A special group, including Bud Grant, helped launch Pheasants Forever 40 years ago


DULUTH – This northern Minnesota town has never looked better than when viewed from a boat on Lake Superior, preferably while fishing. This is especially true at dawn, when the rising sun bathes Duluth in a grazing glow that gradually ascends its steep slopes, in luminous panels.

If on such a morning a Chinook salmon hits a bait you’re trolling, the aesthetic trifecta is complete.

That’s what happened.

It was early Wednesday aboard the Nauti Hooker, a 32 footer captained by Peter Dahl. The lake was flat, and in the gathering light a flock of mallard ducks skimmed the water to starboard, appearing in the gloom as aerial silhouettes, pointing north.

The boat’s first mate, Joe Kottke, had handed a pulsating fishing rod to Pat Smith, and she was dragging the salmon ever closer to the stern of the boat, encouraged by his partner, Bud Grant.

Kottke, meanwhile, had caught a long-handled net, and when the salmon was close enough, he circled it with the alacrity of a shortstop knocking down a hard-hit grounder.

nice fish, said Dahl.

A dozen of us had met in Duluth last week with a recreational interest in fishing. But our primary purpose, and our passion, for gathering along the shores of Lake Superior was to discuss birds, pheasants in particular, during a month when, exactly 40 years ago, Pheasants Forever (PF) was founded. in St. Paul.

In the decades since, dozens of people from across the country have served on PF’s national board. Most were unable to attend this meeting of Emeritus Members. But 15 of us made it. Of these, only Bud Grant and I were among the original 13 board members, each of whom was from Minnesota.

I had founded PF in 1982 through a series of columns I wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where I worked at the time. I say basedbut in reality many other people were involved, almost in real time, in getting the bird club up and running, including the original board members – and those who followed in that capacity in the years that followed.

I had attended college at the University of Minnesota, Morris, which historically has been one of the best pheasant country in the state. But habitat loss escalated in this region in the years after I graduated in 1973, and these grassland and winter cover deficits were a primary motivation for organizing FP.

To launch the bird club, two efforts were undertaken simultaneously. One was to obtain a 501c-3 designation as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. Bob Larson, Wayzata attorney and bird hunter, was key to making this happen. Second, a board of directors was needed, something my friend Norb Berg, who was then vice president of Control Data, was a big contributor to.

Each of the original board members made a significant contribution, some by sharing their expertise, others by performing rudimentary but necessary tasks, and others by lending their name and credibility to the company.

In addition to Larson (first secretary of PF), Berg and I (president), the initial board of directors of PF included Russ Anderson (vice president, no relation), a farmer from Clinton, Minnesota; Cecil Bell, owner of a sporting goods store at the time and grandson of James Ford Bell, founder of Delta Waterfowl; Bud and Ted Burger, owners of Burger Brothers sporting goods stores; Walt Bruning (treasurer), vice president of Control Data and bird hunter; Chuck and Loral I Delaney of Game Fair and Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Anoka; Jeff Finden, first executive director of PF; Bob Naegele, owner of Naegele Outdoor Advertising and bird hunter; and Dave Vesall, retired Fish and Wildlife Chief of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

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In 1982 and the years that followed, I was able to generate considerable interest through my column among hunters and others to form FP chapters. But every time I could tell Bud Grant would show up at a fundraising banquet, the appeal of the PF cause increased dramatically.

Bud was still coaching the Vikings at the time, so his schedule was tight. But when he was available, he and I would drive to Fergus Falls or Morris or wherever, and he would regale the assembled crowd with the wonders of pheasants and pheasant hunting, bringing home his conviction – as he did the other night in Duluth – that the pheasant is one of the real trophy species of the world,

One sacrifice Bud made in this endeavor was his willingness to enter banquet halls filled with cigarette smoke. Few things bother him more than smoking, and I sensed on our late-night drives that he’d rather field a second-row quarterback against the Packers on consecutive days in Green Bay than come in. again in a ballroom darkened by blue mist.

Of these and other 40-year-old memories, we had some laughs last week in Duluth. Bud is now 95, and while he’s not moving like the professional basketball player and professional footballer he once was, he’s still lively. And when Pat Smith told him it was his turn to bring in a fish, he jumped at the chance, as did PF Development Manager David Bue, who was also on board with us.

Other senior PF board members fishing from a small fleet of nearby boats were Bob Brengman of Rochester; Toby Buck of Sheldon, South Carolina; Dr. James Call of Deerwood, Minnesota; Don Gartner of Norfolk, Neb. ; Bruce Hertzke of Forest City, Iowa; Jon Lee of Missoula, Montana; Cheryl Riley of Hudson, Wis.; Al Schrock of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Dr. George Wilson of Forest City, Iowa; and Paul Gross of London, Ohio. Howard Vincent, CEO of PF, was also looking for lake trout, salmon and some walleye.

Each – you can bet on it – has one or more dogs at home, and many stories to tell of their stay over many years in pursuit of the world’s finest game birds.

This is why, fortunately, they donated their time, their expertise and their treasure to a bird club born 40 years ago in Saint-Paul.


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