Tag Archives: German Shorthair Pointers

When the Weird Turn Pro

There is a headspace you sometimes get into on road trips. Or a headspace that I tend to get into, anyway. In this particular case, it was the pernicious result of a hangover, a couple Reese’s, a bag of cheese puffs, some strong coffee and three surreal days of seeking chukar. I was driving home, the trip behind me and the Tetons in ominous storm shroud before me, killing time by playing the game in my head of trying to explain all this to someone.

Sometimes in the midst of these hell-bent junkets, it feels like the things you see along the side of the road have been deliberately placed there to conspire against your already zoned-out, chemically-fueled, tenuous grasp on road reality. These must be documented in the event that your sanity is some day put on trial. It may be the only defense.

An entire life lived in the West, and there are times when the scale of things still screws with me. I look up at vertical caprock, trying to gauge if it’s 500′ or 1500′ above, though it really doesn’t matter – I’m going up there regardless.

An hour or three later, I’m standing on top, looking at telltale tracks in the snow, the sore legs and lack of oxygen already an afterthought as the little bastards take control of my brain, yet again.

The dog vacillates between ranging too far and alternately doing exactly what he should, still working to find that fine, triadic balance between enthusiasm and focus and teamwork. He slams on point; as dramatic as if he’d hit a brick wall at full speed, and I try to get to him before one of the parties involved breaks this fleeting impasse. Later, it’s not the bird getting up, not the passing shot, not the satisfaction of finding my mark that I will remember – it’s that deranged, amber fire in his eyes as he holds point and lets me know that we’ve found what we’re looking for. This continues to haunt me as I type; those blazing, otherworldly apertures etched into an obscure corner in the back of my brain reserved for a few indelible memories. The same eyes that now just belong to a goofy pup laying on his back with his legs in the air on my living room floor.

In the end, what would I say to the uninitiated? That I had driven over 500 miles round trip, to stay in a cheap motel, eat a lot of bad food, spend hours driving on rough two-track across tragically over-grazed former bird habitat, with but one bird in the cooler to ultimately show for it? And that for whatever twisted reason, this had fed my soul?

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Chukar, Dogs, Glutton For Punishment, Road Tales, Soul

I got da blues dis mornin’….

Dawn on the first day of deer season. The cracking reports of high caliber rifles, some of them sounding more apt for buffalo or urban warfare, can be heard in the valley below. We gratefully stand on the ridge high above as dawn light strikes the far side. We are at 8000′ in mixed blue and ruffed grouse habitat, but blues are on the brain and at the top of the priority list. Hank clearly has a bug up his ass, and I suppose I do too. He’s ranging far – too far – and I’m letting it get to me a little too much, probably symptomatic of other things in the back of my mind that I’m trying to sort out.

Eventually, I remember that he is young and in his first season, that an occasional day like this is to be expected, that it would probably be best to just call it and head home. There are days when you just know it’s just not going to come together, and it’s best to listen to that. As we make our way back down the hillside, still several hundred feet above the truck, I break the action, unload and give a whistle. Wait. Another.

Hank hasn’t been seen for several minutes, which means he could easily be in the next county. I’m getting pissed. And then getting pissed at myself for getting pissed. Eventually, he comes charging in on my right at mach speed, scaring the crap out of a random blue that happened to have been holding in the brush nearby. The bird lofts right in front of me, the easiest passing shot in the world. I raise my now unloaded gun, swing through and say, “BAM” out loud. Hank looks at up at me like I’m insane, and takes off barking like the piss and vinegar pup that he is. It will be the last blue we lay eyes on this season.

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Dogs, Glutton For Punishment, Undaunted by Futility

Excerpts from a Quail Quest…

From the Upland Lexicon of Essential Euphemisms (3rd Ed.):
Main Entry: 1quest
Pronunciation: \ˈkwest\
Function: noun
1) Typically used in retrospect, to summarize the unsuccessful pursuit of an elusive, small bird in a big land. 2) An attempt to put a valorous spin on failure. 3) Also used in place of such platitudes as “it’s just good to be out here.

Az. Fish & Game agent: “Yeah, the Mearns numbers seem to be really down this year. Dry spring and summer did a number on ‘em. So what are you guys hunting out here?”

Us: “Mearns”

AZF&G: “Oh.”

“We scouted that road last weekend. It’s pretty rough, and **** ‘s truck wouldn’t make it, but I’m sure your rig will be fine.”

“Hmmm….where do you think those folks are going on ATV’s, in head-to-toe camo, ski masks and handguns?”

“Note to self – when you go on a road trip, bring the keys to the locking gas cap.”

“Javelina’s are basically just big cranky rodents on steroids.”

“We could always move down lower and see if we can find some Gambel’s…”

“I’m not ready to slum with Gambel’s yet.”

“That’s gotta be the weirdest Johnny Cash song ever.”

“Looks like that big pot of beef stew flipped over in the back of your truck.”

“Should he be chewing on that?

“Well, till next year.”

“Yep.”

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Fodder, Glutton For Punishment, Road Tales, Undaunted by Futility

In the Hall of the Chukar King

Out of breath, I stop to leave a little water in this otherwise dessicated landscape. Looking down, I note that my boys are as red as chukar legs in that detached, objective way not uncommon to moments of pain and survival. This trip is beginning to take a toll on me. Looking up, I survey a thousand feet of loose scree and caprock and cheatgrass above, and hear them laughing from on high. I try not to take it personally, though it is most definitely personal, and I continue scrambling to reach their steep patch of hell, simmering with murderous intent.

I know they are close – the dog starts getting birdy and then locks, just as half the covey pulls a flanking maneuver, running around behind him and then they all get up simultaneously – a dozen chukar exploding and tormenting him from all sides. He predictably loses his shit, jumping in the air and spinning and barking. Poor little bastard. No good dog deserves this. Instead, some of them, like some of us, simply become addicted in spite of better judgment; gluttons for punishment.

As the chaos subsides and I tell Hank it wasn’t his fault, I hear the lone holdover bird flush behind me. Wheel and fire and the bird drops decisively. Mistakes are unforgiving here; a maxim that applies to us as much to us as it does to them.

It wasn’t a classic take over a point, but you don’t always wait for that in this country, on this quarry. No, this is guerrilla warfare, and I don’t mean that lightly. Refined gentlemen and their traditions and their rules remain far below, looking up at places like this through binoculars.

From above the saddle I watch the covey flush wild and take cover in a jagged outcropping, disappearing into the crevices. We learn from their flanking tactics and return in kind. It’s so damn steep I practically have one knee braced into the hillside when I see the GSP locked up hard, balanced on a boulder. I catch my breath, taking a second to admire the work of this first-season pup, and release him with an “ok.” He rockets in and the little devils get up and I promptly send two of them to meet their infernal maker. I watch the birds drop 75 yards below me on a 50 degree slope of nasty, loose, volcanic talus. Even in death these fiends make you pay.

Lest the wrong impression is given, I spend the next day going through an entire box of shells with only two hitting their mark. Fast passing shots on birds dropping from above at mach speed, whiffed. Shots taken at birds that I knew damn well were out of range, solely out of frustration, hoping to bend physics to my will. It didn’t work.

Evening is not exactly  the affable return to the sprawling lodge after a jaunty day afield one imagines in the sportsman tomes of yore. It is instead a deliberate refueling with piles of greasy sustenance; a licking of wounds with corn liquor salve and barley-based anti-inflammatories. Plotting, debriefing, refiguring tactics – a team effort to recharge before tomorrow’s redeployment. The banter is generally about as offensive as you can imagine. The easily affronted might want to camp somewhere else. Far away.

Dawn reaches our cold little camp in the arroyo and high-octane joe eradicates the last vestiges of rust from sore muscles and we’re off. We ascend to the Hall of the Chukar King yet again – knowing they await far above, assuming they’ll be no easier than they were yesterday, working like you would for no other upland species, to return spent, with maybe a few birds in the bag and the weary contentment that only comes from having your ass handed to you by a small, crafty partridge in a vast, alien land.

We’ll be back.

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Chukar, Dogs, Glutton For Punishment, Road Tales

The Borderline

Pour me a drink from the bottle
And one for you
’cause we’re empty as the desert
As we drift from west to east
On the borderline everything is empty, even you and I…”

- “Borderline,” by Camper van Beethoven

We hunt the fringes, the transitions, the anomalies. We gravitate to this without much conscious thought; pulled to these points at the extremity of an amorphous compass by the lodestone of experience. You could say we’re merely following the dog, but there is more to it than that. The dog is pulled to these places as the birds are pulled as we are pulled – the collision of impulse and instinct between three separate species.

Why will we repeatedly cross an otherwise featureless field, drawn to a small rise that hosts a few sage, dragged along primarily by hope? There are the obvious reasons, of course – the fact that this negligible bump on the landscape gives a vantage point for the birds and possibly a slightly greater variety of feed, would be sound reasoning, but doesn’t account for all of it. Then there are the old hedgerows, the messy perimeter of the errant orchard, the sweeping line of scrub oak, the rocky edge of the bluff; all of them places that hold birds, all of them liminal zones of portent, possessed with a deeper significance if we care to stop and think about it.

These peripheries have an irresistible, innate pull, something hardwired into the collective limbic network we tap into when we take a shotgun and a dog in the field. It is something that gets at our soul and provides a glimpse of insight into this odd thing we love. Our pursuit, after all, doesn’t really stand up to much logic. From a simple, meat-gathering point of view, it is a net loss – we expend a great deal more energy than we ever hope to take in at the end of the day. But we do it anyway, and we have all sorts of other reasons that we tell ourselves; to simply get out in the great outdoors, to watch the dogs work, to keep one foot in the door of what it means to kill and procure your own food; all of them undeniably true.

Yet we’re fooling ourselves if we aren’t also aware that as an upland clan, we are a fringe unto ourselves, occupying but a small sub-group of an already minor segment in our society, comprised of those that still hunt. And thus, as much as we are drawn to these fringe places for the obvious, we also go there for reasons that reflect who we ultimately are. We are of the peripheral, stalking the transitional, drifting west to east along the borderline…

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Reloading, Road Tales, Soul

Wild quail or pellet-head?

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Filed under Bobwhites, Dogs

Walking In

He froze in textbook style, and for a moment all thought of pursuit, of what we had come in search of, was gone. I stood there marveling at how I hadn’t taught him to do this, how I doubt that you really can. But there he was, locked up; the graven image of a genetic legacy on override.

point

I didn’t care about the bird – I just didn’t want this moment to end. I wanted us both to go on standing there, motionless, till darkness descended or the storm cut loose overhead. These are the things that will nurse me through the months of waiting. Waiting for it to all start again – these all too rare perfect moments, the many less than perfect ones, the sore feet, the hours and days with an empty game bag.  All of it.

- Smithhammer

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The End of Days

You could count the number of days remaining in the Idaho sharpie season on one hand. It had been a tough year, with a bird or two here and there, but the coveys were few and far between. Still, with the help of an up-and-coming first-season pup we managed to put one in the bag now and then.

Yet with the days waning in a season that always feels too short, time spent in the field was becoming less and less productive. We’d go to formerly fruitful areas, cover them thoroughly, and find nothing. I began to question if I knew what I was doing – truth be told, a state of mind as familiar to me as my favorite old Browning boots.

In such vast country, you try to cling to informed opinions about where the birds may be, and sometimes that works, but too often they simply burst skyward from places that hold no distinguishing characteristics. We’d been walking for hours, working our way through the subtle highs and lows of the landscape, hoping to stumble across the one indistinct anomaly that, for reasons I may never fully understand, just happens to hold birds on this particular day, at this particular hour. Nothing.

It was becoming downright frigid, and I was beyond spent. We headed back to the car, with Hank valiantly still trying to find birds right up till I opened the door. We got inside and sat there for what I think were a few moments but could have been much more, listening to the wind range southbound, shaking the truck, watching the light fade. I started the truck and drove slowly out on the gravel road. Looking up from starting the radio I watched the sharpie fly across the road, right in front of us, and disappear over the horizon.

Ultimately, the birds are not particularly fond of being shot, and they owe you nothing. You better be able to laugh or this pursuit will drive you crazy.

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Filed under Glutton For Punishment, Road Tales, Sharpies

Of Trust and Hope

If you’re of the sentiment, as John Buchan was, that fishing is “a perpetual series of occasions for hope,” I’d highly recommend trying to finding birds out here:

ImageShack

You will walk farther than you think, and look back to see that you’ve put precious little landscape between you and where you started. You’ll find yourself putting up the same bird repeatedly as you make your way across the field, always flushing just out of range, or, not coincidentally, taking wing just as you’re distracted by a bull moose the size of a small mastodon on the far ridge. You’ll invariably find yourself making your way back to the truck against the wind, no matter which direction it was blowing when you started; the dense grass grabbing at your boots and slowing your progress. I can only compare it to wading upstream against a stiff current. For miles.

ImageShack

You’ll lose your dog and curse him with a level of creativity you never knew you possessed, only to crest a rise and find him locked down on a covey, doing exactly what he should be with exemplary style, and you’ll turn the stream of invective deservedly on yourself. After picking up one downed bird and stuffing it in your vest as the others continue over the horizon, you’ll offer part of your meatloaf sandwich and it dawns on you that he will never, ever hold any of your shortcomings against you; that he will continue tolerating hunting with you until you undoubtedly tire before he does.

This may indeed be another one of those pursuits that is an endless series of occasions for hope. But then again, it was that wry wit Ben Franklin that said, “He that lives on hope will die fasting.” So no matter how boundless your optimism may be, don’t bother venturing into this country, in pursuit of sharptails, without one of these:

And by all means, trust him.

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Dogs, Sharpies