Robert J. Schranck was a journalist by trade, but an outdoorsman by heart.

Known by many as "The Bear," Schranck displayed his passion for hunting, fishing and cooking wildlife game in his engaging columns that ran on the outdoor pages of the Star Tribune during the 1980s and into the 1990s. He was a watchdog reporter who kept readers abreast of decisions authorities and politicians made regarding outdoor issues, but his strength was being a consummate storyteller who relayed the experiences of those who loved being out in the field.

"He would not write about how to rattle in a deer, but he'd tell the story of somebody who was darn good at it," said Ron Schara, a retired outdoors columnist for the Star Tribune and host of the TV program "Minnesota Bound." "He never saw himself as an outdoor expert. "

Schranck, 80, died Saturday, two weeks after having gall bladder surgery at St. John's Hospital in Maplewood.

Schranck started at the Minneapolis Star in 1958 as a police reporter and "must have known every cop from Fridley to Faribault," said Dave Nimmer, former co-worker who now teaches journalism at the University of St. Thomas. "He was trusted by the cops and always had great sources."

His ability to make friends instantly led to many fascinating encounters, including interviews with author Ernest Hemingway and race car driver and actor Paul Newman. In his 33-year career that ended in 1991, he covered prep sports, Gophers football and auto racing, before writing about the outdoors and his second love, cooking.

Schranck shared his "No Fail Quail" recipe and others in his cookbook, "Wild in the Kitchen," and during yearly appearances at the Northwest Sportshow.

"He was an expert wild game chef," said the show's former owner, David Perkins. "He was a big attraction. Fans looked forward to what he had to offer."

Schranck was a member of the Outdoor Writers' Association and was a founding board member of Pheasants Forever.

Schranck is survived by three sons, David of Maplewood, Richard of Arlington, Wash., and Michael of Arvada, Colo.; a daughter, Louise Samson of Sunland, Calif.; a sister, Barbara Olson of suburban Houston; two ex-wives, Michelle Schranck of Arlington, Wash., and Idelle Bjelland of Tonka Bay; five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Services will be at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Sandberg Funeral Home, 2593 7th Av. E., North St. Paul. Visitation will begin one hour before services.