Deer hunting season brings back memories of people I've known over the years.
One memory is of the late Dominic "Big Knobs" Culjan of Utica. I've never known a more colorful outdoorsman. A top fishing guide and tournament angler, the Illinois River kept few secrets from him where catching sauger, walleye, catfish and white bass were concerned.
He had a sense of humor that kept you laughing if you had the good fortune to share a boat with him.
He once told me his nickname came from a time when he fell as a kid and two "knobs" appeared on his head. His classmates called him "Knobs," then "Big Knobs" when he grew to 250 pounds by high school graduation.
"Knobbie," as friends in the Spring Valley Walleye Club called him, was a terrific hunter, too. He guided for waterfowl for several years when fishing slowed during winter.
He also loved deer hunting. The day before bow-hunting season opened in 2007, he was putting up a tree stand when he fell. He died a few days later. He was 57.
Many hunting deaths and injuries happen each year just that way. Please use a harness.
Another guy who comes to mind every hunting season is the late Mel Thake, who was a teacher at Thomas Metcalf School in Normal. He was an avid bow-hunter who had an extreme drive to introduce kids to the outdoors. He was a charter member of the McLean County Sportsmen's Association, which was organized to raise money for programs concentrating on teaching children. He was a model to everyone who loves hunting and fishing and wants to see the sports pass from the older generation to the next. He understood that without young people to take over as stewards of natural areas, a day will come when they cease to exist. Take a kid with you when you go outdoors this season.
I also think about Blake Hall, the never-say-never kid from Forrest who kept right on hunting white-tails even after bone cancer claimed his leg. He used a camouflaged crutch to go into the woods. He died on Valentine's Day a few years ago. I think about him every fall when I look up into the pre-dawn sky to see the constellation Orion the Hunter overhead.
Blake taught me to savor every moment outdoors because we never know how many moments we will have. That's especially true after I had another cancer scare last week. Five years after prostate cancer and five weeks after completing Ironman Wisconsin, my doctor thought a tumor found in my colon would prove to be malignant. Thankfully, tests after it was removed showed it was benign. There's no need for follow-up. But the incident was enough to remind me that none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. I'm thankful for every second.
After a week off, I will return to work on Monday.