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Ramblin’ man

Kevin Murphy and his squirrel hound, Brownie, prepare for a hunt at Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge near his western Kentucky home. Photo: Joe Imel
A blast on Murphy’s horn signals the beginning of the hunt. Photo: Joe Imel
A GPS device keeps tabs on Brownie’s location as she hunts. Photo: Joe Imel
Murphy shoots a CZ 457, mounted with a Vortex scope. The gun’s stock is carved with Murphy’s Small Game Nation logo. Photo: Joe Imel

Jackson Purchase consumer-member Kevin Murphy— “The World’s Greatest Small Game Hunter”

“When I’m out hunting, I like to look at everything—trees, plants, animals,” Kevin Murphy said. “That’s how I’m made.” 

The wiry, TV celebrity outdoorsman had a knee replacement eight months before a hunt in December 2021, but you wouldn’t have known it from the brisk pace he kept behind Brownie, one of his impeccably trained squirrel dogs.

Murphy paused to point out the post oaks dotting the forest in swampy lowland in a wildlife refuge near Paducah. The post oak is a highland tree, he says, not what you’d expect to find in a swamp. It thrives in this low-slung hollow only because of the area’s unique soil composition. Murphy had barely finished explaining what a clay lens is and how it works when Brownie set up a howl under a willow oak. 

With that, he moved faster—purposeful, but still relaxed. He found Brownie leaping against the tree’s wide bole, baying hoarsely at the winter-shorn treetops. Drawing on a lifetime of squirrel spotting, Murphy sighted his quarry flattened along a slender limb. He turned his blaze-orange cap backward and fixed the squirrel in his crosshairs, using a sapling as a gun rest. Then there was a quiet pop, a long fall and a squirrel in the bag. 

“It can be really fast-paced, hunting with a dog, or it can be slow, but you’re always on the move,” he says. “I’m a ramblin’ man. I always want to see what’s around the corner.” 

A Jackson Purchase consumer-member who lives in Paducah, Murphy has been hunting since he was a child in western Kentucky. Now 63, he remembers a time when small game hunting was hunting, and he still chases squirrels and rabbits with the same level of care, planning and intensity that other hunters might reserve for big game. That’s one reason Steven Rinella, host of the MeatEater show and podcast, calls him “the world’s greatest small game hunter.” 

“The dude’s an American treasure,” Rinella says. “You can’t hang out with Kevin without coming away from it with a greater love of the animals, a greater love of the natural world in general.” 

The two met at a National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis, where Rinella was signing books. Rinella was struck not only by Murphy’s knowledge of small game species and their habitat, but also his passion for small game hunting. 

“A lot of hunters love to hunt deer—they think about deer and make a plan about deer, and now and then, under the right circumstances, maybe they’ll do a small game hunt,” Rinella says. “Kevin is the exact opposite. When he talks about deer hunting, he talks about it like it’s this sort of frivolous activity that you engage in, not to be taken too seriously.” 

Murphy has appeared on three episodes of the MeatEater show (including the most recent 10th season, available on Netflix), and he’s become a frequent guest on the MeatEater podcast as well. The MeatEater brand—with its expanding reach through Netflix, blog and social content, apparel, gear and more—raised Murphy’s visibility among hunters and anglers nationwide. These days, Murphy also shares his adventures through his own brand, Small Game Nation, which aims to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters of all ages.

Game is small, interests are wide 

Small game hunting is a temperamental fit for Murphy, who doesn’t like to spend the whole day sitting still in a tree stand. (“That’s not how I’m made!”) He likes to move around and notice his environment. He also likes to talk, which is one thing small game hunting facilitates. “You don’t have to sneak,” he says. 

Murphy defies categorization. As he follows the dogs, he’s liable to discuss anything from cryptocurrency to wetland conservation. Retired at 52 from a career of digital technology. But he does what he can to get young people outdoors, leading youth hunts with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers; and volunteering with the Jackson Purchase Foundation, serving as its president, to complete projects like building canoe and kayak ramps on Clarks River. 

One thing you can say about Murphy: Being on TV doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. Despite growing notoriety as “The World’s Greatest Small Game Hunter,” his down-to-earth humor and humility are unassailable. 

“I’m just an average Kentuckian with a bunch of huntin’ dogs,” he says.

Look out, squirrels! 

It takes a confident hunter to give his prey a warning, even if it’s just a signal to begin the hunt, as “the world’s greatest small game hunter” Kevin Murphy of Paducah does here:

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