By: Sam Cook
When she was 12, growing up in Hermantown, Carol Nyholm got her first shotgun. It was a Mossberg bolt-action .410.
“That was my recreation after school every day,” Nyholm said. “I’d run home, grab my Irish setter and my gun and go hunting. I’d be shooting grouse, and I could hear the football team practicing.”
She didn’t know it then, but those early years in the woods with her gun and her dogs would shape her life. Now 76 and living near Babbitt with her partner, Chuck Binkowski, Nyholm still is actively hunting and keeps a kennel of 11 dogs. She has spent her life breeding Labrador retrievers and Brittanys, boarding and training dogs, and guiding grouse and woodcock hunters.
On Wednesday afternoon, she put bells on two of her dogs, Skipper and Star, for a couple of hours of grouse hunting before sunset. The dogs’ bells tinkled as they coursed through the leafless stands of aspen.
Nyholm credits her dad, Ernie Nyholm, for grooming her as a hunter.
“I was a girl,” she said, “but it didn’t matter. I was his sidekick for hunting. We went to Willmar and Cold Spring (Minn.) to hunt pheasants. I did a lot of jump-shooting for ducks.”
This was in years just after the Great Depression. Times were tough. Those birds, along with deer, were staples in the Nyholm household. Nyholm and her younger brother learned early on that if you shot something, you ate it. Once, at the family’s cabin, her brother shot several red squirrels, Nyholm said.
“My dad made him go back to the woods and pick ’em all up,” she said. “We all sat around and skun ’em, and we cooked ’em up. Oh, God, were they terrible.”
Getting to the woods
After a year at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Nyholm trained to be a lab technician in Duluth. But she left the job after a year. She needed to be outdoors.
“I had to get there with the dogs and the woods. And I made it,” she said.
In 1965, she bought a yellow Lab from family friend Joe DeLoia, who began training dogs in Duluth after World War II. She was living in Grand Rapids then, divorced and raising two daughters on her own. She built her Roaring Winds Labradors kennel, which she still operates, from Ginger, that first yellow Lab she bought from DeLoia.
“It was my dream always to have a kennel,” Nyholm said. “I hung out at Joe’s kennel a lot, watching him train, listening in on his phone conversations. Joe really mentored me.”
She and the girls had 40 acres outside of Grand Rapids.
“My mom is very independent,” said Christine McKenzie-Burbie, Nyholm’s youngest daughter, who lives in Bovey. “She raised us girls. We never needed for anything, but it was tough for her, being a single parent.”
Besides hunting and raising dogs, Nyholm also harvested wild rice, an activity she still practices every year. And she ran a trapline for a time.
“She gave me my love and passion for the woods,” said her oldest daughter, Paula McKenzie of Babbitt. “She took me on a sled on her muskrat trapline when I was a little baby.”
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