By Emily George
Photos by Emily George
As I sat there listening to him, I pictured a black bear scavenging the trail that cut around Heartbreak Ridge while I gazed at the backdrop of the Blue Ridge over his shoulder. Steve Crandall was telling me the story of a bear he harvested with a bow out of a tree stand that sits on Heartbreak Ridge.
“I have an innate desire to be in nature. It’s ingrained in my soul,” he said.
Steve Crandall isn’t just the founder and CEO of Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company and Tectonics II, LLC. He is a central Virginia business leader who shares his success differently. Crandall is a businessman by trade, philanthropist by heart, and an outdoorsman by nature. For him, harvesting that bear was a bonus to simply being in the woods that day.
“I really don’t care whether I take something or not when I’m hunting,” he says. “I like being in that green environment. I call it green meditation,” he said.
His zeal for nature isn’t something that grew overtime. It’s something that he was born with. Being surrounded by foliage and refreshed from a mountain spring stimulates his desire to share the lifestyle. He makes sure that the next generation has the same opportunity.
Growing up along Accotink Creek with a family who didn’t hunt, Crandall was in the woods pursuing knowledge about the forest every chance he had. His neighbor raised bird dogs and often took him quail and rabbit hunting. Now an Eagle Scout, growing up active in the Boy Scout’s influenced Steve’s fervor for woodsmanship. He was a Scout Master for 7 years.
During his youth, he was involved with raising orphaned animals by volunteering with the Northern Virginia Wildlife rescue organization. He raised squirrels, raccoons, opossums, snakes, turtles, and other wildlife, and often taught his raccoons how to hunt in the woods. His woodsmanship lead him to the mountains of Nelson County, where he owns and has been managing a farm for over 30 years. Crandall was born with an ardor to be in nature surrounded by wildlife.
He gives back to the lifestyle that has given him the quality of life that he values each day. He has planted over 20 food plots on his property, invites youth and apprentice hunters to his farm to pursue their first deer, he maintains pristine landscape and habitat for wildlife, and he donates to organizations that work for these causes.
He wants to ensure the same quality of life for the next generation of hunters, so he pays it forward by helping youth get involved in the outdoors. In 2018, Crandall donated $15,000 to the Virginia Wildlife Grant Program to connect youth to the outdoors.
“If you teach a young person to hunt, they will have a lifetime of outdoor experiences that they will hold dear and share with the next generation,” says Crandall. “The future of hunting and conservation depend on a robust hunting community.”
The Virginia Wildlife Grant Program, launched in 2014, provides a funding source to non-profits, schools, and government agencies with a focus to connect youth to the outdoors, and is a partnership effort between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Wildlife Foundation of Virginia.
This program is made possible through private donations like Crandall’s. His contribution will be a major help to creating and planning this year’s youth activities that will introduce them to fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, shooting sports, boating, and other outdoor recreational activities in Virginia.
Steve and his wife, Heidi, are stewards of conservation because of their dedication to preserving the land in their community. On their farm, they have planted thousands of trees along the stream bank, converted much of their fescue to warm season grass fields, and use troughs to water their livestock. They promote clean water to support thru-hikers and wildlife from deer to insects. Their aspiration is to leave the land better than they found it.
They have broadened their efforts for a healthy environment through Devil’s Backbone by supporting the Chesapeake Bay Foundation through sales of their Striped Bass Pale Ale, which has accumulated over $300,000 for the Foundation to-date. Devil’s Backbone also just began a new program with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in which proceeds of the Trail Angel Hefeweizen beer support trail maintenance and education. The Devil’s Backbone campus hosts nearly 1,000 thru-hikers a year by offering free camping and discounted food at the brewery restaurant. Steve and Heidi combine their passions to create an outdoor and philanthropic lifestyle.
“It’s important to do what you can do to whatever level you can do it,” says Crandall.
Steve also donates meat to Hunters for the Hungry each year, which he considers to be the most gratifying gift as a donor.
“If you help feed people, there’s no greater feeling because there’s no payback. It’s the most unselfish act,” he says.
There’s more to hunting than the harvest. I think hunting is a full-circle activity that involves responsibility to be self-sustainable, but most importantly, a passion that motivates us to share all of the work and rewards of hunting. Sitting around the fire at camp listening to Steve’s hunting stories, I never imagined I would leave the valley inspired by a different perspective and admiration for why we hunt.
The hunters, the hikers, the anglers, the public land users, the bikers, the backpackers – as outdoor recreationists, we all have an inherent duty to preserve our natural resources. We have a duty to help the rising generations become familiar with the same opportunities and develop an ardor to pass it on.
Devotees like Crandall are why hunting continues to thrive. From his career, to the field, to the table, and back to the hunting community, he has impacted DGIF’s potential to help more youth this year.
“Hunting is a lifestyle,” says Crandall. “It’s way more than pulling the trigger.”