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Pheasant hunting binds three friends for a lifetime

Posted: Friday, October 22, 2004

ST. PAUL, Minn. These friends have been hunting pheasants together for 58 years.

Their nickname is the Terrible Threesome. They grew up poor in South St. Paul, the sons of meatpacking fathers, and every autumn since 1946 they've been inseparable when the seasons turn to hunting, particularly pheasant hunting, in Minnesota.

When pheasant season opens this year, they'll be in western Swift County for their 58th season together, their shotguns and personal barbs at the ready. They are John Badalich, 78; Don Goral, 75; and Ron Masanz, 75, three septuagenarians who jog, walk or play basketball to keep their bodies fit for their annual hunting rendezvous on the prairies.

Badalich of South St. Paul is the walker and gardener, a son of Croatian and Hungarian parents and a civil engineer who was one of Minnesota's first pollution enforcers. His fame within the Threesome is a certain knack for making the ''perfect Manhattan'' cocktail, which is their favorite post-hunt celebratory beverage.

Goral, who lives in Marine on St. Croix, is the basketball player, still playing pickup games with men half his age. He's the son of Polish immigrants and a semiretired mechanical engineer. He brings a dry sense of humor to the Threesome, the ability to fix anything at their western Minnesota hunting shack and a lust for cooking kielbasa and other sausages on their outings.

Then, there is Masanz, who lives in Park Rapids, the retired assistant football coach at Minnesota State University-Moorhead (formerly Moorhead State), who ran three 5K races this year and who loves to send practical jokes in the mail to his buddies.

The love of hunting has meant a nearly unbroken streak of traveling to western Minnesota and the Dakotas every fall.

Badalich still gets grief for missing the 1989 season when he fell off the roof of his cabin and spent the autumn in a neck brace. Masanz hobbled around one fall in a leg cast after his football team threw him into a steeplechase pond after winning a championship. Goral has an artificial hip.

Their friendship has survived military service, college and careers that took them to different parts of the state.

''We've never had a falling out. We might have had a tiff, like when I had to shoot all the birds for Goral or when Ron says he's the best shooter of all time, which is a bunch of baloney,'' said Badalich.

Said Masanz: ''When they didn't go hunting with me, I'd chop off the heads of pheasants, dry them out and send them to them, just to let them know they missed out on a good hunting trip.''

They have nicknames, although their origins are mostly lost over the years. Masanz is Pablo, Goral is Terrible, and Badalich has been called Spud over the years.

Not wanting to miss a jab, Goral said: ''We have what we call the 'Pablo Factor.' You divide everything Pablo says by 10 or 100. If he said he saw 100 mallards, it was really 10. We once gave him a pair of glasses with a pheasant pasted to each lens so he could see reality.''

''We call him Terrible because, well, he's a terrible shot,'' Badalich said. ''I guess I'd be considered average in that category.''

In 1954 and '55, they gathered in Graceville for duck and pheasant hunting, sleeping on the wrestling mats at Graceville High School, where Masanz was coaching football. There they are in the fading photograph holding a stringer of ducks, with their friend Earl Jerikovsky.

In the old days, they drove to Appleton and stayed in an old wooden motel, purchasing a cot and a blanket for $1 and sleeping in the attic with other snoring hunters.

The pheasant opener was a major event in small towns then, drawing tens of thousands of hunters from the Twin Cities. Goral remembered with fondness the hunter feeds put on in Appleton by local civic groups, where $1.25 bought an all-you-could-eat fried-chicken dinner.

Today, the Threesome stay at the Appleton Super 8 and hang out at their hunting shack, a former three-bin granary that's decorated with items picked up from garage sales.

The men have seen dramatic changes in the hunting landscape of western Minnesota over the past half-century. They experienced the pheasant boom in the '50s and '60s, then the decline in the late-'60s when the federal Soil Bank program ended. The pheasant population has never returned to its former glory days, except that last year represents a glimpse of the old days.

''We've seen the changes, but we can't really pinpoint a year when it all changed,'' Goral said. ''Mostly in the '50s and '60s, things were good. (But then) it seems like the tall sloughs were getting burned out and plowed under. You go out year after year, and you see it happens gradually.''

Said Badalich: ''We had some fabulous shooting. In a matter of 15 minutes, we'd have our limit. We have a lot of memories. Those were really good old days.''

The Threesome attended the first-ever banquet for the St. Paul metro chapter of Pheasants Forever; Goral's membership number is 426, and Badalich's is 480. The organization's membership tops 100,000 today.

The friends visit the Dakotas annually for roosters, sometimes buying two licenses in South Dakota to extend their season. They hunt in every weather condition, except extreme heat, which isn't good for them or their dogs.

''We've cherished all those pheasant,'' Goral said. ''We've never wandered bars, and when we hunted all day, we always returned home right away. You always had so many obligations.''

''We're like brothers,'' Masanz said. ''When one of the guys is hurt, it hurts us all. It's a love of each other, a love of hunting, a love of the outdoors.''

Pheasant hunting binds three friends for a lifetime

By CHRIS NISKANEN

St. Paul Pioneer Press An AP Member Exchange

ST. PAUL, Minn. These friends have been hunting pheasants together for 58 years.

Their nickname is the Terrible Threesome. They grew up poor in South St. Paul, the sons of meatpacking fathers, and every autumn since 1946 they've been inseparable when the seasons turn to hunting, particularly pheasant hunting, in Minnesota.

When pheasant season opens this year, they'll be in western Swift County for their 58th season together, their shotguns and personal barbs at the ready. They are John Badalich, 78; Don Goral, 75; and Ron Masanz, 75, three septuagenarians who jog, walk or play basketball to keep their bodies fit for their annual hunting rendezvous on the prairies.

Badalich of South St. Paul is the walker and gardener, a son of Croatian and Hungarian parents and a civil engineer who was one of Minnesota's first pollution enforcers. His fame within the Threesome is a certain knack for making the ''perfect Manhattan'' cocktail, which is their favorite post-hunt celebratory beverage.

Goral, who lives in Marine on St. Croix, is the basketball player, still playing pickup games with men half his age. He's the son of Polish immigrants and a semiretired mechanical engineer. He brings a dry sense of humor to the Threesome, the ability to fix anything at their western Minnesota hunting shack and a lust for cooking kielbasa and other sausages on their outings.

Then, there is Masanz, who lives in Park Rapids, the retired assistant football coach at Minnesota State University-Moorhead (formerly Moorhead State), who ran three 5K races this year and who loves to send practical jokes in the mail to his buddies.

The love of hunting has meant a nearly unbroken streak of traveling to western Minnesota and the Dakotas every fall.

Badalich still gets grief for missing the 1989 season when he fell off the roof of his cabin and spent the autumn in a neck brace. Masanz hobbled around one fall in a leg cast after his football team threw him into a steeplechase pond after winning a championship. Goral has an artificial hip.

Their friendship has survived military service, college and careers that took them to different parts of the state.

''We've never had a falling out. We might have had a tiff, like when I had to shoot all the birds for Goral or when Ron says he's the best shooter of all time, which is a bunch of baloney,'' said Badalich.

Said Masanz: ''When they didn't go hunting with me, I'd chop off the heads of pheasants, dry them out and send them to them, just to let them know they missed out on a good hunting trip.''

They have nicknames, although their origins are mostly lost over the years. Masanz is Pablo, Goral is Terrible, and Badalich has been called Spud over the years.

Not wanting to miss a jab, Goral said: ''We have what we call the 'Pablo Factor.' You divide everything Pablo says by 10 or 100. If he said he saw 100 mallards, it was really 10. We once gave him a pair of glasses with a pheasant pasted to each lens so he could see reality.''

''We call him Terrible because, well, he's a terrible shot,'' Badalich said. ''I guess I'd be considered average in that category.''

In 1954 and '55, they gathered in Graceville for duck and pheasant hunting, sleeping on the wrestling mats at Graceville High School, where Masanz was coaching football. There they are in the fading photograph holding a stringer of ducks, with their friend Earl Jerikovsky.

In the old days, they drove to Appleton and stayed in an old wooden motel, purchasing a cot and a blanket for $1 and sleeping in the attic with other snoring hunters.

The pheasant opener was a major event in small towns then, drawing tens of thousands of hunters from the Twin Cities. Goral remembered with fondness the hunter feeds put on in Appleton by local civic groups, where $1.25 bought an all-you-could-eat fried-chicken dinner.

Today, the Threesome stay at the Appleton Super 8 and hang out at their hunting shack, a former three-bin granary that's decorated with items picked up from garage sales.

The men have seen dramatic changes in the hunting landscape of western Minnesota over the past half-century. They experienced the pheasant boom in the '50s and '60s, then the decline in the late-'60s when the federal Soil Bank program ended. The pheasant population has never returned to its former glory days, except that last year represents a glimpse of the old days.

''We've seen the changes, but we can't really pinpoint a year when it all changed,'' Goral said. ''Mostly in the '50s and '60s, things were good. (But then) it seems like the tall sloughs were getting burned out and plowed under. You go out year after year, and you see it happens gradually.''

Said Badalich: ''We had some fabulous shooting. In a matter of 15 minutes, we'd have our limit. We have a lot of memories. Those were really good old days.''

The Threesome attended the first-ever banquet for the St. Paul metro chapter of Pheasants Forever; Goral's membership number is 426, and Badalich's is 480. The organization's membership tops 100,000 today.

The friends visit the Dakotas annually for roosters, sometimes buying two licenses in South Dakota to extend their season. They hunt in every weather condition, except extreme heat, which isn't good for them or their dogs.

''We've cherished all those pheasant,'' Goral said. ''We've never wandered bars, and when we hunted all day, we always returned home right away. You always had so many obligations.''

''We're like brothers,'' Masanz said. ''When one of the guys is hurt, it hurts us all. It's a love of each other, a love of hunting, a love of the outdoors.''



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