You could say hunting and fishing are in our DNA — quite literally. Our founder, Gus Swanson, was an avid outdoorsman. It’s a passion he shared with his son, Mark, who serves as a Production Manager in our Lincoln Office. We asked Mark to share a few hunting and fishing memories from his youth.
To this day, Outdoor Recreation brands continue to be one of our Areas of Focus.
Penny And The Chickens
I don’t ever remember a time when my father, Gus, didn’t have a hunting dog. The first hunting dog I can remember is Penny, our lovable Sherman tank golden lab. She was an excellent retriever with a special talent for dragging my brother, sisters, or myself by her leash during walks.
During one of our bird hunts, my dad, my brother, Kirk, and I were going hunting in southeastern Nebraska. Penny was riding in the backseat. We pulled up to a farmhouse that had a white picket fence encasing the front yard and stopped to ask for permission to hunt on their land.
As my dad swung open the gate and made his way to the front door, he scattered some chickens that were feeding in the lawn. The running chickens were too much for Penny. When she spotted them, she exploded out of the rear seat, leaping over my brother and me to start the chase.
Kirk and I watched in horror as Penny quickly decimated several chickens, barely pausing between each attack. With impeccable timing the farmer opened the door to find dad standing there while Penny brought up one dead chicken after another to lay at his feet.
Without missing a beat, Dad told the farmer that he was hoping to get permission to hunt on his land, and added that he would also like to buy some chickens!
Luckily, the farmer just laughed and told Dad that we were welcome to hunt on his property. The farmer then started telling Dad where he had seen a covey of quail that morning and what spots might be good to try. Gus asked the farmer if he would like to hunt with us. It wasn’t long before the farmer was walking with Dad and Penny back to the car, shotgun under his arm.
A friendship was started that morning that lasted the rest of my father’s life. We’ve been hunting with the farmer and his sons for more than 30 years. Many times during our hunts, while following the dogs along a hedgerow or creek bed, we’ll still laugh about Penny and the chickens.
Dad always called the official opening day of fishing season a “Holy Day.” I don’t think he missed more than a handful of them over his lifetime. He taught my brothers and me to fish at stocked local lakes and in the Sandhills of Nebraska.
One such Sandhills fishing lesson featured my brother, Kirk, and I learning how to fly fish. Dad showed us how to dress the line, tie the fly, gink the fly to keep it on the surface of the water, and how to cast. My brother picked up the casting and stripping of the line quicker than I, and after a few casts had managed to hook a nice rainbow trout. I was always a second too late, or too early to hook the fish when I saw the mouth flash open.
I guess my anxiety and frustration was showing as dad tried to get me to calmly lift the rod tip and set the hook, instead of jerking on the rod when I saw the fish going for the fly.
The first trout I managed to catch was quite the surprise. Instead of gently setting the hook, I skipped all the finesse and jerked the rod so hard that I set the hook and launched the trout out of the water, sending it flying over my head to land on the bank.
Dad congratulated me on my first trout caught on a fly rod. Then he asked me if I was going to try and catch some more fish, or if I was just trying to break their jaws. Later that afternoon, I did manage to land another fish, more conventionally, stripping the line and netting my catch.
My First Deer
In the Swanson family, it was a tradition that after we turned 16, we would finally get to go on our first deer hunt. For my two older brothers, turning 16 meant a trip to the Sandhills of Nebraska where we had ranching friends. Their ranching operations encompassed hundreds of acres of rolling grass-covered hills.
When I turned 16, dad, my oldest brother, Eric, and I decided to break tradition and head to Pine Ridge. The change in venue was dictated by my father, who needed to visit with clients in that area of the state.
Hunting the tree-covered valleys of Pine Ridge was quite a change from hunting in the open vistas of the Sandhills. This new environment forced us to change our tactics. Instead of driving through the hills and spotting deer out in the rolling hills or in the occasional plum thicket, we were hiking between the mountainous (well, they qualify as mountains in Nebraska) ridges and valleys covered by thick forests.
As dad and I were walking up a steep incline, he spotted a buck making his way through the trees below. A second later, the buck spotted us and took off running. Dad shouldered his rifle without hesitation. He took aim and fired through a gap in the trees, all while I was still trying to find the deer through the pines.
The buck ran another ten to fifteen yards and dropped. Dad always said when it came to quail, I was the quickest shot of us boys, but on that shot he left me empty handed. I was amazed at how fast it all happened.
With more than a little coaching and a quick lesson in field dressing, we had the deer packed and were headed back to the lodge. When we arrived, we heard a few of the other hunters had also filled their licenses that day, but I had yet to take a shot.
The next day I finally got my chance. A nice, big doe was standing in an open area a little over 250 yards away — at least that’s what the lodge owners estimated. I would have put her a little farther out, which is possibly a slight embellishment. But that’s the hunter in me. Since she was standing fairly still and in no hurry to get anywhere, it gave me a little time to calm my heartbeat and breathing so instead of watching the crosshairs bounce from head to tail, I could set them on her shoulder.
When I was finally ready, I squeezed the trigger. I expected her to jump and start running, but she just stood in place. I thought I’d missed her. I worked the bolt and got ready for another shot, but before I could pull the trigger, she dropped where she stood.
I had finally gotten my first deer. And dad couldn’t have been prouder.