks. The thing is our deer season ends after everybody else’s, and we should take advantage of that to bring in money from out of state. I think we do some of that already, but we really need to let these deer hunters know that when their season ends, ours is open the whole month of January. And we have nice, liberal limits because we have a lot of deer.”
Rebuilding the Gulf State Park Hotel and Convention Center is also very high on Guy’s to-do list, as well as the remediation involved with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“The hotel and convention center is my priority and Gov. Bentley’s priority,” he said. “Barnett Lawley and Gov. (Bob) Riley need to be commended for everything they’ve done. We just need to keep going forward. Gov. Bentley is looking for a first-class facility that will bring folks there from Alabama and other states.
“We also know that the oil spill is an item that Gov. Bentley wants to resolve favorably for the state. We want to get the Gulf Coast back up and running.”
Guy said when he was appointed Commissioner it was with the full blessing of his wife.
“She’s excited about my job,” he said. “She said, ‘The Good Lord has blessed us because you love that, and I know you’re going to do a good job.’ She encouraged me to accept it if it was offered. That’s a pretty big step to close your law practice to take a job that is a political appointment, even though it looked like a job that I would love.
“I didn’t come here with a personal agenda. Just like Gov. Bentley said, I want to be of service to the people of Alabama. I want to help this department be good stewards of our natural resources.”
PHOTOS: Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. holds one of the reasons his wife, Patsy, purportedly agreed to marry him – ponds on the family farm filled with big bass. Another Guy passion is turkey hunting, and guest Dennis Terry shows off a big gobbler the hunting partners managed to outwit during the Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt.