Ed Crozier glanced up from his coffee mug on a winter morning and noticed a man cross-country skiing on a lake behind his home. Ed and his wife, Caryl, waved the man inside to thaw out and chat.

That warm gesture paid off for Ed and Dick Duerre, friends and hunting partners since that day in 1971.

“We started hunting right away, didn’t we, Dick?” Ed asks. Dick nods. “We didn’t really expect to be around in 40 years,” Dick says.

For the past 20 years, Dick, 86, of Bloomington, and Ed, 79, of Burnsville, have headed 444 miles northwest to Bismarck twice every autumn “in their search for the wily pheasants of North Dakota,” says Dick’s wife, Harriet.

First, a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and potatoes in Clearwater. “We B.S. all the way,” Ed says. “We don’t usually get into private things.”

Early on, the two fine shooters easily bagged their daily limit, assisted by a long line of beloved and, mostly, cooperative dogs — first, golden retrievers and, now, French Brittany spaniels.

Lack of habitat and severe weather have diminished the pheasant numbers, but the duo stay energized by their dogs’ skill and the starkly beautiful terrain. “Through the years, we’ve become more appreciative of the landscape,” Ed says, “as opposed to finding and killing the birds.”

Caryl doesn’t mind that. “Forty-plus years of preparing and eating wild game is enough,” she says.

Still, the duo admit to friendly competition. Dick’s 11-year-old dog, Scout, “has a better nose,” Ed says. But Ed’s dog, nine-year-old Patch, “makes up for it by retrieving. They’re a good pair,” he says of the dogs. “Better than Dick and I.”

Ed came to the Twin Cities in 1965 to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and worked tirelessly to establish, then manage, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Dick graduated from Hamline University on the G.I. Bill, then worked as a manufacturer’s rep. He was active on the Burnsville Park Board, leading to many collaborations with Ed.

They helped to create nature trails in Burnsville’s Lake Alimagnet Park, and are working to lay a hard-surface trail in the Minnesota River Valley, for greater accessibility. With Caryl and Harriet (both couples married in 1960), they’ve traveled to Costa Rica and Ireland, and enjoy dinners together.

“I think it’s your turn now,” Dick says.

Their hunting days are numbered, says Dick, whose new winter sport is “Florida.” But their bond endures. “Ed drags me along and opens doors.”