When I Grow Up

by Dan Simmons

(Pictured above: Dick Gunlogson, Dan and Bertus Pretorius, planning the next trip.)

Summer is coming soon and we’re all making plans. It’s an exciting time for our new high school and college graduates, but perhaps a little intimidating. They’re being asked to make career decisions. Put less diplomatically, they’re being asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

I’ve recently semi-retired and I’m still asking myself the same question, at the request of many of my so called ”friends”, as are those of you looking for a second career or just hoping for a change.

I think I have the answer for both those just starting a career, and for the rest of us. The correct question should be, “What do you enjoy doing? What is your talent?” If you can’t answer these questions, it’s time for some exploration and trial.

In my case of semi-retirement, I hope to travel, fish, hunt, adventure and write of interesting people along the way.

For those just starting out, part time summer employment works well, as do volunteer programs. This is where we get to the outdoor stuff.

There are many opportunities with the Forest Service, Parks or Fish and Wildlife to “get your foot in the door.” Field work, research, or assisting in the office will give you some training and a taste of what the job entails.

You may be more interested in working for a company like Rapala or Bass Pro that produces and sells products. If you have an entrepreneurial gift, the field is wide open.

One of my favorite examples of this is Bill Webster of Wild Wings, which I’ve used as a model for many years.

It began as one man’s hobby. Now, Wild Wings, one of the nations’s leading publishers and distributors of wildlife and sporting art prints is approaching its third decade of successful business.

William Webster, founder of Wild Wings, grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River, where his love of the river’s bountiful wildlife inspired a hobby collecting federal duck stamps. Though he aspired to become a wildlife artist, like the stamp designers he revered, it was his passion for collecting that led to the birth of his company.

By the early 1960’s, he had earned a reputation as a respected authority on duck stamps and had become friends with noted wildlife artists.

The seed that was to become Wild Wings was planted while on a hunting trip with artist friends. They expressed their frustration with the lack of publishers who possessed the skill and knowledge to produce fine-quality art prints. With their encouragement and Webster’s sales and marketing experience, Wild Wings became a reality.

Initially, the company operated out of his home in Old Frontenac, Minnesota. His thought at the time, he recalls, was, “It would be a nice little family business.”

In 1970 Wild Wings published its first print, “Wintering Quail” by Owen Gromme; he then mailed a small brochure offering the print. The response exceeded Webster’s greatest expectations.

From there the business quickly prospered, and in no time outgrew the basement of his home. In 1979 Wild Wings relocated to a new facility in Lake City, Minnesota, where it employed hundreds of people with the same interests. The direct mail business has continued to grow, totaling millions with its annual catalogues. “We’ve come a long way from our initial mailing of 8,000” says Webster. He then opened wildlife art galleries throughout the US.

Twenty-seven years later, Webster hasn’t lost sight of his original passion for wildlife. He notes with pride that Wild Wings is still very committed to conservation, working closely with organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Ask him about Wild Wings and his eyes quickly brighten. “It’s the art of wildlife and the artists dedicated to creating it that I love,” he smiles. He then adds, philosophically, “Very few people have the opportunity in their lifetime to do what they thoroughly enjoy. I can truly say that I have not had a waking moment when I have not enjoyed this business.”

Outdoor writers Jim Shockey and Col. Craig Boddington did the same- Jim began as a young hunting guide, while Craig found his passion for writing following a successful military career in the Marine Corps. Both are now at the pinnacle of outdoor writing and video production.

Remember, we’re not just talking about young folks here. Discovering interests, preparing and finally taking action, works, and it works well.

Good luck, and remember, I’m just one of many who will gladly help you make that change. Former Valley Times editor, Doug McMurdo, encouraging this column, and the people I’ve met along the way, is part of that challenge for me.

Now, if I could just decide what I want to do when I grow up.


Recipe of the Week

Dan’s Secret Wild Game Meatballs

Sshh! Keep this one our secret: These venison meatball party snacks are always a favorite and disappear quickly; so make a lot. I first came across this recipe at the “Mt. Charleston” chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s first wild game B.B.Q.

For more detailed description of Wild Wings and their outdoor art stuff go to www.wildwings.com


  • 1 lb. ground venison;
  • ½ cup cracker crumbs;
  • 1 egg, beaten;
  • 2 tbs. finely chopped onion;
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt; black pepper;
  • 1 tbs. vegetable oil;
  • 10-oz. jar Loganberry jelly;
  • 2 cups B.B.Q sauce.


  • Combine meat, cracker crumbs, egg, onion, garlic salt, pepper and mix well.
  • Shape into 1-inch meatballs and brown in oil.
  • Lightly stir Loganberry jelly into chili sauce and pour over meatballs. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes until cooked through, basting meatballs occasionally. Serve with toothpicks

“When I Grow Up” first appeared in the Las Vegas Review Journal’s Pahrump Valley Times