Rooster pheasants hoping to stay alive might want to avoid Randy Breuer posting at the end of a corn or milo field. At 7 feet, 3 inches, the former Lake City and Gophers basketball star, and 11-year NBA veteran, proves quite an obstacle to a fast-escaping bird, shouldering quickly his vintage Citori as he does, and squeezing off shots that often are on target.
Growing up on a farm, and still maintaining the relaxed aw-shucks demeanor of the small-town kid he was, Breuer, 52, on Wednesday loaded Buster, his good German shorthair into his SUV and met me for a morning's hike at the Minnesota Horse and Hunt Club in Prior Lake.
Scattered there in a series of adjoining fields were 10 birds that had been released before our arrival, and our intent was to round up as many as possible.
It wasn't real pheasant hunting, but on this December morning, it was close enough.
Also tagging along were my Labrador retrievers Mick and Allie and a springer spaniel of mine, Max.
"I didn't get into pheasant hunting until after I retired from basketball," Breuer said. "Hunting and basketball just don't go together. There's not enough time."
Besides, the little pheasant hunting Breuer experienced as a kid proved a poor primer for the walk-and-shoot variety he utilizes today.
"During harvest time, my dad kept his old 870 with him," Breuer said, "and shot pheasants off our corn picker.
"That's how he did it."
• • •
Rewind to 1979.
Breuer is a 7-foot-plus center for Lincoln High in Lake City, whose team wins a second consecutive state championship. Along with Duluth Central's Greg Downing, Breuer is named the state's Mr. Basketball, and is the object of much speculation about where he will play college ball.
"We had some really good players in Lake City," he said. "Even our second string was good. In most of our games, we'd win by so much that I'd only play the first quarter, half the second, half the third and none of the fourth."
Breuer chose the Gophers and coach Jim Dutcher in large part because of the U's proximity to Lake City. That way, his parents could watch him play at the Barn.
Over his four-year Gophers career he averaged more than 15 points per game, and more than 20 during his senior year.
His junior year -- 1981-82 -- was the last time the Gophers won the Big Ten championship (excluding the title of '96-97, since wiped off the books because rules were broken). On that team in addition to Breuer were Cookie Holmes, Zebedee Howell, Darryl Mitchell, Trent Tucker, Tommy Davis, John Wiley, Bruce Kaupa, Andy Thompson, Barry Wohler and Jim Peterson.
Breuer sealed the conference championship outright when he scored 32 points against Ohio State.
Drafted in the first round as a pro, 18th overall, Breuer was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks, one of four NBA teams he played for. Others were the Timberwolves, the Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings.
NBA teams still flew commercial back then. And there were too few seats in first class for the entire team.
So players with the fewest years in the league had to scrunch up in coach.
"Usually, they gave us the bulkhead seats, so it wasn't too bad," Breuer said. "Now all the teams have their own planes."
Unbothered much by the constant travel, Breuer carried a handful of books with him, and read constantly.
"When I finished playing, it was hard for me to adjust," Breuer said. "After all those years going to the gym every day, it took me three or four years to wean myself from it. It's fun to play, and after you've done it so long, you miss it."
Pheasant hunting wasn't something he fell into immediately. It took a few years before a group of friends asked him to join them in the field.
OK, he thought.
He'd give it a try.
"But the only dog I had was a Doberman," Breuer said. "So I brought him. My friends thought it was a joke. But the dog had a knack for pheasant hunting. With that dog, I came back with my limit a lot of times.
"He was so fast to a downed bird, you could win bets with him. Guys I hunted with would say, 'That dog can't hunt.' But he could hunt."
• • •
We hadn't walked too long Wednesday morning when Breuer's shorthair came on point.
The dog has seen a lot of birds, so his master was confident as he approached the Sphinx-like canine from behind that a pheasant was crouched somewhere ahead.
Watching from afar I thought: Seeing a guy who towers 7-3 shoulder an off-the-shelf double-barrel isn't much different from watching the same fellow play with a popgun.
But Breuer never has owned a custom scattergun. Instead he's adjusted as necessary to his old Browning to effectively target flying fowl.
Kevin McHale, another former Gopher and NBA veteran who has long enjoyed pheasant hunting, no longer can walk for birds because of a sore ankle.
But Breuer is as ambulatory as ever.
"I'm lucky," he said. "I've never really had knee, ankle or foot problems. And I like to walk. That's one thing I like about pheasant hunting, compared to duck hunting, which I've only done a few times. I like walking."
So it went Wednesday morning, the dogs scattering hither and yon, a few birds flying, and a few shots ringing out.
Retired now and still married to Wendy, the girl he met at the U, and with two grown sons and a teenage daughter, Breuer seemed not only comfortable with the task at hand but with himself.
Perhaps in a coming summer, as he did not long ago, he might even fire up his Harley and take another trip out west, all the way to Alberta and back.
His height -- a big advantage to him in his basketball career -- seems no hindrance now, in his life as a regular guy.
After our little expedition, we grabbed some lunch at the Horse and Hunt clubhouse, where a woman, startled by the swath Breuer cut, said:
"You have awesome height. How tall are you?"
"Five feet," he said. "And 27 inches."
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org