It’s only 8 months (242 days) until October 1.
Category Archives: Talegate
As if to commemorate the occasion, a blue storm swept out of Saskatchewan, carrying that thin, cruel snow that comes only with subzero weather. Too cold for big flakes. Mean little ones.
Six hours on the road turned into seven and then we were finally there, at the bar, beers before us. Minus twelve outside. Tomorrow, into it. Minus twelve boosted down to minus thirty-two courtesy of our northern wind. Thank you.
I looked at her, sipped my beer, and grinned. “Tomorrow,” I said, “we get even.”
She looked at me as if I were crazy. No, check that. Not as if.
At seven the next morning, coffeed-up, cafed-up, we were at the first cover, snow screaming beneath our boots. The dog paddled out into it, stopping to chew clumps of snow from his toes, but pushing on, collecting burrs as he went, but eager. Minus thirty two with the wind. What the hell? I couldn’t stop grinning and then a rooster went up. Close, cackling and the auto loader was at my shoulder, barking once, twice, and the bird was down and the dog on him and then the bird in hand. Getting even.
Getting even for all of those wild flushes two hundred yards from the gun even after you’ve been careful with the truck doors. Even after you’ve whispered to the dog, heeled him tight until ready. There they go, a whole fucking field full of those bastards, all at once all in the air, all gone before you even have time to piss, zip up, and load the gun. Motherfuckers. I do not apologize for foul language and feral fowl. Pheasants. Or chukar, too, for that matter. Neither are a gentleman’s bird.
The blood in our veins flows like a slow river of lava into a cold ocean. We turn, move back to the truck a mile away, frozen, fingers tight. The dog chews more chunks of ice. Thank god for wool everything. Fingers and toes cold. The tip of the nose. But we are getting even with the bastards.
Drive to a new cover, trying to warm in the old Dodge, the heater going full blast and the temp gauge still not up to normal, despite an hour of idling. Dog out again and then we are in the chokecherries and another big gaudy sonofabitch gets up and swings out overhead and the gun barks and then jams solidly in the cold, doesn’t feed the second shell, but no matter because the bird is down and and the bird is dead.
We move on. The dog makes birds again and another big rooster gets up tight and close and I swing and shoot and the gun jams again. Too damned cold. But the bird is dead and by the time we get back to the truck and gut both of them out, they are cool and stiff and going frozen. But we’ve gotten even. For one day. A limit of roosters. Makes the vengeful heart happy.
Coffee handed out from the gal at the kiosk, a big smile and a shake of the head for anyone out hunting pheasants in twelve below. No one understands. It’s late season. It’s pheasants. It’s revenge.
The next day, out in it again. Up to minus twenty-two now. Wind chill. Still air, if there were such a thing, minus ten. A heat wave. Plugged the truck in at the motel last night. Good move.
Different dog this time. Same technique. Close, quiet, slow but before we’ve had to a chance to enter the good stuff, birds start going out, threes and fours and fives, some cackling. One hundred yards away. Not our fault. The doors were shut quietly, the dog close. Different day. More out wild and I get one quick shot, freezing and slow and a miss. Hit well yesterday. Missed first shot today. That’s all. We try to hunt up the singles, the pairs, but they go out wild before we can even crunch over there, frost in my beard, frost in my lady’s long hair, making her look prematurely gray. It’s a good look, I’ve got to say. A harbinger.
Different cover, another dog and the same result, birds out wild before we’ve even straddled the barbwire. Not the dog’s fault. Not the doors. Cursing.
We move up and even the hens are wild, going out in twos and threes, the dog working close and well, a veteran dog. Chewing snow and ice from pads. Too cold for more than one good run with one dog and then trade off. Finally, at the end of the quarter section, he goes on point, fairly close, a solid-something-is-right-here point and a big old gaudy cockbastard goes up and I swing up. And fumble the safety with my gloves in the subzero. That’s my excuse. And the bird is off and away and I shoot little more than a send off shot. A wide miss that I know is a whiff before the sound even comes to my ear. The day is an empty bag.
Not getting even at all.
I 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.
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.
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.
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?”
Me: “Hello? Ma’am? I still have a few more reasons I’d like to share… Hello?”
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.
Anyone 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.
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 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.
“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.
“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.
“Is bourbon flaskable?” – Does a ruffed grouse defecate in the woods?
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.