From duck hunter to accidental author, Steve Knutson sheds light on Minnesota duck camp history in new book
Compiling information for the book required untold amounts of windshield time traveling across the state and hours of research tracking down duck camp members or descendants.
APPLE VALLEY, Minn. – Writing a book wasn’t on Steve Knutson’s to-do list in the spring of 2016, when he went to the North American Vintage Decoy & Sporting Collectibles Show at Pheasant Run in St. Charles, Illinois.
An avid duck hunter since his childhood days growing up on a farm in Otter Tail County, Knutson, of Apple Valley, had recently retired from his job as an engineer for an aerospace company and made the trip to hear Doug Lodermeier, a renowned decoy collector and author from Edina, Minnesota.
Lodermeier has written two volumes of books on duck calls and duck decoys and was giving a seminar at the show.
After the presentation, Knutson recalls, Lodermeier mentioned he was working on a new book and was looking for some information about a decoy carver on Lake Christina, a renowned duck hunting destination in west-central Minnesota.
“I made note of that because I had just retired and was looking for things to do after hunting season was over,” Knutson said. “I grew up not far from (Lake Christina). I drive by there almost every week in the summer on the way to the cabin and during hunting season.”
Later that fall, Knutson reached out to Lodermeier, offering to help with some research into Lake Christina. As often happens when venturing down the research rabbit hole, things just kind of escalated from there.
“I kept running into information on old duck hunting camps, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of interesting,’ ” Knutson said. “I threw it in a binder and I kept doing that, and after a while, I had a pretty thick binder of information on old hunting camps.
“I mentioned it to Doug, and I said somebody should write a book on this.”
Lodermeier, who has a background in the publishing business, had released “Minnesota Duck Calls Volume 1” in 2003 and “Minnesota Duck Decoys Volume 1” in 2009. (He released Volume 2 of both books in 2021).
“He said, ‘Yeah, I think you should do that, I’ll help you. I’ll show you what needs to be done and how to go about it,’ ” Knutson said.
So began a journey that ended in mid-February with the publication of “Minnesota Duck Camps: 160 Years of History and Tradition.”
“I’ll put it this way – without Doug, there wouldn’t be a book,” Knutson said. “I’m an accidental author; that’s about the best I can describe.”
At more than 750 pages, the glossy, hardcover book features more than 250 duck camps and clubs from across Minnesota, loosely organized by region, with sections on Minneapolis and St. Paul Metro Region Camps, Southern Region Camps, Central and Western Region Camps, Northern Region Camps and Minimally Documented Camps.
The book features camps dating back to the 1860s, along with stories about some of Minnesota’s “wealthiest and most prominent residents in prestigious duck hunting camps and clubs,” and East Coast hunting groups who ventured through Minnesota in the 1870s on newly laid railroad tracks.
Figuratively, there’s a ton of information and photos packed into the 6-pound book.
“It amazed me how far back hunting camps went in Minnesota,” Knutson, 71, said this week in a phone interview. “The other thing that sort of amazed me was how many are active today that have been active for over 100 years.”
Of the 250-plus camps featured in the book, more than 50 are still active.
Talking and traveling
Compiling information for the book required untold amounts of windshield time traveling across the state and hours of research tracking down duck camp members or descendants, poring through archives at small town newspapers, local historical societies and the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.
Knutson, who says it took him nearly three years to admit he was even writing a book, made “literally hundreds” of cold calls to people in his hunt for information, and out of all of those calls, only one person hung up on him.
Those conversations helped keep him productive through the weeks of lockdown during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Knutson says.
“Usually what would happen is we’d talk about whatever specific questions I had about their family or their involvement in a particular hunting camp, and then we would always end up talking about duck hunting in general,” he said. “I mean, it was never less than a 45-minute conversation.
“You talk to somebody you’ve never met before, and in no time, you’re comparing notes on duck hunting and this and that.”
Never did he imagine the book would be as extensive as it is, Knutson says.
“Some people have asked how many hours I spent on this, but I on purpose never kept track of the hours because I think if I would have, I might have been tempted to stop,” he said. “But for an old duck hunter, this was a pretty good gig, going around and doing the research.”
Still, there are parts of the state where he simply was unable to track down information, Knutson says, far northwestern Minnesota among them.
“I think there are multiple areas that are underrepresented,” he said. “The process of how you come across these camps is sort of a convoluted thing. It takes a lot of twists and turns. I tried to find information on camps up in that area and I just never came across it. There’s other areas like that – the Mississippi River is another one, the North Shore is another one.
“So, part of that is, it’s just the way the process evolved.”
To date, Knutson says, response to the self-published book has been favorable. He’s already sold about a third of the 1,000 limited edition signed and numbered copies of the book, some to camp owners and others at events such as the Minnesota Decoy Collectors Show and the Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportsman Show in Alexandria.
He’ll also be at the Minnesota Sporting Collectibles Show in Medina on April 2, and the North American Decoy & Sporting Collectibles Show in the Chicago suburb of Lombard, Illinois, on April 28-29.
“It’s sort of a process,” Knutson said. “You do all these different things and in the end, you get quite a few sales.”
“Minnesota Duck Camps: 160 Years of History and Tradition,” costs $85, plus $9 shipping and handling for the first copy and $4 for each additional copy. For ordering information, contact Knutson at (612) 816-5156, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook by going to facebook.com and searching for the book title.