A big, genial “Mick” friend of mine for more than 30 years passed away recently. He was the unofficial mayor of Goose Lake, Iowa – a place he was ready to describe with a big impish grin spread over his Irish kisser.
“Goose Lake is so small our local Avon Lady doubles as the church bell,” or, “On Election Day they lock up the bar in Goose Lake. But then someone has to go down and unlock it so most of the town can vote.” And the kicker: “Goose Lake is so small they don’t have a town drunk. So they all take turns.”
A real Goose Lake, Iowa, does exist in fact; but the one in the imagery of John Mullin was the most fun to visit.
John Mullin was a big man in both size and heart. I never saw him without a huge grin on his face – a face that was round, wide and ruddy pink, with the most sparkling-bright blue eyes to ever scan man or the landscape he tended with loving vision.
If you ever have hunted on a game or shooting preserve in Michigan (or elsewhere), your good results were a byproduct of Mullin’s evangelism in scientific preserve management. The practices that he pioneered and then passed on made him an elder statesman among the game bird preserve industry.
Mullin started one of the first of Iowa’s large-scale hunting preserves in the early 1950s, one that is still in operation a half-century later. His family-run hunting preserve is also one of the most scientifically managed game farm operations in the United States, so much so that John’s efforts led to the Arrowhead Hunt and Conservation Club being the national example of how to run a well-managed shooting preserve. He served as president of the North American Gamebird Association and was a consultant to game farm mangers nationwide.
John learned early on that if the land was wisely managed to create the best habitat possible for the game birds, the critters would thrive. To make certain there were good numbers of game birds available, preserves had to become game farms as much as shooting preserves. Today, many of the better preserves have brooding operations to rear their own planting stock. The results are that on a well-managed game preserve, hunters can expect to find game where they might not in other hunting areas.
On a trip to John’s Arrowhead Hunt Club one year, Mullin led several of us on a tour of the large preserve, pointing out the habitat components that were vital for its pheasants, quail, Hungarian partridge and chukar. Farming methods there used no till and BMP (best management practices) long before the general farming community practiced it.
His children and grandchildren continue to manage Arrowhead as John did, though he was never far from being on top of the operation. A daughter, Peggy, edits Wildlife Harvest, the magazine for game bird preserve operators that John founded.
Mullin and I shared terms as presidents of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, and we also shared many late-hour libations, lore, lies and hi-jinks. John never let me forget the night when the late Indiana outdoor writer Al Spiers and I got into a heated debate (unfortunately after being a bit over-served). Al would take a position and before the debate was over would somehow change sides. That night, the sometimes-volatile Spiers got a bit heated when I pointed out that his debate points were stupid. Al got up and yelled at me, “That’s it; get out – leave this room right now.”
Rather than have a fight, I got up and started for the door when John, his blue eyes sparkling and a big Irish grin spreading over his face, spoke up.
“Hey, Don — did you forget? This is YOUR room!”
I started to laugh. So did Al and the others in the room, and it was suddenly roll-on-the-floor and laugh-your-tail-off time.
When word arrived that John Mullin had passed, it closed the door on one chapter in my life; but John will not soon or easily be forgotten.
I am sorry that not all who read this got to know this big cuddle-bear Mick. But if you hunt on any well-managed game preserve today, your success will be, in part, to the pioneering efforts of John Mullin of Goose Lake, Iowa – a small town with one giant of a man to remember.
An OWAA member since 1972, Don Ingle is a freelance writer/photographer, editor, columnist and contributing writer for numerous publications. He lives in Baldwin, Mich., with his wife, Jean.