Jason Hairston, hunting gear giant and former UC Davis star, died of suicide, company says

Jason Hairston, founder and CEO of KUIU and a former UC Davis football star, died at age 47.
Jason Hairston, founder and CEO of KUIU and a former UC Davis football star, died at age 47. Twitter/KUIU

Jason Hairston, founder and CEO of the KUIU hunting gear company and a former UC Davis football star, was found dead in his Dixon home on Tuesday, according to a post on the company’s website Thursday. Hairston, 47, took his own life, the company wrote.

“The family has requested that donations be made to support CTE-related research at the Boston University Concussion Legacy Foundation in lieu of sending flowers,” the post read.

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to concussions or repeated blows to the head.

Hairston retired from the NFL at 24 after stints with the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos due to injuries, including lingering effects from a broken neck he suffered during his junior season at UC Davis. He is a member of the Aggies Hall of Fame.

A native of Orange County, Hairston dabbled in commercial real estate before founding Sitka, a hunting gear company, in 2005. He sold the business in 2009 and the next year founded KUIU, which did $50 million in sales in 2016, according to Forbes.

“We are shocked and saddened to announce the tragic passing of KUIU founder Jason Hairston,” KUIU’s official account tweeted. “His legacy lives on in KUIU’s spirit of relentless innovation.”

Hairston’s celebrity and personality led to friendships across the country, including with Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter. Hairston visited the White House in 2017. Hairston that same year accepted a position as a liaison to the U.S. Department of the Interior and hunting groups pertaining to conservation and public lands issues.

A recent study looked at the donated brains of former football players from high school to professional. Researchers found a change in the brains of former NFL players, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.

“Jason, I have no words. I will always remember our adventures and sharing a campfire with you,” wrote Trump Jr. on Instagram. “They will be some of my fondest experiences in the outdoors. You were and will continue to be an inspiration to all outdoorsmen and women for generations to come. Thanks for the friendship and the memories buddy. I’m going to miss you.”

Hairston on Aug. 8 posted an Instagram photo of a sheep-hunting trek with Trump Jr. On Aug. 20, Hairston wrote on Instagram, “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.”

His death hits the already mourning UC Davis football community days before Saturday’s home opener against San Diego, a night to remember longtime assistant coach Fred Arp, who died in July.

“I’m stunned and saddened – we all are,” said Scott Marsh, the longtime UCD football radio voice who remained friends with Hairston. “He was loved by everyone. He always had a smile on his face. He was easy to talk to, to get along with. He donated a million dollars to UC Davis’ athletic department. He’s without a doubt one of the all-time great Aggies players. What a loss.”

Said one-time Aggies teammate Lance Casazza, “I’m in shock. He had it all, the company, family, and everyone loved him. He could’ve run for Mayor in Dixon and won. We called him ‘Super Jay Hairston.’ He was like Superman. Nothing rattled him. I’d never seen him, in the 28 years I’ve known him, to be off his game.”

Said UCD athletic director Kevin Blue in a statement, “UC Davis Athletics is deeply saddened by the passing of Jason Hairston. His kindness, generosity and positive spirit enhanced the lives of countless Aggies. Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to the Hairston family during this difficult time.”

Hairston is survived by wife Kirstyn and young children Cash and Coco.

About 75 percent of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 24, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But the average delay between onset and intervention is 8 to 10 years, meaning people could go years before getting help.