McFeely: A Journey Into The Past With Dakota Country Magazine
“There wasn’t much going on in the outdoor world. We were just growing up in the Dakota, ”Bill says. “We took it a month at a time and kept plugging in. Everything that has happened since then – the new lakes, the CRP, the fishing initiatives under the leadership of (former Head of Fisheries Division and Commissioner of the North Dakota Game and Department of Fish) Dale Henegar. The growth has been incredible. “
Reading this expansion is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the pagination of Mitzel’s book, “40 Years of Dakota Country Magazine.” Published in 2019, the book is a trip down memory lane not only for the magazine, but also to trace the explosive growth of world-class hunting and fishing in North Dakota.
I say “one” of the nicer things, because the most enjoyable is reading Mitzel’s prose – always concise, descriptive, colorful, honest, pure.
What was your favorite outdoor magazine when you were growing up?
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Field and stream
“Our possessions, the backup photos, some old fishing and hunting gear, make no sense compared to the joy our adventures bring us,” Mitzel wrote in the introduction. “The adventures shared with those who are left after us will continue. If we are aligned with the prairie on these adventures, we are blessed. There is no western lark in Times Square.
“I love to write. I love to take pictures. I love children deeply. They have God in their eyes. I love catching fish, walking the meadow with a dog and a shotgun or a rifle, a cane or a camera. I love the anticipation of what’s around the next corner. I love the sound of a distant train on a summer night, the wind rustling through the fall poplars, and I love putting it all together on blank pages for people to enjoy. “
That pretty much sums up the country of Dakota under Mitzel’s tutelage. It’s both a magazine for die-hard outdoor enthusiasts, yet offers terrific writing and storytelling that is sometimes overwhelmed by the instructions in other outdoor publications. And there is no shortage of commentary, even if it isn’t always popular with Dakota Country’s core readership.
Mitzel’s book captures all of this in its 184 pages, filled with old articles, memoirs, and color photos from the magazine. Mitzel says he scoured 420 issues of Dakota Country, “every magazine and every page,” to find the stories worth reprinting.
Bill Mitzel. Photo from Dakota Country magazine
It succeeded, whether it was a heartbreaking 1983 tale of three men from Williston, ND, barely surviving four foot waves on Lake Sakakawea in a 17 foot fishing boat or the informative article on the Great Missouri River Flood of 2011 and how it affected the fishery. for years afterwards.
“If I could do it all over again, I would make it bigger,” Mitzel says now. “There are more things I couldn’t include in the book. I felt like I had to leave some really good articles.”
The fact that there are so many great items to choose from is a testament to Mitzel, his family, and his dedicated staff. Popular Dakota Country writers over the decades include the late great Tony Dean, Dan Nelson, Dell Hankey, Lee Halvorson, and Mitzel himself.
Mitzel has no doubt that Dakota Country has always been a family affair. His wife, Bobbi, gave her blessing to buy the magazine in 1980 from a group in Garrison, ND, the businessmen who started it and the couple’s children – Jodi, Stephanie and Jon – played a vital role. in its growth. Bill handed Jon the reins of day-to-day operations, but didn’t completely exclude himself from the picture.
The cover of “40 Years of Dakota Country Magazine.” Mike McFeely / The Forum
“People ask me when I’m going to stop. Stop what? I fish and write about it. Why would I stop this?” Mitzel chuckles, now 78 years old.
It was not all easy. Mitzel and his family had no publishing experience – Bill left a secure job in the state government to buy and manage the magazine – and most of the early years were learning on the go. He quickly learned that owning an outdoor magazine was not as easy as going fishing and writing about it.
He and his partners, including the family, had to do it all. There was no delegation.
“There is so much to do and we did it all. I love writing. But I hate selling. I hate it,” Mitzel said. “But you learn to do it and you have to do it. There is no other choice. So you do it.”
In the early booming days of Dakota Country, Mitzel found outdoor businesses in North Dakota willing to advertise. They saw opportunities with the hunting and fishing boom, and they saw the opportunity to market their businesses in an increasingly popular magazine.
At its peak, Dakota Country had 17,000 paying subscribers and a total distribution of 40,000. Today, paying subscribers are at 14,000 with a distribution of 30,000.
Dakota Country is published 10 times a year, including double editions in February / March and July / August. Mitzel produced Dakota Country at home for the first four years. He sold it to the Bismarck Tribune in 1983, before buying the magazine three years later.
It’s still going strong. The best things from the past four decades can be found in the book. It’s a fascinating walk through a remarkable outdoor period in the Dakotas, as the area’s most popular outdoor magazine recounts.
“I think I’ve achieved my goals in life, at least most of them,” Mitzel writes in the book’s epilogue. “Some were unreachable, but I was always told to expect more from myself than I could accomplish. I never understood that… back then. There must always be goals, something to achieve, to hope for, and the outdoors offers that opportunity on every adventure. No two days are the same there. That’s a big part of the attraction. “