Dave Books: The Next Lesson

The teachers we remember most fondly made learning fun. Their teaching seemed effortless, studying was almost enjoyable, and we looked forward to the next lesson. By Bruce Auchly and Tom Palmer

This story is featured in Montana Outdoors
March–April 2002

The teachers we remember most fondly made learning fun. Their teaching seemed effortless, studying was almost enjoyable, and we looked forward to the next lesson.

So it was with Dave Books. After 140 bimonthly deadlines, after 24 years, after countless hours rewriting and searching for just the right word, Books retired December 31 as editor of this magazine. He taught us about Montana's outdoors through Montana Outdoors.

"He is a friend of Montana and all we stand for and all that is special to us," says Ron Aasheim, head of FWP's Conservation Education Division and Books's boss and friend. "We are lucky to have had Dave at the magazine."

Always self-effacing, Books saws he simply sought a balanced message: "People like hunting and fishing and camping, because they are fun things to do. We wanted to provide them with information to learn, to enjoy."

Learn and enjoy. Teaching conservation to people who just want to have fun. Books made the lessons stick, Aasheim says, because he took part in the subject matter: "He was a participant. He camped, hunted, fished."

To Books, success came with how the message was delivered.

"We wanted to give readers the information to let them know what was going on in Montana," he says, "and then let them do what they needed to do to let their voices be heard on how our resources should be managed."

Since 1978, when Books took over as editor, the magazine's circulation has grown 35 percent from 30,000 to 40,000. That increase came after some charged times in Montana. Topics during the 1970s such as subdivision development, strip mining, and dam buildin polarized conversations even between friends. Battles were fought over natural resource development in many areas, and careers were wrecked along the way.

"From the time Dave took over Montana Outdoors," Aasheim says, "he was able to provide balance on issues in the magazine. He was the perfect fit: intelligent, a good editor, and a good writer—and our staff and writers liked and respected him."

During his tenure, Books not only increased circulation, he started several Montana Outdoors trademarks, such as the annual photo issue. "I think people relate really well to the photographs and the beauty of the state," he says.

Books also devised the department's seven widely distributed identification guides—on big game, fish, furbearers, upland birds, birds of prey, owls, and amphibians—first published in Montana Outdoors.

And Books got it all done with a mild and mellow manner.

Under that nice guy persona, however, burns a fierce competitive spirit. Joe Elliot went to high school with Dave in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and has remained a good friend since moving to Montana in 1965.

"He's incredibly competitive," says Elliott. "He has trophies in handball, shooting, golf."

Of Books's many activities, perhaps bird hunting best portrays the drive within that body, as lean and tough as a willow sprout.

"You rarely go out and shoot more birds than Dave does," Elliot says. "And if you shoot your limit of pheasants by 10 a.m., he will stay out until dark to make sure he gets his."

That committment afield came through in each issue. "Montana Outdoors was consistently recognized for excellence by the Association of Conservation Information," says Aasheim, "and at a time when we had one of the smallest magazine staffs among state agencies."

Like sunlight th rough a magnifying glass, Montana Outdoors became the intrument that focused Books's competitive drive and interest in all things outdoors. Pick up any issue since May 1978. It's all there.

"We wanted to cove the important conservation issues," Books says, "but do it as fairly and factually as we could. We wanted to keep people informed about what the department was doing to solve problems."

"My only regret is he didn't have time to write more for Montana Outdoors," Aasheim says. "He's an outstanding writer."

That may happen in Books's next career: retirement. Besides the invevitable—more fishing, hunting, and golfing—Books plans on freelance writing and editing on the side.

"I think I'll just kind of relax," he says. "I really haven't ever had an extended time away. It will be nice to not have to worry about deadlines."

Adds Books, who always kept the magazine's subscribers foremost in mind: "I hope it's been fun and educational for the readers."

Class dismissed.Bear bullet

Bruce Auchly is an FWP regional information officer b ased in Great Falls. Tom Palmer is chief of FWP's Information Bureau.