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Landers: Gonzaga’s Rod & Gun Club was a long time coming

Rich Landers
Rich Landers

Gonzaga University has 164 organiza- tions for activities ranging from the Actuarial Science Club to the Ultimate Frisbee Club.

The newest club on the roster, surprisingly, is the Gonzaga Rod & Gun Club, organized by the Student Bar Association. That’s “Bar” as in Law School.

Hunting, shooting and angling were entwined in this region’s fabric before basketball hoops appeared on the Gonzaga campus.

Bing Crosby, perhaps the most famous Zag world-wide, loved hunting and fishing and was a favorite TV guest on The American Sportsman with Curt Gowdy.

Gonzaga opened its doors in 1887, just five years before the Spokane Gun Club was established in the Spokane Valley.

Considering GU also has a Latin Club, there’s no sense in ranting too much about whose activity has been around the longest. But hunting, shooting and fishing certainly have roots worth exploring at a Spokane university with such easy access to lakes, streams, public land and shooting facilities. It’s about time.

GU’s Rod & Gun Club, after nearly two years of groundwork, opened in January for Law School students. Once it was officially listed, membership quickly swelled to about 60, making it one of the school’s largest groups in less than a month.

“We haven’t yet held an official meeting for undergraduates, so we expect the membership to jump,” said Benjamin Allen, club president and co-founder.

Allen grew up along the Clearwater River near Kooskia, Idaho. “I’ve hunted, fished and trapped bobcats – if there’s a season for it in Idaho, I’ve done it,” he said, adding that he’s eager to share what he’s learned.

He said he’s especially keen to help others understand the sportsman’s critical role in wildlife habitat stewardship.

Allen has been motivated by the number of students who want to know more about rod and gun sports but aren’t connected.

“Many are from out of town,” Allen said, noting that even he had not heard of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Spokane Fly Fishers or Spokane Rifle Club – just a sampling of local organizations that might welcome a college connection or provide expertise.

Drumming up a club vice president was as easy as sharing a photo of his archery antelope hunt with Katherine Merck.

She claimed equal ground with a photo of her 23-inch brown trout.

“That was impressive,” Allen said.

“I grew up a fly fisher,” said Merck, a Spokane native. “My dad taught me; the whole family does it. It’s our family thing to do together.”

The club already has opened her eyes to how few of her peers had that opportunity as kids.

“A number of undergraduate girls have told me they’d love to try fly fishing so I said I’d help them learn,” Merck said. “They’re really excited and so am I. It’s great to share things you’re passionate about.”

As an undergraduate, Merck zeroed in on the fishing club at Notre Dame. “I already had the skills but didn’t have a car and didn’t know where to go,” she said. The club quickly became a comfort zone that helped her adapt in Indiana.

The GU club already has piqued her curiosity: “I’m looking forward to taking a hunter education course,” she said. “Hunting and fishing buddies become best friends. It’s a great way to connect.”

A service project likely will be one of the club’s first activities, Allen said.

“We’ve approached the (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) about coordinating a cleanup for a river access site,” he said. “That fits with what it means to be a sportsman as well as the university’s expectations for public service.”

For fun, the group is considering an overnight fishing trip at Hauser Lake.

Educational plans include a clinic by a local fly fishing guide.

“The direction the club takes will be directed by its members,” Allen said. “We’re just getting started.”

John Malek is the club’s safety officer who’ll be helping members plan their activities. “I’m an Air Force veteran with a background in safety training and education,” he said. “I love the outdoors and I want others to get out there safely.”

Reasons new members have offered for joining run the gamut, he said, noting that a few have expressed plans for starting businesses related to hunting and fishing.

“There’s a broad range of interests, which is awesome. There’s a lot of value in an educational institution exposing people to new things.”

Developing a club associated with firearms took time and close attention to detail, especially at Gonzaga, where students are not allowed to have guns in their homes if they live on campus or in a university-owned apartment.

GU policy prohibits the club from sponsoring activities that include the use of firearms at this point, Allen said. Instead, the club hopes to compile a database that helps students connect with others and pursue some of these activities on their own.

“I should mention that the club officers and I have put a great deal of work into reading and analyzing all applicable laws and policies when drafting bylaws and planning activities,” Kurt Meyer, law school professor and R&G Club advisor, told the Gonzaga Bulletin.

“The club founders are all law students and I’m a licensed attorney so we’re all acutely aware of applicable university policies as well as federal and state laws.”

Maybe the club can prompt debate that results in change, he said.

After all, a hook and bullet group couldn’t be any more dangerous than the GU Women’s Rugby Club.