By Rick Windham Outside Columnist
If you’re in tune with the outdoors in Nebraska, especially if you’re an archer and/or read my columns, you know that Dick Turpin died Feb. 2 at age 84. In the field of archery, Turpin knew and hunted with Dick Mauck and Fred Ours. You can’t do much better than that.
He was a one-of-a-kind outdoorsman – that’s an understatement, but I can’t find the words to describe him better. He was a game warden, now called a conservation officer, for most of his professional career. For the past 10 years, he served as Nebraska State Director of Conservation at Lincoln.
He loved everything about the outdoors and did everything to hunt with his bow. Turpin liked to hunt turkeys with his bow, a recurve bow, and blunt-tipped arrows. As he once told me, “You’re trying to shoot in the head. With a blunt, you either have an instant kill or a miss and the turkey isn’t hurt at all.
I first met Turpin about 30 years ago. It was early in my writing career and a number of outdoor enthusiasts told me I had to meet this guy. The Nebraska Bowhunters Association was planning a jamboree in the Bessey-Davis National Forest near Halsey in the near future, so I decided to come up and try to meet it.
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I got there around dusk and realized I didn’t really have a good idea where Turpin would be camped. I thought about it for a moment and based on what I heard about the man, I drove to the highest point I could find and turned off my vehicle. I stayed outside and listened. It didn’t take long to hear a camp that had a lot of laughs coming from it. I drove to this camp, walked in and introduced myself. Turpin was at the center of the camp and we were friends from then on. Turpin was truly one of those individuals who never met a person who was not a friend.
Over the years I learned that Turpin had a wealth of outdoor knowledge that he was very willing to pass on. Many people remember him from the television shorts he made with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The segment was called “Turpin Time” and people loved it. It was a combination of Will Rogers’ local spirit, sound wildlife biology, and classic Turpin humor.
If you were around Turpin for a while, you knew he grew up in poverty – in squalor. His hunting and fishing were not sporting, it was pure subsistence hunting. He also learned to earn what he needed because there was no extra money at home. In my way of thinking he was one of the biggest and best curmudgeons I’ve ever met – and I was amazed at what he could do or do and enjoyed that attribute about him . I envied him.
Over the years I’ve heard countless stories from him about how he made something out of scraps or leftovers he picked up somewhere. I have heard a number of stories from other conservation officers who have told me that you never threw your arm over the side of the bed of Turpin’s van and looked inside. Very often it was the carcass of a dead creature that Turpin had picked up on the road because he needed the skin, hair, or antlers for a project he was working on. I used my collective knowledge of this man to create an introduction for him at various gatherings.
Turpin and I were attending a reception and he was a speaker at the event. When I discovered this, I asked the organizers if I could present it. I got the nod and started my introduction with a brief history of his childhood in poverty and having to make do with what he had on hand. The last line of my introduction was: “Dick Turpin is a man who has done so long, with so little, that he is now qualified to do anything with nothing.”
A few years later, we were both attending a wildlife conference and Turpin was 10 minutes into his presentation when he spotted me in the audience and stopped his speech. He called me out of the audience to give this introduction to the crowd. Like I said, he loved it.
About two weeks before he died, I had him on my radio show and that’s how I introduced him to the audience that morning.
“Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Outdoor Connection. My guest this morning is Dick Turpin, a man who has done so long with so little that he is now qualified to do anything with nothing.” I started the show. We lost about a minute of airtime just laughing.
As I said before, Dick Turpin was a unique outdoorsman and had a unique outlook on life. For at least the last 10 years when we’ve met and I’ve asked him how he’s been, his response was, “You know kid, I’m fine, but I can die anytime now and you can’t. to say that it was unexpected, because I am old! Turpin called everyone “Kid” or hooked a “y” to the end of their name – in my case, it was Ricky.
Jeff Rawlinson, deputy administrator of the NGPC communications team, a friend and another longtime acquaintance of Dick Turpin, remembers the same thing. “Dick said the same thing to me at his 80th birthday party we had for him at La Paloma’s in Lincoln. I don’t think any of us thought we’d ever lose him, but we were wrong. He died, we did not expect it and now there is a great loss.
I know the feeling, Jeff!
Greg Wagner, public information officer for the NGPC in Omaha, remembers when he and Turpin fished for trout on Long Pine Creek in the Long Pine State Recreation Area. Turpin completely lost his footing and fell into the cold, spring-fed waters of the creek. Throughout his fight, he lost both of his waders, which were not attached to his pants.
Turpin kept yelling, “Watch out for my falling waders, Kid.” They will be the only ones to have all kinds of patches on them. But don’t stop fishing, Greggy, I’m good at going in my socks.
Turpin continued to fish, drenched and just socks on his feet, casting night owls on his fly rod. “And guess what? He caught a limit of skillet-sized rainbow trout in no time,” Wagner told me. “He overtook me with my fancy stuff.” And to end the story, Wagner eventually finds Turpin’s waders downriver.
Gone, but it will be a long time before he is forgotten. Dick Tourpin. vaya con dios, amigo — te veré en el campamento del otro lado!