Jason Hairston, and the Story of Building KUIU
My dad was a hunter, a traditional bow hunter, and all through my childhood hunting was this thing we did together as a family—it was a tradition. I started shooting when I was two or three. Every night after dinner we’d shoot in the backyard. And now, many years later, I’m doing the same thing with my son Cash.
Anyway, we took our bows everywhere we went. And at bedtime my dad didn’t read Cat in the Hat, he read stories about Howard Hill and Art Young and Saxton Pope. It was like living in the movie A River Runs Through It, only with archery equipment and deer, and instead of Montana we lived in Southern California.
Most of our annual trips and vacations were hunting-oriented. Every year at least once a year, we’d go to Colorado or Utah to hunt deer. I killed and field dressed my first animal when I was nine. My dad and I were hunting wild goats on Catalina Island. I snuck up on one and shot it. It was small but still it was an awesome experience.
Throughout High School, I worked in the local archery store in summers. I made arrows, cleaned up stuff, sold stuff, I was basically a shop-kid. I didn't care if it was cool. I loved doing anything that had to do with hunting. It was weird, I'd go to parties on the weekend and have to leave at one or two in the morning because my dad would be ready to leave for a hunt in a couple of hours. I never missed a hunt, not once.
My dad was always in good shape, and my brother and I were in good shape. We were young and we both played sports. So part of our hunting thing on these longer trips was to try and get ever further in, further away from people. That meant getting up earlier and getting home later.
It was the early eighties and my dad was reading Dwight Schuh and Larry Jones. They were both writing about backpack hunting and getting further off the main roads, so pretty soon we were buying backpacks and going backpack hunting.
The process and the challenge of it and the feeling that came from being more remote and removed from civilization than ever before was rewarding. The deeper we went and the harder the trips, the greater the satisfaction. And it paid off too. We started having a lot of success. Soon it just became part of our process. We started looking for new areas to hunt, places with limited access. Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Idaho—we’d do our homework and research the topography, and we’d put these amazing adventures together with lots of animals and no people.
My dad played football and my older brother played football, and so I just kind of grew up with it. I had a decent high school career, but I was a late developer and so I had an even better college career. While getting a business econ degree I played for UC Davis, a Division II team. They had a football program and it's a really good—a hard school to get into. I’m sure I could have gone to other schools with bigger football programs but none of them had the education that I wanted.
During my freshman year, I realized that I was as good as the seniors that were starting. I could outplay them, even the guys that were bigger and stronger than me. By the time I was a sophomore, I was a starting linebacker, setting single game and single season tackling records. I knew that I was fast, but I didn't realize just how fast until my sophomore year. I could run with receivers and find the football really well. Next thing I knew, people were talking about the NFL and I was on track to get drafted.
Then in my junior year in a Division II playoff game, I got hit in the head, hard enough to break my C5 and C6 vertebrae, each in seven different places. I played well enough in my senior year but not well enough to get drafted. But I got picked-up by the Niners as an unrestricted free agent at a training camp after the draft. I was the only one out of the eighty-seven of us. That was in ’95. Then in '96 I went to the Broncos where I continued to have all sorts of problems with my neck. So later that year (I was 24 years old) I retired.
We decided to call the company Sitka. First step: we approached Mothwing. We asked them if we could adjust the colors for western hunting, and we asked for a year-long exclusive with these new colors. Mothwing, new and looking for customers, agreed to it.
I wanted to make the lightest and highest performing Mountain Hunting clothing possible. I wanted to create a brand that stood for uncompromised quality and performance, and where the whole process—the design, technology and sourcing, are shared with the consumer.
“…the hunting industry was built around specialty pro shops. Specialty pro shops have always been the bridge between manufacturer and customer.”
I grew up reading about hunting lore and legend (Fred Bear, Saxton Pope, Art Young) and listening to hunting stories told around the campfire. Hunting has always been as much about adventure and experience and survival as anything else.
KUIU Conservation Direct is a first-of-its-kind conservation initiative.
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At KUIU, we strive to design the most effective, unique camouflage patterns available in the outdoor industry.