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John Gartner, “I Loved Him Like A Brother”

By Homer Circle

Big John Gartner — what a privilege to have called him a friend, having hunted, fished, worked, laughed, and wept with him – all 250 pounds of outdoorsman.

In 1966, I was named OWAA president, but a serious operation intervened and Big John agreed to serve another year to carry my load while I healed.

He was editor of Western Outdoors and asked me to do an article on a certain subject he thought I was up on. I agreed, but said I couldn’t use my regular name because of my magazine commitment. He replied, “Oh, just think of a good alias, the article is what counts.”

I met his deadline and used the surname “Grey Towdores.” About a week later I got a phone call from Big John and without even a “Hello,” that deep, quiet voice said: “If you ever again pull that alias thing on me, I’ll pound you into the ground when we meet!”

“I laid in bed thinking — it sounds so familiar — Grey Towdores, Grey Towdores — then it hit me — Great Outdoors! Don’t you ever dare do that again!” he said.

Then there was a jaguar hunt in Mexico. We rode small horses up a mountain along a steep ridge when Big John leaned to one side, all 250 pounds, and his saddle slipped, throwing him off the horse.

He hit the ground and picked up momentum as he rolled toward the base of the embankment. To see if he needed help, Buck Rogers leaped out of his saddle and raced to the bottom, arriving just before Big John. Big John said: “You almost beat me down!” He ached, but continued on.

Our trip to British Columbia for steelhead warms my cockles as I think of it, the year before he left for God’s heavenly outdoors. We fished two days and caught only small fish, none for picture posing.

The last hour of our final morning we sat down to rest and chat. In the middle of our conversation, Big John suddenly put down his cold drink and said: “I’ve got a feeling about that big rock out there!”

He was having knee trouble and slowly hobbled to casting position. He laid his lure just about the big rock and his line jerked taut. He set the hook and a lunker steelhead skyrocketed. It was about a 12-pounder; we got our pictures, and Big John looked down at me with that familiar grin and said: “You’ve got to keep believing it will happen — and it will!”

Big John, he helped make OWAA what it is today — and I loved him like a brother — all 250 pounds of him!

Winner of OWAA’s Ham Brown Award (1979), Jade of Chiefs Award (1965), Excellence in Craft (1975), Homer Circle has enjoyed a half-century in the outdoor writing and lecturing arena. Circle served as OWAA’s president in 1967-68.

© Outdoor Writers Association of America