The Gift of Experience

| June 01, 2005

When Bob was just 9 or 10 years old, his father went into the household goods trucking business. Young Bob, his father and some of the crew would use one of the company straight trucks to roll north and go fishing at Mille Lacs Lake. “We’d take a launch and go fishing, just drop a line with a spinner and drift,” he says. “The limit in those days was six walleye, and they’d be from 3 to 5 pounds.”

The Elsholtz men and boys would also hunt pheasant.

“There hadn’t been any pheasant hunting to speak of during World War II, so there were birds everywhere,” Bob says. “We could take five a day including a hen; today the limit here is two roosters. I would go along, and I’d basically be an extra dog. All of the brothers and sisters were. We’d just walk down the field trying to flush birds.”

The family hunting and fishing tradition has not only been glue to keep the family together, it has also taught a lot of discipline to the younger generations of hunters.

“Hunting is so much about safety, and safety lessons were part of our education. Safety with guns but also safety in being able to look after yourself in the woods. We were in very dense country a lot of the time,” he says. “You were never allowed to go into the woods without a compass and matches. I taught them how to use a compass the way my father taught me and I’m sure the same way his father taught him. And what if the compass breaks when you’re hunting in the deep woods? Which way is north? We taught them how to find north, to find the damp side out of the southern sun, watch trees lean a little towards the south towards the sun. Information like that is essential. If you can determine one direction, you won’t keep going around in circles, and if you have some idea where a river, or a lake or a railroad is, you can make toward it.”

There are also lessons of the right way and the wrong way to hunt. Once while shooting ducks when they were plentiful, the older Elsholtzes stopped and packed up to leave. “Why,” said the youngsters, “there are lots of ducks.”

“Because,” they were told, “we’ve got our limit, we’d had our time, now it’s theirs.” The older generations also let the younger family know that “if you play, you’ve got to pay” and not only respect nature but give back to it, as the family does by supporting such organizations as Ducks Unlimited, the Grouse Society and Delta Waterfowl.

The family in years past would also head north to enjoy the heavily wooded land around the homestead of an old Norwegian couple they would stay with, Ole and Hilda Finstead, just six miles from the Canadian border. “It was pioneer living, raising their own cows and pigs, scratching a living out of potatoes and carrots. We’d been going up there a while before electricity came.”

Bob, his father, his brother and some relatives would go the Finstead homestead to hunt deer and grouse. As his family grew, they came along with him. Eventually his son-in-law joined the hunting clan, and the family expanded.

Today that family is part of Overnite Express. Robb Elsholtz, 34, is administrative systems manager, and his brother Matthew, 30, is manager of logistics. The all owner-operator company runs 815 trailers with 300 tractors, hauling mostly to the eastern half of the United States with 53-foot general freight dry vans.

Today there is a modern version of the old Finstead homestead. The family hunting camp, 250 miles north of the Twin Cities, is a place to hunt ducks, grouse, bear, deer and varmints. It’s not uncommon for the whole extended family, all 16 of them, to go to the hunting camp at the same time. They spend every other Thanksgiving at the camp.

“We don’t go hunting or fishing for meat, we never did. We went then and we go now to do things together as a family. It helps bond us together as a family,” Bob says. “Riding up to the camp in the car we’ll talk about all sorts of things, everything in life. It’s something we all have in common, a love of the outdoors and a lot of time together as a family being there.

“Teaching our children is a gift we give them. I have a 4-year-old grandson, Henry, and he’ll be joining us out there as he grows up with all the other youngsters.”

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