The Captain at
still shooting straight
The long life of
teacher and flier Ben Hurtig
reason why I’m doing as well as I am is I’ve never been in a hurry.
If you hurry with a car, an airplane or a gun, you’re in
Express Staff Writer
20 years in the U.S. Marines and about 25 years running the Sun Valley
Gun Club. Add those numbers together and you’ve got half the long,
productive life of Ketchum’s Ben Hurtig, who turned 90 Monday.
ask Hurtig what he was in the Marines, he’ll say,
"Rifleman." If you ask him what he did, he’ll say,
"Shoot." He’s been shooting guns since he picked up a .410
gauge single-shot when he was 12 years old.
Hurtig points out an important detail on the range at Sun Valley Gun
Club Monday, during his 90th birthday celebration there. Express
photo by Willy Cook
guns and shooting the breeze have been the biggest joys of Hurtig’s
life, although his 40-year love affair with flying airplanes and his
enduring 30-year marriage to Peggy Hurtig are right up there.
little gimpy on knees that have been arthritic since his youth, but
Hurtig’s physical health is good and his mental faculties are sharp.
Ask him when’s the last time he shot a round of skeet at the gun club
and he’ll quickly check his watch.
10:30," he’ll say.
friend Bernie Curry said last week, "I was with him. He shot 20 out
of 25—and that’s with a .410!" An expert’s shotgun, the .410
gauge is the hardest with which to kill clay pigeons because the shells
are diminutive and the patterns thin.
I had a lapse at one of the stations and missed four," Ben admitted
with a laugh. "You get to talking, you know. At competitions, they
don’t talk to each other at all."
people know more about the secrets of shooting skeet and trap and the
keys to long life than Ben Hurtig, known to many just as
"Captain," his rank when he left the Marines and the license
plate on his station wagon.
it boils down to one thing.
reason why I’m doing as well as I am is I’ve never been in a
hurry," he said. "If you hurry with a car, an airplane or a
gun, you’re in trouble."
greet Ben Hurtig during his birthday celebration Monday at Sun
Valley Gun Club. Express photo by Willy Cook
of flying has helped keep Hurtig mentally alert and always learning new
things. At 90, he can still pass his flight physical. He has logged at
least 100 hours a year in an airplane the last 10 years, including 100
hours in 11 months last year.
past seven years, Hurtig has belonged to a loosely organized 300-member
national group called the "UFOs," or the United Flying
Octogenarians. There are four in Idaho, including Hurtig and local
residents Pete Johnson and Bud Purdy.
he flies alone in his Super Cub, but most times these days, Hurtig flies
with his friend Ron Brady. He has been flying about once a week this
summer. Hurtig said, "I get a lot of credit for flying more than I
do. Every little Super Cub that goes by, they say, ‘There goes Ben!’"
"Flying has saved me. It’s something you have to be sharp at—You
can’t make many mistakes."
book "Fly Idaho! A Guide to Adventure in the Idaho
Backcountry," author Galen Hanselman dedicated the book to Hurtig.
Hanselman said Hurtig taught him responsibility and appreciation of
firearms and hunting. And Hanselman always liked an entry from Hurtig’s
"Good judgment comes from experience: and experience comes from bad
friends certainly had good judgment in celebrating Hurtig’s 90th
birthday Monday at Sun Valley Gun Club. There, Bernie Curry got about
100 people together to shoot a little and trade a few of the old
said, "Ben is always jovial and always has a twinkle in his eye.
And he always has a story. He’s fun to be around—a nice
Lake to Sun Valley
1910-1926, Ben Hurtig’s father ran a summer resort on Liberty Lake,
which is on the Washington side near the Idaho border, between Spokane
and Coeur d’Alene.
must have been something in the fresh summer air because there were four
Hurtig kids, all still living.
his father died at 72 and his mother at the age of 62, Ben’s oldest
sister is 91 and his younger sister is 89, living in Spokane. His
brother is 88 and living near Seattle.
my kid brother," Ben jokes.
delivered the Spokesman-Review newspaper as a teenager, riding a
Shetland pony on his route. "I remember that’s when Lindbergh
made his flight," said Hurtig.
in a hurry to enlist in the Marines. He wasn’t in a hurry to get out.
He wasn’t in a hurry to leave Sun Valley after arriving in 1956.
going to high school in the Spokane Valley and spending a year at
Washington State University, Hurtig moved to Seattle and worked at
whatever he could find. He ended up on a tugboat and in a tire shop.
Times were tough. It was the early 1930s.
I got out of high school, it was tough to find a job, and when you found
one you didn’t get much money," he said.
Hurtig lines up a shot. Express photo by Willy Cook
enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1936, and spent three-and-a-half years
in China, including about 14 months with a Marine detachment aboard a
heavy cruiser that was the flagship of the Asiatic fleet. At that time,
the Japanese were invading China. No one knew the worst was yet to come.
went on Midway in January 1941 and came off in August 1942," Hurtig
said. "Before the war started, Midway was good duty. Oh, it was
tough for about 20 minutes. Then those guys sank all the Japanese
carriers and we were sitting pretty."
made officer by the time he got off Midway. He made the landing on
Okinawa on the first day of April 1945. By the end of World War II, he
was chief warrant officer, then he spent a year in Korea during the
Korean War and made captain in 1952.
Of his 20
years of service, he was 11 1/2 years in the Pacific and 9 ½ years in
the States. His last three years were spent at Camp Pendleton in
California, where Hurtig was base range officer—rifle ranges,
artillery ranges, pistol ranges.
had a good lieutenant. He knew what it was all about and ran the thing.
I checked in at 8 a.m. and checked out at 8:03," Hurtig joked.
Hurtig’s proudest possessions are U.S. Marine gold medals for
"Distinguished Pistol Shot," and "Distinguished
earned in peacetime duty while he was on the Marine rifle team. That’s
when Hurtig started shooting competitively. "I’ve never really
been a match winner, but I’ve done a lot of shooting and won a lot of
shoots. I’ve enjoyed it," he said.
visit to Sun Valley was in 1949, for one of the Independence Day
handicap trap shoots the Union Pacific-owned resort once hosted. Sun
Valley didn’t have a formal gun club. The gathering place was a big,
old tent with 14 trap stations on the Fairways Rd. side of the resort.
used to shoot toward the No. 11 tee on the golf course. Used to sprinkle
the golfers a lot," he laughed.
1950, Sun Valley butted together the old Proctor and Dollar mountain
cabins and made a clubhouse for the trap range. Fifteen years later,
after Bill Janss bought Sun Valley, they split the cabins apart again,
to move them over the bridge and reinstall them at the gun club’s
present location up Trail Creek.
Etchen Sr., a coach of the 1924 U.S. Olympic shooting team, was running
the gun club in the 1950s, on lease from Union Pacific. He also owned
Etchen Log Cabins in Ketchum, now the Ketchum Korral.
Hurtig’s shooting friends was Rudy Etchen, Fred’s son. When Hurtig
left the Marines in 1956, he headed straight for the Ketchum hills and
took a job running the Etchen Log Cabins. Hurtig ran the motel for a
year. The Etchens sold it in 1957.
went to work for Sun Valley, working in the Lodge Ski Room in the winter
and helping with the gun club in the summer. He credits Fred Etchen Sr.
for teaching him how to pass along the fundamentals of shooting and gun
safety to the resort’s visitors and eventually to local kids.
early 1960s, Hurtig took over the operation of the gun club.
of the first things I did was invite every kid in the valley to come up
to the gun club, in the two weeks after school ended. I’d furnish
ammunition, targets and guns. I might have been a little stiff about it,
but I always stressed gun safety," said Hurtig.
He was a
tough instructor. Hurtig said, "You never point a gun at anything
or anybody you don’t want to shoot. You never swing the muzzle past
anybody. We learned that in the Marine Corps.
got to drill it into them. I’d tell ’em—the road goes back to
Ketchum the same way it comes up here. If you don’t want to do it my
way, then leave. I sent a couple of kids home bawling, then they’d be
back the next day."
winters in the Lodge Ski Room was something new for Hurtig, who loved
the camaraderie with the cast of characters in the Lodge and Sun Valley
were some fun guys to work with," he said, thinking of Ski Room
buddies Glen Mueller and Tommy Mallane and many others.
Curry said, "Ben was one of the first people I met when I came to
Sun Valley in 1960. He worked in the Lodge Ski Room. Back then, you
couldn’t get a drink on Sunday, but the Ski Room ended up with a lot
of the liquor the guests would leave behind when they left. You could
always get a drink there."
Whiskey Chamberlain, a hunting buddy, enticed Hurtig to do a little
skiing on Baldy. "I was never real good, but we always had a little
brandy with us," said Hurtig.
after new Sun Valley owner Bill Janss issued an edict discouraging the
use of alcohol by employees, Hurtig and two buddies were skiing down the
Bowls. They passed around some brandy to loosen up their legs.
thing we knew, Bill Janss skied up behind us and stopped. There was
nothing else to do—we figured he was going to can us anyway—so we
passed him the brandy. Then we skied away. We never heard any more about
it," Hurtig said.
deep in those days, so there wasn’t a lot of work in the fall and
spring. In 1959, Hurtig got a job guiding elk hunters and fishermen at
Shepp Ranch on the Salmon River, 10 miles downriver from Mackay Bar.
Hurtig’s high school friend named Paul Filer operated Shepp Ranch.
did the guiding for 12 years. That’s when he started flying.
took about 10 hours to drive, and about an hour and 45 minutes to
fly," said Hurtig. "I had a $2,400 Jeepster that I couldn’t
turn around in a six-acre field. I sold it, bought an old pickup for
$300 and a plane for $1,750 and still had enough money to learn how to
Johnson taught Hurtig how to fly.
has piloted the same Super Cub since 1968, replacing an engine. He and
his wife Peggy Helms Hastings Hurtig flew a Cherokee 6 after they were
married July 12, 1972. They would fly together into the backcountry and
count elk, or fly to trapshooting contests on the circuit in Arizona
after they retired from operating the gun club in 1982.
bought that Cherokee 6 from Don Atkinson and later sold it back to
him," Hurtig said.
Young at heart
really missed something if you’ve never had a shotgun in your hand,
with Ben Hurtig roaming along the trap range in teaching mode.
always alert, he has barked encouragement to generations.
"Make your mind up and you’ll hit it."
"If you’re thinking right, nothing can bother you."
"One thing everyone has to do is swing. The bird is moving. The gun
is moving. Don’t stop, follow through."
"There’s an old saying—if a gun fits you, marry it, whether it
costs $50 or $5,000."
had nine hunting dogs including Misty, buried under a neat pile of rocks
in the yard of the Ketchum home that Ben and Peggy have enjoyed for 30
years. One of his dogs was a mean one—putting the fear of God into
But a man
who has lived 90 years must have his share of humility. Hurtig passes
time reading the Bible interpretations of Dr. J. Vernon McGee, the Texan
who had a radio ministry and once ran the Church of the Open Door in Los
just an overpaid trap boy," Hurtig once said. "I’m getting
paid for pursuing a hobby. It’s an enjoyable way to meet a lot of
and Sun Valley have changed a lot in his 46 years living here. These
days, the trend among wealthier residents is to view the resort as a
retirement community, with little room or patience for kids.
not the style of Ben Hurtig, who cuts the cake each November as the town’s
oldest living Marine at the traditional U.S. Marine birthday celebration
held in the Pioneer Saloon.
Peggy live the closest of anybody, right across the Big Wood River from
the newly named Guy Coles Skate Park. They can literally sit on their
porch and see the kids playing, just as they enjoy watching the noisy,
happy swimmers in the Ketchum swimming hole and the New Year’s Day
Polar Bear Club.
no equivocation when you ask young-at-heart Ben Hurtig what he thinks
about the Guy Coles Skate Park. He’s a good neighbor.
but firm, he said, "It’s one of the best things the city has ever
done. The kids have a great time there."