On blogging

Blogging is a strange thing. I made a career of shooting photos and writing, first as a reporter and editor and later in the more technical and mundane aspects of the written word. But a blog, particularly one about something so obscure as bird dogs and shotguns and galliformes, strikes even me as strange some days.
Occasionally, word will get out to non-bird hunting acquaintances that I co-write a blog. “Oh,” they say. “You write a blog… about bird hunting? Currently?” Almost always, there is a long pause, followed by an unspoken, “How quaint.”
I can see it in their smirk and even I know how ridiculous it is to write a blog about birds and dogs and guns and rambling.
These are things that can’t be explained to non-initiates.
A dog, using it’s nose and brain and our shared relationship to work such magic as bird-to-hand cannot be described with something so simple as the written word. A bird, capable of flight, who chooses to walk until it is absolutely required that it fly, cannot be explained to someone reading text in the artificial glow of a computer screen. But here we are.
In addition, the subject matter is obscure. Only 6 percent of the U.S. population hunts. Less than half of those hunt small game, and that includes rabbits and squirrels. If you  sift out the rodent killers, then separate out the folks who like dogs, double guns, beer in cans and long walks in the desert; you have the MOF audience. By my math, that’s around 11 people. Statistically, writing a blog about upland hunting is like writing a blog about blogging. In 2017.
Strange as it may seem, not only do people read MOF, some of them take it seriously. Sometimes people even go so far as to be offended by something they have read on MOF. (see; Giffy Butte, Posers, Mexican Beer, Waste Loss and Legs, Target Clientele, On Monuments and Fish … actually, just see all of it.)
So, if you’re perusing MOF and read something that gets your hackles up, feel free to drop us an angry line. Or, just imagine that you’re reading a blog about blogging, and that people don’t really do that anymore.
If you are one of the kindred spirits who send us emails and exchanges ideas and passes the word on conservation issues, thank you. Thank you for the inside jokes and invitations to hunt birds that stretch across vast swaths of the country, based on little more than an appreciation for a few lines of prose or the look of a dog on point.
If you are here, and not by accident, thanks for reading.

GM

 

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Dear Mabel,

Suffering the blues in the off-season.

I don’t even know where to start. I don’t even know how to explain it to you. One month, we were all go-go-go, making it happen, going out all the time. Then overnight, nothing. Literally overnight.
It’s not you, it’s me. Okay, maybe that’s not totally true. If I could get away with it, we’d still be going out, but I mean, there are rules. How do I explain to you that the reason you are sitting at home instead of going out all the time is because it’s just that time of year? Yeah, the ice and the snow is depressing. It’s February, you know, that longest-shortest worst month of the year, a month so bad they had to put a love holiday in there with chocolates and roses just so we didn’t all drink poison? I know you are depressed. I am too. Crushed. Sad. I hope we can remain friends. Please forgive me. It’s not over, is it? I don’t want it to be over. Please tell me it’s not over. But I gotta take a break. We gotta take a break. Those are the rules. I promise we will start up again on the first day of September. Until then, try to forgive me and please don’t leave me. I love everything about you. We’re a team. Don’t give up on “us.”
Love, Tom

Last steps

Somehow, it was here. Too soon. Always is.

The wind was out of the southwest. Always is. The snow was more than foot deep. Too soft for bootstep yet hard enough for snowshoe. The wind, the snow.

But it was the last day and there was the dog. The spotted little wonder that spent a season pointing everything from woodcock to Hungarian partridge, filling your heart with ineffable thrill. But the wind. The snow.

But the dog. The dog. So it was snowshoes onto the state section west of the ranch. In September sagebrush, there were five coveys of Huns, a smattering of ruffed grouse in the coulees. Gray phase. In October leaf-strip, the same grouse that eluded September shot string fell before the gun. Three grouse. In November, thin snow revealed tracks of far more birds than you thought lived there. Or maybe just one bird with a penchant for the forced march. An occasional December bird, but usually just a nice walk. Now, it was the end. Always comes and comes too soon.

You walked bowlegged, getting those snow legs under you, getting used to the crunch and the movement and the little setter sprang out into it with a burst that always draws a smile. How can anything, any creature on earth, be so enthusiastic, so wonderfully full of life so consistently?

She had no trouble in the snow, thirty-five pounds of quick twitch and strong bone and bottomless guts. Grit may be a better word. Thirty five pound of smiling, laughable, lovable grit.

A mile that seemed like two. Christmas lard over the belt. Pants that somehow shrunk in the wash. Or something. No birds. The wind picked up. The dog laughed and grinned, wiggled from all ends, launched back into the snow. Do it for the dog, you lazy fat bastard. Do it for the dog.

Two miles that seemed like four. Then three miles, and you finally found a rhythm, forgot all about your sore butt, your holiday blubber. It was just the dog and the country and the now and the wind. The wind brought scent and the dog went on point and you fumbled for a camera, then said fuck it and moved in. She moved. Didn’t have them pinned. Then did again. Frozen like Lot’s wife. Scent in her nose, alternating between breaths and holding breaths. Huffing. As if puffing on a pipe. What was that like, having so much scent in your lungs and yet not moving a muscle other than pumping the bellows. Amazing, surely.

Two Huns went up, far out of range. Jumpy. Chased by hawk and hunter. Oh well. It was the last day.

Circled back to the truck as the sun tipped out and away, slanting in from low angle, covering everything in yellow goodbye light. Past the old homestead, head down. Then missed the dog and then found her on point and this time you moved in, gun ready, heart beating and the birds went up. Eight of them, out of range. Jumpy.

You wished them well and full productive lives, a winter of blissful feeding on hawk-free open slopes. And you wished for one more day. For the dog. For the dog.

Chukar and the jungle

The mystique around chukar hunting may be somewhat overplayed. “The birds are hard to shoot, impossible to get to, challenging for pointing dogs, you have to carry a kevlar gun and wear a helmet at all times… et cetera, et cetera.”
It’s true that a helmet is a good idea; but in the grand scheme of upland hunting, I’m not even sure chukar is the pinnacle of difficulty.
Certainly we (I mean chukar hunters in general, but I am in no way excluding MOF) have embellished the perceived difficulty. Not that I feel guilty about it, the last thing I need is more people clawing their way to the top of my chukar hills.
Last fall, I checked an item off my bucket list and hunted ruffed grouse in Minnesota. We hunted with a group of folks from the Little Moran Lodge and Orvis. I was concerned about how my dog would perform in the company of world-class setters, particularly in tight and unfamiliar cover. Strangely, I wasn’t that concerned about how I would perform. I mean, it’s flat right? And the birds are ruffies. I didn’t have a moment’s pause.
As it turned out, my little setter did great, pointing the very first woodcock she ever came into contact with and she had little trouble with the cover. She was steady. I, on the other hand, shot poorly and spent much of the trip missing birds, falling on my butt, tripping, slipping, and getting slapped in the face with numerous types of tree branches. I expended as much effort covering four Minnesota miles a day as I do covering a dozen Idaho miles.
The real trip was sitting around over beers in the evening and talking birds. Those who hadn’t been west asked about chukar terrain and habits and how hard they are to hunt. If they had been posers, I would have laid it on thick. But after my first day in Minnesota, I hadn’t seen fanny pack or propeller hat one. Plus, I was beaten near to a pulp and everyone else seemed perky and scratch free.
The Orvis guys, Charley, Tom, Reid, Steve and Andrew, were tough as nails and damn good shots. Apparently, they also spend long days afield with gun dogs (mostly setters, but springers and labradors too) for the chance at one or two birds. The only difference is they do it in Vermont, where the cover must be so thick you could misplace a tugboat.
Tom and Reid got nearly every bird they had a chance at and I’m pretty Steve and Andrew killed more birds on the first day than I did the whole trip. The first day, I saw Charley kill four birds on about six shots in cover too thick to swing a pocket watch. And I could tell that it wasn’t unusual because of how calm he remained. Mid-day, I saw him shoot a left-to-right crossing grouse with the first barrel and then his young dog made a great retrieve. Bird in hand, he merely cracked a smile. Had that happened to me, I would have reloaded and fired two celebratory shots into the air, then done an end-zone dance before lifting the setter over my head à la Lion King.
And it wasn’t just them. Bob St. Pierre, the marketing director for Pheasants Forever, shot a grouse so quickly and through such a small hole in the canopy, I’m not even sure if he actually mounted the shotgun or if he shot it quick-draw style. At the time, I was belly crawling, so admittedly my view was poor.
Little Moran’s Travis Grossman ran some of the nicest setters I’ve been around, hardly broke a sweat and never once made light of my abysmal shooting. Even when I missed a bird that flew directly over my head with both barrels. Plus, he told a good joke and produced an ice-cold beer as the sun set, right when my ego needed it most.
So when the subject of chukar came up. I couldn’t lie.
I said, “They’re not that hard. It’s open country. No trees to get in the way of your barrels or leaves to block your pattern. It’s easy walking without logs, bogs, vines, ticks, limbs, thickets or holes. Frankly you guys would probably kill them all. In fact, now that I really think about it, you probably wouldn’t even like it.”

GM

Forgotten

A friend called me a few weeks back from the road. “I thought you were elk hunting,” I asked.

“I was,” He said. “Until I climbed out of my sleeping bag, got dressed, unzipped my gun case and found a 20ga instead of a 30-06. So, I’m headed home.”

I laughed. Then tried to console him. I told him that it happens to all of us. I told him about the time I left my gun in the field and a whole host of other things, lost or forgotten.

Truth is, I’ve forgotten all kinds of things. I’ve had to backtrack to some obscure gas station to buy a hunting license. Twice. Last winter, on a week-long trip to hunt desert quail, I forgot my sleeping bag and had to share the dog’s sleeping bag.

I’ve brought the wrong gauge shells. I’ve forgotten my vest and hunted with a handful of shotgun shells in my jeans pocket and a sharptail held by its feet in my left hand.

Once, I drove 30 miles to get to an early morning rooster spot. I stopped a mile or so beforehand to get myself together, planning to drive up ready to go at legal shooting light. I put the collar on the dog, put my vest on, took off my house slippers and reached for my boots. But they weren’t there. No boots. 

So, I put my house slippers back on and manage to kill a rooster and miss some huns. But I did ruin a perfectly good pair of socks.

GM

 

Two shots or three

Several of my hunting partners shoot semi-autos. I give them endless grief about it. I love Star Wars as much as the next guy (maybe more) but I don’t want to shoot Han’s gun. I’ll take my shotguns with two barrels, two triggers, fixed chokes and a straight stock. I’ll take checkered walnut and blued steel. I’ll take an action that closes like a vault, not one that works like a retractable pen and sounds like a new-fangled rat trap closing on an empty beer can.
And then there was Saturday.


A late season point. The cover was thin and the setter wanted to move, but she waited. The bird got up as I came even with the dog, 30 yards out, with a running start. I knew I needed to be quick, so I rushed it. Missed with the first barrel. I mentally leaned in, squeezed the trigger and saw him start to fall. He spiraled down, long tail streaming as he headed for earth.
And then he righted himself. Started flying again. Gaining altitude. Headed right for me. I looked down. My gun was broken open and the empty hulls were in my right hand. I shoved the hulls into my vest, then frantically grabbed for shells. Dammitt. Why am I wearing gloves? Why can’t I seem to grab the reloads? I clawed them out of the pocket, my eyes still on the bird as he flew over my head hitting top speed and gaining with a tailwind. I finally managed to get shells into the action and close the gun, but it was too late. He was gone. Still flying. Pumping his wings with authority. He headed downwind and down hill. At the very edge of my ability to see him as a black speck against the snow, he landed. Maybe a mile distant. Later, the dog and I would check this spot hoping to find him. But we didn’t. Maybe he was a coyote’s feast later that night. Or maybe he’s still running.
On the slog back to the truck, I reconsidered the semi-auto. Maybe black plastic is attractive after all. Maybe when you really listen, the clanging of an improved rat-trap action is actually melodic. Maybe double barrels are over-rated. Maybe that third shot wouldn’t be so bad after all…

Snow bird

It is the getting there that has always been the thing. Drift-blocked roads on normal years and tires spinning. Even with chains on all four.
But this is not a normal year. There has been snow cover, but thin, at best. Enough for tracking. Tracking an unbelled bird dog somewhere off in the Doug fir. A dog you haven’t heard from in a while. The woods completely silent and ears straining for the sound of pant and twig-snap. Nothing. Minutes tick by. Nothing. She’s gotta be on point. Why didn’t you bell that dog? Why don’t she write?
She’s out there somewhere in the thick of it and then you hear a far off sound like the soft roll of distant thunder. The thunder of air and wing meeting silent winter afternoon. You follow her tracks as best you can, marveling at evidence of leaps over ten feet, the vaulting of timber, the tale of a nimble athlete drinking in life. And here she is, frantic pant as if she’s been holding her breath for an hour, nose full of bird and bird pretending to hide then giving up the wait and skying for tree top. Where were you? she asks. I had ’em. You need to learn to keep up.

It’s your fault, not hers. Your fault that you forgot the bell and in the climb up the hill, forgot to manage the dog and took your eye off the game and lost her. Lost her direction and eventually lost her track, even in that new blank chalkboard of new snow. So, one for seed is off there in the timber somewhere. And that’s okay. It is December. The time of gifts. Every minute in the last days of a season is reward. Just being up at this elevation with a shotgun and a good bird dog at this time of year is enough.

You release her again and this time, you stay focused, stay on her. Keep her in range, watch her move through the aspen and fir and gooseberry. You make a big circle, drop down a draw choked with alder and willow and aspen and bramble. Over the logs of granddaddy aspen that fell a decade ago. Then you pick up tracks. Grouse tracks everywhere. The dog is hot, then she disappears behind a stand of trees. Then all is silent.

This time, she is close. This time, you were on it and just behind those trees is where she is. Hidden, but everything is in range. You are certain of it. The gun is ready, safety beneath digit. Heart pounding. Get ready. Step out.

On Monuments and fish and public lands

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. 

For me, all of these things are encompassed by the public lands where I go to feel alive, to be happy, and to feel true liberty and freedom. There is no freedom like the freedom to go. 

 

Yesterday morning the President signed a proclamation reducing Bears Ears and Staircase Escalante National monuments. Word is the administration is considering reduction or elimination of other monuments, including Cascade Siskiyou, Katahdin Woods and Waters, and Rio Grande Del Norte.
GmcReynolds
Rio Grande del Norte is a place that shaped me. It is a place where I have hunted and fished and camped and hiked and known the kind of freedom that makes you laugh out loud on a solo hike across an empty landscape. Rio Grande del Norte came to be in 2013, the product of a presidential designation that came only after congress failed to act.

The designation ensured not only the permanent protection of the place, but also of the historic uses of hunting, fishing, gathering, and grazing. The land belonged to all Americans before the proclamation, and continued to do so after. Access remained.

Those who tell you monument designations are “land grabs” are either uneducated, or full of shit. The truth is, monuments are protections put onto existing public lands to preserve the lands as they are and keep them available for public use.

Those who claim “lost access” are either too lazy to get out of their car when the road ends and walk, or full of shit. The truth is, monuments remain open to hunting, fishing and public access.

Those who tell you that sportsmen – or the American public as a whole – benefit from the dismantling of national monuments are either deliberately misleading you, or full of shit. The truth is, the only reason to dismantle monument protections is to allow those public lands to be drilled, mined, or sold.

I read the proclamation on Bears Ears and Staircase Escalante released this yesterday. If you cut through the bullshit, just skip past all the “whereas,” right down the to “now therefore shall it be resolved” section, you’ll see the meat of the thing.

…the public lands excluded from the monument reservation shall be open to:

(1) entry, location, selection, sale or other disposition under the public land laws;
(2) disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing; and
(3) location, entry, and patent under the mining laws…”
These newly unprotected lands still belong to the American public, just like they did before and after the designations. The only change is that now they can be sold, drilled and mined. When the president says, Our precious natural treasures will be protected and they, from now on, will be protected…”
What he actually meant is that the lands you could hunt and fish and explore when they were part of Bears Ears or Staircase Escalante, are now eligible for sale, strip mining and oil and gas development.

They are trying to take Bears Ears and Staircase, so don’t think they won’t come for your places too.

Stand up for National Monuments.

The things you do for love

There is no alarm because you catch it and cancel it out an hour ahead of time. Might as well just get the hell up. The night has been sleepless, or if there has been sleep it came without conscious acknowledgement and you didn’t know it happened until it was just time to get up. After lying there and stewing, turning from a pins-and-needles side to a sore side, and back to a pins-and-needles one, you just get the hell up.

The coffee is instant because you don’t want to wake the whole house with that brewing aroma. Today’s instant is a lot better than that chemical shit they used to have, those crystals crusted like brown alakali and tasting about the same. Do they still make that crap? Is it even legal? Does anyone buy it? Goddamn.

In the headlights after you crank the key to warm up the pickup, the first flakes are just coming down. But as you turn out the drive, it is a blizzard and there are four hours ahead. Four hours on a good morning let alone a bad morning.
Four hours on the road for one day of hunting. Then four hours back. Seems about right. The snow is sideways now and this fucking travel mug won’t fit in your cup holder and it spills all over the floor when you hit the brakes for a deer coming up out of the whiteness like Ebenezer’s undigested bit of meat. You miss the deer but not your carpet with lukewarm coffee and you lament it for a while, but it’s just as well, for you need both hands on the wheel.

The road is white, the world is white and all you see is blizzard. Flake and a little light on the dash that reads FOUR WHEEL DRIVE in steady, sturdy, calming amber. You see a reflector post and then nothing and then another reflector post and you ease for the centerline rumble strips which you feel through the steering wheel. Still on the road. Good. And sideline rumble strips? Yep, they are there too. Hope this shit doesn’t last all night.

An hour goes by, though, and your shoulders knot and you remember to flex your fingers, first one hand, then the other, careful to steady the wheel, careful to make no sudden moves, careful to keep one hand on there at all times. Cramped. Tense. You pull over. Have to. Can’t see shit. Send a text: Whiteout. Gotta stop for a bit.

Hope there’s some birds.