There’s a long tradition of stories of how the outdoors saves the lives of people.
Dan Vang, or Danny, as many of us will always remember him, is part of that tradition.
Danny was a troubled young man as he became an adult. He didn’t exactly have an idyllic childhood, and his brothers and sisters would probably nod in agreement on that point. He got messed up with alcohol and drugs, and that’s a big challenge to overcome.
Fortunately, in his 20s, he found a stronger drug and that was the outdoors. He found peace and tranquility in a life built around hunting and fishing, and had a long, productive working life, even choosing to work night shifts so work wouldn’t interfere with the outdoors.
Danny had an intimate knowledge of hunting and fishing opportunities in the area. From his home on the Zumbro River, he caught trout and bass, and knew where to find morel mushrooms. He harvested deer with bow and arrow and rifle. He knew all about wild turkeys and helped his nephews get their first turkeys. He had a special relationship with his nephew Nick, who, like Dan, loves the outdoors.
His home reflects his love for the outdoors, with mounts of deer, squirrels, grouse and pheasants, and all the artwork he’d gotten at various wildlife dinners. If he wasn’t in the outdoors, he brought the outdoors into his home.
Dan was an all-around outdoorsman, though pheasants are where the pieces came together. He’d had a succession of dogs that shared his pheasant outings, and he even had a pen in his backyard with a dozen or so pheasants. Every morning he had pheasant eggs for breakfast.
Dan had a special love for Gus, his big yellow Lab of a few years ago. Over many hunting seasons, Dan and Gus had many pheasant hunts, though after the 2013 season Gus developed a limp. In following months the limp got worse and a trip to the vet confirmed the worst: poor Gus had cancer.
Dan wouldn’t let Gus suffer but before the veterinarian helped Gus along on the final adventure, “I laid down with Gus,” he wrote in a tearful letter. “I talked to Gus about hunting and his eyes lit up. Right down to his last breath he was happy and content.” He ended his letter with a tearful, “Gus, I miss you so much.”
A couple weeks after he said goodbye to Gus, he came to Montana for what turned out to be a perfect elk hunt. He got a bull elk on opening day, and after getting the elk packed out he called to share the good news, though he was still overcome with the heartbreak of losing Gus.
A few months later he told me he’d gotten a puppy, another male yellow Lab. It turned out that we had to say goodbye to our black Lab, as well, and that spring we visited Dan and Lou and our new pups, Boo and Kiri, got to know each other with non-stop roughhousing, and we all learned anew that the best cure for a broken heart is a new puppy.
That fall, I talked Dan and Nick into meeting us in North Dakota for what we hoped would be a great pheasant hunt for our young dogs. It turned out to be a frustrating hunt, with not many birds and hurricane-like winds, though Dan did collect a nice rooster pheasant at sundown on his last day of hunting.
A month later, Dan called to tell me about a pheasant hunt, when Boo put the pieces together to make a long-distance retrieve of a rooster.
That might have been his last pheasant hunt, as a few months later we all learned the shocking news about Dan’s cancer diagnosis.
Dan and Boo didn’t get to have many hunts together, though our hearts were touched when Diane wrote about Boo crying after Dan died. Having dogs means saying goodbye to a succession of dogs until finally, one day, our last dog says goodbye to us. Our dogs understand much more than we might think possible.
At the end, God provides perfect healing, far beyond the limitations of the technology and skills of modern medicine. Dan’s suffering is over and I’d like to think that Gus was waiting for him and now, together, free of pain and cancer, they’re already planning their next pheasant hunt.