He was fully immersed in his second favorite thing to do in this world – chasing a tennis ball.
Without warning, he abandoned his second favorite thing to do in this world, which could only mean one thing. He hooked a hard left and headed toward the houses, nose to the ground, inhaling scent at a full run.
From a distance, it was obvious he was on point.
A standoff had ensued. The fowl held its ground briefly, before making a fatal mistake.
As the yardbird turned and ran, the shorthair was on it in seconds, shaking the life out of it.
We’ve been politely invited to help our neighbor build a new fence.
While I’m normally a pretty accepting, unflappable person, there are two things I really can’t stand;
People who are intolerant of dog breeds other than their own,
Over the crunch of dry grass underfoot there is a distant, creepy moan.
Like Keith Richards dropping in over Ronnie Wood’s steady strum, the cry floats above the sound of the wind rolling through the gentle folds of CRP.
My mind races through the possibilities…a lost moose calf down in one of the dense cover drainages? Mating cats? The ghost of a jilted lover, screaming from the tumbledown remnants of the farmhouse over the rise? I try to keep track of the dog as he works the currents, and for a while the distraction abates.
There can be an expansive, desolate melancholy to big empty places like this, so different than the claustrophobic disquiet of being alone in thick, dark woods, though it can be none the less unsettling. The dog and I continue to work the field, but something still feels odd. And then the caterwauling returns, so far-flung and ethereal, carried on sporadic wisps of gust, that I’m second-guessing whether I’m imagining it.
The rusty windmill in the distance continues to slowly spin, keening out its unearthly wail. The dog goes on point, but there is nothing there.
I was out with the dog in shirtsleeves just a few days ago. Now he looks at me with a pathetic mixture of loathing and remorse when I try to coax him into the kennel in the back of the truck. He tries to squeeze into the cab as I throw my gun and vest in, and learns that “denial” ain’t just a river in Egypt.
“Buck up kid, you’ll be lying on a fluffy bed next to the stove again as soon as you find me a couple birds.”
His head cocks at the word, “birds.”
He jumps into the back and curls up in the kennel. He’s not exactly happy about it, but he’s at least realized this temporary suffering has a purpose.
Good thing for all of us to keep in touch with, I guess.
It isn’t personal, but there are those places you keep to yourself, maybe even from your closest hunting buddies. Pocket stashes.
In part, you don’t share these because they’re an ‘ace in the hole,’ or at least you tell yourself that. Those places that are a little more out of the way, a little more under the radar, not on the usual list of spots you hit with friends. Even better if they offer a place to park out of sight. Maybe they’re even of questionable legality, and a low-key approach is best. But you didn’t hear that from me.
Of course, sometimes the irony here is that some of your co-conspirators have these same stashes. You can go along for several seasons, thinking you’re the only one that bothers with that particular marginal field or covert. And then one day you get there and find your buddies’ truck already parked. Of course, the appropriate response in this case is to leave a beer on the tailgate and move on to the next.
The other reason for having a few pocket stashes on your list is because these can be spots that are only big enough for one person and one dog. Limited spots that you might be able to cover in 20 minutes. But, this can be very productive. And some days you link these little pocket stashes together into one glorious, full day with just you and one dog.
All good hunting requires creativity.
Willing grouse for the taking.
I’ve been kicking my own butt these past few days.
Seems as if I know exactly where a few blue grouse are and they are only about 15 minutes from my house, and somehow, I haven’t found the time to go up there with a shotgun.
This past weekend, I found the grouse while horseback helping a neighbor rancher round up some recalcitrant cows and calves that were refusing to leave the high country. Stumbled right into a couple of young grouse in the Doug fir, and just at the time that I was thinking: This looks like good grouse habitat.
Spent the whole day looking at guacamole-assed cows. The next day, I started to get nervous about the coming snowfall and gathered more firewood out of the hills. The next day–and yes, it was a three-day-weekend for me–I spent another whole day at the neighboring ranch helping sort cows for preg-testing.
Then work. Here I am. At work. It’s sunny outside. Damn my hide. Sometimes, I guess, life has difficult choices.
An excerpt from Steve Rinella’s worthy new book, “Meateater:”
“Earlier, I wrote of the things that I’ve suffered while in pursuit of a lifestyle that makes sense to me. Things such as cold, hunger, loneliness, and fear. What I failed to mention are the ways in which I’ve been blessed through that same pursuit. While hunting, I’ve cried at the beauty of mountains covered in snow. I’ve learned to own up to my past mistakes, to admit them freely, and then to behave better the next time around. I’ve learned to see the earth as a thing that breathes and writhes and brings forth life.
I see these revelations as a form of grace and art, as beautiful as the things we humans attempt to capture through music, dance, and poetry. And as I’ve become aware of this, it has become increasingly difficult for me to see hunting as altogether outside of civilization. Maybe stalking the woods is as vital to the human condition as playing music or putting words to paper. Maybe hunting has as much of a claim on our civilized selves as anything else. After all, the earliest forms of representational art reflect hunters and prey. While the arts were making us spiritually viable, hunting did the heavy lifting of not only keeping us alive, but inspiring us. To abhor hunting is to hate the place from which you came, which is akin to hating yourself in some distant, abstract way.“
In this country, a bird is irrelevant.
This land of basalt and dry earth always been hard. The flush times have come and then been winnowed by the lean years that must always follow.
Here, a mere season of abundance cannot be meaningful. Only a covey, persistent for a thousand generations begins to be something.
Over the decades, if we are fortunate we may come to know this place or one like it.
A spot where over a few dozen seasons we will watch the coveys rise and fall, see the roads come and the fauna that marks shorter time spans than our own go.
But we will never really see the place change. This land marks time only through its own weathering. The decay of boulders chronicles the ages like a giant geological metronome, and we can last no more than a single pulse of the pendulum.
And though we shall wink out, the covey may live on.
A single entity – the first covey no different then the 1,000th – the birds will read their history on the face of basalt and in the dried earth.
Though the logical truth of it all cannot be changed, for us it is different.
A single bird, a single moment of perfection will leave a mark on the boulder that is my center, marking a time of geologic importance.
Sometimes, they let us down.
At the end of a season, half-a-dozen years in, you expert a certain level of professionalism.
Mostly you get it.
Then there are the days like Thursday. Her blood was up. After a series of birds, we got into some chest-high sage where she was tough to see. I lost sight of her and when I saw a bird get up 100 yards ahead I realized how far ahead she was. I tried to reign her in.
To no avail.
Though I couldn’t see her, I could see birds getting up in twos and threes well out of range. While I shouted frantically.
I’ve used my whistle sparingly this season. Thursday, I didn’t even have it.
I’ve just expected her to do what she needs to do.
Thursday I regretted not just the lack of the whistle, but the lack of a training collar.
She let me down.
It took me a few days and a couple of trips to get over it. But she got back to center, I think she noticed the lack of shots or dead birds.
And I remembered the times I’ve let her down, with lousy shooting, or work, or poor planning or a million other excuses.
She’s far from perfect, but so am I.
So we hunt on and we hope to be better.
If you want to get straight to the meat of the thing, just fast forward to 4 minutes in.