When Ed Crozier was a boy, Jasper was a diminutive burg of 880 residents tucked away in southwest Minnesota. Today, with a population of 610, Jasper is still small, and in many ways remains how Crozier, now 83, remembers it long ago.

"I was born not far from Jasper, at home, in the small town of Russell, to parents who were as poor as church mice," Crozier, of Burnsville, recalled the other day. "We moved to Jasper when my dad got a job there working at a lumberyard."

This was in the late 1930s, and the Croziers lived on Jasper's main street. Across from their house was the Chevy dealer, and its owner took a liking to young Ed and his nascent interest in hunting.

"It was the Chevy dealer who gave me my first real gun, a double-barrel 12 gauge," Crozier said. "I was about 15 years old, and the same man also gave me my first dog, an Irish setter puppy I named Red."

Thus began for Crozier a decades-long love affair with birds, bird hunting and wild places, highlights of which he has recently chronicled in a booklet he self-published titled, "70 years of hunting with dogs & friends."

Crozier couldn't know it at the time, but the gifts from the Chevy dealer ultimately would guide his education and job choices, and lead him to states as far-flung as Alaska, Florida and Hawaii in efforts to establish wildlife refuges for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"My dad didn't hunt, but my great-great grandfather, Thaddeus Tschepen, was a gamekeeper and forester for Count Nostitz of the Austro-Hungarian Empire," Crozier said. "I guess I followed in his footsteps."

Crozier, who along with his wife, Caryl, is a genealogy buff, has a photo of his great-great granddad brandishing a double-barrel game gun, with a sleeping Labrador-looking dog at his feet.

This is evidence, Crozier figures, that in addition to his fascination with bird hunting, he inherited his love of sporting dogs from Thaddeus Tschepen.

Finishing high school, Crozier learned by happenstance that South Dakota State offered a degree in wildlife management. He signed up and graduated there in 1956, having buttressed his résumé with summer jobs that included fire tower lookout, wildlife refuge intern and boundary waters canoe guide.

Drafted by the Army after college, Crozier served most of a two-year stint with a marksmanship detail in Germany, competing with .45 caliber pistols. A team highlight was beating the 82nd Airborne's top guns. But the victory was short-lived: An inspection revealed one of his teammates had modified his target gun.

"So we didn't get to go to Paris and shoot in the NATO match," Crozier said.

When discharged, he joined the Fish and Wildlife Service. His first major assignment was among his best. With virtually no training and less experience, he was given Pool 11 of the Mississippi River, just north of Dubuque, Iowa, to manage — by himself.

"I was on the river every day," Crozier said, adding it was there that he was introduced to golden retrievers.

"I was banding mallard ducklings, and they sent a refuge worker down from Winona to help me," he said. "He and I and his golden retriever would guide our 14-foot boat into the backwaters, and this guy would have his dog jump overboard and retrieve a live duckling for us to be banded. Amazingly, the birds never got hurt. We'd band them and release them."

It was also while managing Pool 11 that Crozier and his wife married, a union that in the many decades since has welcomed two daughters, four golden retrievers and two French Brittanies, the latter including "Patch," who yet today walks each morning with Crozier.

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Crozier was subsequently stationed at Fish and Wildlife Service outposts in Jamestown, N.D., Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge near Cayuga, N.D., and Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge near Quincy, Ill., before being transferred to the agency's Twin Cities regional headquarters, where in time he would oversee all Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan federal wildlife refuges.

It was while in the Twin Cities that Crozier purchased a pup that would become his best dog, a golden retriever named Maize.

"We bought her from a backyard breeder in 1967 and I built a kennel for her behind our house in Bloomington," Crozier said. "Although I didn't get Maize to respond perfectly to hand signals, she was such a good hunter it didn't make any difference."

It was about then that Crozier's bird-hunting emphasis changed from ducks to grouse and woodcock.

"I had great duck hunting when I was stationed in Jamestown," he said. "But by the time I came back to Minnesota, the return on duck hunting wasn't there for the effort involved. Grouse and woodcock hunting was much more productive."

Crozier had always kept a log detailing who he hunted with, canines included, and what birds were killed. While Maize was Crozier's top dog, journal pages filled up fast.

"She retrieved 1,000 birds for me, at least," he said.

So enamored did Crozier become of forest birds that in 1975, he and Caryl purchased a 190-acre farm in eastern Pine County to serve as a grouse- and woodcock-hunting headquarters.

In August each year, Crozier sent formal invitations to his buddies and their dogs to join him and his wife there.

"The trails have been groomed, the stove wood cut and the leaves are falling," the summons said. "Together we will enjoy good companionship, plenty of gun, dog and bird talk, fresh air and the chase of the will-o-the-wisp grouse and woodcock."

Dick Duerre, 89, of Bloomington, who hunted with Crozier for 43 years, was among those who answered the call. "I also had a golden retriever at the time, named Bridger, and he was a good dog, too," Duerre said.

Like Crozier, Duerre still owns a French Brittany, a 15-year-old named Scout.

Having hung up their guns, both men go afield now only in their memories, their dogs constant reminders of good times past.

"I put the booklet together because I recall my hunting career so fondly," Crozier said.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com