Duluth nature photographer, writer: taking chances pays off

If you do what you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. This is exactly how life is for Duluth resident Michael Furtman. Furtman, 58, said he is living the dream, doing what he loves the most: writing, photography, and spending time in the outdoors.

Furtman’s passion for the outdoors was sparked when he was very young. Like many young outdoorsman, his father had the greatest influence on his early interest.

“My dad was an avid hunter and angler,” Furtman said. “That’s what we did when we were kids.”

Although Furtman loves to fish and hunt many species of wildlife, one species has specifically caught his interest. When Furtman was around the age of 12 he went on a duck-hunting trip with his father. Armed with his father’s bolt action Mossberg shotgun, he got the chance to shoot his first duck.

“He said, 'Pick one bird near the rear of the flock,' so I did, and it went down,” Furtman said.

Furtman became a true waterfowler and has been hooked by the sound of whistling wings and the sight of decoying ducks ever since. Growing up in Duluth, Furtman chased ducks every fall from the beginning of the duck season to the end, and he is still chasing the feathery fowl today.

As Furtman grew older and entered college, he knew he wanted to work and study in an area that would allow him to enjoy the outdoors.

“I wanted to be a wildlife biologist,” Furtman said, “but I found out I wasn’t disciplined enough because I spent all my time hunting, fishing, and chasing girls.”

Furtman’s advisor quickly helped him realize that he could connect his passion for the outdoors with his love for writing.

“I was interested in writing and the outdoors,” Furtman said, “and I wanted to be a writer when I was a little kid.”

After switching his major to English, he graduated from UMD in 1977. He got a job at a Duluth sporting goods store named CZ Wilson Sports, which was used to be in downtown Duluth.

This is when he started his writing career.

“I started dabbling as a freelancer as I worked there,” Furtman said.

Realizing that he really wanted to write full time, he debated on quitting his job. Although it was a big step in his life, Furtman was greatly inspired by his wife, Mary Jo Furtman.

“I was the one who told him to quit his day job to start writing full time,” said Furtman, a Duluth East High School teacher.

Finding the motivation that he needed, Furtman quit his job.

“It was tough but it was fun,” said Mary Jo. “You do what you have to do.”

Soon enough, the freelance writing career made Furtman realize that he also had a passion for outdoor photography.

“Editors would say it’s a nice story but we need photos,” Furtman said.

So photos are exactly what he gave them. Furtman began to shoot pictures in the outdoors and realized that he could start packaging stories and photos together.

Being a freelance outdoor writer and photographer did not guarantee Furtman an instant success. But he was happy that he was able to do what he wanted and he used hard work to climb up the ladder.

“It really took close to ten years before I could honestly say I was making a living,” Furtman said.

One of his big steps forward as a writer and photographer was when Furtman became involved with the conservation organization Ducks Unlimited.

“I wrote my first article for Ducks Unlimited in 1996,” he said, “and my involvement with them has grown.”

He now writes for the Ducks Unlimited Magazine every month, supplies photography for stories and even wrote the 75th anniversary book for the organization.

“They are my single-most important client,” Furtman said. “They have been really good to me and are great people to work with.”

After writing and shooting photography for years, Furtman has gained respect and many friendships along the way. Although he is an avid hunter, he is not all about the killing, but, rather, the respect of nature and protecting the resources that it offers.

“He has a strong passion for conservation,” said Ducks Unlimited senior director of development Ron Stromstad in a phone interview. “This makes him a more rounded author and photographer than most.”

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