Friday, February 29, 2008

Stellar service

On Wednesday, I went to St. Cloud to pick up the used boat that I bought from Miller Marine. The excitement was building as I cruised up Interstate 94. But, I had car trouble on the way. The heater was working intermittently and the temperature gauge was spiking upward toward the red zone.

I got to St. Cloud and immediately told Eric Graham, the sales rep who sold me the boat. Fortunately, the place is also a car sales and service center and he quickly took me back to talk with the mechanics. One of them heard me describe the symptoms, then said I was low on antifreeze. He promptly filled up the reservoir so I would have enough for the trip home. They didn't charge me a dime, even though the stuff costs nearly $20 a bottle.

The great service continued at the maintenance shop down the road where my boat was. They had installed a bow-mount trolling motor and new batteries, complete with wiring. They also recommended an on-board battery charger, which I bought and the mechanic installed on the spot.

They didn't charge me for any of this work, which came as a very pleasant surprise. Not only that, but when I first talked to Eric about the boat, he dropped the price $1,500 right off the bat. I didn't even have to haggle with him. Based on my research, the original price was fair, the reduced price was great. The boat is in excellent shape -- a 1997 Crestliner. I can't wait to use it this spring!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bagging integrity

A first-time youth deer hunter passed on a trophy buck in November and is now receiving an award for his act.

The Star Tribune reported that 12-year-old Blake Holbrook saw an eight-point buck from his deer stand just five minutes before the start of legal shooting time. It was only about 15 yards away and he had a clear shot. But, he passed. The result was a missed opportunity in the field, but a Deer Hunter Ethics Award from the Minnesota DNR. He was named as one of two winners.

Hunt long enough for deer and most hunters will be faced with this dilemma at least once. I have faced it several times, including this year. I ended up shooting a small buck right at the start of shooting hours, but I saw two deer before that.

It's a tough call. In all honesty, I wouldn't have a problem with Blake shooting this deer, provided he could see it clearly and it was a safe shot. As a firearms safety instructor, I am charged by the state to teach three rules of firearms safety:

1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded
2. Always keep the muzzle of the firearm pointed in a safe direction
3. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond

As long as these rules are followed, I don't think it's wrong to shoot a deer five minutes before shooting hours. The whole idea is to keep the hunt safe and make sure there's enough light to properly identify your target. It's clear to me that Blake clearly identified the creature in front of him as a deer.

On the other hand, I applaud him for not taking the shot. In doing so, he has a chance to experience all of the other aspects of hunting that motivate so many to spend time in the field. Whether or not he took the shot, he still got the reward of seeing a majestic animal up close. And, he also got to spend quality time with his father, who was in another stand nearby. These two things are more than worth it.

On top of that, he has the satisfaction of knowing he made a sacrifice for the sake of his ethical values. In other words, he bagged something more valuable than a deer. He bagged integrity.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Justice is landed

I read with delight the story in today's Pioneer Press that angler Tom James of Mound got his lunker muskie back. The story made headlines a few weeks ago when James was paid a visit by DNR enforcement officials after they saw his picture on the internet with a 52-inch muskie he had caught in Lake Minnetonka Jan. 13. Due to a rule change that was made after the regulation booklet came out, the season actually was closed on Dec. 15.

Applying the new regulation, the DNR confiscated his fish, though he was not penalized. I followed this case and felt all along he should have been allowed to keep his fish. Looking at it from a faith perspective, we should distinguish between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

After catching the fish, James looked in the rule book to see if the season was still open and it was. How could he have known that the rule had changed after the book was printed? Frankly, it wouldn't occur to most anglers, including me, that such a change could ever happen. We are led to believe that the regulation booklet is the bible of fishing regs, so we don't doubt or question what it says.

I'm glad agency officials came to their senses and returned the fish to him on Monday. It restores my faith in the way they manage the state's resources. After all, they are ultimately working for us, the anglers who buy fishing licenses. In this case, I would say justice has been served -- or, rather, landed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Knock and the door shall be opened

Here's another application of Jesus' encouragement in the Gospel to ask, seek and knock. On Saturday, my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, and I went down to the Red Wing area to talk to landowners about spring turkey hunting. We were headed to the farm of someone I had talked to on the phone, but never visited in person.

With help from a good map, we almost made it there, but couldn't find the exact house. So, I knocked on the door of one of his neighbors and explained my situation. He not only pointed the way to the right house, but invited the boys and I to hunt on his farm, too. I'm continually amazed at how nice many of the rural landowners are. They seem very willing to grant permission to hunt turkeys on their land.

I wrote a follow-up letter thanking him for his generosity and letting him know how much it means to me to be able to have this kind of father/son experience with my boys. People out in the country seem to understand that very well and I think this helps explain their willingness to let a father and his boys hunt on their land.

Sadly, a lot of boys in our culture miss out on this wonderful opportunity. In fact, studies are showing that the number of kids who enjoy the outdoors is dropping nationwide. Fortunately, the numbers appear to be holding steady in Minnesota.

On the same trip down to Red Wing, we were able to drop off some venison to one landowner who had expressed an interest in it last fall. I had shot a deer on his land and so did my friend's son, Dan. In fact, it was Dan's first deer ever. So, it was nice to give back to the landowner venison from deer we had shot on his land. We had a great visit with him and it was a good lesson for my boys on the importance of gratitude. I hope they always remember it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ask and you shall receive

A boat shopping experience earlier this week ties in with today's Gospel reading, in which Jesus says, "Ask, and you shall receive."

For the last few weeks, I have been asking the Lord for a new fishing boat. I wanted several key features: A casting platform, capacity to seat up to six people, a live well and a decent motor. And, I wanted to stay within a price range of $5,000 to $6,000.

I thought I was close at the boat show last weekend, with a boat that seats up to five, with a casting platform and live well. The price was $4,600, but did not include a motor. A 15-horsepower outboard would push the price to $6,900.

I have a 15-horse Johnson, but the shaft wasn't long enough. So, I would have to figure something else out. At least it was in my price range, I thought. So, I was leaning toward making the deal. On Tuesday morning, I told the Lord in my personal prayer time that I was thinking about getting this boat. But, if He had a better deal, please let me know within 24 hours or I would get this boat.

A colleague here at The Catholic Spirit has a nephew who works for Miller Marine in St. Cloud. As a last step, I decided to call him up and see if the marina had something. That was on Monday. On Tuesday, the day of my prayer, he called back and said they had a 16-foot Crestliner with a casting platform, live well, a capacity for six people and a 50-horse Evinrude. The marina's asking price was $6,900, but he, without my asking, dropped the price to $5,400.

Sold! I was stunned to get such a deal. It was as though God knew exactly what I wanted and gave it to me. It was a wonderful answer to prayer and it will help me take today's Scripture verse much more seriously. In fact, I'll try applying it again right now:

Oh Lord, how about a moose hunt in Alaska?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Whatever floats your boat

I fought through nasty wind chills on Sunday to attend the Boat Show at River Centre in St. Paul. I was on a mission to upgrade my fishing rig, either by making improvements to my existing boat or buying another.

It didn't take long to experience sticker shock at the price of new boats. I saw many in the $15,000 range and one fully-decked Ranger was listed for $55,000. That's more than double what I paid for the three vehicles I own!

Needless to say, some serious discipline was needed to curb my interest in these high-priced rigs. Applying a substantial dose of moderation, I made my final stop at a display of much more moderately-priced boats. I found something that will fill the bill for less than $5,000 and is substantially bigger than my current 14-foot aluminum boat. But, the price doesn't include the motor.

I'm still debating what to do here. Because I fish the Minneapolis city lakes -- Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and Cedar -- where no outboard motors are allowed, I may not need an outboard. I could get by with a good electric motor, which costs far less than an outboard. I like the idea of saving money and also "going green" by using an electric motor over a gas-powered one. Besides, my brother has an outboard motor that he's not using and I may be able to borrow it when I need to. So, I have options.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fishing for Fred

I sure hope Fred Tilbury's fishing dreams come true. Like most anglers, this young boy is thinking ahead to summer and catching a big fish.

But, unlike most of us, he'll be fighting for his life in the meantime. I met Fred on Friday (Feb. 1) at St. Helena School in Minneapolis. Fred, a first-grader, was there with his parents, Dave and Naomi, for a fund-raising benefit on his own behalf.

Fred was diagnosed with a brain tumor that is cancerous and inoperable. The news came right before Christmas and stunned both his family and the school. As he started radiation treatments to, hopefully, prolong his life, the family and school came up with the idea to have students, teachers and parents come to the school for a mass head shaving in support of Fred, who wanted to cut his hair off before losing it to the radiation treatments. A story on Fred with a photo will appear in this week's Catholic Spirit (Feb. 7 edition).

Though the family isn't sure what lies ahead for Fred, the uncertainty hasn't kept them from making plans for this summer. They have planned a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in July for 10 days. It's a natural idea for a family that likes to get out on the water.

"We go fishing quite a bit," said Fred's father, Dave. "We try to get out on the weekends."

Here's hoping -- and praying -- that Fred will have many more fishing trips ahead of him.