Gunfight In Our Birdcamp

His hat lies on the floor of the old house. A narrow ray of sunlight crawls through a hole in the roof and illuminates the tattered carpet a few inches away. The hat was once was sharp and bold; black with big gold letters and those striking wings on the bill that us kids called “scrambled eggs.” But my Grandpa Clarence died years ago and his old cap is now tired and gray from accumulating dust. A mouse emerges from beneath the crown and scurries away through the rubbish of the crumbling bedroom in the once-vibrant Kansas farmhouse.

As a boy, I spent countless days in this home with my grandparents. On special occasions, I would travel with Grandpa from the red and white house as he proudly wore that NRA cap to church potlucks and community barbecues. By the time I was in high school, I could spot him in the crowds of my ball games by those three big gold letters. 

Grandpa survived the dust bowl, the great depression, and WWII. Dignified but never ostentatious, he was a dedicated FDR Democrat who believed the shared sacrifice and self imposed decency of his generation had saved democracy. That NRA cap had a very specific meaning to him; it was an extension of his patriotism. 

His hat signified responsibility, solidarity, pride, and family; all things I experienced with him as a boy. After enough of my begging, he would agree to jump in an old pickup truck and bounce down a dirt road until we arrived at a ditch where he knew pheasants lived. We spent the better parts of fall days together, me with a borrowed gun from my dad and Grandpa with his prized Model 31 Remington 12 gauge. I remember the soft fall light pouring over us as we took aim at the birds and then laughed together about shots made and missed. 

Those old romantic days of Americana with my grandfather are now gone. Where there was once a lawn and a home and a family, there is now a head-high forest of kosha and thistle. There are pheasants scurrying through those weeds in the decaying homestead, and I take aim at roosters flying over the bedroom where the old NRA cap lies sad and forgotten. 

I make a good shot on a bright, long-tailed bird and it lands with a thud near the foundation of what is left of the house. My grandpa would have been proud of that shot, but I am glad he did not live to see the things that his once-proud hat now signifies. 

I am sad for him. So much has changed. Like his favorite hat, he was proud of me in his own quiet way. In his later years he beamed as he told friends that his grandson was a bigshot at a gun company. He kept a catalog from that company to show off what I did. It’s probably in the house now with the old hat and the dust and the mice. 

I was proud too. Back then neither of us had the perspective to see what was happening. As Grandpa neared the end of his life, about the time I was winning awards in the gun business, the memories, pride and idealism signified by his cap were already being twisted into a political machine that Grandpa would have wanted nothing to do with.

Eventually I would be a part of an industry that was doing things he would not have been proud of. For a while I was too close to see it, and as Grandpa faded, he was too far away. I suppose there are blessings in the blind ambition of youth and in the calm ignorance of old age. But there are dangers too, and I hope that our country is neither too close nor too far away now.

People like us bird hunting vagabonds, those of us who read and write on this assemblage of words and images, are almost all romantics. We want to believe things are true, we hope the country is not changing, we want to remember our old hats as crisp, proud and righteous.  

But not everything is as we wish it to be. The blind romance and passion of people like us is often the very fuel for the mechanized forces that eat away the old homesteads and favorite memories of our lives. I spent decades inside that powerful machine, I fed it, learned how it worked and tried to maneuver within it. Sadly, I came to understand it had used people like my grandpa and me. 

Coming to terms with this reality has not been easy. Writing my memoir has not been easy. Dealing with the truth of a deeply divided country has not been easy. Knowing that my grandpa’s hat is lying in that hold house has not been easy. Challenging what some of you believe will not be easy.

Shooting cackling pheasants over the old Kansas bedroom was, truth be told, pretty easy.  

The words I have offered to my Mouthful Of Feathers colleagues and readers have always been honest. I have always appreciated the depth of this audience. The words I write in my forthcoming book are also honest. The truth is that there is a gunfight in our national bird camp and I have written a book about it all. It’s going to be controversial. Some of you will be prone to dismiss it before you read. 

But just like everything else we write here, I ask that you give this story a fair shake. Because in the end, this book is about all of you too. This is about our country, about how we ended up in a place where half of America hates the other half. 

Just days ago I received notice that Gunfight has been named as a prestigious top ten most anticipated book for the fall of 2021, so someone thinks this is going to be important. But the audience of MOF means a lot to me and I hope that the book can live up to your expectations. 

Thank you for allowing me to share words about things we cherish. I invite you to preorder this book, to read it in October and to think about our old hats and the parts each of us play in our great American story. 

We are all characters in this one.

Learn about the book and preorder here:  www.ryanbusseauthor.com

Getting off on the right foot

“I should shoot you.” 

I said it as flat and cold as I could. 

The view was nice up here, and while I may have been pleased to be at the top, I wasn’t feeling it yet. About five minutes prior, I had been skirting a hill in chukar country. I’d showed up to camp about an hour before, having driven through part of the night in a snowstorm and laid up short of camp to avoid rousting everyone at 2 a.m. I had driven into camp at sunrise, a little delirious and feeling like Gandalf arriving at dawn on the third day. In truth, I showed up a couple of days after camp had started with my covid 15 packed into my shirt.  

That first morning, my three companions headed in other directions and I lit out into the wilds low on sleep, overweight and needing to get my chukar legs under me. I took the low road, moving west, skirting the big hill. I’d let loose Maggie – the big running young setter – based on some logic that seemed sound at the time, but fails me now that I try and recall the rationale. I started moving, cold still, knowing I’d would warm eventually. Maggie swung wide into the flat off to our west as I trudged north. I was optimistic that she might find a covey of huns in the lowlands, and I felt soft at the wish. Maggie had other ideas. She swung north, then made a great sweeping arc all the way to my right, climbing the hill I had avoided, disappearing over the skyline, still climbing at a dead run.

I turned northeast, following her on the path of least resistance, climbing, but at a gentle pace. And then she stopped. The Garmin said she was pointing, 425 yards. Straight uphill. 

Days later, my chukar legs under me and the first day’s trepidation gone, I would think back to this moment. Heart hammering, a messy jog hampered by 8 months of covid fat hanging on me a like an anchor, but climbing like a mad man. Sweating, panting, slipping on the snow and ice-covered scree. Occasionally calling out a feeble, whispered “good girl, whoa”, mostly for myself. Narrowing the gap, 300 yards, 200, navigate around a basalt rim, 100 yards, almost to the top, “where is she?” Then 50 yards, at the summit. And she’s moving. She comes right to me, happy as only a bird dog afield can be. 

I look around desperately to see if I can find the birds flying and maybe mark them down. Instead, I see Tom. Laughing. Giggling like a child who has just played the greatest joke of all time, holding the little setter by the collar, patiently petting her as I scrambled and raced uphill. 

“I should shoot you.” 

I said it as flat and cold as I could. 

But came out more like, “I…” followed by gasping and retching, “I… should,” more gasping, wheezing, and sweating. “I… should… shoot… you.” 

I was pissed and not yet in the mood to laugh about it. But even if I had been pulled there involuntarily, I was at the top of this little hill, now in chukar country for real. To the east, a mountain range loomed another 2,500 feet up and ahead of us was a dry creek and another hill. Down, then up again. Vertical gained, vertical lost. And if you want to kill chukar, you have to be casual about it. Birds climb up and fly down. Get used to it. When you find them, you chase them. 

Tom managed to slow the giggling to a smirk.

Sorry buddy. I had to do it,” he said. “You want to hunt together?” 

We dropped down into the creek bed and started upward again.

The first day in chukar camp is always tough. Particularly after a year like this one. But you have to start climbing eventually, and truthfully, it’s not exactly the Himalayas. It’s more of a mind game than anything. You just have to steel yourself and go right at it. As the trip wound down, I regained my sense of humor and told the rest of the crew the story. On reflection after days of non-stop climbing, maybe I even owe Tom for getting me off on the right foot on that first morning.

Yep, I definitely owe him. I’ll have to do something nice to repay him next season. 

Growing up rich

In 1981 my dad ordered a Chevy truck from a small town dealer, stripped bare of any amenities to keep the cost down. Not even the truck bed was included. He welded up a simple flatbed for it so that it could easily haul hay and pull cattle trailers. Years later, when it was not engaged in those activities, it was my school truck.

On most days, reminders of the truck’s working-class roots were there beside me. A lariat rope or a pipe wrench on the seat as I parked by the school in the morning. Maybe a wad of twine on the floor if I had fed the horses before class. Not exactly the symbol of privilege or status I saw in the movies of the time, but on all days from November to February there was a shotgun behind the seat, that gun hinted at my incredible wealth.

After basketball practice, on weekends, sometimes on the way to school, that old truck was my ticket to chasing pheasants. Western Kansas was full of them.

My father was a devotee of Aldo Leopold who planted CRP grass wherever the government would allow; his way of bandaging the nation’s prairie wounds. Our ranch held birds in nearly every crook and corner because of it.

On many evenings as I drove the dirt road home, I parked in the ditch then darted into a ravine or fence row with gun in hand. Rarely did I emerge without a rooster or two. On weekends we would limit out by noon or complain about a tough day. I did not yet understand real dog work, but I would involve my dog Daisy where I could. A half lab half springer with just enough birdiness.

I hunted pheasants beginning when I was a young boy and I became an expert, dedicating almost all spare time to the pursuit. I knew where to go on hot days, how the birds would fly with a north wind, how they tried to escape in every scenario, knew every patch of grass, what time they finished in the grain fields.

We counted birds in the hundreds. I took it all for granted, got spoiled I suppose. For all I knew, all kids grew up with wild birds and pocket full of 20-gauge shells. Like a lot of rich kids, I was too dumb to know how rich I was.

Occasionally my father hauled my brother and me to what felt like another world. 30 miles or more to another ranch up north where there was a beautiful creek bottom covered with giant old cottonwoods. Enormous trees that were used as corral corners for the big Texas cattle drives of the last century.

These groves were on the edge of quail country. Chasing native covey birds in the trees and brush was mesmerizing. It challenged me in a new way. My dog acted differently. The birds held better. When I was lucky enough to harvest quail, I cradled them as if they were an exotic gem from a far-off land. Reverence that is still within me today.

In my sophomore year of high school I got another rich kid break. Mr. Leach, my high school football coach, needed some company on a trip to quail country many hours to the south and east. He had a fine Brittany and I said yes in an instant. That was my first experience in great quail country with a pointer.

It was 1985 and the big city rich kids were hooked on cocaine, forgettable fashion and bad music. I was addicted to hunting wild quail with a pointing dog.

By the time I was in college the habit was worsening. Living in a dorm room surrounded by great habitat and coveys galore, I knew I needed my own pointing dog. I noticed an ad in a local paper, cobbled together every bit of cash I had, drove 35 miles and bought a 10-month-old Brittany for $125.

The runt of the litter was tethered by a chain to an austere outdoor kennel. He needed rescuing and I needed a friend that could hold a point. Neither of us could afford to be picky. I named him Michener and was shooting quail over him later that afternoon. The first of hundreds of such days we shared together.

We lived in a small dorm room where canines were not welcome. Many evenings were spent evading the hall monitors not friendly enough to look the other way. Once safe, we would examine maps with the aim of discovering new quail haunts. The next day, after a classroom test or sometimes despite one, we would slip away from campus. Day after day we rolled in the quail country of central Kansas.

Like a kid with fresh $100 bill, I held the place up to the light then close to my nose. I breathed it in just to make sure it was real. That was a magic place and time, with its wild birds and farmers who granted easy permission. With coveys darting over hills in the soft fall light and stray singles holding tight for Michener to point.  

I was told that College was supposed to prepare a kid for the larger world. Lucky for me it did. Eventually I’d put my bird-chasing degree to work, but just out of school I struggled for footing in a world that required more than just hunting experience. Michener became a ranch dog and stayed back home with my parents as I bounced around looking for a place in the world. Within a year or two I found it when I moved to Montana. And just as I had when I landed in quail country, I soon located a birddog companion. I drove back to my rental house from Missoula with a new Britany puppy on my lap. Ruark and I would roam the west together for the next 16 years. 

This dog became my new wealth advisor. He pushed me to discover another part of my incredible inheritance. A 640-million-acre estate, too much of it already pot-marked and two-tracked, but some of it still wild and unspoiled. I owned this place, or at least a part of it. I was now exploring our public lands and discovering some of the finest wild bird hunting on the planet. Another lucky stroke for the spoiled rich kid.

By the 90s, the world was flooded with the cash of the internet boom. I was enjoying my own fortune. Living in Montana pulling in just barely enough to buy shotgun ammo. Taking my quail experience and multiplying it just a savvy rich kid should. 

This new land afforded me the opportunity to trek nearly 20 miles in a single day. In most places I granted my own permission. Even after many long days in a row I stood on high points and saw another month’s worth of vastness.

I came to love hunting sharptail, huns, sage grouse, chukar, quail and mountain grouse in the expanse of the west. Here I could unfold maps with public land measured in dozens of sections. I camped where I wanted. Walked for days on end. Learned where sharpies lived and what they ate. Watched them travel many miles on a single flight.  I’d chased hun coveys over high ridges and through skree fields. Occasionally I’d stumble into a creek bottom and find a stray pheasant or two, a reminder of my days as a youngster. It was country big enough for an army so Ruark and I recruited more dogs. Any random day might turn into an adventure suitable for the finest publications with scenery too beautiful to describe. And I owned it, right along with every other American.

I often mentioned my wealth to old bird hunting friends. One of them made a living selling fine shotguns. Through his work he had been lucky enough to hunt across the globe. He lived in the pheasant and quail country of Nebraska and gladly took me up on an offer hunt in Montana. On one cold evening after a strenuous day and lots of shooting, the dogs were curled up in our camper. He and I were out under the stars near a small campfire, bourbon in hand marveling at constellations. He grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and earnestly proclaimed, “Don’t ever believe that it gets any better than this.” He already knew what I was figuring out. I was living the life of a king on the budget of a pauper.

Wild quail and pheasants in America’s heartland remain very special to me. I still consider bobwhite hunting to be among the finest sporting experiences available to mankind. But there is something spiritual about public lands bird hunting. 

I have been fortunate enough to spend hundreds of days on our vast public estate in the west. Exploring new haunts. Climbing new mountains. Seeing dogs point 9 or 10 different bird species in a single year. Hunting days or weeks without seeing another hunter. Shooting limits some days. Loving the tough days of exploration just about as much. Wearing out boots every year. Developing a synergy with big running bird dogs that is so magical it is impossible to describe.

A monetary system will never exist that can measure this sort of wealth.

In my formative days I was like a lot of spoiled kids, never realizing the fortunate accident of my birth. I flopped from one lucky bird hunting break to another without much consideration. But as time has gone on, and attacks on our public lands have increased I have grown to see my existence in a different light. 

Yeah, I’m rich. Spoiled goddamned rotten, but so are all other Americans. 

We all own the same places. We all have the same permission. As I realized what I owned I went to work fighting to protect what is mine, and yours. I assessed what was important in my life. I hunt it just as hard as I ever did but I now devote my life and politics to saving an inheritance.

It’s the great leveling field, maybe the last one left in the world. This is no exclusive club. You don’t need an aristocratic last name or an old-money trust fund. Fact is that new fancy boots and shiny cars don’t mean shit out here. No one cares what color you are or where you went to school. The implications are as beautiful as a Kansas covey drifting over the little bluestem at last light. Just like the kid in front of the school in the ranch truck, any old shotgun can be the symbol of your wealth too. Truth is, we were all born rich.  

Save Giffy Butte

You can post all the hashtags you want, but please knock it off with the geotagging and mapping bird hunting spots. Social media hotspotting is not cool man. Name a state. Name a region. Name a large city with a good BBQ restaurant. But don’t name spots. I know it’s not just hunters. It happens in fishing and mountain biking, sometimes splashing back on hunting. I’ve lost many a blue grouse hunting spot to user-created mountain bike trails, many of them spurred on by social media stoke. And I’ve given up a lot of spots over the years.

Once you see a place making the rounds on social, you can bank on it getting more traffic. And the thing about free spots, places that a person didn’t have to earn with boot leather and gas and miles and time, is that they don’t hold any value for the recipients. The guy who found a spot on a social post is likely going to post it for his followers. He’ll tag it proudly, even stack a three-day pile of birds on the tailgate to make it seem extra juicy. And then he’ll drive away to hunt another spot that someone else posted. And that little out of the way patch of public ground that you hit once or twice a year and was always good for a covey? Now there is a well worn parking spot, complete with some Keystone cans and an empty box of golden pheasant loads. There might even be a couple of dead bird carcasses lying in the ditch if you can get there early enough in the season. 

Constituting somewhat less than half of what remains of the MOF writing crew comes with a certain notoriety – certainly not fame. And in a world that long left behind blogs for more “social” media long ago, it is notoriety that is limited in scope. We accept that. We are not effective hash taggers. We are not even on Facebook. Our Insta account is an after thought. We are writers. And MOF has always been a repository for writing that doesn’t fit elsewhere.We have always said what we think and feel. And we have taken our lumps for it, much of it deserved.  But we haven’t run from it. When we write something and the angry hordes loose fire from their keyboards, we let them comment. Maybe we are just too damn old. Maybe our experience as writers in print steeled us for the peanut gallery. 

For whatever reason, I am often surprised the softness of the social media mavens. Earlier today, I noticed a person I follow on Instagram had posted a tailgate-trophy photo and tagged it with a very specific, very small western town, off the beaten path. Now I don’t know the guy, but judging by his photos he seems like a good dude. He has bird dogs and kids, likes hunting and hole-in-the-wall bars. If I was a more likable person, maybe we could even be friends. I didn’t want to be rude and comment on the photo, so I dropped a private message. “Hey man. Great photo! Maybe next time, consider skipping the location tag. Some of us like to hunt there too!”I figured I’d get a response, maybe even an indignant one. Instead I got blocked. I didn’t see that coming, but maybe I should have. We live in a world where people don’t have to talk to people they disagree with. They don’t have to hear opinions they don’t like. Don’t like CNN? Try Fox. Don’t like Fox? Try Newsmax. Disagree with a perspective? Block it. 

So here in a place that can only be ignored but not blocked, I beseech you. Please knock off the geotagging. Even if you don’t care if a spot gets blown up, someone else does. 

Sometimes this is all

A chickadee, somewhere off in the conifers. A light breeze from the west now, and the dog out into it, working atop old snow.
Last week, he was here, a flash of gray like a fleeing thought, a mirage in the timber and the gun up, swinging. The sudden wham and waves of sound from down-canyon and back, silencing the chickadees, stopping the breeze. The smell of Christmas now, a tree taking the whole wad of sevens and the odor of sap filling the air and the chickadees, only temporarily silenced, taking up their chatter again.
The monochrome twinkle in conifer light gone as if it he was never there in the first place. Escaped. Just as well.
This week the little setter finds nothing except the evidence that he is still here.
Glad for that.

Chukar Camp 2020

It is not the knee, tender only occasionally now. It is not the ankle and the winces it brings. It is not, even, the depth-of-darkness night awakenings when I replay the points and misses, hits and retrieves.

Instead it is the scent of sage on a setter’s coat. Perhaps only an olfactory memory. It is the flake of obsidian I find in the pocket of hunting pants about to go into the washer. It is the pink recollection of tint on far mountain beyond shooting light. It is my hunting pals at the pickup, munching chips and drinking beer, and the note-comparing that we do. It is reminding myself to stay in some semblance of physical shape because this hunt will go first, this slanted, glorious, frustrating, love-hated wonderment.

Drain

You do not notice breathing until it is difficult. Then it is all you notice. Ragged breaths that come from the stomach up into a chest that once bellowed air as easily and reflexively as one might blink.

The old dog nearly died on the bathroom floor of a Days Inn. Imagined carrying his cooling carcass out to the pickup, imagined that too-long drive eastward toward home. Imagined the cold stiff burial under a Montana cottonwood turning October yellow. Imagined a lot of things. Did not imagine revival, but he did.

He rode in the front seat thirteen hours home, too weak to piss without being lifted out onto roadside grass.

At home, snow dusted the tall-back above 12,000 and the tailwind that chased you all the way from the coast peeled leaves off the aspens, alders, cottonwoods, robbing the fall of its color. But the bellows kept going, the machinery, pumping, filling, emptying, repeat. Pumping, filling, emptying.

The old dog home on his bed in front of the crackling woodstove, an old dog who does things his own way. Doesn’t die when you think death just on the next page, never came when called and on deer track, never lost a taste for discarded socks or detritus from toddler-feeding chaos, always retrieved and hardly ever pointed–just the exact opposite of every other setter on the planet. Outdid field trial champion Labs on water retrieves for Christ’s sake, but you think he’d point for more than a tenth of a second?

He crawls off soft bed for hard tile floor, laps water, pisses himself. Meds onboarded, food offered and refused for the first time ever. Draining, slowly down the drain. But the machinery still going. In. Out. In. Out. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Later. Not wagging his tail anymore even when hugged in the tears of his 8-year-old. Even when she places a spare sock in front of his nose and says, “I love you, Scouty, you can have these socks.”

Tomorrow. It will be tomorrow. And when tomorrow comes and the pickup is brought close to the front door so the carry will be easy, he goes his own way and the machinery stops. Ironic poetry from an old dog whose idea of verse would probably have been bawdy limerick told in a dank pub somewhere in the country. Yet the poetry: the machinery stops without veterinary action. Spares himself that final ride, spares his loves their final despairing decision.

The pump stops and the wind tails westward and all is quiet except the whispered cries of those left in the slipstream.

GUEST POST: Semi-Retired

By Blaine Peetso: http://www.theborealist.com


Wanted: Easy Work

Old age pensioner willing to work for cash/food under the table as long as the job is easy and hours are short.  No big wide open country or ultra dense bush.  Will need plenty of water breaks. Will not play games with the merchandise (keep away, tug-of-war, etc) like the young apprentices on the jobsite. Vision is going, hearing is gone but the sniffer works fine and I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve. Not as good as I once was, but as good once as I ever was. Contact me at my office on the couch for further information.
Full disclaimer: I may shit and/or piss in the truck depending on the length of the commute.

Go quietly into that good field

Up north of the house, tight against the highway to Opheim, it looked good last year. Tall weeds and snowberry in the gullies stringing off a patch of uncut wheat. A stackyard of old round bales and shoulder high kochia. You’d have to go easy in there, listening for the dog, watching out for hidden barbwire. But a rooster in that weed jungle would have to climb ten feet like a timberdoodle before leveling off and heading for friendlier parts. And in all these years, we’d never hunted it. Checked the map again. Yes, it was ours to hunt.

So we hatched a plan. The old man would drop us on the highway and we’d dodge grain trucks, hold the dogs tight, just two of them, and plunge into the tangle working quietly and quickly away from the traffic. The old man would drive the old truck–your new truck–around to the other side a mile away on the dirt section road and block. He might even get some shooting but his jungle days were over. We’d walked while he blocked every day for the last three days, hobbling on arthritic heels maybe ten yards to the edge of tree rows and ditch edges, swinging that beautiful double gun and dropping the occasional rooster. That felt better, far better, than shooting them yourself, just seeing him down them as he had done for seven decades.

It was a good plan except the truck was as arthritic as the old man. The synchros were going out in first and second, and you had gotten to where you could move forward without grinding, but it took some practice.

“You haven’t forgotten how to drive a stick, have you?” half joshing, half serious, laid out more sarcastically than intended.

Away we went from the traffic, quickly, worried just a bit about the dogs, both veterans, but there is no figuring a canine hot on a rooster and big rigs don’t stop for bird dogs.

We’d made it twenty yards when the grinding and revving started. More grinding. Black smoke. Grinding. Forgetting the vow to go quietly, all you can think about is a transmission ground to powder and a mechanic’s bill bigger than two house payments.

“Damnit!!!” you yell. Although over the revving and grinding and with two hearing aides that whistle fitfully and aid not much at all, there’s not a chance he can hear you. So you yell louder. And louder.

He gets out. “I can’t get it into gear.”

No shit. You do not say this aloud. You walk back, holding the shotgun in one hand, stooping to hold the collar of the eager dog next to the highway.

“Okay, shut it off, put it in gear, then start it with the clutch in.”

You walk out twenty yards, following the dog.

More revving engine and now the smell, the sickening odor like shit-covered hair burning in a burn barrel full of garbage. A clutch burning. “Goddamnit!!!!! The brake is on!!!! The brake!!!”

There is no chance of him hearing you over the diesel engine and the squalling clutch but somehow he makes it off the little pull-out and onto the highway, brake still on, engine hitting maybe 5000, smoke everywhere, the stink of brake and clutch and the truck barely going 10 miles an hour. You yell louder and wave your shotgun over your head, still clutching the confused bird dog so she won’t rush out into the traffic. And louder still, cussing vehemently.

To make matters worse your hunting partner is giggling his ass off and so you scream at him too. “It’s not funny asshole, he’s destroying my truck!”

This just makes him laugh harder and makes you angrier and the F-bombs just add to the fury and hysteria.

Finally, the old man figures out the brake is on, just as an 18 wheeler is bearing down. You can hear its compression brakes, see it lumbering up on the pickup and then all is well as the brake comes off and the old man accelerates in a cloud of black smoke en route to the rendezvous point.

Oddly enough, there are very few pheasants in the field. Your partner speculates that maybe this one little spot, a spot we’ve never hunted in a decade of hunting this place, has been hit hard by neighbor kids.

To which you respond, chastened: “It might have been all the yelling and gear-grinding.”

 

Poop is always funny

One of life’s maxims is that poop is always worth a laugh. My 8-year-old stepdaughter wrote this to me on a card: “Remember Buddy, poop is always funny.”

Consider Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Along Came Polly: “I just sharted.” Evidence of the claim. Funny at 8. Funny at 58.

We have a dog that regularly eats socks. His name is Scout and somehow he has avoided any kind of gastro-surgery in 12 years of eating socks. It took us about 10 years to figure out that he should be locked up in his crate whenever he is in the laundry room where he sleeps. Because if he’s not, he’ll steal socks out of the dirty laundry and eats them. Kids’ socks especially but sometimes adult socks. If he can’t get to the socks, he’ll eat dryer lint out of the trash. And somehow he keeps on ticking.

You’ll see him out in the yard duck-walking around like a two-year-old with bad diaper chafe and then—horror!—something slowly emerges that looks like a child’s socked foot birthing from the nether region. More grunting and the whole ankle, the shin! Scout duck-walks and a leg starts to emerge. More duck-walking. And the birth has passed.

A poop-sock is born.

Don’t worry it will be upland season soon.