Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

The conservation history behind a simple piece of Minnesota fabric

48 Page 2 Helicopterhanky
Outdoors photographer Bill Marchel found this vintage Helicopter Hanky in an old drawer recently and send this image to the author. Contributors to the Helicopter Fund in the late 1980s received one of these.


Digging through a drawer recently, photographer and frequent Outdoor News contributor Bill Marchel found an old Helicopter Hanky from 1988. Per the photo he sent me, it sports an Outdoor News logo, so it got me wondering about this slice of Minnesota’s past. 

Everyone remembers the Homer Hanky from the 1987 Minnesota Twins World Series victory. Well, about the same time, St. Paul Pioneer Press outdoors scribe Dennis Anderson was crafting a series of stories entitled “Empty Skies: America’s Ducks in Crisis,” that chronicled the myriad of reasons behind the loss of waterfowl in North America. Loyal readers likely recall how Anderson detailed the massive duck and goose poaching occurring within the coastal marsh regions of Louisiana.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents hadn’t had a helicopter to patrol the vast Gulf Coastal area since the 1970s, and Anderson reported on the lack of political interest in Washington D.C. to purchase the agency a new one. So he launched an effort to raise money via rank-and-file waterfowlers and other conservationists, and the Izaak Walton League eventually coordinated the Helicopter Fund. Along the way, Glenn Meyer, the longtime publisher of this newspaper, told Anderson that this publication would like to participate. The business had the Helicopter Hankys printed, and contributors to the fund received one. 

Eventually the effort raised the bucks, and Anderson flew to Texas to write a nearly $700,000 check for the aircraft. His series of stories was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and the collective efforts of sportsmen across the region saved countless ducks. Folks who’d like to read a complete history can (via Amazon) find the collection of columns and articles Anderson wrote about the effort in a book entitled, “An Hour Before Dawn.”

So a simple piece of fabric can contain a whole lot of history. This scribe was still in high school when the entire effort unfolded and admittedly more focused on the average 17-year-old’s priorities. But I’ve heard the story recounted many times, and it’s amazing when a grassroots effort like the one Anderson launched can accomplish so much.

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