Minnesota man lives a hunter’s dream
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Patrick Flanagan’s passion for hunting and America’s wide open spaces has left him, by some definitions, homeless.
“Yeah, I guess,” Flanagan told the Pioneer Press. “The VA kind of thinks I’m homeless. I really don’t have a permanent home. But I don’t think of it that way. I just live in my tent a lot.”
A lot. For a period spanning parts of 2015 and 2016, Flanagan, a 37-year-old St. Paul native, lived in his tent for a year and 38 days by his account.
Those birds don’t migrate with the seasons, but Flanagan does. He follows hunting seasons from the northern forests along the Minnesota-Canada border south through the Great Plains all the way to expanses along the Arizona-Mexico line. (In northern states, hunting is generally a fall pursuit, while the seasons stretch deeper into winter the farther south one travels.)
It’s a lifestyle that has evolved from dreams of a post-Navy career as a professional handballer and features side gigs that range from putting ads on magnets to installing a roof on a farmhouse.
Flanagan owns Border to Border Outfitters, which is basically him, his bird dogs, and an array of guided hunt packages that range from posh accommodations on a private ranch in Kansas to exploring public lands in Arizona.
“I’m usually ready with my canoe to paddle around the Boundary Waters (Canoe Area Wilderness),” he said.
Once September comes, Flanagan starts to focus on hunting. An annual trip to South Dakota to hunt ducks and pheasants is a non-business venture, although he hopes eventually to obtain a guide license in that state.
“I’m just on my own, getting the dogs ready for the season,” he said. “I’m not so much about the killing but prepping the dogs.” Some hunts are on private land he’s obtained permission to hunt, while others are on public land, preferably in places he’s sussed out over the years but few other hunters frequent.
Depending on how his clientele is booking trips, the early and mid-fall encompass hunts for sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge in the grasslands of Montana and North Dakota and ruffed grouse and woodcock in northern Minnesota’s forests. As the season progresses, he’ll hunt Minnesota ring-necked pheasants in Jackson County, bobwhite quail in Missouri and pheasants on a 4,000-acre ranch in Kansas.
“Then comes the Arizona-Mexican border,” Flanagan said. “That’s my bread and butter. We hunt three species of quail – Gambel’s, scaled and Mearns’. I’ve camped out there for seven years. I know it and the scenery is incredible. And we’re alone. We don’t hear other gun shots. It’s all public lands.”
Flanagan was raised amid pugilism on St. Paul’s East Side, an offspring of the “Boxing Flanagans,” who included uncles Del and Glen and his father, Jerry. All three boxed professionally and were inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. Another uncle, Art, was Mr. Minnesota.
Patrick Flanagan took to the sport of handball, an unheralded but very-much-alive sport that’s similar to squash or racquetball, except with no racquets. “I used to cut school and take a bus to the Midway YMCA to play.” After high school, he enlisted in the Navy, with hopes of taking his handball skills to the professional level. An accident at sea left him with a spinal injury, and no hope for a professional athletic career.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then I got this bird dog.”
A love of the outdoors beckoned. In his blog shortly before last year’s hunting seasons started, Flanagan wrote: “Can’t keep calm. I want it all. The east, the buttes. The high peaks. Deep dark valleys. I want to hike and fish. And hike and hunt. Explore.”
And so it began.
To those who share the calling, Flanagan’s life might seem fantasy. But it’s not easy, he notes.
“This is a dream, with an end, but it’s taking everything I have. I wanna run these dogs, and I wanna experience the outdoors through photography and canoeing and hiking.”
But there’s this thing called money that’s required.
“I roofed a building in North Dakota a few weeks ago just to buy dog food,” he said in an interview during the fall. He has a second business, The Pat Henry Store, that sells magnetic advertising (think: ads on refrigerator magnets and the like). It helps pay what bills he has, such as maintenance on his Chevy pickup and dog trailer.
“I may come out of a tent in the morning, make breakfast for clients, clean some birds, and then put on a shirt and tie and sell advertising,” he said, chuckling at his lifestyle.
A wife? “I can’t. I want to, but I can’t right now.”
Flanagan is making a name for himself. His guided hunts have been auctioned off by groups such as Pheasants Forever. (He’ll have a booth at the National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, the annual Pheasants Forever event that’s being held this year Feb. 17 to 19 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.)
And he remains optimistic he can ride the seasons and chase the birds for years to come.
“I do have a plan. I’m gonna get a house on the border, and then a place in Minnesota, where I can guide in the Boundary Waters during the off-season.”
But for now, no house.
“Let’s just say there ain’t nobody who’s gonna rent a home to a guy with 8 dogs. But hey, I get to be in a new place every week.”