Category Archives: Reloading

No poetry

Last hunt

Last hunt

I wanted poetry. But that’s not the way it happened.
I wanted one last spin through stem and stubble, one last sudden pivot on wobbly legs. One last point.
One last rooster.
A burst of feather and wing to slate sky. A swing of double gun, a pull and a puff and the old boy on it, smelling it, mouthing it. His last rooster.
But that’s not the way it happened.
His ass-end gave out two hundred yards from the truck before we were in the really good stuff. We had to turn back, the old man pulling himself on his front legs, fickle back legs making drag marks in the snow. I offered to carry him, but he had none of it.
One last point, one last rooster. One last shot. I wanted that for him. I wanted that for me. But that’s not the way it happened and it occurs to me that poetry is a precious thing, a whisper on the wind, a blink.
A friend’s beautiful wife dies of leukemia before she turns thirty. There is no seventy-five years of shared life, no watching children and grandchildren grow and laugh. No poetry.
Another friend whose law enforcement career had spanned two decades spangled with accolades and decorations spent his last day investigating the disappearance of a woman while standing within feet of where her corpse lay hidden beneath a pile of trash. Days after the laughter had faded from his retirement party, his former colleagues discovered her body and arrested the boyfriend. No last day heroics, no “one last bust,” no poetry.
An Olympic miler steps off a city sidewalk and shatters her tibia. No poetry.
And so. An old bird dog on his last hunt ends up pulling himself home by his front legs. Two months shy of his thirteenth birthday and there will be no final pheasant. There was, but it was placed in the game bag months before without thought that there would never be another. Forgotten. Not even realized.
He sleeps now on his bed downstairs and I know that someday soon, he won’t be able to get up and walk from it, that he will have to drag himself and then I will know it is time. And I think about moments that have passed for him and I on our journey together.
And I think about the look of him then, all tri-colored and feathered, pivoting out in brambles, pointing and casting and moving in rhythmic upland music and I realize that in fact this is why I love bird hunting. For in that motion of dog into wind, in that movement of fur and nostril, it is there: Poetry. When all else in life lacks, upland behind a setter provides.
Sometimes life is just life. Sometimes it sings and the melody is bird dog.

—Tom Reed

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Filed under Reloading, 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

Chukar Dunketts

A serving of homegrown footage courtesy of our buddy, Brian Huskey. Pour a couple fingers of brown liquor, kick back and enjoy a little off-season succor. Er, chukar, that is…

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Filed under Chukar, Reloading, Surviving the off season, Upland Hunting

Thought for the day…

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,

and

Weimaraners.

 

 

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Filed under Fodder, Reloading, Surviving the off season, We might have been jrunk.

Ghosts

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.

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Filed under Fodder, Reloading

Knowing It’s There

I could go on about how the season came and went too quickly, although now that I think about it, a lot has come and gone since it began last September. I could lament not having gotten out more, though I think I did pretty well this year. I could allow myself to be reminded, every time I look at the dog, of regret at not letting him revel in what he is bred for, every second and every day that he is legally allowed to do so. But then again, neither am I, and that’s life.

Instead of giving in to remorse, I opt to wander through the ever-expanding topo map of places I’ve hunted which lives in my head. I think of fields full of sharptail, warm and yellow and glowing on an October afternoon, now harsh and iced over and windswept. But still, these tough birds reside. I think about new chukar land I walked this past year. About how dry it was – even for that country; about how those birds of the Eurasian steppe are surviving in their adopted basin and range. Blue grouse now burrowed into snow, and a lone wolverine, high above tree line on a February morning, trying to sniff them out. Huns, normally spread out and elusive for much of the year, now coalesced into a large covey that has moved into the undeveloped sage scrub near my house to wait for the days to grow long again.

Somewhere deep in the big empty.

Maybe my drive is evolving. Walking country for days, with nothing in the game bag to show for it, doesn’t feel so much like “failure” anymore. While sitting down to a meal of chukar enchiladas, or pheasant pot pie, is a yearning I hope never to quench, it’s more important simply to know that the country is there. That the birds are there. That I know these things irrevocably, because I’ve personally been cold, dirty and hungry in such places, and it’s left its mark on me. I’ll wake up hungry again tomorrow, no matter how amazing the meal was. But these intimate connections to wild country are a longer-lasting feast. Either way, you are what you eat.

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Filed under Reloading, Surviving the off season, Talegate

Questions

Why have I developed a callus on the index finger I use to operate my e-collar transmitter?

How do Huns absolutely vanish without a trace, even when you and the dog saw exactly where they went down?

Why do they call it an “improved” choke if I don’t shoot any better when I use it?

Why does whiskey always taste better with a full game bag?

Why do the voices in my head sound like chukar?


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

The Purge.

There are those that are diligent about cleaning their gear at the end of the season, putting it all away properly. Truth be told, with the exception of guns, I’m not one of those.

My bird vest usually gets tossed in the closet shortly after chukar ends around the first week of February, and doesn’t emerge again ’till…well, right about now – a few days before the next season starts.

Somewhere in Idaho

Empty purple and yellow shells clink together in the pockets as I take the vest off the hook.

A granola bar wrapper is still in there, which I ate the contents of atop Nunya Peak, as the increasing wind ushered in a black wall of storm in the distance, and the birds called each other into the safety of the cliffs below me. We proceeded to take a few stragglers from the base of that cliff; birds that didn’t heed the call to safety. It was snowing sideways on the way out, and it took a while to find the truck, even longer to regain the feeling in my hands.

There is still a smorgasbord of remnant feathers all mixed together in the back of the vest, representing a rough stratigraphic timeline from early season ruffies at the base, through the solid mid-layer of sharpies and roosters and the occasional Hun, topped off with a dusting of chuks. Dirt, dried grass and twigs hold it all together.

There is that small hole that should probably have been mended (but likely never will be), from where I took a break against a fence post that hid a rusty old square nail, somewhere in southern Montana.

A small projectile point made of chert that I almost stepped on walking the canyon country of Nevada. I stood there for a while after I picked it up, sliding the cool smoothness of it between my thumb and forefinger, taking in a view that extended far, far into the distance.

Drops of dried blood remain on the lining of the game bag, reminding me that this isn’t just a game.

In some weird way, purging my vest of all these things is almost as difficult as accepting the end of another season. I put the vest back in the closet. There are still a few more days before this really needs to be done.

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Filed under Keeping it Dirty, Reloading, Talegate

Trapped

It  wasn’t a conscious decision; we had merely started moving in slightly different trajectories, and in this sort of country that means that before long we were almost a mile, and a deep gorge, away from each other. I look across the rim at the small figures, the even smaller brown and white dots that represented the dogs. Even at this distance it is obvious that they are covering ten times the amount of ground that the humans are.

I find reasonably stable footing amidst the slippery skateboards of sandstone talus piled atop each other, and look over the rim. Even in February, the creek flows assertively. Yes, people would have lived here, and probably would have done pretty well at it, considering the harshness that lay to the horizon beyond.

In the distance, the rooftops and glass reflections of a border gambling town can be seen. I am less than an hour hike from the road, but I know that no one has likely stood where I am in a long time. They come in vehicles of sealed, conditioned air, never leaving pavement, and head straight to the dim cacaphony of casinos where it could be any time of night or day. Indeed, this lack of any reference to time of day is the deliberate strategy from the casino’s point of view. And then, broke, satiated, guilty, elated, hungover or maybe even lucky, they get back in their cars and move on, their feet likely never touching real soil, their menthol-pickled lungs taking in as little fresh air as possible throughout the entire endeavor.

I drop below the band of rimrock and continue to parallel the ridge, the creek now audible below. Here and there are concentrations of tiny obsidian flakes on the ground, doubtless in the very same spot where they initially fell, as someone ages before fashioned a tool or killing instrument of some sort. I continue on, lost in various thoughts of the people who used to live here, losing recollection of the quarry I came here to find, not even sure exactly where my dog is. It feels good to be alone in this place, walking, consumed by the moment, surrounded by scatterings of human evidence, reminded that I am but one in a long chain that stretches way back. Something incongruous catches my eye and I bend down. A tiny chert arrowhead, perfectly formed.

I move on, still deep in thought, looking down as I pick my way along, only half-heartedly still in the hunt. Hank pops over the rim above to check on me and then disappears again.

And then suddenly, there it is.

I stand there stunned as everything around me slows and focuses in the middle, on what lies in front of me, blurred around the edges, like an old tintype. Despite the mid-day temps hovering around freezing, it is clear that the cat hasn’t been dead for long. It is also clear that this had not been a quick death; that nothing dies quickly this way. There would have been hours, if not days, of struggle, of life slowly ebbing, of creeping cold, until this. Wind moves the soft fur, and I can’t resist – I kneel down and run my fingers through it. There is this brief, purely sensory moment where my thinking, judgmental mind is as numb as the carcass before me. This incredibly soft coat. I want to continue running my hand through it and not think about anything, but thoughts begin to creep back. I stand up and wonder if the trapper is watching me from somewhere in the distance. This is easy country to remain undetected in.

I try to get it back, but the rest of the day is not the same. The usual burning desire to continue hunting and covering country has been dimmed to a flicker and all I want to do is put the gun and the rest of it all away and go sit somewhere with a flask of whiskey and a good view and not think about anything but the biting February wind chafing my face and the little chert arrowhead, smooth between my fingers.

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Chukar, Open country, Reloading

Begin Anew

It begins with hearing the creak of the stove door opening, with someone throwing a few sticks on the coals from last night. Before long, you hear a little crackling and periscope one eye toward the still tightly drawn opening of your sleeping bag to find a greyish hint of daylight. No one really moves much, but a gradual, collective realization that morning has arrived seems to pervade. Before long, it’s almost too warm in the wall tent to stay inside the bag, and a restlessness follows and people start to emerge. A dog stretches before curling up and laying down again, a little closer to the heat source.

Photo by Ty Traxler

Muscles are stiff, and there’s the faint remnant of retribution from last night’s whiskey, preventing much conversation. Or coordination, for that matter. An empty bottle or two get knocked over in an effort to get the coffee pot on the stove. Someone throws on boots and trips over the tent door, cursing, on a relief mission.

Presently, frying garlic and onions awake what is left of dormant senses and the mental fog begins to lift. Sausage and peppers get added to the mix and take it to a new level. Something which probably wouldn’t be funny in an otherwise full state of consciousness cracks all of you up. Soon glorious caffeine is infusing the body with fresh fire. Yesterday’s beatdown, traversing steep cliffs, slipping and falling on greasy rock, and the ensuing aches, forgotten. Tails start to wag and a cup of coffee goes over. So the day begins anew and nothing else really matters in high, windswept country where humans and dogs and chukar sometimes cross paths.

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Chukar, Open country, Reloading