Thanksgiving and of course I am as thankful for family, faith, health and freedoms as the next person but as I think about the many great folks I’ve met as I’ve traveled in search of outdoor adventure I find reason to offer thanks for the crossing of those paths.
One such person was Ralph Kohler, a fine sporting gentleman who left a lasting impression on this writer. While sitting in a duck blind this week Ralph’s name came up as fellow hunters compared stories about places we’ve been in search of waterfowl.
Dianne and I were visiting one of our daughters in Omaha, Neb. during the Fourth of July weekend in the mid-1990s.
On earlier visits I had located a large gun shop and during this visit I decided to spend some time there for no particular purpose.
As I exited the store I spotted a hardback book in a small display that caught my interest. The title was a simpleBorn To Hunt. I picked the book up and looked for the author. The cashier noticed my interest and announced that the author was a Nebraska man, a Mr. Kohler, who had been in to sign his book recently.
My interest increased as I leafed through the pages. I purchased the book and read it cover to cover, finishing it the next day. I knew then that I had to meet Ralph Kohler.
It’s been said that we are only a few steps from any other person we seek. Indeed, a few phone calls later Ralph and I were talking and making arrangements for a face-to-face meeting the following day.
As the duck flies, the Kohler home was just an hour or so north of Omaha. We had a great interview and before parting we had made arrangements to meet again in the coming duck season.
Ralph Kohler hunts were widely known as the best value in waterfowl hunting. He priced his outings ridiculously low.
Something Kohler said, that was important to him, so that anyone could afford it and more importantly so they could bring guests, children and others to share the experience. Ralph had been raised with a shotgun in his hand.
Even at just a few years old he was a member of family hunts on the Missouri River and well into his 70s he was still at it, hunting every day of season from daylight untill dark.
His family hunted ducks and the activity was so ingrained in Kohler’s DNA that he never found anything else to compare.
Kohler found personal success in business and a love of competitive ballroom dancing he shared with his wife but it was the sound of a duck call, the image of flocks overhead, and fellowship with other hunters that stuck with him year in and year out.
I sat for two days next to Ralph in a sunken blind during an early November cold snap. During that time I found respect and admiration for a gentleman in a culture that too often projects less.
We didn’t have cell phones then but Ralph had a phone line installed on which he could check in with his wife several times each day.
The conversation was of sharing and caring, nothing more, nothing less. As the sky lightened each morning Kohler recalled sights and sounds of days, weeks, and seasons past and he pointed out sights to enjoy on this day.
He loved to study the flocks of birds passing overhead and he could recite in detail hunts years past. Kohler kept a notebook, a tattered collection of sketches, notes, and thoughts, all of which documented the dates of and sights of years gone by.
The days in Kohler’s blind ended too soon. I’m sure it did also for a handful of regulars who had traveled from distant places to hunt with Kohler.
Over too soon, I’m sure, to leave his company more than the shooting. I checked Amazon.com this week and found that Kohler’s book still available.
It’s a piece of heartfelt literature written by Kohler in his words and by his hands, a book of personal memories which he was challenged by a friend to produce for Kohler’s offspring, a journal perhaps that would inspire his heirs to follow their dreams as he followed his.
I give thanks for the opportunity to rub elbows with the Ralph Kohlers of the world.