Remembering the Becker County Sportsman
We quietly paddled the duck boat in the dark using a flashlight to untangle the decoy strings and shine it back to shore now and then to keep our bearings. A few mallards were quacking off a ways so we knew we weren't alone on the water.
"We should get some shooting this morning," my partner says as we pull the boat on shore and get ready to settle into the blind on a property my son, Randy, had recently acquired called Harding Lake near Detroit Lakes.
The blind we were in was what we called an Illinois blind. It got that name because my son-in-law, Gregg Orr, hauled it from Illinois where he lived and used it on the backwaters of the Illinois River. It consisted of a 4x6 box with a bench, door, and a partial roof and the front open above the waist so when you stood up from the bench you were in the open and ready to shoot.
My partner on this day in the fall of 1987 was Bernie Revering, a long-time columnist and outdoor writer for our local newspaper and several other publications. Most weekends in the fall, he and I would find a spot where we thought the ducks would be.
We got settled and poured a cup of coffee as it started to break day and the fog began to lift.
"Sorry Bernie, I only brought one cup, we'll just have to share," I said.
We heard the mallards fly off, heading for some barley fields. Finally the fog burned off enough so glassing revealed a raft of ringbills on the far side of the lake. Then a pair of ringbills over the blind surprised us and Bernie took a parting shot. It looked like the sky filled with ducks as a couple hundred birds were airborne at the shot.
"Get ready Bernie," I said as a large flock circled back toward our decoys. "Take 'em," I said as I fired twice and two birds fold. "I got a double Bernie."
"So did I," Bernie says.
My young chocolate lab, Trapper retrieved the four birds and we decided if we didn't shoot another bird the morning was worth it. We always talked about the hunt as not about the amount of game in the bag but it was the experience and the camaraderie that made it so enjoyable.
Bernie loved to hunt and shoot. When no seasons were open he would go out to local farms where he knew the old barns held pigeons. He had fun and the farmers got rid of the unwanted birds. When trap season started he was out on the trap fields. Ducks and pheasants were his favorite. Later years big game did not interest him so much. I would invite him on Elk or mule deer hunts out west and he would decline saying, "I'm not interested in riding a horse."
He was always up for a duck or pheasant hunt. He knew people and places to hunt in North Dakota and Canada, and was always willing to make calls to the landowners and set up a hunt. He had several hunting companions on those hunts to the west besides myself. The Eidenschink brothers, Don Tietz, Harry Johnston and many others. One man that he made many trips to Canada and the Dakotas with was his friend Dr. John Arouni. On one of their last trips to Saskatchewan, Bernie was injured by pellets from a shot fired by one of his hunting group from across the pond where they were hunting. He was taken to the local clinic where they removed several pellets from his face and shoulder. They had to leave a couple of pellets that he would carry for the rest of his life.
In his long life of gun use, safety was very important to him, and he wasn't afraid to tell someone if they weren't handling their firearms properly. However, he did relate to me something that happened in his basement after we had been duck hunting. He decided to clean his Beretta 12 gauge auto. Prior to taking it apart he said, "I opened the chamber, looked in it, closed it, pulled the trigger, and blew the top off the artificial Christmas tree." Needless to say he was very contrite when he told me this. He said when he looked in the chamber, he saw no bright brass shell head, however he was using some camo colored ammo a cartridge company had sent him, and therefore was sure the gun was empty.
Bernie and I were involved in an auto accident coming home from a trap shoot in Moorhead. A drunk driver ran a stop sign and we hit him at 50 mph. Seat belts and a big car saved us from being hurt. The intoxicated man started to walk away from the scene and Bernie ordered him back and told him to sit on the ground as, "we have guns in the car." We each had our version of what was said after the dust cleared and we were unhooking our seatbelts. I believe I said, "Are you all right Bernie?" Then, "Oh my beautiful car." Bernie says I said, "Oh my beautiful car" then "are you all right Bernie."
Bernie never swore or used bad language. Well, almost never. We had spent half a day building a nice big platform in some deep muck and cattails on Fairbanks Lake. The next morning the mallards were flying and we were getting some shooting. As I fired at some birds, I heard this string of cuss words. I looked and there was Bernie up to his armpits in the muck, gun and all. He had backed off the platform and was not happy.
On some of those days when the birds weren't flying, I would ask him about his time in World War II. He had been in North Africa, Sicily and Italy and he had many stories to tell. He and his men would go ahead of the main unit and map out the routes. One time they lost contact with their unit and lived in a farmers' barn for a week. All they had to eat was some of the chickens in the farmyard. He was in Italy towards the end of the war and was part of a group of soldiers that attended Mussolini's hanging. Not many people can say that.
The last 15 years he no longer hunted deer, but on the first day of the Minnesota season he was out visiting the various camps, camera in hand, to see how the hunters were doing. He probably would have already been to the Steinmetz camp when he would show up at the Lefebvre house around noon, as he knew the hunters would be in for lunch. He'd join us for lunch and be off to check on how others had faired.
Bernie died on July 6, 2010. He was 89.
About a week before he died his wife, Beverly, called me to say he was in the hospital with pneumonia. I went to see him and he was doing OK. He was transferred to the nursing home for a couple of days but wanted to go home. His last article was published a few days after his death.
After the funeral service, military rites were carried out, Taps was played, and the guns were fired for the last time. Doug Koenig of the Legion Corp passed out the empty cartridges to Bernie's friends. Bernie would have liked the tribute.
Bernie's 90th birthday would have been July 27, 2010. Always a detail person, he had typed 20 some postcards to his friends inviting them to his 90th birthday breakfast at the Legion Club. He had told me at the nursing home that he would be mailing them soon. A few days after the funeral, Beverly mailed them. Despite a heavy downpour at least 25 men came and had breakfast together, and we all knew Bernie was there with us in spirit.
So no longer will the ducks whistle over his head in the blind, no longer will a cackling rooster rise from his feet, no longer will the phone ring asking about or giving a report on the ducks. No longer will he be stopping at my house the first day of deer season. No longer will he call just to ask how my grandkids are doing, no longer a Becker County Sportsman column. I will miss him. I think his many readers will miss him too.