Steve Grooms came and went over the years, into and out of my life. A few decades back I had a pretty good handle on where he was and what he was doing. Then he went away for long periods, before resurfacing occasionally by email.

When I heard recently that Steve had died, at age 79, I checked to see the last time he had written to me.

It was July 5 a year ago, at 5:30 in the morning, and he was responding to a column I had published about outdoor writing.

Steve was an outdoor writer, a description that for him was too confining. He could have written about anything. But nature, broadly speaking, was the lens through which he saw the world. So, writing about his days in the field with a dog, or fishing for trout, was what he did.

You have to go back a few decades to find some of Steve's most visible work, most notably from 1976 to 1981, when he edited Fins and Feathers magazine.

This wasn't the heyday for these types of publications. But the Minnesota edition of Fins and Feathers nonetheless enjoyed a good run under Steve's leadership and thereafter, serving an audience advertisers valued.

In 1982, Steve followed his editor's gig with publication of "Modern Pheasant Hunting,'' a text book of sorts that detailed how to chase ringnecks successfully. The book was (and remains; like others of Steve's books, it can still be ordered on Amazon) an informative treatise on guns, chokes, dogs and pheasant hunting techniques.

"I think I'll buy one for every hunting partner, maybe they'll stop slamming doors and scaring the birds!'' one reviewer said.

Born in Ames, Iowa, Steve from a young age knew something about pheasants and the sort of mystical experience hunting them can be.

“He was a wonderfully sweet, wise, insightful person who was the most devoted father anyone could want. And I don't think you could ever meet anyone who was happier to have lived and died in Minnesota.”
Molly Kelley, Steve Groom's daughter

Equal parts physical exertion and mental challenge, pheasant hunting is also a celebration of dog training and dog companionship.

A lifelong dog lover, Steve learned this early, traipsing the Iowa hinterlands with Danny, his golden retriever.

There's a saying that behind every successful outdoor writer is a wife with a real job, and this was true for Steve and his former wife, Kathe, according to their daughter and only child, Molly Kelley, 44, of St. Paul.

"My parents were divorced in 2000, but they continued to be friends,'' Molly said. "They met when he was in graduate school at the University of Minnesota. She eventually went into publishing while dad stayed home with me and wrote.''

In all, Steve penned some 13 books. Topics in addition to bird hunting included wolves, sandhill cranes, bluebirds, pheasant cooking and vacation home maintenance.

Each book sold, but none wildly. Still, his daughter said, the family enjoyed a good life. They had a cabin in Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, and for a while, before they were married, Steve and Kathe worked together at a fly shop in Brule, Wis. — the Brule River being one of their favorite rivers to fish.

Also, one of Steve's books, "Pheasant Hunter's Harvest,'' published in 1990, had a lasting impact on many of its readers.

"I'm not sure I would have gotten into pointing dogs or hunted the Dakotas and Montana had I not read 'Pheasant Hunter's Harvest' over thirty years ago,'' one fan wrote in an Upland Journal online discussion board after learning of Steve's death. "I still find it to be one of the finest collections of upland hunting essays published during that time.''

Yet Steve's books, like most, didn't produce much income.

"The writing career speaks to your soul but doesn't necessarily make ends meet,'' Molly said.

In 2005, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and congestive heart failure, Steve was done going afield.

In a subsequent email to me he said he was living in Oregon. He had moved west, his daughter said, to be nearer to her and her family.

"For the past 10 years or so Dad has been severely disabled and living near us,'' she said, "first in the Portland area, then in Michigan when my husband and I moved there to be near his parents, and most recently in St. Paul. When he died, he was living on the independent living side of a nursing home.''

During the pandemic, Molly dropped groceries at Steve's door. But neither she, nor her husband or son, Liam, could visit him in person.

Yet Steve didn't mourn isolation, she said.

"As a writer, he was made for quarantine,'' Molly said. "He had an online group, the Trail Baboons (, and was very active with them, writing and commenting. Many of its members also helped Dad a lot.''

About a year ago, Steve caught COVID while in surgery and spent weeks in a hospital. In October he was hospitalized again, before suffering another downturn just before Thanksgiving.

This time, Twin Cities emergency rooms were full due to COVID, Molly said, and he subsequently died at his home in his sleep.

"He was a wonderfully sweet, wise, insightful person who was the most devoted father anyone could want,'' she said. "And I don't think you could ever meet anyone who was happier to have lived and died in Minnesota.''

A memorial will be held at a later date.