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That good, ol' entrepreneurial spirit

It is late autumn in Colorado's high sage country and you're hunting for a buck mule deer with trophy-size antlers.

Suddenly on a distance side hill, you see him.

Quickly you begin a fast walk, dodging through a rolling patch of thick sagebrush intent on closing the distance between you and the muley buck.

Elevation: about 8,000 feet, all of which means your flatlander heart is thumping fast and your lungs are pumping for more air than you can inhale.

The wind is sweeping over the sage with a torrent of snowflakes falling sideways. You're so busy trying to breath you bump into other mule deer, a half-dozen does, who bound away alerting the big dude with the antlers.

He's 200 yards away, maybe more, but you've been busted. Any second now, the antlered one is going to slip out of sight faster than you can say New York minute.

So, you drop to your knees, calm your rushing heart, take a few deep breaths, raise your 7mm magnum rifle and give thanks for entrepreneurs like Tom Peterson, from New Ulm, Minn.

Roughly a decade ago, Peterson rekindled a sharpshooter's tool that strangely disappeared along with the buffalo hunters more than a century ago.

Peterson's invention combined his knowledge of designing aluminum and his passion for rifle shooting. The result? Shooting sticks, the same shooting aid used by buffalo hunters. Sticks that when crossed form a v-rest to stabilize a rifle barrel.

"They work," said Peterson, 57.

Yes, they work. One shot and my mule deer hunt was over. All of which explains why this fellow was in Las Vegas last week tending his Stoney Point Products booth at the SHOT Show and in the company of hunting industry giants like Federal or Remington.

"Yes, sometimes I have to pinch myself," said Peterson, who in 1992 left the fabricated metal business to follow his own inventive skills.

His first invention didn't make much for headlines, but it did send tremors of joy through a small cadre of rifle reloading hobbyists.

It's called the O.A.L. Gauge and, unless you reload, the tool means nothing. Suffice it to say, Peterson's invention was a quick success. He started making them in his Minnesota basement and sold 5,000 of the whatchamacallits the first year.

Next came the shooting sticks idea and, well, Peterson's never looked back. Today, Stoney Point Products employs about 18 people and does some $4 million in sales a year.

"I'm still small," said Peterson, "but I grew slow and never borrowed. It all started with $5,000 of my own money."

Peterson said he's always had an inventive way of thinking. He was competing in bench shooting (rifle marksmanship contests) when the idea of shooting sticks first surfaced.

"We had all of these accuracy aids in competitive shooting but none of them applied to hunting situations," he said. "I decided the world needed a better shooting rest."

In 1995, Peterson looked at an old painting of buffalo hunters using crossed sticks and bingo. A number of shooting sticks makers now are on the market.

"Anybody's sticks will work, but we were the first and Stoney Point is sort of known for its shooting sticks," Peterson said.

Now his company offers 20 different versions of shooting sticks, including lightweight, compact tripod designs.

"I get my ideas in the shower," Peterson said, laughing. "I have 18 patents."

A few showers ago, Peterson thought of a walking stick for birdwatchers that includes a rest for binoculars to maintain steady vision.

The there's a steady mount for cameras, camcorders and the like.

"In five years we expect to have $10 million in sales," he said.

After a few more showers, of course.


Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's new 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling (888) 755-3155.

January through March 2004, Ron Schara's show "Backroads with Ron & Raven" airs Sundays on ESPN2 at 7 a.m. ET, while his short feature of the same title airs Sundays on ESPN2 at 7:55 a.m. ET. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.