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Tom Brokaw highlights pheasant hunting in 'Opening Day'

TOM BROKAW, Iowa Tom Brokaw is a journalist

TOM BROKAW, Iowa
Tom Brokaw is a journalist known for anchoring NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004. Credit: Getty Images / Karen Bleier

Tom Brokaw has lived most of his professional life in and around big cities such as New York, but he has made sure never to lose the South Dakota boy in him, even at age 74.

"Given the life I've been privileged to lead," he said, "I have always thought a good part of my success is the result of my no-nonsense, working-class upbringing in South Dakota, measured by what you did and not what you said."

That includes a core of old friends who "don't cut me any slack just because I've got my name in lights."

Brokaw will share some of that background at 11 p.m. Wednesday with the premiere of the NBCSN documentary "Opening Day," which focuses on the open of pheasant hunting season in South Dakota on the third Saturday in October.

Not only does he narrate, but he is seen in full hunting attire alongside long-time pals.

He said being on the prairie allows him to imagine the America of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the 19th century, and of his grandparents.

One hope is that people with little knowledge of the culture will appreciate it -- or at least learn about it. Brokaw cited universal themes such as father/son relationships.

"And I think people will be astonished at the economic ramifications for a state like South Dakota," he said. "My guess is they'll get some insight into it. Sure, there are some who will say you ought to ban all guns, which is not going to happen. And shotguns are not AR-15s. It's an entirely different kind of gun."

Brokaw said the New York area in some ways is more understanding of sporting gun culture than it used to be.

"New York is ringed by shooting clubs," he said. "Within two hours there are one, two, three, four, five that I know of . . . When hedge-fund guys started making big money they all discovered shotguns. So they started buying shotguns and going on these big hunting expeditions."

Brokaw said walking during the Opening Day hunt was a challenge for him, not so much because of his age but rather the fact he has been undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for the past year.

"With pheasant hunting there are a lot of guys in their 80s and 90s," he said. "It's like a golf swing. You can do it for a long time."

There have been great strides in treating multiple myeloma in the past two decades. Brokaw said one of his doctors told him, "If you had to get cancer this is the right one to get right now."

"I'm very near the end of a long tunnel," Brokaw said. "I expect in a couple of weeks at my next checkup they'll say we're able to move you to drug maintenance."

Brokaw called the pheasant hunting show a "pilot project" that could become a series on other opening days.

"When you get outside of New York and Los Angeles in middle America and rural America it's ducks in Arkansas, walleye in Minnesota. These are holidays. They're a big deal, a big part of the economy.

"You extend that to minor-league baseball in the South or Friday night lights in Texas, there is an endless supply of them. I've yet to hear anyone say, 'That's a terrible idea.' "

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