Growing up in Buttonwillow surrounded by farmland, open fields ripe for hunting and canals teeming with fish, Steve Merlo began a love affair with hunting and fishing began as a youth and never waned. Starting nearly 20 years ago, he agreed to share that passion with Californian readers as the outdoors columnist, a post he filled until his Sept. 27 death at the age of 68.

He could bring a tear to your eye with columns written from the heart, such as when he remembered Buttonwillow friends he hunted and fished with who died in Vietnam. Just as easily, he could make you laugh with tales from his past.

“He was one of a kind,” said Ken Barnes, a five-time All-American skeet shooter who has been friends with Merlo for 41 years.

Merlo learned through the years how to prepare game and fish for the dinner table and published a cookbook so others could share in his delight.

“He loved cooking, and the cooking wasn’t a meal unless that meal was shared with family or friends,” said Merlo’s sister Elizabeth Brewer. “You got together and either argued, laughed or reminisced. But you enjoyed the meal and a great glass of wine.”

Merlo also was a novelist, having just finished his second before his death.

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