There comes a time in your life when you’re so moved by someone’s generosity it leaves you feeling guilty. You feel ashamed for not being able to come up with the right words to properly show the gratitude deserved. But then again, sometimes the space found between the words “thank you” represent much more than the words themselves.
This autumn the father of one of my best friends passed away unexpectedly. He had just finished chemotherapy and had been cleared to go celebrate the occasion with his son out west for a bird hunt. With a heavy heart, it’s still hard to believe his boots never touched the plateau prairie as the plane he was piloting westward from Minnesota to Wyoming tragically crashed.
This came as a shock to anyone who’d ever had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Don Kundel. He was a husband, father, friend, veteran, and a mentor who loved sharing his passion of wing shooting most of all; a passion that lives on today through his son and my close friend, Donnie.
A few years back after just being hired by Pheasants Forever, Donnie lent me his father’s 12-gauge Browning Citori for a pheasant hunt. Having never shouldered anything other than the same pump scattergun my whole life, I marveled at its beauty and the way it felt so balanced the first time I swung on a bird. Donnie quickly recognized my affinity for the Citori. To my disbelief, Donnie offered the ongoing use of the over/under as long as it saw plenty of use and received its proper care.
Time went by and I kept up my end of the bargain. I folded roosters, broke clays, knocked down quail, and shot in the general direction of ruffed grouse all while feeling quite lucky to be doing so in the company of such craftsmanship. I thought the fact I respected and appreciated the gun was what counted. I was wrong. What the gun represented was what truly mattered.
Before Don’s funeral, I received a phone call from Donnie in which he said they wanted all of the charitable gifts from friends and family to be directed to a Pheasants Forever “Build a Wildlife Area” project since they knew this is what Don would have wanted. I was humbled. Before I got off the phone, Donnie also told me they wished for me to keep the Browning Citori because – this too – is what his dad would have wanted. I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t.
Every time I’ve hit the fields this fall that Citori has felt different. Sometimes you can catch yourself going through the motions, just pushing through one last cattail slough or trying to reach the top of one more ridge and you forget to be a part of the actual moment. It now only takes a quick glance at what’s in my hands to remember how lucky we all are to be able to walk fields with friends, enjoy the companionship of a good bird dog, and laugh about missed shots.
That gun is no longer fawned over for its fine wood and solid steel, but it’s cherished for representing a legacy I’m lucky enough to be continuing. And one day, someday, maybe I will be able to give back and add to this legacy. But until then, I’m not going to take for granted the moments I’m presented each fall.
One friend’s gesture has made a lasting impact on my life, one family’s generosity will help leave a lasting legacy in the outdoor world we all know and love. And for that, I have to say “thank you.”
- Andrew Vavra, Pheasants Forever’s Marketing Specialist.