Category Archives: Giving thanks

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

Enough

There’s half an hour of shooting light left but with the snow blowing in it might as well be midnight. A handful of chukar call from across the canyon to the half-dozen a hundred feet above me.
A few minutes ago, my young setter got an honest-to-goodness point on this covey of 15 or so birds before they broke and flushed wild.
I was above her, looking down when I saw her go on point.
I’m still out of breath from the hillside sprint toward her.
It was like being the weakest link on the seventh-grade mile-relay team all over again, pushing as hard as I could and still watching it slip away.
It wasn’t her fault though. These are tough birds, tricky in the best of conditions and difficult for even seasoned dogs to pin down.
I got close enough to see them flush at least. And we saw some light halfway up the slope where we now repose.
It was pure adrenaline that got us up here and as it starts to darken, I wonder how I’m going to get back down the snowy slope without sliding on my ass through the mud and the muck.
I can see the road at the bottom and on the other side I can just make out the hillside where we started a few minutes before.
My legs are burning from the climbing, my feet are soaking wet, the truck is parked a mile down the road and I haven’t fired a shot.
But the young dog got a point on chukar and I’ll call that a win.
So when the birds above me answer the call of their covey mates across canyon and fly directly over my head, silhouetted against the billowing white snow clouds, I don’t even raise my gun.
I didn’t come to pass shoot them.
I came to see them pointed and for now, it’s enough.

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Filed under Chukar, Dogs, Giving thanks, Talegate, Upland Hunting

Marking time

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.

GM

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Filed under Conservation and legacy, Fodder, Giving thanks, Talegate

Diversions

Dove: it's what's for dinner...

First, a disclaimer: I’m fully aware that whitewing doves aren’t considered “upland” in the classic sense.  But here in our state of Hellfire Apocalypse Formerly Known as Texas, I am forced to write about them because it’s 112 degrees and quail are now extinct and ditch parrots may be too, but I haven’t looked.

So here’s how it goes.

Twenty years ago, we had to drive way south to hunt whitewings. There were huntable numbers in the Rio Grande Valley, but the proper flyways were in Mexico. In those days there were lodges in Tamaulipas staffed by wonderfully accommodating folks who would fetch your birds and hand you margaritas and nachos when your barrel became too hot to touch.

In December of 1983, an Arctic blast descended upon the Rio Grande Valley and wiped out massive groves of citrus trees that were favored nesting habitat for whitewings. Everyone assumed that would be the end of the Texas population, but instead of moving south to join their Mexico brethren, they began trickling north. They first showed up in San Antonio around 1990. They liked the massive liveoaks for nesting, the adjacent grain fields, and the abundance of backyard bird feeders. By 1995 they were in Austin, in 2000 they arrived in Dallas. And now they’re everywhere. In San Antonio, alone, the population is now 50 times as big as it ever was down in the Valley.

Grainfield in a can

They adapted, and so did we.

Nowadays, instead of sitting on a tank dam and waiting for a trickle of mourning doves, we gather around large fields adjacent to urban whitewing concentrations and wait for the daily assault. The first waves normally leave the towns around 7:30 am. They fly high and cautious and if you’re good with a full choke, they make a really neat “thud” when they auger in from the stratosphere. If you’re lucky enough to be in the field in which they want to feed, they come in undulating waves, juking and dive-bombing at eye level and making fools of those that forgot to switch from full to improved. While the bag limits aren’t as liberal as they once were in Mexico, it’s still a lot of fun, especially when your dog that once pointed quail discovers that shagging birds in a manicured farmfield ain’t as lame as it sounds.

Not shooting at quail

And what happened to the once fertile whitewing grounds in Mexico? I’m guessing that the birds are still there, but the lodges are now shuttered and the blenders are idle and those once accommodating locals will now shoot you in the face for no plausible reason.

Hey Gringo, fetch your own dang birds...

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Filed under Fodder, Giving thanks, Glutton For Punishment, Keeping it Real, Soul, Surviving the off season, Undaunted by Futility

Burden of legacy

Where chickens boom in golden grass
A faithful friend and I hold mass
Set out to hunt and death impart
We find not endings, but only starts
From us, this place soon shall pass

Alone, not I, nor would I be
My dog, a friend to cherish me
In this church that is the land
I give thanks for where I stand
My companion too, a gift from thee

My thanks is required, but sufficient it is not
Life’s passion needs more than allegiance to a plot
We are called to seize our endowment, and labor
Gratitude is fair, but wild lands need our sabre
It is up to we, else this temple shall rot

Not from night, the darkness will arrive
Taking not freedom nor profit, but lives
All is not well, the chickens grow quiet
For them the end approaches, but who will riot?
Grass, bird and church, cringe from steely knives

Set it right we could, if we’d only try
Stop the rush to destruction and ourselves defy
Gather the arms and raise the guard
Hunters must rally to protect the yard
Should we not, I won’t hunt. And the dog would die

SFRED

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Filed under Bobwhites, Conservation and legacy, Giving thanks

Bounty

Here’s to a bountiful 2011, friends.

May you spend as much of it outdoors as possible, muddy and wet and cold and hot and sweaty, a good dog aside, sucking deeply from the marrow.

A brace of ditch parrots

 

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Filed under Giving thanks