The liquor distiller, Steven Ray Tickle, who prefers to be called simply Tickle, found popularity through the hit series “Moonshiners,” aired on Discovery Channel. After appearing in the show for many years, he became one of the fan favorites of moonshine enthusiasts. His run-ins with the law were well documented, and fans while dismayed over the news that he was arrested were no longer surprised, considering he was doing illegal business. He’s been jailed twice, and it was interesting to note that when he was finally released, Tickle married a bail bondswoman. Loyal fans wondered if Tickle had truly settled down and avoided returning to his bad habits.

Meet Steven Ray Tickle

While Tickle was mostly perceived to be an easygoing guy by fans of “Moonshiners”, it surprised them that he underwent many unfortunate incidents growing up, that led him to taking deplorable decisions in life before turning over a new leaf.

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Childhood and family

Tickle was originally from Southwest Carolina, born on 30 November 1976, to parents Lois Ileane Keller and Larry Craig Tickle. The family later moved to Dry Fork, Virginia, where he was raised with his three brothers, Darrel, Mike and Glenn singlehandedly by his mother, since his father was a cripple.

His other profession aside from moonshining

After Tickle’s high school matriculation from Tunstall High School in Dry Fork, he became interested in carpentry work, and so underwent training to become a carpenter. He was a registered union carpenter and was part of the crew which built the restaurant called Clyde’s: American Bar & Restaurant located in Washington DC.

His political ambitions

One of the reasons why Tickle was considered an oddball was due to his political aspirations. In 2012, he announced his intention to run as an independent for the position of the President of the United States. His political platform was ‘Everybody Gets a Sip,’ WHICH most people found outrageous. He realized that it was an overly ambitious undertaking, and so in 2013 lowered his expectations, but never gave up on his aspiration to be a public servant, and announced that he considered running for a seat in Congress against Virginia Representative Robert Hunt.

All about Tickle’s reality TV series, “Moonshiners”

“Moonshiners” – produced by Magilla Entertainment for Discovery Channel, featured the adventures of supposedly illegal distillers around the Appalachian region, which included parts of Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina. In Appalachia, moonshining is considered by many to be a way of life, but it’s also illegal. If anyone was literally caught moonshining, they would most likely spend some time in jail. This had been the disclaimer placed with the opening spiels on episodes of the show, as a warning for the viewers not to try it at home, or at least not for resale.

Brief background on moonshining

Back then, moonshine was described as a clear type of unaged whisky. In the Appalachian Mountains, it was said that moonshining came from the Scots-Irish immigrants who shared their distilling techniques when they arrived in the area. The woods in the mountain provided the perfect place to set up a still away from the prying eyes of the law and legal competitors. It also gave subsistence farmers the opportunity to earn more, by using the extra corn in their harvest to produce moonshine. The Prohibition era in which the production and distribution of liquor was prohibited was a result of an amendment in the constitution in 1920. However, moonshiners said it was the most profitable time in their lives. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed the 21st Amendment and the production of alcohol became legal again. There were conditions to be met such as it was okay to make moonshine for personal consumption but a license was acquired to produce and distribute for commercial purposes with corresponding federal taxes to be paid.

“Moonshiners” was inspired by the life of Marvin Popcorn Sutton

A documentary about the life of Marvin Popcorn Sutton, regarded by many as a legend in the Appalachian moonshining industry, was the inspiration for creating “Moonshiners.” He grew up in a family of moonshiners, in which the art of moonshining and bootlegging was passed down from generation to generation. Popcorn couldn’t help himself and keep on running his mouth about the illegal business which led to his arrest. While he was waiting for his trial, he took his own life at the age of 72 when he was out on probation, as he didn’t want to spend time in a federal prison cell. The documentary, “This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make,” produced by Sucker Punch Pictures, won a Regional Emmy Award in 2017.

How did Steven Ray Tickle become involved with “Moonshiners”

Tickle learned the art of moonshining at a very young age, by watching his older relatives in Danville, Virginia using old-time distilling techniques. When he was old enough to go out on his own, he experimented with other ingredients and alternative equipment, including jelly jars and a turkey fryer. From then on, he worked on perfecting his moonshine concoctions, and continued innovating. He said, ‘It gets in your blood. I’ll moonshine ‘til the day I die.’ He met Tim Smith, a proficient moonshiner who’d been moonshining since he was six years old, and they partnered up to make liquor to supply Tim’s long list of clients.

He said it was Tim who’d approached him to do the reality TV show. Initially, he was a bit hesitant because they could go to jail for it if they were caught, in prison for five years and also pay a huge fine for the offense. However, he loved moonshining so much, and thought that it was fading away to obscurity. He couldn’t stand to see it become a lost art, and so he agreed with Tim’s idea. Tickle finally said that he wouldn’t mind going to jail for it, if that was what it took to get it back out there.

His own spin-off series

After becoming a fan favorite, Tickle was offered a spin-off series called “Tickle.” It made its TV debut on 13 August 2013 aired on Discovery Channel, but only lasted for one season and 12 episodes. It featured Tickle’s adventure when he found a hidden stash of moonshine; he evaded the rightful owner and the law enforcement officers who were on high alert during moonshine season. He and his partners hosted a fish fry event for charity, and with loads of cash because the stolen moonshine was selling like hotcakes, threw a fun party for his father. However, the owner of the stash he stole finally caught up with him, and Tickle did everything he could to find a solution to his problem. While everyone believed that it was all scripted, his fans loved his adventures.

Steven Ray Tickle’s run-ins with the law

Each summer, the century-old battle continued as the moonshiners across the Appalachian region competed for the hundred million possible earnings that they could get tax-free. “Moonshiners” viewers wouldn’t be surprised at all if any of the cast would be arrested, as the reality TV show had always warned viewers that moonshining was illegal. Tickle had multiple arrests and was jailed three times, but it had nothing to do directly with his moonshining activities.

Tickle’s first arrest – public intoxication

In March 2013, the Discovery reality TV star was arrested in Danville, Virginia for public intoxication. Apparently, he was alone in the parking lot of a convenience store, Charley’s Stop and Shop, in the Franklin Turnpike branch, drinking alcohol when an officer from the Danville Police Department who was walking by took notice of a strong alcoholic odor emanating around the area at 2:40 in the afternoon.  The police officer then gave Tickle the option to be picked up by a relative or friend to bring him home. However, he couldn’t find anyone to come and get him at that time, so was then brought to the police station, but had to be carried to the jail cell as he couldn’t walk anymore. He only stayed in jail overnight as he was released the next day.

Tickle’s second arrest – possession of a sawed-off shotgun

While his first arrest and a day of imprisonment were just a slap on the wrist, it should have warned Tickle to be on his best behavior. However, in July 2015, he was arrested again for possession of a sawn-off shotgun, which was illegal in the US. According to the Code of Virginia under the Crimes and Offenses Act, possession or use of a sawn-off shotgun for any other purpose except as permitted by authorized individuals was considered a Class 4 felony. Apparently, a police officer from Pittsylvania County Sherrif’s Office, Cpl. T.W. Eanes, flagged him down due to a bad headlight in his truck. While checking his DMV, it was found that Tickle’s driver’s license was suspended, and that a sawn-off 12 gauge 14 inches long shotgun was in plain view on the front seat.

Conviction and sentencing

On 9 November 2015, after examining Tickle’s case, a Pittsylvania County General Court judge stated that he found probable cause that it was a felony charge, and the case would be forwarded to a grand jury. His misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license was ‘nolle prossed,’ which meant it was dismissed by the prosecution. The moonshiner was then allowed out with a secured bond of $2,500, but was forbidden to leave the State of Virginia or possess any type of firearm.

In March 2016, both Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Aubrey Gordon and Tickle’s lawyer, Attorney Joe Garrett, gave their arguments in front of Judge Stacey W. Moreau. Tickle was given three years for the felony firearm charge, and his lawyer asked the Court for a suspended sentence so that Tickle could continue to work as a marketer for a legal distillery as well as take care of his 15-year-old daughter, as he was her sole custodian. The Assistant Commonwealth Attorney argued that possession of a felony firearm charge was serious, and they didn’t tolerate this kind of behavior. Tickle addressed the court and said, ‘I am a law-abiding citizen. That gun is something that a buddy of mine gave me many years ago.’ He said that he only took it out from a shoebox because his friend recently died and wanted to give it to his friend’s grandson. He also said that he’d already quit drinking so he could take good care of his daughter. The only time he had a taste of alcohol was when he was checking its quality for the reality TV show.

Judge Moreau then delivered the sentence, saying that the sawn-off shotgun was extremely dangerous. ‘However, you have no criminal history to amount to anything.’ She then granted the request of suspending the three-year sentence, but on the condition that Tickle must complete the 18-month probation successfully, and be on his best behavior for the next five years, as well as pay the court costs. He was allowed to leave the Commonwealth as long as it was connected to his work, or was permitted by his probation officer.

Revocation of the suspended sentence

However, Tickle just couldn’t stop making wrong decisions in life. On 15 September 2016, Pittsylvania County Circuit Court Judge James Reynolds revoked the suspended sentence given to Tickle due to his cocaine use. The judge ordered him to serve five months of active time, and then placed him under 12-month probation along with five years of good behavior. His probation officer, Becky Quarles, said that she filed a major violation report in July 2016 because Tickle couldn’t stop using cocaine for two days, and confessed to it. The probation officer also shared that Tickle had a relapse due to his father’s health, diagnosed with a terminal illness. Tickle’s daughter came to his defense, and said that her father was an amazing dad. As proof, she said that she had straight A’s in class as Tickle helped her with her homework, even though he couldn’t really understand a lot of it. The judge gave him a piece of advice about disappointments and told him, ‘You need to find the strength to take those things for what they are. They should not be the trigger for you.’

The day he was released from jail

It was his former partner, Tim Smith and son JT, who picked him up the day Tickle was released from prison, and they took him out for his first proper meal as a free man. Tickle shared that some people inside the jail wanted him to make moonshine for them, but he said no. He was quite tired of being in there, following rules all the time – where to go, what to do, and for how long. He just wanted to stay out of trouble so he seriously considered not going back to the woods making moonshine, for the simple reason that he just didn’t want to go back and live in a cell again,  teling Tim that he wanted to go in another direction. Tim was ready to give him a hand, as he prepared a legit job for Tickle at the distillery, but he was cautious since the latter might go back to his old ways, saying that it wouldn’t take much for Tickle before he messed up again. However, he would give him another chance and hoped that Tickle wouldn’t let him down.

The day Tickle got hitched

On 19 October 2019, Tickle married bail bondswoman Carol Anne,  but contrary to what most people thought, she never had anything to do with his multiple arrests. Tickle jokingly declared that it was Carol who pursued him for six years before he said ‘yes’ and went out with her. Their wedding was quite memorable for him, and shared that he didn’t need anything that day except her at the altar. It was witnessed by family and friends, including his “Moonshiners” co-stars. They all celebrated with their own unique brand of moonshine.

Update on Steven Ray Tickle this 2023

Steven Ray Tickle kept his promise to the court judge, and hasn’t returned to his old ways. He and his wife were truly having a grand time, and shared about it during an interview. One of the things that prevented him from screwing things up after struggling for many years was that his wife’s presence completed him. He said, ‘I was in and out of jail. I just couldn’t seem to act right. She gives me a reason to act right. Really a reason to stand up and be the man that I am today.’

Based on the photos he’s uploaded onto his social media pages, he looks quite healthy and happy. He’s still with “Moonshiners”, and promotes the reality TV show whenever he can. The Discovery TV show partnered with a licensed distiller, Sugarland Distilling Co., and produced each of the moonshiner’s traditional recipes. His moonshine was called “Tickle’s Dynamite Cinnamon,” a 70-proof liquor available online and in selected stores.  During his free time, he spends it helping his wife promote her book, “Cat the Bounty Huntress,” which has become a series – it’s an autobiography that features all her adventures as a bounty hunter. He and his wife have also been busy creating content for their YouTube channel, The Tickles, and have uploaded videos about cooking, traditions, and important events in their lives.

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