If you ask JT Van Zandt what’s new in his life, his answer is simple. “Nothing, really,” he says with a laugh. “I just take people fishing. Then, on my days off, I go fishing. Family is priority. I have young children, so I have to balance it all. The same as everyone else out there, just trying to live my best life.” Read more…
John Dunaway remembers his very first dove hunt like it was yesterday.
“When I was 13, my dad took me to meet up with his friends in South Texas, who got together every year at a farm near Brownsville for the opening of dove season,” said John. “Everyone was just relaxing and enjoying being with each other. There were dogs, coolers, grills and it was just a big outdoors party. I will never forget that.”
John joined his dad as often as he could through the years as he went off to college and then built a career. He graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and during the course of his early career, he sailed to dozens of different countries for months at a time, working his way up to captain. In 2017 he was selected to join the prestigious Houston Pilots, and now his workday is spent in the Houston Ship Channel, navigating huge ships through the tricky waters of the #1 port in America by volume of ships and tonnage.
Photo: John Dunaway
He spends as much of his downtime as he can outdoors, and whether ashore or afield, he documents the often neglected or poorly depicted lifestyles of hunting and shipping through his Abstract Conformity website and Instagram feed. Abstract Conformity is his approach to sharing stories with details that are often overlooked by the mainstream viewer, continuously adapting this voice as he learns and grows.
“While at sea, I tried to share a narrative about what was going on that most people don’t have a chance to experience. There are so many stories to tell. The same goes for time in the field, holding a gun or shooting an animal. The passion people have for it that ends in a heartbeat. The story is so much more than the moment.”
Photo: Jonathan Vail
Several years ago, he was dove hunting with friends and family at the same South Texas farm he first hunted as a boy. The small group hunted, threw their dinner on a grill, and enjoyed Paloma cocktails. A mariachi band serenaded them from a distance, and John had an epiphany.
“We decided right then and there to make it an annual tradition, mariachi band and all,” John recalled. “So, the next year there were like 12 guys. And then there were 25. And the last few years it’s been about 70. It’s about hunting and relaxing and camaraderie.”
Photo: Jonathan Vail
John does all the heavy lifting to make the event happen, and several brand partners have jumped on board to provide product and other extras to make the event shine. The annual get-together is called “Paloma Blanco,” and John makes no excuses for the technically incorrect grammar.
“My Spanish-speaking friend keeps wanting to correct it to Paloma Blanca, but it’s too late now. Everyone knows it as Paloma Blanco, and that’s what it will remain.”
Photo: Jonathan Vail
Being a We Will Not Be Tamed ambassador for Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation gives him a new platform to spread the word. We Will Not Be Tamed calls us to appreciate the wildness of Texas, the vastness of our Texas spirit and why we should be inspired to conserve it.
It’s an invitation-only event, but John is pleased to include a member from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) each year. That’s because he is a TPWF We Will Not Be Tamed ambassador and he appreciates what TPWF is doing for the wild things and wild places of Texas. We Will Not Be Tamed calls us to appreciate the wildness of Texas, the vastness of our Texas spirit and why we should be inspired to conserve it.
“Paloma Blanco exemplifies what I love the most about being outdoors. It’s a gathering of friends that are like-minded in the same pursuit of the outdoors. It’s work colleagues, industry friends, and hunting partners. All these people with different walks of life that wouldn’t necessarily cross paths, but they all share the same appreciation for the outdoors.”
Those crossed paths have resulted in philanthropy donations to benefit conservation. Several of John’s brand partners have made donations to TPWF, including Epic Western and Black Rifle Coffee Co. John has also donated a “golden ticket” to the event, which has benefitted TPWF for two years.
“My message to others is simple. This is what I do with my life, and how I choose to pursue my passion for the outdoors. There are so many different ways to embrace our natural world. This is my choice. But if you find something that resonates, you can carry that forward by getting involved and pass it on.”
Photo: Jonathan Vail
John is raising his family near Houston, where he has duck hunted for decades. As the years have passed, development pressure has paved over many of the wild places he used to enjoy.
“It’s painful for me to see what is happening. What will our kids have in the future? Where are we going to take them to see nature and wildlife amidst our concrete jungle? It has intensified my passion for pushing that message out there and conserving what we have. Because when it’s gone, it’s gone. People need to understand that if you don’t take care of it and it goes away, you are not going to it get back.”
Follow along with John on his adventures on Instagram @abstractconformity.
Find out how you can live the wild life.
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