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A natural born killer: banded's self-taught Tyson Keller redefines what it means to be washed in the blood.

A LOVE OF THE OUTDOORS IS A taste most of us acquire through quality time spent with loved ones afield. Not Tyson Keller. His insane love of the outdoors was not learned, it was there in every beat of his heart from the earliest age, probably as an embryo.

Keller's story is one of precociousness, a youngster as obsessed with critters as it gets. Wildly successful in an industry that most outdoorsmen desperately wish to be a part of, he is a man who loved hunting and fishing so much he left a career in it behind ... well, sort of. He still works in marketing with Banded of Maxx Outdoors, but it's just one of his many hats. His laid back demeanor belies an intensity that would be intimidating on a less easy-going dude.

When he could barely walk, just over a year old, his mom would take him to a little park with a pond by the state capitol in Pierre, SD., where big geese come in, and Tyson the toddler used to love watching the birds would point at the sky "geese-geese-geese," an early obsession with waterfowl that only grew stronger. Dad was not a die-hard outdoorsman, so he didn't really grow up around it, though Tyson takes his father now, in a role-reversal. Tyson can talk all day as a marketing guy, but this intrinsic obsession with the outdoors leaves him speechless when asked why all he ever wanted to do since he was five years old is fish all summer long.

"They were outdoor people but not hunters, and it's been a driving force within me since day one. I am pretty much 100 percent self-taught through trial and error. It's just something I can't explain."

Mom would give him quarters for the pay phone, drop him at the river and say "call me when you're done fishing." The Missouri River there is loaded with lodges as a top national walleye spot, but by age 14, Tyson was recruited by multiple lodges to guide anglers because the guides all knew him. His mom Janet was totally open-minded, taking him everywhere as a youngster so he could follow his dreams.

"You see people that force their kids to do things, choir or sports, but she allowed me to do the things I liked to do, and nurtured my ambitions," he says.

His father Fran is a car sales workaholic, a people person who will never retire, but supported his son's sporting clays shooting at a young-age.

At age 10, Tyson watched taxidermists for hours, and showed extreme patience as a youngster. He caught a 2-pound smallmouth, skinned it, carved a Styrofoam block out like a fish, stapled the skin on it, and had his first mount, a rotten-smelling thing he still possesses. He launched his decoy carving career at 11, hewing out a half-dozen corks and then hunting over them at 12 years old. "I put them in a canvas army bag and first day all the heads fell off because had glued them on, but I shot a couple of spoonies and a gadwall over them. I was a nut, man, I was trying to do anything I could to fool game; I was absolutely crazed by the outdoors."

The 32-year-old's stellar shotgunning career started at 8, when he got his hands on a single-shot Stevens 20-gauge with a hammer. Janet would throw clay pigeons over a sand pit and he started on sporting clays with dad at age 10, moving on to a 1300 Win 20-gauge pump at 11. By 12 he started going to area shoots with his dad and by 14 was shooting up to 5,000 tournament targets per year in registered events, winning the state's men's class 14-and-under categories repeatedly. His dad would also register him in the men's division, where he'd typically win as well. At 14 he took third at nationals in men's C class, after a head-to-head shoot-off against a guy in his 40s who won the toss ... and smoked him. Keller shot the first three without a miss and it was over.

"There were 600 people. It was crazy, I was so damned nervous. It was a three-day tournament and this Olympic gal Casey Atkinson told me 'you're gonna win this," he said. He did, and the next six years he shot all state and national shoots, travelling with dad, taking top 10 at nationals six years straight, with a modest ammo sponsor at age 15 from Remington. Right up until his second year in college, when he suddenly realized he wanted to make his fishing guide job in summers top priority. He still shoots a few times per year, exploiting muscle memory that is "like riding a bike for me, I just jumped in the big Dakota Blast tourney and I broke a 93 and I had not shot in a year.

"My passion whenever I have gone after something is I gave it 110 percent, observe and analyze and understand the dynamic, whether it's competitive calling, or taking Chad Belding on a goose hunt, I just try to be the best." Including calling geese. He can no longer compete in state and regional comps, having won the Upper Midwest Northern Prairie Grand National Regional and three state championships. Keller also knows when to quit. "I didn't feel like I was dialed enough for worlds. But the Banded TKO is the same exact bore diameter and design of a short-reed call I made in high school as a junior."

As a high schooler, he had his own acrylics made to copy his cocobolo wood designs and sold them to guides. Not too shabby for someone without a mentor. And his dream was to work in the outdoor industry, so he started working for Avery in college, as a photographer and hosting writer hunts. "I was doing goose hunting seminars for Cabela's. I went to game fairs and did presentations during fall Expo shows." He was a volunteer pro staffer, and Avery offered him a job before he finished college. He decided to get a master's and they held the opening for him, and he worked there for six years doing photography and media relations until age 27.

But something was missing. His greatest love had become work. He decided to take a better paying job with a friend's large transportation company. "I just hunted and fished for fun again, and I tell you what, I enjoyed living it every single day as a pro in the outdoors, but my passion for it was because it was my happy place, not having an agenda. I just wanted to get back to my roots because that is the most important thing to me--love of outdoors--and I didn't want a negative association with it."

Serendipity struck when a group of guys with experience in the industry started an outdoors rep group (Maxx Outdoors) under the transportation company Tyson worked for. The owner, Jim Hawk, allowed him to keep his day job and do marketing for Banded on the side.

"And now I've created a happy medium, a great job with great people and the opportunity to do what I love to do during my own time and also stay affiliated with the outdoors industry. You want to be involved but you don't want to be burned out," he said.

At 32, he is still as precocious as ever, with vision beyond his years. If he wants to step away from waterfowling for a few weeks and fish walleye tourneys, he can do what he feels like doing, be it chasing fins or feathers.

"It's extremely rewarding, whether it's goose hunting or fishing ... you have to beat that animal at their own game when you step in the field, and that is survival. That's why I love it so much--every day it's a different game and you have to adapt. I like to overcome those variables to fool that damned creature and be the best I can."
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Title Annotation:WILDFOWL SPOTLIGHT
Author:Knowles, Skip
Publication:Wildfowl
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2013
Words:1337
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