Author Archives: Smithhammer

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.

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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.

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.

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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

Let’s Go

First frost in the valley, patches of golden aspen beginning to pop on the hillsides, the occasional mountain maple, as if overnight, lit up like those neon Rolling Stones lips, blowing seductive, semi-obscene kisses your way through the living room window.

This is no tme for staring at a laptop.

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A couple handfuls of purple shells.

A stout, trusty pump gun with an action scarcely changed in a century (thank you, John Moses Browning). A straight stock and a forend of scratched, pedestrian-grade walnut.

The old, simple canvas vest seems right for this, not the fancy, feature-laden modular one. As if it’s a choice.

Briefly wonder what choke is in the gun, but then figure that it really isn’t that important – whatever choke you left in it at the end of last season is probably just fine. There’s a danger in over-thinking this.

Jeans and Red Wings and a wool shirt.

A shorthair beside himself at the emergence of a long gun case from the closet.

Let’s go.

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Filed under Blues, Keeping it Real, Tools of the Trade

New Country

Digital topo maps. GPS. Phone apps. Google Earth…

The list goes on. The number of tools at our disposal for scouting new country, without actually going there, has never been greater.  And I plead guilty to using all of them, though it would be dishonest to add “with no regrets.”

It wasn’t that long ago that in order to know what was on the other side of the ridgeline, or what that remote valley held, you had to put boots on the ground, your ass in gear, the necessary gear on your back, and go there.

Now, if I choose to, I can already have a very good idea of what those places contain before I get there. In fact, “getting there” can easily just become an exercise in confirming what a ton information from the comfort of my sofa has already told me. The biggest remaining variable, in these cases, is simply – “will there be birds there?”  Which, thankfully, no technology I currently know of can really tell me. I can only hope there will never be a substitute for the hard-earned answer to this question.

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I’m no Luddite, and I know that these tools have their useful place. But my fear is that as with so many things, for every convenience we adopt, something is also lost. That the rush and the intense sensory imprints of true, first-time discovery in new country are becoming watered-down in the process, pre-downloaded as we are with so much pre-trip info. That our desire for as much pre-existing knowledge as possible before going anywhere might just be kicking the legs out from under what used to be the joy, and occasional uncomfortability, of exploration. Can we still allow ourselves to be surprised by what’s around the bend?

And so, this season I’m deliberately choosing to ration my technological temptations, and preserve a little more of the mystery of new country. I want to know my location because I’ve been taking it all in, with all of my senses, every step of the way, not because I’m continually staring at a blue dot on a digital map. I want to remember what it is like to discover what might be on the other side of the mountain when I first see it with my own two eyes and not before, led on by virgin curiosity. Or, at least by the more likely scenario – wondering where the fuck my dog went.

I suppose I could get a GPS tracker linked to a harness-mounted GoPro for him and never have to wonder again…

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by | September 8, 2014 · 6:00 am

Possibility

Click.
The truck door closes and cold, crisp sage hits the nose.

Zip.
The shotgun slides out of its case, warm and familiar.

Kathunk.
The tailgate drops and an explosion of black and white and various shades of brown erupts, bursting with yelps of excitement and unbridled instinct. For a moment, it all borders on chaos until direction is given. You watch all that energy channeled into a force that shoots across the landscape, bending vegetation in its path like the winds that continually pummel this place.

Crunch.
Boots break thin surface ice is as you leave the road and start heading up the hill. You look up to see the top of the mountain shrouded in falling snow. You aim for it, even as it descends to meet you halfway.

This moment, full of anticipation and possibility, defines it all. Does it really matter what else the day brings? Have you ever felt more in-the-moment alive than now?

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Filed under Keeping it Real, Soul, Talegate, Upland Hunting

Waiting

So tired, I could easily blow it off.

But the birds have been hanging in the cool crawlspace plenty long enough and it is time. “I’ll have a beer first…” and I do. And it’s so good, I have another.  It is already late fall and the sun is long gone and it feels later than it is, even though it’s barely dinner time. The birds are laid out on the cutting board, waiting. Although they really aren’t waiting, because they are dead; if they ever actually “waited” for anything while alive.

I often seem to procrastinate when it comes to cleaning birds, and then I hurry through it mechanically. But tonight, I’m in a different mood. Almost as tired as the shorthair curled up in the corner of the living room by the stove. The good kind of tired, where whatever you’re going to do you’re going to take your time doing.

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I lay the bird spread out on its back. Game shears remove wings and head and legs. Feel through the deep mahogany and purple-tinged belly feathers for something more tangible. The knife slides in easily, and the thin skin parts up the length of the cavity. The pungent odor of pheasant hits the nostrils. Rich pink flesh exposed. A pile of technicolor feathers accumulates. A few crimson spots where #6 did its thing.

Flushed under cold water, thoroughly.

And then its time to ponder a recipe. Maybe a sautè in sage, bacon and port. They deserve nothing less.

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Filed under Ditch Parrots, Good Eats, Talegate

The Book

A project we’ve been kicking around for some time is finally happening, and frankly, we’re damn excited about it. In early December of 2013, Mouthful of Feathers: Upland Hunting in the West will be released, featuring a collection of original, full-length essays by:

  • Tosh Brown
  • Reid Bryant
  • Michael Gracie
  • Chad Love
  • Greg McReynolds
  • Tom Reed
  • Bruce Smithhammer
  • Bob White

With an introduction by Miles Nolte.

Cover art by Bob White.

The book will be published by Pulp Fly, Ltd. and available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble for Kindle, Nook and iPad platforms.

More to come soon – please stay tuned. And if you haven’t done so already, the best way to stay tuned is by signing up as a follower of this blog, which you can do on the menu on the right side of this page, and by “liking” our Facebook page. Thanks.

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Filed under Recommended Reads, Reloading, Road Tales, Surviving the off season, Talegate, True stories, Upland Hunting

Rethinking the Relationship

We had completed a fairly thorough loop for one guy and one big running dog to do through the field, and were on our way back to the truck. Downwind. The dog absolutely hates hunting downwind, and will do everything he can to veer from it, since for him, hunting downwind is dumb, and because for him, the hunting doesn’t end when you’ve made the decision to head back to the truck and are returning via ground that you already covered on the way out. No, it doesn’t end for him until we’re at the tailgate. He’s taught me the value of this lesson many times before, but my hard-headed human brain tends to forget.

So when he veers off at a 90 degree angle to the wind, and the direction to the truck, I don’t think much of it, but then I forget how quickly he can cover ground when he wants to. I let him range because I tell myself  that we’ve already covered this, and the day is done and truth be told, I’m fantasizing about dinner. I probably should have noted that he wasn’t just meandering, but heading in a pretty specific direction.

There is a common adage in the bird dog world that, “you must teach the dog to hunt for you.” I used to firmly believe this was the case, with no room for interpretation. After all, the only other option is an out-of-control dog, right? In some cases, that’s certainly true. But I’d like to think I’m growing and learning as a bird hunter (and hopefully always will be), and have come to realize that too much stubborn control over everything your dog does can betray a lack of trust in your dogs’ inherent, amazing abilities, not to mention impacting what ends up in the game bag.

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The reality of the relationship – if it’s a good one – is a far more nuanced, “give and take” than that; an interdependent push-and-pull across the landscape. At least in the situations I most often find myself hunting in. This isn’t a quaint, 2-acre patch of errant apple orchard, but a wide open, hilly field 20 times that in size, and it wouldn’t even be considered “big” country by our western standards. I need a dog that has no shortage of initiative, not one that is going to be plodding along dutifully right in front of me. And in these scenarios, the reality is that we have learned to hunt for each other. Just as he is obliged to find birds for me in a vast and sometimes daunting landscape, I’m obliged to trust that he knows what he’s doing; that his desire to find birds is unwavering (the occasional rabbit or deer scent aside…) and at least as great as mine. Trusting this arrangement means that in general, he needs to go where I want him to, but it also means that it’s a good idea for me to pay attention when he clearly wants to head in a certain direction. Knowing a good bird dog well means trusting that he probably has his reasons.

I watch a couple skittish sharpies bust wild a hundred and some yards away, as he is quartering toward them, nose held high, before he has a chance to lock them down and point them. His sudden, 90 deg. detour now becomes clear – he somehow knew they were over there, even from that distance. I mark where they go down on the hillside, not far away. It could be tempting to raise my blood pressure regarding my “out of control dog” upon seeing this, but the truth is that he’s doing exactly what he should be doing, and the mistakes are honestly mine. Instead, I call him in, and as a team, we double back and move in together and get them. Birds we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, if it had been left up to me. Another lesson has been reinforced. Luckily, my dog is a forgiving and patient teacher.

Postscript: The following day, the little bastard ran all over hell and back, ignoring commands, whistles and every setting on the e-collar. I accidentally left the laptop open the previous night, and I’m now convinced he must have read this post.

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Filed under Dogs, Open country, Sharpies, Talegate, Upland Hunting

A Bird Hunter’s Table

A new, “highly recommended” addition to the upland hunter’s bookshelf has just been released – A Bird Hunter’s Table by Sarah Davies.

A Bird Hunter’s Table is about cooking, eating, and sharing friendship. It is also about gundogs, gamebirds, and getting outside to enjoy the land. Featuring contributions by MOF’s Tom Reed and Greg McReynolds, among other notables.

A Bird Hunter’s Table includes over 130 recipes, stories from the field, and a smattering of natural history.  To learn more, see a sample of the book, or to purchase, visit www.birdhunterstable.com or contact the author at birdhunterstable@gmail.com.  Trust us – this one is worthy, friends.

 

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Filed under Good Eats, Recommended Reads, Upland Hunting

The Reunification of the Clan

I don’t know about you, but I have friends who I rarely spend time with outside of bird season. It has nothing to do with the quality of those friendships; in fact, some of them are the most highly esteemed friends I have. But the intensity of our common love for dogs and big country cause our orbits to overlap around this time, and then the rest of the year life has a way of absorbing us in different directions. We occasionally keep in touch, but rarely do we cross paths until guns come out of the closet and the dogs are more antsy than usual and the sound of a bird busting from cover comes to dominate our thoughts.

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It is that time again, and phone calls are made and e-mails traded and the mutual bonds re-energized as plans are made. But a nagging thought keeps clawing at the back recesses of my hat rack – another year has somehow gone by. It hardly seems real, but I haven’t shot the shit with “___,” I think to myself, since we were walking across that errant CRP field last October, game bags full of sharpies, my dog limping on a raw pad after a long day, a snow storm scudding our direction across the tops of the Big Holes… Jeezus – that was a year ago. A job I couldn’t stand was kicked to the curb where it belonged, new opportunities were created, new friendships, some old ones strained only to be strengthened again, others strained past the point of recovery, too little time spent with family, hopefully a little more perspective on what matters and what’s worth putting energy into… A YEAR.

I do the only thing one can do when such thoughts threaten to steal you from the present – I wipe the late September drip from my cold nose, drop a couple shells in the barrels, and join a friend as we head off toward the horizon, with much to talk about and little that needs to be said.

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Filed under Keeping it Real, Talegate, Upland Hunting