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The New Christians

Yesterday and today, I’m at the Minnesota Horse and Hunt Club on an annual outing hosted by my uncle. My dad had knee surgery last week, so he’s absent, as is my brother, Andrew. But my brother, Ted, is here, as well as a dozen other guys who are somehow related to me via marriage. We spend a couple days shooting pheasants, eating steaks, smoking cigars, and chewing the fat.

Most importantly, however, Beaumont is here. Beaumont has been my trusty hunting companion for a dozen years, and this will be his last hunt.

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Beaumont is a yellow lab, and a big one. He weighs in at about 85 pounds. I bought him, for $150, from a farmer in New Auburn, Minnesota, in 1997. His father, King Kahlua, was a stocky, square-headed yellow with massive front shoulders.

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As that old farmer promised, Beaumont (officially, “Beaumont, Prince of Windsor”) took to hunting right away. It’s not uncommon for avid hunters to pay ten times or more what I paid for Beaumont, and then that much again to send them to hunting dog school.  Beaumont’s school was my backyard, and together we learned what it meant to train a hunting dog.

As it turned out, he had the three qualities necessary for a great retriever: an excellent nose, a tireless spirit, and an indefatigable desire to please his master. I’ve not hunted with him a lot — usually just three or four times a season, but it’s been enough to keep him keen on it.

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Yesterday, as usual, Beaumont became enormously excited when he saw me pack my Mossberg shotgun and blaze orange vest in the car. And when we got to the field to search for pheasants and chuckers, he hit the ground running.

But within 30 minutes, he was out of gas. After an hour, he could barely make it to the car. I lifted him into the back and he panted like I’d never seen him before as his body tried to cool itself. He has diabetes now, and he drinks, pants, and pees incessantly. Truth be told, Beaumont has just a few more weeks before he journeys to doggy heaven.

But this morning, he’s back on his feet, following guys around the lodge, hoping they’ll drop some food for him (I gave him half my steak last night).

And in a couple hours, we’ll go afield one last time. He’ll flush a few pheasants and, if my aim is true, get to retrieve them and lay them at my feet.

For a lab, that is heaven.

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