Chronicle Staff Writer

A 9-year-old Amsterdam boy was accidentally shot and killed while on a hunting trip in Madison County Monday afternoon.

The boy, Gus Barber, was on the family's annual hunting trip near the Wall Creek Ranger Station when he was struck in the abdomen by a bullet from a .243 caliber rifle. His mother, Barbara Barber, was apparently unloading the rifle when it discharged, according to Madison County Attorney Bob Zenker.

The single shot traveled through an open door of the family's horse trailer and out a side panel when it struck the boy, who was standing on the other side of the trailer, Zenker said.

The family called 911 around 5:30 p.m. and rushed the boy toward Ennis in their truck but was met by an ambulance in Cameron. He was taken to Madison Valley Hospital in Ennis. An emergency helicopter was called, but the boy died at the hospital before the helicopter arrived, Zenker said.

It was a tragic end to a perfect day. The Barber family, Richard, Barbara, Chanda, 13, and Gus, 9, left their Amsterdam ranch on Sunday, the first day of hunting season, Barbara Barber said Tuesday. It's a trip the family makes every year.

"(Gus) loved hunting. He just told his sister that day that he couldn't wait to grow up so he could go hunting, not just tagging along," she said.

They got a late start and didn't get any hunting in Sunday, but started early Monday morning, riding their horses in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National forest. The family hunted for deer and elk all morning and came back to their camp for lunch.

"He and his sister wanted to go out again. It was like a joy ride for them," she said. "We had a wonderful day together."

Inevitably, thoughts fly back to how the day ended and Barbara's voice chokes. But she seemed to gather her strength to talk about who Gus was.

Gus Barber was a boy who loved being outside, she said. He loved hunting and fishing. He played baseball. He competed in rodeo, riding in barrel races and pole bending. He was learning how to rope.

"He had a heart that was as big as the ocean. He loved everybody. He had a big circle of friends," she said.

Those friends at Amsterdam School, where he and his sister attended until last year when they started home schooling, are having trouble dealing with the death of their young friend. The kids were asking questions about the accident. A school counselor from Manhattan was called in to speak with the students and staff about Gus's death, a school representative said Tuesday.

The family is planning a memorial service for Gus, but the date and time hasn't been confirmed, Barbara Barber said. A memorial fund has been set up in Gus Barber's name at the First Security Bank in Belgrade.

For now, the Barber family, members of Peace Lutheran Church, ask one thing from the community, Barbara Barber said.

"Prayers," she said.