An Ode to the Outdoor Guide and the Man who Made it Be

Bobby Whitehead was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. Print media was the main mode of communication in the 1980s, and St. Louis was without a publication dedicated to the local outdoors scene. With over 2 million Missourians active in angling and hunting, it only made sense to produce a top-quality magazine covering the endeavors of those outdoor-minded millions. Bobby saw the need, put vision to paper, and gifted us, the readers of the Outdoor Guide, with over 30 years of adventure at our fingertips. 

Saturday mornings were a little different for me than most boys my age when I was a kid. I’d stay the night with my grandparents so grandpa and I could wake up at 5:30 a.m. to begin watching fishing shows on Channel 37, an old UHF channel out of Chicago. While most kids were watching cartoons, I was studying walleye fishing tactics with the In-Fishermen guys, and learning how to be a better bass angler with Bill Dance. Fishing Facts and Midwest Outdoors were the magazines of my youth. My Christmas lists were made from the Bass Pro Shops catalog. 

When I moved to Missouri in 2010, I had only been involved with producing outdoor media for a few years. My syndicated newspaper column was running in a number of Indiana publications, and I’d spent a few years as a staff writer for the Indiana DNR. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life communicating the outdoors, but my skills had not yet caught up with my ambition. Thankfully, I had joined professional outdoor writing organizations, like the Hoosier Outdoor Writers and the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, where I was exposed to the best of the best. 

The best in Missouri, I quickly came to learn, was Bobby Whitehead. As I began to make my rounds in the outdoor world of the Show-Me State, it was readily apparent the man in the fancy hat and dark sunglasses was the godfather of Missouri outdoor media. If I wanted to make a name for myself in this state, I would have to win favor with the man I affectionately came to call “The Bobfather.” 

The first time I met Bobby Whitehead, he broke my heart. It was the spring of 2010. We were at the inaugural Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Cast and Blast in Branson. About 20 of us outdoor communicator types were in attendance, but the night had whittled our number to fewer than 10. 

“I was sitting there with giants in the business and the industry, people I’d known and respected for years and years, having a cocktail, playing a game of chess. And you show up and sit down. I had heard about you. I didn’t know you, but I had heard about you. You had a scrapbook, sort of a deal that you wanted me to look at, and here I am playing a game of chess, drinking some whiskey, and hanging out with giants in the business, and you wanted me to look at your book? I guess I was aggravated, and I was thinking, who is this brash young man? Who is this kid? And that was the beginning of a long and wonderful relationship,” Bobby said. 

We take our shots in life, and I guess I took mine at the wrong time with the Bobfather. A lesson learned about getting between a man and his whiskey fueled chess match. But ultimately, I won him over and he became one of the most important people in my life, both professionally and personally. Not a week goes by when I don’t seek his council on some move I have to make, whether that be advice on business or how to win the heart of another human. 

You see, Bobby didn’t come to publishing The Outdoor Guide from a place of serious hunting and fishing acumen. He dabbled, but will be the first to tell you, he started the magazine because he saw a business opportunity. Not because he was some highly skilled outdoorsman. Over the decades, he became a great angler and turkey hunter, but even with those skills, the outdoors isn’t what defines Bobby. Kindness and compassion. Those are his gifts. 

Bobby is one of the very rare people who are always positive. When he walks into a room, he lights it up. No one ever fears Bobby raining on their parade. He compliments everyone, always, and makes strangers feel like they have been his friend from the minute they meet. He rains down joy on all around him. When I’m having a tough time, or I simply need sound advice, Bobby has been my first call for over 10 years. He could have retired long ago had he charged me for all the counseling sessions he provided pro bono. I know I am not alone in this boat. He has been a guiding light for so many of his friends. Bobby has taught me far more about how to be a better man, than he will ever teach me about how to be a better fisherman. 

I asked Bobby about The Outdoor Guide and his run there.

“You get out of life what you put into it. This is true with relationships, and it’s true with work.  For over 30 years, our content in the magazine was second to none. We drew on the top writers in the country. We had our problems along the way, but we worked through them. Here, at the end, I’m very proud of what we built, how long it lasted, and all lives touched by the words and photographs our incredible contributors,” he said. 

As anyone who knows him would expect him to do, Bobby gives the credit for the long-term success of The Outdoor Guide to those he worked with over the years. And while there is certainly truth to his claim of having worked with the best of the best for three decades, it was the captain at the helm guiding this ship who made the incredible success it was. 

When Bobby loves someone, he refers to them as his blood brother. So to all my Outdoor Guide blood brothers and sisters out there who will forever remain part of this family, I wish you all health and happiness in the future. We’ve been lucky to be part of this special publication, and we are all better people for having the man, Bobby “The Bobfahter” Whitehead, in our lives. 

See you down the trail…  
Brandon Butler

For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast HERE or anywhere podcasts are streamed.

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