“The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak”
Come back to me, by Gregory Norbert
There is a beautiful piece in the NYT this weekend about Edgelands by Rob Cowen. It makes me think of the places I used to run my dogs in Abuquerque, or fly fishing in Houston, or mountain biking in San Antonio. We need wild places and it’s a good reminder that it doesn’t have to be Yellowstone to make a difference in someone’s life.
My dog often runs at the edge of my vision. Hell, my boys are often running at the edge of my vision and they don’t read that much better than the dog. Worse yet, in this particular case, it seems like even the cursory protection of a sign wasn’t given.
I’m not anti-trapping. I’m not even anti-predator control, though I believe it does little to help upland birds. I am anti-M44. I can see no good reason for setting such a dangerous and indiscriminate booby trap out for a child or dog or anything else to find.
Wanted: Dissatisfied with current relationship which for no apparent reason seems to have changed at the end of January. Previous trips to far away places have suddenly ended without notice. Walks with the gun have ceased. Riding in the pickup has halted. Long getaways are no more. I have to chase mice and songbirds and sleep on the couch with the cat for entertainment. I’m so bored. Yesterday, I shit on the floor just because. Jogging on a leash has taken the place of unfettered runs in open country. This is the winter of my discontent. Interested parties should send photo of shotgun and bird cover and operational plan for future hunts. Ask for Mabel. I can’t take six more months of this.
A point on the ragged edge of tenuous obedience
Two dozen birds, running
A jog, a flush, swinging through
A shot, a miss…
She’s running again, and big
There are birds and her blood is up
A speck on the horizon
getting larger, re-centering, maybe on me
Rocky sand, littered with cholla and creosote
scalie country defines inhospitable
prickly, hot, jagged and dry
she’s running west
birds headed north, running like tiny pheasants
I stay with them as she circles round
another point, this one false
Then another, real – but brief
Birds up, a shot and another
scaled quail in hand
Everyone and their bird dog has a blog or a space in print for product so-called reviews. So we here at MOF thought it might be useful to have one too, but not your average product review. You know that kind; a company hoping to sell a product to the masses contacts a fairly reputable writer and asks him or her to take their gear into the outdoors and give it a spin. Or conversely, a so-called writer looking for some free or sharply-discounted (think pro-deal) shit contacts a manufacturer and asks for the free or sharply-discounted shit for a “review” on their blog that gets read by one point five readers. The writer/recreator maybe takes the product out into the local city park or maybe it’s their back yard, and gives the product a spin. Or maybe doesn’t use it at all. Then they generate about fifty words on it—usually glowing to justify getting the free shit or the advertising dollar from the manufacturer—and the consumer is left to make a decision to buy or not buy. The fact is, product reviews are like where-to articles that send the masses by the hundreds into your favorite cover. Call it ethically shaky. Not shady. Shaky. Maybe the user really used it, maybe the product was taken into the backcountry and used hard, maybe it wasn’t.
You will never read a where-to piece on this blog. But a real product review? That seems like something an avid uplander could use. So, relying on about one hundred collective years of chasing and yelling at bird dogs after wild birds in cool places, we’ve found a few things we like almost as much as those dogs we run after. What will make Durable Goods different? For one, we purchased the gear at full retail price for the most part and in most cases way before MOF was a glimmer in our daddys’ eyes. If we got it free or discounted, we’ll let you know. These products are things we’ve used in the field, in real time, in real cases, for years. Not just a weekend. In the field, for years. This is the shit that works. That we like. That we’ve had for a long time. We weren’t bribed to write nice things. Durable Goods will be honest. Sometimes the words will be constructive (which is psycho-speak for critical) and sometimes the words will be complimentary. Maybe our products will have been made by a company that’s been dead for years. Maybe it will be a new company. But the reviews will be reviews, not hyperbolic gush for a free product, not the work of a writer looking to whore words for goods. No. These are Durable Goods. Enjoy.
Part I. Monte
Chukar did it to me. Those bastards. If you hunt chukar you will understand. Walk in on a point. Covey gets up. Empty your double gun and curse at the sky when a single or a pair gets up after the gun is empty. I gotta have another fuckin’ shot!
So. Monte. Benelli Montefeltro. I have been called many things for carrying an autoloader into the field. Low type. But, that third shot has been awful nice.
I installed a sling. If you’re a chukar hunter, you know why. Slings are nice on cliffs. Slings make nice belay devices. And I have three shots. That sometimes means I miss three times. That sometimes means I hit three times. That sometimes means I miss twice and hit a third late riser. That makes me happy.
It functions in all weather. It has been rained on, snowed on, frozen, dipped into the mud. This gun I have is a 20 and it has killed chukar, huns, all kinds of grouse, pheasants, all kinds of quail, a few ducks and countless European doves and starlings when I have the bloodlust in the off-season. Almost all with an improved-cylinder choke.
Right out of the box it fit me and the bead was up and the bird was down. Yeah, I go through streaks, but the gun fits and it works 9 out of 10 times.
Here’s one thing. I’ve hit the carrier release a few times accidentally while in the field and partially injected a shell. The gun won’t fire when this happens. I’ve missed a fair number of birds when I haven’t noticed this has happened. Bird goes up, gun goes click. You can imagine the invective. But this is operator error if it’s anything. Wouldn’t have happened with a nice double gun, though.
Last fall, I borrowed a friend’s unbelievably beautiful L.C. for a spin. First two birds that went up, I stoned to hell. Next 10, I missed flat. I went back to Monte and missed two pointed roosters bang FUCK bang FUCK!! But I carried it the rest of the trip and killed everything else.
Don’t worry about the nicks and the dings and the sling. It’s a chukar gun. It does its and always will. I’ll save the double gun action for when I am feeling special.
There are times when you make a good shot, mark it down, use all the dog power you have and still fail to retrieve a bird. We look hard for a bird that we hit, even a bird that we maybe hit. To do otherwise is the mark of a hack, a wannabe.
But it’s not a waste.
Nature does not allow waste. A dead grouse that falls to the forest floor but doesn’t make it into a skillet will make it into the belly of a coyote or a fox. A lost bird breaks down – in a stomach or in the dirt – into the building blocks of life that fuel the forest itself. It is a disappointment, but it is narcissistic of us to believe that we are the best or only use of a wild bird.
That’s not to say there is not waste. Only humans are capable of removing an animal from the food chain and locking it away. Let a bird go to ruin in a freezer and then send it to a landfill wrapped in plastic – better to have left it afield to be eaten by a bobcat or have it’s bones picked clean by insects.
To skin a bird that could be plucked is a waste. Breasting out birds and leaving the legs to sour and rot in a plastic trash bag is the ultimate waste.
And to that point, legs are delicious. Quail legs, seasoned with Tony Chachere’s and fried in a cast-iron skillet with butter are a delicacy. Pheasant legs are excellent simmered with mushrooms and tomatoes and served over fettuccini. Sharpie legs, slow cooked with red chili and shredded make incredible flautas. And don’t forget duck leg gumbo, spatchcock grouse, whole-roasted partridge, or battered and fried ruff quarters.
By all means, look hard for downed birds. But spend as much or more time at the end of the day cleaning your birds. Save the legs, pluck birds when you can. Enjoy all of your harvest. Don’t waste it.
I’ve decided to drink only Mexican beer this year. Because after stumbling around on the Mexican border with my two thousand dollar dog, my five hundred dollar boots, my fifty dollar jeans, my fifteen hundred dollar shotgun, and a whole bunch of other shit like a forty thousand dollar pickup truck, I feel a little bit like a pansy. Ask yourself, could you head out into strange desert country in a pair of Chuck Taylor-knock offs with a piece of black plastic for a tent-sleeping bag combo, a gallon jug of water and a few cans of food? Could you dodge God knows what, God knows who, sleep out in strange territory, go miles without water, slip into a foreign country where you don’t know a word of the language and they are gunning for you 24-7, and survive? Hell I sure as shit couldn’t. So, I’m drinking Mexican beer. Because I like the idea of supporting those kinds of people. Because bettering oneself should be toasted. Gente valiente.