A look at the story and humble roots of one of the country’s favorite bowhunters
There was a time when Travis “T-Bone” Turner was afraid to pull back a bow. That was long before making a name for himself as a world champion 3D tournament archer and hunting personality on popular Realtree TV shows and videos, of course. But when Turner was 10 years old, his dad bought him a bow for having good grades in school.
“It was a 45-pound recurve and I didn’t have the strength at the time to pull it to full anchor,” Turner says. “Like so many people, I had a bad experience being introduced to archery. I went through the motions, but convinced I just wasn’t strong enough to pull a bow, I put it down pretty quickly.”
The Early Years
Turner says it took some healthy peer pressure from his buddies years later to get him to pick up a bow again.
“In 1988, when I was 19 years old, I was spending every afternoon fishing with my buddies after work. One day, one of them asked me if I was going to bowhunt with them come fall. I was against it. Due to my experience as a kid, I had it in my head that I couldn’t pull a bow. They said, ‘Look, we’re shooting our bows in the afternoons from now until bow season. No more fishing.’”
Turner says he knew if he wanted to continue hanging out with his buddies after work, he’d need a bow. So, he saved up $300 and bought his first compound.
“Even though I had been a lineman on the high school football team and could bench 300 pounds, I didn’t try to pull the bow back in the store because I still believed I couldn’t. I didn’t want to be embarrassed.”
When Turner returned to the privacy of his home, he gave it a try, and much to his relief, discovered that the 64-pound bow was easy to pull. The next day, he joined his buddies for some target practice.
“It was like a wave went over me. I thought, ‘I’m going to be able to do this,’” he says.
A Natural Talent
Turner quickly realized he had a natural aptitude for shooting a bow and instantly fell in love with the sport of archery. He practiced with his buddies on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and even though he only had three days of bow experience, he shot in a 3D tournament with them on Sunday.
“We walked through the woods and shot at the targets, and at the end of the day, we turned in our individual scores,” Turner says. “I was happy that I had beaten all of my buddies, but even happier to find out I’d beaten all 37 people competing in the novice class. That’s when tournament archery hooked me like a fish. I was never that great at sports. I took up a space in line on the football field. I was known as the chubby, slow kid in baseball and basketball. But archery was something I was naturally good at.”
From that point on, Turner couldn’t get enough of archery. He began learning all he could about the sport, including how to work on bows.
“No matter how good you and your equipment are, you can always shoot better and more accurately, and that’s what I love about it,” Turner says. “The practice is therapeutic, and I love competing and fellowshipping at tournaments.”
Turner participated in two more tournaments that summer and then started hunting. When deer season ended, he couldn’t wait until summer, when he could participate in archery tournaments again. He didn’t realize there were indoor 3D tournaments throughout the winter.
Turner figured that out the following year, and he and his buddies started shooting in two or three tournaments a weekend.
“We’d go all over Alabama and Georgia,” he says. “We just couldn’t get enough.”
The consistent practice and competitions paid off. In 1990, Turner won the Georgia State Championship in his class, as well as the Broadhead State Championship. He was asked to be on Browning’s national team, and he got to enjoy shooting in tournaments all over the country. Then, in 1991, Turner won the World Championship ASA tournament against 539 people from 37 states.
Taking a Risk
“Around that time, I started thinking about what my dad always said to me: ‘If you pursue something you’re passionate about, you’ll feel like you’ve never worked a day in your life.’ I was making good money working for Mercedes at that time, but I wasn’t passionate about my job. So, I decided to take a cut in salary and go to work for a local archery shop. I was spending all of my spare time working on bows anyway.”
Not long after, Turner moved an hour south of Atlanta and opened up his own archery store.
“It was a huge eye-opening experience,” he says. “There were times where I’d go four or five days and only ring up $150. It was tough, but I built a reputation and developed some partnerships, including with the guys from Realtree. Realtree cameramen Glenn Garner and David Blanton lived close by, and I started working on their bows.”
“I thought, ‘Here is my 15 minutes of fame.’ I put on an old floppy hat, flannel shirt, and bubba teeth and gave myself the nickname ‘T-Bone,’ and from there on out, it stuck.”
Turner earned their respect, and he told Blanton that he’d love to set up the bows for the country music singers, actors, and ballplayers who were featured on the Realtree Outdoors TV shows and the Monster Bucks series.
“I wanted to make sure that those outdoor ambassadors had a good experience with their bows,” Turner says.
Blanton agreed and Turner set up the archery tournament for the Monster Bucks series for approximately five years.
“I was asked to appear in The Incomplete Deer Hunter as a distant relative of Jeff Foxworthy’s in 1999 or 2000,” Turner says. “I thought, ‘Here is my 15 minutes of fame.’ I put on an old floppy hat, flannel shirt, and bubba teeth and gave myself the nickname ‘T-Bone,’ and from there on out, it stuck. Everyone loved The Incomplete Deer Hunter, and it was shown in hunting camps around the country.”
Living the Dream
“T-Bone” became an instant outdoor celebrity, and Turner’s life changed with his newfound popularity.
“I quit shooting in archery tournaments and started doing more for Realtree. I went to store openings and autograph signings and meet-and-greets. I started doing more on video, and I eventually became part of Realtree Road Trips.”
Over the years, Turner grew his friendship with his Realtree Road Trips co-hosts, Michael Waddell and Nick Mundt.
“We were similar in age, had a similar sense of humor, and similar personalities,” he says. “We became very close and always had a great time together.”
In 2008, Turner and Mundt joined Waddell on his new Bone Collector TV show, and together the three friends turned Bone Collector into one of the most recognizable brands in the outdoor industry. The popular brand now offers TV and production services, licensing opportunities, marketing, and more — all with a mission of standing up for the hunting culture.
“We are fortunate to be one of the top shows on Outdoor Channel and MyOutdoorTV, and we have more coming in the digital realm with YouTube and Waypoint TV,” Turner says. “We have a strong following through social, digital, and TV outlets, and we have more than 100 licensing partners. Things are going really well.”
Turner says he has always thought of Bone Collector as an extension of Realtree and is forever grateful for Realtree’s impact on his life.
“For Realtree, I’d do basically anything they needed,” he says. “I’d sweep the floor if they wanted me to. I’m currently working with them on digital media and social media projects. I’ll be doing a commercial for Realtree and Rural King soon. Michael, Nick, and I bleed Realtree.”
Turner says he is especially appreciative of Blanton and Bill Jordan, who jump-started his career, and to all of those who continue to support him, Waddell, and Mundt.
“We’ve been in the industry for so long and are so thankful for the people who still like our message and entertainment. We are taking it one year at a time, and as long as our fans like to see us do what we do, we’ll keep on going, even when we’re old and gray.”
When being real means being your best, that’s when you know you’ve succeeded. Realtree’s #BeReal stories offer you great profiles of men and women who took their own path, in their own way, and came out on top.