Even though I was raised in an “urban” setting rather than a rural one, I was always enthralled with the outdoors and characters like Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, Grizzly Adams, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and on and on.

I had little to no experience with hunting and/or fishing but was drawn to them with a passion I retain to this day. However, in my “city-fied” environment I had absolutely no opportunity to fulfill my dream of downing a 30-point buck or landing a lunker large mouth. It just wasn’t going to happen.

Or so I thought.

That all changed when I discovered the great state of Iowa. It was 1968 and I’d decided to attend Luther College with the hopes of obtaining a solid liberal-arts education, and perhaps playing a little small-college basketball.

It soon became obvious that the NBA was not going to pursue me and my incredible round-ball talents so I began to delve into other ways to quench my insatiable thirst for adventure and excitement. That’s where a close friend, David Alitz, entered the picture, and to be perfectly honest it changed my life.

Out of the blue that autumn, Dave asked me if I’d like to go with him to his home outside Mason City and try my hand at pheasant hunting. Intrigued, to say the least, the offer sounded too good to pass up, so I told him to count me in. A couple of weekends later, we headed west toward the land of tall corn and cackling roosters.

I’d only handled a shotgun two or three times, but he said he’d fix me up with a sweet Winchester Model 12 16 gauge that was his favorite hunting gun as a boy. And how sweet it was. Light and balanced, it felt just right when I nestled it into my shoulder bright and early the next morning.

With his black Labrador accompanying us (he was creatively named “Blackie”), we piled into an old Chevy pickup and headed for the fields where the long-tails strutted their stuff. It was a beautiful, crisp, cold morning and I was beside myself as we stepped out of the truck. Loaded up with some 6-shot shells, we began our march next to a sprawling cornfield.

It wasn’t long before I heard the unmistakable sound of a ringed-neck rooster chortling as it exploded from a thick tuft of grass. The sun illuminated the multitude of colors from the magnificent bird as it struggled to fly high and fast in an effort to stay alive. It didn’t work.

Within seconds, David’s 12 gauge announced its presence with a loud bark that brought the cock down in a blur of feathers and a lifeless body. I was hooked. Big time.

 Now more determined than ever to have that same exhilarating experience, I forged ahead with a keen sense of awareness and my finger firmly placed on the gun’s safety. I was ready.

  About 15 minutes later, I noticed that Blackie’s nose was solidly pressed to the ground as he moved through the stalks and brush with an unmistakable purpose. With his tail wagging like a metronome and his ears perked in anticipation of what was about to happen, Blackie suddenly turned right toward me and I could feel that something historic was about to happen. I wasn’t wrong.

As the big ole dog got within 25 feet of me, the lifelong dream became a reality. A huge rooster suddenly emerged from the base of a cornstalk and flew straight away from me in its quest for freedom -- presenting a perfect shot for even a beginner.

Clicking off the safety, I leveled the Winchester and put the bead right on the bird’s butt. He never knew what hit him. I was elated beyond belief as the rooster fell in a heap some 20 yards ahead. I was smiling from ear to ear as I claimed my prize and congratulated Blackie for a job well done.

To say I haven’t been the same since is one of the biggest understatements of my life. After graduating from Luther in 1972, I accepted a job as editor/photographer of Decorah Newspapers and right at the top of my “to do” list was the purchase of a bird dog – a yellow Labrador to be exact.

His name was Fromm’s Julius Irving and he was a jim-dandy. Although I’d had absolutely no experience training a hunting dog, I read everything I could get my hands on about the subject and before long I had “Jule” retrieving dummies and bringing then to me with a sparkle in his eye and a face that said, “Let’s do it again, Rick.” So, we did. Thousands of times.

During the next decade or so, we spent hour after hour tramping through the grasses of Northeast Iowa. He quickly became a top-notch hunter and I developed into a pretty fair shot. The number of tailfeathers collected began to pile up. If you don’t believe me, just stop in my office and I’ll show you.

Since that fateful day, I’ve had three other Labs and my enthusiasm for upland game bird hunting has never waned. I don’t cover the ground I used to, but my spirit is still willing and every once in a while, I find a bird who’s stupid enough to fly into my shot. I’m still not much of an angler, but the love I have for the outdoors and Iowa remains as strong as ever.

With all that being said, I would like to pursue having an “outdoor” writer for Decorah Newspapers. I think our readers would enjoy it and I know I would.

If there is anyone who’d be interested in pursuing such a role, please contact Rick at Decorah Newspapers and we’ll discuss it.



Hats off to a great guy

Before I sign off, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay my respects to Decorah coaching and teaching legend Elliott Christen.

As everyone knows by now, Elliott has decided to turn off the microphone and step away from his days as the “Voice of the Vikings” after a half century of superlative service to the school district and the entire community.

During his storied career, Elliott had countless accomplishments but the one that really sticks out for me is the unfathomable record he and fellow coach/educator Roger Williams put together during their decades guiding the Viking ninth grade football team.

Together, they led the freshmen to victories in well over 90 percent of their games and were directly responsible for turning Decorah into a gridiron powerhouse that won numerous state championships and too many Northeast Iowa Conference titles to count.

Without them “grooming” the ninth graders and teaching them the nuances of “winning” football, none of those achievements would have occurred.

But it should also not be overlooked that Elliott Christen is just one heck of a nice guy. One of the nicest I’ve ever met.

With a friendly smile and warm handshake, Elliott always made me feel better about myself. Always.

So congratulations, Elliott, on a job well done and make no mistake about it, you are a Decorah School District legend – for all time.

Thanks from all of us.