hook and barrel luke bryan hunting and country music feature
Photo by Jim Wright

Holidays bring deep meaning for country music megastar Luke Bryan

When he’s asked what’s his favorite kind of hunting, Luke Bryan is quick with a simple answer: “Whatever’s in season.”

Along with making music and spending time with his family, hunting and fishing have been true passions for most of Bryan’s life. It’s been a terrible year for so many people around the world, but one of the upsides is that it’s given the country music megastar more time to spend in the great outdoors with his two young sons. It’s a family tradition that started for Bryan as a boy in Georgia, and one that he is happy to continue along.

“I feel like hunting and fishing are the best way to make your children really well rounded. I want my sons to be athletic, I want them to grow up to be gentlemen, and I want them to be avid outdoorsmen,” says Bryan. “That’s what my dad did for me when I was young, and I think it’s important.”

Bryan learned all of those lessons well. He played multiple sports growing up, and his polite and considerate nature is a big part of his country charm. He is positive and upbeat and seems truly grateful for the big-time success and opportunities that have come his way.

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Luke loved Merle Haggard and the group Alabama growing up, but he also had Run DMC tapes.

As for the boys, 12-year-old Bo got his first buck while bow hunting a couple of years ago, and younger brother Tate, now 10, is sure to follow soon. They have been able to join their dad on a string of “bucket list” adventures that have included hunts for white winged doves in South Texas and elk in the Rocky Mountains. “Colorado elk hunting is something that’s very special for me,” says Bryan. “I take the boys with me every year. They’ve already learned how to quarter out and pack an elk.”

Closer to home, they can reel in largemouth bass or track white-tailed deer on property Bryan owns that’s just a 45-minute drive from their family’s 150-acre farm in Franklin, south of Nashville. “We seem to bond the most when we’re deer hunting,” Bryan says in his careful drawl. “And we’re really fortunate to have a pretty good deer herd in this part of Tennessee.”

Another tradition that takes place just after Thanksgiving, he says, is hunting for quail near his hometown of Leesburg, Georgia, in the southwestern part of the state. What helps to make it special is that the hunting party includes his father and his father-in-law, “who have become great friends,” he says. “And as December comes in, it’s duck hunting.”

So much leisure time certainly isn’t what Bryan had planned for 2020, by a long stretch. He had to cancel a lucrative tour that was planned to promote the release of his new album, Born Here Live Here Die Here, but in hindsight it’s given him something that’s valuable on a different level. “It’s such a strange territory for me, not being out on the road, but I’ve been able to get outdoors a little more with my boys, and it’s been nice to have a little pause time,” he reiterates.

“It’s always challenging when you’re gone a lot to make the time really count when you are at home, and it’s hard making time for them during the week because they’re in school,” he explains. “Most dads’ off time is on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and that’s usually when I’m working the most. So sometimes I do pick them up early from school to go turkey hunt or go deer hunt.”

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A passion that started on the Flint River back home has taken him to waterways around the world.

Face of Modern Country

Bryan, at age 44, is too modest to admit it, but if modern country music had a Rushmore, his face would be right up there at the top of the mountain. His blend of classic country sounds with more contemporary pop, hip-hop, and dance music elements has attracted a broad audience that spans generations. His appeal has widened considerably more since he signed on in 2018 as one of the celebrity judges on the mainstream television show American Idol.

And viewers of Buck Commander on the Outdoor Channel remember him hunting alongside Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame as well as fellow country performer and close pal Jason Aldean and baseball stars Adam LaRoche and Ryan Langerhans.

As a superstar recording artist and performer, he’s got boast-worthy numbers that don’t lie— he’s been named Entertainer of the Year twice by both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, and his 2013 release Crash My Party was named Album of the Decade. He’s sold more than 12 million albums and 54 million singles, and his songs have been streamed more than seven billion times. Bryan has had 25 number-one country hits since 2009, which averages out to more than two a year.

His latest album was originally scheduled for release back in the spring, but he delayed it to summer. The catchy single “One Margarita,” bounced to the top of the charts at the height of the pandemic. “It was a big party song that we felt like the world might need as every news channel you looked at was doom and gloom,” he says. “It was a chance for people to have fun.” The only downside to that is that fans have been sending over margaritas and shots to him and his wife, Caroline, as they’ve been out having a low-key dinner at their favorite local restaurant. “I’m going to be in a pickle if I drink up whatever everybody sends me,” he laughs, “but it’s all flattering.”

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An athlete since he was young, Bryan puts on a high-energy show that’s physical as well as musical.

The Power of Music

While many of Bryan’s hits are sing-along tunes that celebrate good times, others coax deeper emotions from listeners. He’s seen grown men crying during the poignant ballad, “Drink a Beer,” for instance, while the uplifting “Most People Are Good” has prompted his crowds to spontaneously put their arms around one another.

“I think people are divided right now, but I still have to believe that the majority of the people really do love each other and respect each other and pray for each other and are out for the common good and the common goal of being an American,” he says. “I think our country can learn from what’s going on and be smarter and better in the end.”

As an example of the power of music, Bryan mentions the landmark “We are the World,” which was co-written by his colleague and mentor Lionel Richie. The celebrity-studded recording came out in 1985, when Bryan was just nine years old, and helped to raise money and awareness toward famine relief in Africa.

“Music can move people and help people through the ups and downs of life,” he says, “but the second you start preaching with your music, that can be too much, too.”

Life Lessons

Bryan maintains an easygoing and sunny outlook despite some heavy losses that he and his family have suffered. When he was 19, his older brother, Chris, was killed in a car wreck. Later, just as Bryan’s music career was starting to take off, his sister, Kelly, died unexpectedly of unknown causes. Her widowed husband passed away several years later, and Bryan and Caroline took in their three children, which made them a family of seven.

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Performing for thousands of fans was a big part of his plans for 2020 until the pandemic changed his schedule.

While there will be lots of time outdoors for the Bryans, the holidays aren’t just for hunting. It’s also a time of togetherness. “We’ll have a big group of family up. We do a fun get-together on Christmas Eve where we do chili dogs, just as kind of a break from all the traditional turkey and all the trimmings.” A more formal dinner follows on Christmas Day after the opening of the presents.

He acknowledges that the holidays can be a sad time for some, especially when there are empty seats at the family table. “We certainly have a hole in our heart during Christmas,” he says. “But we’re a pretty optimistic family, and when God puts a plan in motion you have to accept it,” he says. “It really does make you appreciate the simple things, the simple moments, live each day to the fullest and make the most of your opportunities.”

In this same spirit, he and Caroline are active with a few charitable endeavors to help others who are not so fortunate. The causes they support include the American Red Cross and City of Hope, a medical clinic and research center that focuses on cancer.

They also established a unique charity of their own called Brett’s Barn in honor of a niece of Caroline’s who suffered from Down Syndrome and passed away after just seven months from congenital heart disease. Besides being the symbol of the Brett Boyer Foundation, it’s an actual barn on their family farm that has a variety of rescue animals and serves as a petting zoo for other sick children.

“When you’re in my position, you have to spread the love and give back as much as you can,” he says. “The more you give, the more opportunities you have to get blessed even more.”

A little over a decade into his career as a country music trendsetter, Bryan has a generous number of songs that can be considered contemporary classics, including “Rain is a Good Thing,” “Crash My Party,” and “Country Girl (Shake it for Me),” which many consider to be his signature song. But with a lifestyle and perspective that are so close to the ground, perhaps it’s “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” from 2015, that’s sums him up the best from a personal standpoint.

As for his career goals, many of them were set long ago, he says. “I’m very thankful and honored,” he says. “I could never have dreamed of having this level of success. Every morning when I wake up, I am certainly thankful for every blessing.”