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I looked up the dictionary definition of “friend,” before I started to write this column, but I ended up more confused than enlightened. The number one definition is: “A person whom one knows well and is fond of; intimate associate; close acquaintance.”

Doesn’t that single, albeit three-part definition describe three distinct relationships? It certainly does to me.

My definition of an intimate associate is someone with whom I’d be comfortable sharing my deepest darkest secrets and whose counsel I can seek on any subject, with complete confidence that our conversations will remain private. I have three of them, only two of whom share my love for the outdoors.

Close acquaintances are people I like to be around and with whom I can discuss non-personal issues whether or not our opinions on those issues are the same. I’m blessed to have a bunch of them and several of them have crossed the border from acquaintance into a unique version of friendship.

That leaves “a person whom one knows well and is fond of,” which is my definition of the term friend. Most, but by no means all, of my friends share my passion for one or more of the myriad activities lumped under the terms fishing and hunting. Life’s realities that had nothing to do with our feelings for each have effectively ended most of a lifetime’s worth of friendships, but I still cherish their memory. Far more important, those memories of times past make my present day friendships even more valuable.

Duane and Neil were my first outdoor friends. Having been liberated by our 16th birthdays — which brought with them our own cars and shotguns — we hunted doves, ducks, pheasants and quail every chance we either had or could manufacture from September 1 through about the middle of December. From then until sometime in March, we added Sunday afternoon rabbit hunts with a varying number of friends and acquaintances.

My favorite memory is the time Duane shot at an absurdly high incoming dove and reached out and caught the falling bird without moving his feet.

Duane and I went to Kansas State. Over the next four years, Daryl, Dennis, Larry, two Davids, two Eds and whoever I left out became friends. We struck terrific terror into the hearts of fish and game throughout Riley and surrounding counties. Not only that, but we also attended class often enough to graduate.

Four years and a dozen or so friends make for a lot of memories. First among equals is spotlighting rabbits out of Daryl’s “modified” 1950 Plymouth. (Doing so was more or less legal at the time.)

Both the real and the manufactured stresses of my job during most of the 1970's made getting outdoors by myself, let alone making a new friend to take along, very difficult. Except, that is, for Mickey. He was the dentist who may have literally saved my life, when two of my wisdom teeth got badly infected. Mickey was also an avid quail hunter, and I owned the best Brittany Spaniel that ever drew breath. (Even if I do have to say so myself.)

I’ll never forget the time Mickey and I were quail hunting near John Redmund Reservoir in Kansas. Duke (the dog) finally got so tired I had to carry him back to the car. We were only one bird short of the limit, so we decided to hunt awhile longer, leaving Duke asleep in the back seat. Duke, who’d never been any trouble in a vehicle, went totally insane. I rushed back and let him out. He hunted like it was the first cover of the day and quickly pointed a bird. Mickey shot it, Duke collapsed and I had to carry him back to the car again.

I put down my gun and badge in 1978 and moved to a farm way back in the hills of southern Benton County. My son and daughter were my hunting companions for the next 10 years, and Amber made us a foursome on fishing trips. We suffered our share of trials and tribulations to be sure, but in retrospect, the whole decade is a happy memory.

Since we moved to Sedalia in 1989, Mike has been my number one outdoor friend both in terms of the variety of things we did together and the time we spent doing them. I’m still sorry a job change forced him to move.

Nowadays, I seem to attract — or be attracted to — outdoor specialists. For example, Dean is a rabbit hunter. Tom is a jugline addict. Both of them are good friends.

My most vivid memory of the past 30 years is the time either Mike or I — the real villain of the piece depends on who’s telling the tale — got my Explorer so buried in the mud at an “unofficial” launch site on Truman that it took two tow trucks to get us out, while a third stood by in reserve.

We’d both like it noted that we didn’t let one detail ruin our whole day. Instead, we moved to a clay bank, relaunched and caught a limit of channel cats.

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