Gun Dog's Favorite Fall Memory

Gun Dog's Favorite Fall Memory
Rick Van Etten (right) with Gus the super-nosed Brittany and cousins Doug and Ryan Clark. Photo by Randy Clark.

Picking a single favorite fall memory is a little tough, but I'll go with the time I hunted birds in Montana with my three cousins, Randy, Doug and Ryan Clark. The four of us grew up hunting and fishing together in west-central Illinois; I was an only child and they neatly filled the role of surrogate brothers.

Flash forward several decades. Randy — who now works for the National Shooting Sports Foundation — was then manager of Diamond Wing, a hunting preserve near Ennis, and he invited Doug, Ryan and me to come out for a few days to hunt.

We flew to Bozeman and drove to Ennis and spent three days gunning pheasants, chukar and quail over a smorgasbord of bird dogs — a beautiful matched brace of black and white springers named Comet and Spike; a pair of strapping black Labs named Trapper and Doc; a racy young German shorthair named Pepper and her bracemate, a veteran Brittany named Gus who pointed his birds at distances that were nothing short of phenomenal.

Gus would lock up and we'd start to walk in'¦20, 30, 40 yards. We would glance back at Randy, who was acting as guide and dog handler, and he'd wave us forward. "Go on!" he'd say, and we'd walk another 20 or 30 yards while Gus remained staunch far to our rear. Finally the birds would get up and we'd shoot and the razzing would begin regarding each other's prowess with a shotgun.

That joking is what I remember most about the hunt — besides the outstanding dog work, that is, and it was outstanding, make no mistake. On our first morning, Doug, our resident comedian, had been quick to point out the huge black rock formation on a nearby mountain that bore a striking resemblance to a gorilla's face — the prominent brow, the jutting jaw, the frowning expression. Doug promptly christened the formation the Gorilla God and we subsequently attributed every hit or miss to the gorilla's whim'¬¶whether we'd done something to tick him off or were in his favor at the moment we pulled the trigger.

It's been more than a decade since I spent those three days with my cousins shooting birds over topnotch dogs beneath the Gorilla God, and the memories still bring a smile. Camaraderie like we enjoyed on that hunt is, after all, one of the primary reasons we go afield.

It's time for us to get together and do it again.

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