Where it went

DSCN0595I will never get used to it. The suddenness of it. In human, it is difficult enough. Wake up one morning and you’re having to use one point five readers for the newspaper. The tromp through the cattails seems to go a little slower, the truck’s warmth a little more welcome. The fire for another push needs more stoking. It’s more of an erosion, a slow spin.

But in canine, the slap of years is stunning. One day you look down at her and she’s an old lady, her joints swollen by arthritis, various bumps and warts in her hide, a once-stunning feathered tail now something a rat might sport. She totters where once she used to float. She huffs and coughs at the fountain she once drank.

We drive east, across the roll of Montana, past coulee and pine, pump-jack and silo. Past corn and scrubland to the Dakotas. It has been a long span for me and for her, this leave from the Dakotas and now it is late in this season and late in her life and I wonder how it all happened.

She gets the princess perch, behind the driver, the other dogs in back in the camper shell. She rides in the warmth of the cab for after a dozen years of bringing me to all of those different birds, the least I can do is bring her into the truck where she can curl in a tight ball against that rat tail and snore.

There have been other trips. Many.  I view her mostly backward. Pups are forward, what lies ahead. Old dogs are what you have been and what they were and what it once was. Over the shoulder, behind, when she was young and the truck had one hundred thousand miles instead of twice that and she had ten thousand miles instead of twice or thrice that. I will make one trip to the Dakotas this year, one visit to the river of scent that is hundreds of pheasants in one section of CRP. This journey, I tell myself, is for the young pup who is fire and burst, an uncontrollable effervescence of puppy joy. But really it is for grandma, kinked with time, crippled by the uplands of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico. Knotted and rusted by roosters and blues, sharpies, ruffs, sprucers and sage chickens, chukar, Huns, Mearns, cottontops, Californias, mountain and Gambel. It has been one hell of a run.

So she sits behind me as the diesel growls east, through Baker and Hettinger and Lemmon and Mobridge. East. Toward. One last trip, one last bird, one last point. Please, God, just one more.

—TR

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Filed under Ditch Parrots, Dogs, Talegate

Worn

The sun is dropping to the southwest as we slog 200, 500, 800 feet up. The dog ranges ahead while I put one foot in front of the other, sometimes searching for a footing, sometimes skidding and sliding, clawing at the scree and the grass.

At the top, sweating and panting, my fingernails caked with dirt, I take a drink and feel the wind instantly turn the sweat of the climb into an uncomfortable liability. I look west and see the sinking sun against the backdrop of the Snake River Canyon. I know we may find a covey of birds before sundown. Or we may not. There are no guarantees. There are no planted birds, no mowed pathways. Flat ground is a rarity and birds, when you find them, are always uphill.

GregMcReynoldsBootsOct2014 (1)

What brings me to this place is the rawness of it. The opportunity to go where I wish without the burden of “posted” signs and knocking on doors begging for permission. There is no freedom like the freedom to Go. Miles to cross, mountains to climb, spaces to camp or hunt or hike, places to push ourselves and stretch against the bounds of modern convenience, here are the last places where we are unrestricted. Truly Free.

So I find it particularly galling that a few greedy bastards want to try and take it from us. For many of us, the loss of our public lands would be akin to a prison sentence. We can’t afford to buy access and we have no desire to take up golf or play video games.

For the most part, the public lands we hold so tightly are not the verdant lowlands, those were snapped up by settlers 100 years ago. They are hard, wild places and what we do is a hard scramble. There are days where I don’t even fire my gun. This is miles of hiking, climbing and pushing to find the secret spot – the one place so difficult that no one else has hunted it. The spot where the price of admission is so steep and daunting that only we would dare to chase birds in this place. Some days my dog gets one solitary point and all I have to show for it are sore legs and worn boots. Those are good days. Out here, It is not about killing birds, it’s about earning birds. In this crowd, people rarely even say the word “limit.”

A lot of other folks don’t understand. They tell me they gave up hunting when the bird population dropped, or that there is nowhere left to hunt. And if we talk about the flat-ground fence rows that used to hold hundreds of roosters for the price of asking, they’re right. Those places are gone, tilled up or simply sold off to folks richer than us.

And that’s the beauty of what we do. There are millions of acres open to hunting. All it takes is a good pair of boots. A good old American-made leather pair with heel counters and high tops, laces and spares, toe caps and Air Bob soles. The price of admission is what you’re are willing to put in and how much are you willing to sweat, not just in October, but in April and July.

I spend three times more money on boots than I do annually on shotgun shells – because I wear boots out.

The greedy bastards who want to sell my lands – the ones who want to carve the choicest parcels for themselves while selling the bulk of it to the multinational corporations to pillage and plunder – they have not earned that right. No one who has worn out a pair of American made hunting boots thinks we should sell our public lands. No one who has climbed to the top of Giffy Butte or Nowhere Ridge looking for chukar or elk or muleys thinks we should sell off those places to a bunch of rich, foreign bastards with Land Rovers and jacked-up golf carts.

My boots are worn and cracked, but I have paid the price of admission and my heart is full. The new robber barons who are calling for the sale of our hunting lands under the guise of “states rights” have not paid the price of admission. They have never worn out a pair of hunting boots in their lives.

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Filed under Conservation and legacy, Giving thanks, Open country, Public Land Rocks, Talegate

Target Clientele?

Extremely Polite Southern Accent Customer Service Girl: “Hello, welcome to “_______.” How can I help you?”

Me: “Yeah, hi. I’m not sure how I got on your mailing list, but I’d like to be removed, please.”

EPSACSG: “Ok sir, I can do that for you, but can I ask why you’d like to not continue to be informed about our fine offerings?”

Me: “Uh, you’d like to know why I don’t want to receive your catalog?

Well, since you’re asking…to be honest, I don’t think I’m exactly your “target clientele.” You see, I live in the West, and hunt for wild birds on public lands, on foot. I’ve never been to a private $7k/week plantation lodge. In fact, I’m pretty sure that someone in a position of influence would make sure I never even made it to the front door of such an establishment.

image-pro-shop

Nor have I ever been transported from one planted bird location to another in a horse-drawn carriage. Do those things have a wet bar?

I’ve also  never faced the peculiar dilemma of which sportcoat I should pack for standing around the fireplace after a day “afield,” while discussing my many and varied accomplishments in both the realm of canned hunting and finance.

Also…Are you still there?”

EPSACSG (practiced politeness eroding quickly):I am, sir.”

Me: Great. Also, I can’t ever imagine myself in a pair of your $200 bright green jackass slacks with the embroidered Labradors and ducks on them. In fact, I would fully expect that these pants come with a clown nose, a ball gag and a pair of handcuffs. Is this true, or are these accessories extra?”

Click.

Me: “Hello? Ma’am? I still have a few more reasons I’d like to share… Hello?”

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Filed under Fodder, Glutton For Punishment, Ill-mannered Jackals, Keeping it Real, Talegate, True stories, We might have been jrunk.

Lost

We impart a piece of ourselves on the things that we carry.

My father’s knife, my grandfather’s block plane, the gun that I have carried across a dozen states and hunted nearly every species of upland bird in America – these things do not define us, but they are significant exhibits that help explain us as people.

My gun was a light, quick handling Italian 20ga, made by I. Rizzini and imported by B.C. outdoors as a Verona. It came with a spare set of barrels in 28ga. More important than all that was that I shot it well. So much better than everything else, that in the years since I have rarely hunted with anything else.
Light parade, Jason, Boys, Matt, Thomas
My wife bought it for me on my 30th birthday. Completely unbeknownst to me, she ordered it, went to pick it up, didn’t like the one she got and sent it back for another one. The one that I ended up with was perfect for me and I loved it even more for its origin. There are few things in life like getting a truly special gift from the person you love most.
I’ll miss shooting that little gun and the confidence that I felt when I swung it on flushing birds. I regret that I never got to restock it, for once sanding, fitting and checkering a gun that would always be mine. More than that, I regret that I won’t have it to pass on to my sons and tell them about how their mom bought it for me.
It’s been a week since I drove off and left it behind in a nondescript parking spot near Arimo, Idaho. A week since I rushed back hours later in a panic, only to find it gone. It’s been a week since someone else picked up my gun, the one my wife gave me and that I held in trust for my kids.
It’s been a week since I filed the report with the sheriff, called every gun shop for a 100 miles. A week since I told my wife that I had squandered the effort that she put into that special gift all those years ago.
It’s been one day since, shooting another gun, I missed 12 shots in a row. And no, that is not a typo. 12.
I try tell myself that it was only a gun, but it was more than that.
Maybe someday, whoever picked it up will read this and the gun will find it’s way home. Maybe the serial number will come up somewhere or a gun shop will recognize it. Maybe I will have a chance to buy it back. Maybe a guilty conscious will deliver it to the sheriff, who will return it to me.
Or maybe the Verona with the faint crack in the wrist and the worn bluing on the action, the gun that I carried and left my mark on, will simply go somewhere else.
Somewhere out there, someone has a gun that I was holding in trust for my kids. It is part of a narrative that helps explain who I am and what a special person my wife is. It is an exhibit that means more than birds and miles and hunting. It has been imparted with my story and I want it back.

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Filed under Guns, Talegate, Tools of the Trade

No Tell Motel

IMG_1181Anyone who has a bird dog and has taken to the road has a good motel story. These stories usually include burs, barking, poop, blood, ass gas and the midnight puking. Not all of these features are confined to the dogs.

All manners and all bets are off when the setters enter a motel room. Beds are made to be jumped on. Carpets made for dragging butt. Toilets for drinking.

I like motel rooms that are on the first floor, with doors opening to the parking area and quick access to a place for a midnight dash. The worst kind of motel is the kind that has access only through the lobby and perhaps one other door, and all the doors open to a shared hallway. If you are really screwed, your room will be up a flight of stairs on the second or third floor and the outdoor poop zone will be some gravel parking lot in the middle of town. Probably behind a bar (occupied by midnight drunks outside smoking cigarettes and making comments about how preeeetty your dog is and trying to pat him without falling over). Assuming you yourself are not in the bar because there’s an early morning of pheasant chasing to be had.

Recently, I found myself in a scenario that was worst-case, as they say. Upstairs, indoor access. Long, long hallway. Three setters one of which was my girlfriend’s, a five month-old puppy and an 11-year-old veteran. Numerous walks with the older dogs at heel, pup on the leash. A gauntlet of dog-patters and cooing admirers to run in the hallway. Early rise planned. Really early. Like five a.m. A dirt parking lot behind the drunks. Worried about the pup and her tentative housebrokeness. Finally, I hit the sack at 11 or so, setting the alarm.

Duke the veteran woke me just before dawn. Panting. Not a good sign. I hurried to get dressed, hooked the pup up to the leash and headed out into the early morning hallway. A quiet, not-a-mouse-stirring hallway long before sunup. Both of the veteran dogs sprinted past me and ran down the hallway at top speed. I did my best Lauren Bacall shout, yell-whispering: “HEEL, HEEL, HEEL. DUKE! HEEEL!!”

The pup went one way while I yanked the other, chasing Duke, who was in the lead. Suddenly, NOOOOOO!! I couldn’t believe my eyes, for there was good old Duke, every bit of 11, squatting and deploying a schooner right in the middle of the hall. The door was shut behind me and the GF’s dog running past Duke while he was in full quiver and the pup jerking the leash one way and probably likely to make Mr. Grumpy herself. And a fresh steaming turd in the hallway. What to do? What, indeed, to do?

I figured I had no choice. I bare-handed the turd. That’s right. Bare hand and a steamer.  My left, because the pup’s leash was in my right.

All of this before even a hint of coffee.

We ran down the hallway, down the stairs. HEEEL. DAMMIT. HEEL. At the bottom of the stairs, first floor, a quick Duke detour to deposit another goodie in front of room 105. Bare-handed that one too.

Finally, door to the outside and there stood a fellow just coming in from his early morning cig break. Duke was jumping up and down at the door that this guy was holding shut. “Hey, I didn’t want to let him out until you were here.”

“Yeah, good idea.” Please, please don’t look at my left hand. I’m carrying dog shit in it. Please.

Out into the morning air, sun a long, long way from rise. I scrambled to the parking lot, putting yards behind me and the guy in the lit doorway. The guy just stood there while I held the pup on a leash and Duke sprinted out to do his third act of the play. The pup peed, then pooped. The guy stood there looking at me. Okay, man, go in and shut the door. I need to get rid of this thing. I have a wet, hot turd in my hand. Two of them. Finally, he went in and I pitched Duke’s little gifts behind the dumpster and loaded the dogs into the truck. Ran upstairs as fast as I could to wash my hands.

It was opening day of pheasant. God, I love bird hunting with dogs.

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Filed under Talegate

Direction

Compasses are fascinating things, with much to teach for being an inanimate object. I’m speaking of course, of an analog piece,  little changed for centuries, not the app on your phone.

There can be a number of things that affect the proper reading of a real compass, causing one to lose direction. Unlike your phone, a dead battery isn’t one of them.

compass

The Tru-Nord pin-on compass. Generally more reliable than I am.

Other things in your pocket may be interfering, pulling the needle from true. Take this as a sign that you may have too many things in your pockets, and that it might be time to simplify. Don’t let other things confuse your compass and cause you to lose direction. True direction is the highest priority.

It seems inevitable that cheap compasses develop bubbles over time. These too will affect the needle. Don’t trust your life, whether it be your ultimate safety or only your current direction, to cheap things. You’ll get exactly what you paid for.

Compasses are only useful when you can see them, and the less accessible they are, the less likely you are to use them. Keep your compass handy and refer to it often.

There is an old adage to the effect of, “if you keep checking your course regularly, it’s much harder to get lost than if you wait until you’re not sure where you are.”

Sage advice.

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Filed under Fodder, Keeping it Real, Reloading, Tools of the Trade

To those of you who are here by accident:

Some of you are here intentionally, I know this because I have access to the site stats and you found us using search terms like “chukar hunting blog” or “how to hunt gambles quail.
Many of you will be sadly disappointed, like those of you who came here after searching “hunting breeks.” I’m also sad for those of you who came here while searching for the location of “Giffy Butte.”
It makes perfect sense to me that after “Mouthful of Feathers” and its variants, the most used search term that brought people to MOF is “WTF.” WTF indeed.

A fair number of the searched phrases are questions. I thought I’d answer some of the questions that folks have searched for and ended up at MOF seeking answers.

“What is a ditch parrott?” – Good question. It’s one of those pink decorative birds on a stake that rednecks put in front of their mobil homes.
“What does quail taste like?” – Imagine a marshmallow peep grew up then raised a clutch of little marshmallow peep chicks exclusively on a diet of butter and roasted peanuts. And then, when those baby peeps were as cute as they could possibly be, you ate them.
“What do feathers taste like?” – What kind of sick bastard are you?
“When is too old for bird hunting?” – The people who write here and many of the ones who read this blog would happily breathe their last breath while climbing a scree slope towards a dog on point. So I guess never.
“Is there chukar in Wyoming?” – This is a popular question, so I want to answer it correctly. No. The good news is with your fancy talkin’ skills you goin’ to fit right in in Wyoming.
“When you go pheasant hunting do you eat the birds?” – That’s like asking “When you go to bars, do you drink the beer?”
“Why does a ruffed grouse defecate in one place?” – I like this question and I hope whoever searched for it contacts us to become a contributor. This question has a real hillbilly Confucius feel to it.
“Are nice guns meant to be used?” – Yes. Use it, or give it to me and I’ll keep it safe for you.
“Wtf images?” – Is this a question about our photography or lack of? Some strategically placed punctuation could be really helpful here.
“How to keep a cigarette out of a mouthful.” – Don’t drink out of the urinal. This brings up another point, folks, keep your dogs off the interweb. It’s just not a safe environment for setters.
“What does chukar taste like?” – It tastes like victory. Sweet, delicious victory.
“Is bourbon flaskable?” – Does a ruffed grouse defecate in the woods?

Thanks for stopping by.
GM

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Filed under Fodder, Reloading, Talegate, We might have been jrunk.

An Idaho Scene

Chapter 1: An endorsement for Motel 6, Unless you have an aversion to ponies
Scene: Late night, somewhere in Idaho, a Motel 6 lobby

Hunter – I need a room.

Motel 6 guy – $49.

Hunter – Great. I have a pet.

Motel 6 guy – There is no pet fee. $49.

Hunter – Great.

Hunter hands over payment and waits in awkward silence

Motel 6 guy – Since you have a pet, I’ll put you on the bottom floor.

Hunter – Great. It can be difficult to make a Shetland pony climb the stairs.

Motel 6 guy says nothing. He simply hands over the key and walks away. The Hunter stands alone in the lobby, suddenly wondering what would happen if the setter came face to face with a pony in the hallway.

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Filed under Talegate