Old Friend, New Trick

Story By

Photos

Tyler Sharp

Read Time

10 minutes

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Steve Rokks is a polymath. In the decade that we’ve been friends, he’s run a recording studio, was a jazz drummer, has built custom rifles, flew planes, designed and constructed houses, and is still a highly sought after director and cinematographer. He converted an airplane hanger into a post-production studio, managed rental properties and was embedded for a time within Yosemite’s climbing elite. He’s an engineer, a woodworker, an entrepreneur, and also a father of three boys. Needless to say, there is little that Steve can’t do, or at least figure out quickly, so when I heard that he had acquired close to 500 acres of prime duck hunting habitat about an hour south of Dallas, I knew it would be something special. Even though this is his first venture into habitat management, Steve — or Rokks as those closest call him — is already blazing an example-leading trail of how it can be done correctly and efficiently.

steve rokks

Operating under the moniker of Skyfall Reserve, the property is a jewel of an ecosystem that runs along the banks of the Trinity River. From the start, the mission has been to implement a rock solid 15 year management plan on the land for waterfowl, white-tailed deer, along with native trees and grasses. With guidance from our friend Brandon Tucker, a former Navy SEAL turned habitat management expert, Steve immediately tapped into resources from the Texas A&M Forestry Division, who provide pro-bono site visits, advice, and even assemble management plans for landowners. After a handful of visits from their forestry managers, Skyfall was given a thorough blueprint for restoring the landscape, improving habitat for key species, and organic ways for removing and managing invasives. It is a free resource more people should be utilizing, and one that is paying dividends already in terms of wildlife presence. 

Building off the strong foundation of sound habitat management, Rokks has since dreamed up and built, most of which by his own hands, an incredible array of lodgings, property features and shooting courses. There is a beautiful lodge with seven rooms, a full commercial kitchen that chefs make frequent use of, a bar and lounge area, rifle and pistol shooting ranges, a sporting clays course, shipping container cabins for guides and guests who want a more remote experience, six more individual cabins on the way and an armada of night vision equipped weapons to help manage wild hogs at night under the direction of some incredibly decorated special forces veterans. Also, the duck hunting is superb, offering a variety of habitat, blind styles and levels of comfort. From flooded timber to pit blinds, floating docks to shore hides, boat blinds to small ponds and eddies that you can stalk into, I’ve rarely seen so many different choices on one property to hunt waterfowl of all varieties. 

More than that, what sets this place apart is the fact that the whole family is involved. Rokks’s wife and better half, Ashley, has been a dear friend for just as long, and watching their two younger sons grow up has been a joy. They usually run into the room screaming “Uncle Tyler!”, give me a hug, then wait until I let my guard down to shoot me in the crotch with whatever high powered nerf gun they had hidden nearby for ambush purposes. Alternating between wielding power tools, replica weapons and duck decoys, they are their father’s sons and it’s amazing to see their imaginations and love for nature come to life in these woods. Jackson, their oldest son, a standout football player on college scholarship, has taken to the work at Skyfall and guiding clients so passionately that he’s even considering shifting his major to wildlife management. He and his college buddies are so invested into the property that they committed their entire summer to help build decks, blinds, bunkhouses, tree stands and storage sheds, and the family bond that evolved through the process permeates through every aspect of Skyfall Reserve. 

On this particular visit I brought my girlfriend Caris along, a new hunter herself, and this was to be her first pursuit of waterfowl. We spent the early evening scouting a few areas to see where the ducks were settling in, sipping tequila cocktails in various blinds, and unwinding to the quiet cacophony of an ecosystem putting on its nightclothes. We gathered a few decoys from vacant coves, compiled gear for the morning, and returned to the lodge for an incredible meal. To me, there are few things more satisfying than after dinner cocktails at a hunting lodge with good friends, and we basked in both as we wound down in the cozy, rustic saloon that Ashley and Caris collaborated on the design of. It’s nice to see things come full circle. 

Morning came too early, and so did the polar blast cold front that crept across Texas a few days before Christmas. Temperatures dropped by 30 degrees or more, and coupled with a bone-chilling wind, we nursed our thermoses of coffee and breakfast burritos with a little more desperation that morning. But spirits were high, and as first light crept across the landscape like the gentle lifting of the window shade — something my Texan mother never learned how to do — birds started to fly. I always find it hard on hunts like these to balance taking photographs and picking up a shotgun, but I forgot about that struggle when the first ducks came within shooting range. Caris lit up like the Christmas tree we had yet to drag to the curb as her first shots were fired, and a sea duck plummeted into the water. The action was early in the morning, then the cold weather pinned most everything at home, and no one ventured into the rapidly shifting weather. It was clear that our opportunities would be limited, but it didn’t matter. Unfulfilled limits should never alone define the success of a duck hunt. 

We packed up and stalked into a few other spots, jumping birds on ponds with success, and warmed our feet up with some good old fashioned sneaking around. Breakfast back at the lodge was immaculate, and few naps are better than the ones after a really early and cold morning. Then we had second breakfast, which pleased all of our inner hobbits. These are the things that make sporting life so damn good. After prepping our ducks for a one way ticket home in the cooler, we packed up and said our goodbyes, each of us about to embark on a mission of family tolerance for Christmas. The little boys invited us to their house for Christmas Eve, but made it clear that if we came, we should bring presents. Considerations of winning children’s favor aside, our time at Skyfall Reserve was a gratifying reminder that even after a full career across multiple industries and professions, new conservationists are born all of the time. In this case, it was an entire family that joined the cause. 

As their friend, it makes me really proud to witness their journey and see how it has brought them all together with a new purpose and passion that only this life can do. As a professional in the hunting space, it gives me hope for the road ahead, knowing that good people like Rokks, his family and the team at Skyfall Reserve have created something unique and authentic that is rooted in sound management practices. Lastly, as someone who loves to hunt ducks and mix a few strong drinks afterwards, I can say that many damn good times will be had at Skyfall Reserve as they continue to grow. I hope to see some of y’all out there next season, just don’t forget to bring presents for the boys. 

If you are a landowner in Texas and are interested in learning more about free habitat management resources from the Texas A&M Forest Service, please visit: https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/LandownerAssistance/ 

To learn more about Skyfall, or to book a visit with the Rokks family, please visit their  website: https://www.skyfallreserve.com/

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