John House thought he was finished.
In 2007, the wildlife artist from Melby, Minn., became the first to win all four Minnesota wildlife stamp contests -- duck, pheasant, trout and wild turkey.
"My vision was to be the first to win all four, and to only win one of all four,'' he said. "I don't know if it meant anything to anyone else, but it meant a lot to me personally. I was just tickled. There's only one 'first.' "
He called it the "Grand Slam.''
"I was done, and I was glad to be done because contests are speculative and subjective,'' he said.
Then, just a year later, the Legislature threw a curveball, creating a walleye stamp to raise extra money for walleye stocking. That meant five state stamps, not four. House, 55, immediately knew he had to try to win that fifth stamp.
"They forced me back in the game,'' he said.
Though he had won the trout stamp contest, House -- an avid duck hunter who is at home hunting waterfowl on famed Lake Christina -- admits fish aren't his specialty.
"It was hard. Your ability to reconstruct something on canvas is 100 percent dependent on your knowledge of that object,'' he said. "I'm a bird guy.''
Still, he entered walleye paintings in 2008, 2009 and 2010 -- and lost each time.
"Obviously I didn't have a firm grasp of my subject,'' he said. But he finished second last year.
Meanwhile, two other artists had won four of the five stamp contests -- adding to the pressure.
"It was not a comfortable process,'' House said.
Then this fall, he bagged that elusive fifth stamp with a painting of a walleye about to strike a minnow -- making him 5-for-5. The image will be the 2012 walleye stamp.
House is calling it a Royal Slam -- one better than a Grand Slam.
"I have no doubt others may get it,'' he said. "But there's only one first-time winner. It just meant something to me.''
He won't enter any more Minnesota stamp contests.
"I'm done -- unless they invent another stamp.''