Jason Hairston, a former linebacker with the 49ers and hunting clothing guru, has died at the age of 47. Hairston was the founder of KUIU hunting gear and a friend of Donald Trump Jr. Hairston’s death comes just days after he went on a hunting trip with the president’s son.
A post on the KUIU’s Instagram page on September 5 said, “We are shocked and saddened to announce the tragic passing of KUIU founder Jason Hairston. His legacy lives on in KUIU’s spirit of relentless innovation.” Jason Hairston’s cause of death has not been revealed. Game hunter Rick Young wrote on his Facebook page that Hairston was on a hunting trip in Alaska with his son and father when he died.
In 2016, KUIU (pronounced koo-yoo) had sales worth $50 million. The company is named after an island in southeastern Alaska. Hairston founded the Dixon, California, based company in 2010. Hairston first career after retiring from football was in commercial real estate.
Hairston told Fox Business in December 2016 that his company was the “Gucci of hunting.” He cited the quality of the materials used by his brand as the reason for the comparison. Hairston’s first hunting clothing brand venture, Sitka, was bought by Gore-Tex in 2009.
Hairston is survived by his wife, Kirstyn, and their two children, son, Cash, and daughter, Coco.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hairston Went Undrafted Into the NFL in 1995 to Play Under Pete Carroll With the 49ers
Hairston spent a year playing in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers in 1995 under defensive coordinator Pete Carroll in addition to another season playing in Denver. Hairston was a native of Tustin in Orange County and was a linebacker at UC Davis. He went undrafted into the NFL where he was picked up by the 49ers. Writing about how he received the injury that ended his football career, Hairston said, “In my junior year in a Division II playoff game, I got hit in the head, hard enough to break my C5 and C6 vertebrae, each in seven different places.”
Hairston called time on his football career in 1996. He told Sports Illustrated, “I was struggling after football ended. What is going to be more glorious than running out into Mile High Stadium and playing with John Elway? Even though I was making a lot of money doing commercial real estate, I kept searching for a more meaningful career path forward. I came up with the idea for Sitka and it just felt right. My gut told me to go after Sitka, so I sold everything I had and leveraged everything. I created the entire [mountain hunting] category for the hunting market, which is a humongous market, and since then I realized this is really my gift to the world as far as building brands.”
Hairston told Forbes in March 2017 that his father had been a linebacker with the University of Utah. Hairston’s said on a blog post on the company’s website that his father was a “traditional bow-hunter.” He went on to write that hunting was a “tradition” in his family, a skill he would hand down to his son.
2. In August 2018, Hairston Called Donald Trump Junior a ‘Great Hunting Partner’
In March 2017, Politico reported that Donald Trump Junior had tapped Hairston to work as a liaison between the Interior Department and hunting groups. Hairston told the website at the time, “I’m absolutely going to take the position.” He added that the job offered no salary and that Hairston was planning to remain living in California. White House deputy press secretary Stephanie Grisham is quoted in the same story as saying that no such job offer had been made.” The article notes that Trump Junior and Hairston had been friends since 2015. Politico says that Hairston was in regular contact with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
On August 9, Hairston posted a photo to Instagram showing in him on a hunting trip with the president’s son:
On August 20, Hairston posted an image where he wrote in the caption, “It is not easy to find a great hunting partner who appreciates the suffering of a tough sheep hunt. @donaldjtrumpjr and I covered a lot of tough miles. We were pounded with rain, snow, fog and high winds. It made this hunt one we will never forget.”
In February 2016, Trump Jr. tweeted his support for Hairston’s company being featured in a Bloomberg article titled, “A Camouflage Clothing Line Wants to Be Lululemon for Hunters.” That same month, Hairston helped to organize a meeting between Donald Trump and the leaders of various hunting groups. According to Politico, Hairston said U.S. President Donald Trump “knows that [hunting is] not just a sport, that it really is something that’s more meaningful to hunters and how important wildlife and conservation are because of everything Don and Eric have experienced and shared with him… So he’s not just pacifying his kids over this. He understands it and gets it.”
Hairston attended the inauguration of Donald Trump and an inaugural ball in January 2017. During his time in D.C., Hairston accused of the media of lying about the size of the crowd of the inauguration and told protesters against Trump’s controversial victory to “get over it and get a job.”
The New York Times featured Hairston’s presence at the inauguration in February 2017. The Times mentioned that in January 2017, Hairston paid $235,000 at an auction for a permit to allow him to hunt a California Desert Bighorn. Hairston had a surrogate bid for the permit as Hairston himself was in D.C. attending the inauguration. The Times article mentions that Trump Jr. was curious to find out if Hairston had won the bid.
3. Hairston’s Wife, Kirstyn Hairston, Is the Vice President of KUIU
Hairston wrote on his website that he met his wife when he worked at a bar that was run by her parents. The couple was married on July 18, 1998.
4. Among the Celebrities Associated With KUIU are Kid Rock, Carson Palmer & Joe Rogan
Among those featured on KUIU’s social media pages, wearing the company’s gear, are Carson Palmer, UFC star Chad Mendes and San Francisco Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland as well as Madison Bumgarner. Palmer told Sports Illustrated about hunting with Hairston and KUIU saying, “I love to hunt and I love their stuff. It’s the best I’ve found. There’s nothing more important than being warm and dry. And his stuff has held up extremely well.”
A Men’s Journal report said that Metallica’s James Hetfield occasionally uses a guitar with the KUIU logo emblazoned while Kid Rock has a similar logo on a piano. The same article lists Joe Rogan as a fan of the brand.
5. Hairston’s Advice to Other Entrepreneurs Is ‘Your Biggest Dreams Are Possible’
In an interview with Forbes, Hairston was asked about what advice he would give to entrepreneurs, he said, “Your biggest dreams are possible. Find what you truly love. Become an absolute expert in this, and you can build a career or business. You will never reach your full potential both in life and in business unless you do what you love. Most people use fear to come up with the reasons they should not chase their dreams. Instead, use fear to motivate you to work harder and prepare more. Then, these dreams will happen.”