By Dan Ladd, Chronicle Outdoors Editor
Mark Frost’s editorial in last week’s Chronicle certainly struck a chord with me. It wasn’t just Mark’s kind words about me and my departure from The Chronicle.
It was that photo of myself and Dr. Dan O’Keeffe taken at the Chronicle Book Fair a decade ago. You see, I’m one of those estimated 10,000 babies Dr. Dan brought into this world — and my parents gave me his first name! My mother was very fond of Dr. Dan. When he came out with his first hunting book, One Heartbeat from Heaven, mom made sure my brothers and I got signed copies.
Getting back on track, Mark’s editorial was correct. After more than two decades, 17 of them as a weekly columnist, I’m about to take a big step up in this outdoor writing industry. My friend Steve Piatt is retiring effective April 1 as editor of New York Outdoor News, and I am very blessed to have been chosen as his successor.
It’s a full-time gig. I have left my job of 28 years at Gracenote, and sadly have to let go of the Chronicle as well.
Just as I am lucky today, I was very lucky in 1999 when Mark Frost printed my first article in the Chronicle, one year after a hot air balloon landed in my back yard.
I had done some sports writing in college, and later was part of Mike Klein’s hometown newspaper, the Fort Ann Post, but that balloon article really started it all.
In March of 2003 we started doing this weekly. My side gig as an outdoor writer became the best part-time job I thought a guy could have. Still do. From there it’s been a never-ending sequence of branching out and I’ve loved every single aspect of it. The memories are countless and priceless.
I’m a hands-on guy and as soon as I started doing this I decided to get back into a few outdoor activities I enjoyed when I was younger: turkey hunting and ice fishing. Some good friends really helped me out in those two pursuits, which contributed greatly to my ability to write about them.
In the turkey woods it was Ross Sheridan, and on the ice it was my three friends Keith Sheerer, Mike Miller and the Capt. Walt Lockhart. They were the liquid and I was the sponge. Thanks to them, not only can I call in a gobbler and ice an occasional lake trout, I can communicate about it in written form. Most of all, we just had a lot of fun and still do anytime we get together.
Others have helped me in a number of outdoor activities, but the ones I really owe a lot to are my hunting partners: the Iron Sight Gang. Over the years they’ve done their share of accommodating me, especially when it comes to photos. I’m always asking them to stop for situational shots, like dragging out a deer, or taking a group shot when the light is just right.
One of the best things that ever happened to us, and me, was meeting and eventually hunting with Jack Currie, Norm Duell and the late Tommy Connerty.
I met Jack over a cold beer somewhere around 2006 or 2007. “I know you from the Chronicle,” he said, and after 15 minutes it was clear that he knew more about fishing than I was ever going to know.
It wasn’t long before our crew was deer hunting with Jack, Norm and Tommy (and now Jack’s brother Mike). I’ve referred to them in this column as the “Veterans.” Jack opened up his deer camp to us. Hunting with those guys has meant more knowledge, more stories, more photos, more Chronicle material, and most of all, more fun, which is the most important thing.
And that’s what this column has been to me more than anything else. Is it work? What part-time job isn’t? For over a decade I was fortunate enough in my Gracenote job to work a four-day-a-week, 10-hour-a-day schedule. That provided me the opportunity to produce copy for the Outdoors Page.
Doing something like this, especially on top of a full-time job, takes a lot of support on the home front. My wife Adrienne, my best friend, has been with me all the way and is fully behind me in this new endeavor. She too has tolerated my never-ending quest for the story or photo when we’re on our beloved camping trips, kayak outings and drives in the country.
This is just a job you’re always doing.
Then there’s the Chronicle itself. This is a great publication and one that I’ve always been proud to be affiliated with, and always will be. Mark Frost has become a dear friend and supporter and I can’t say enough about the staff, past and present.
They’re just great people, which is why the Chronicle is successful, and why a 40th anniversary is on the horizon, an event I plan on celebrating with them.
But as Mark will tell you, and I can surely attest, none of this happens without readers. From the start, Mark told me this is a “readers first” publication and I always approached my work with that in mind.
If we didn’t have your support, none of this would be possible. I know that sounds cliche, but it is true.
What I am going to miss the most about being on the back page every week is engaging with readers. Yes, I’m going to be doing that on a much broader level in my new position, but there is something to be said for working amongst your neighbors, friends and peers in your local community. I’m letting go of that with a lump in my throat.
Not that I’m worried about my own legacy, but I sincerely hope the Outdoors Page continues to be a Chronicle tradition. There are writers out there whose byline I hope to see here, and others I likely don’t even know of yet. The outdoors message needs to continue to be communicated. It is humble, relative, engaging and yet grounding, and every newspaper should have an outdoor section of some kind.
I’d like to see coverage continue of hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting alongside things like paddling, hiking, biking, winter sports and so many others.
The publication where I’ve landed, Outdoor News, is primarily a hook-and-bullet every-other-week newspaper.
I’ll get plenty of chances to cover hunting and fishing, but I’ll also be tackling environmental and political issues that affect the sporting community. Outdoor News also does a lot with law enforcement reporting. I’m really hoping to do more with social media and perhaps develop a podcast, but that’s all down the road.
Outdoor News is based in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota and operates publications in that state as well as Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and of course New York — all states that border the Great Lakes. It’s quite an outfit.
I’m going to have my work cut out for me filling the shoes of a guy like Steve Piatt. I’ll do my best. With that I can’t think of a better training ground than the years I’ve spent filling the back page of the Chronicle. Every aspect of it I’ve just mentioned deserves credit, along with so many others that are too numerous to mention.
I thank you all for the support, the memories, the material and most of all, for reading the Chronicle. Physically, I won’t be too far away and if I ever get my deer hunting book updated I’ll be seeing you at the Chronicle’s fall Book Fair.
Until then, look for me at outdoornews.com and please know how much I appreciate each and every one of you. It’s been quite a run.
Tight lines, dry powder and farewell.
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