Sharpies and snow

The above is a short video I took last spring of a Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. This particular bird is taking in the scene after a morning of dancing on the lek. If you listen closely, you can hear a few optimistic males still dancing in the background. 

Snow is falling outside, putting a fresh six inches atop a weeks-old layer of deep, crusty snow. My little part of Idaho has been covered up for the better part of a month. It’s the kind of snow that knocks back our local populations of huns and chukar because it covers up the food and sometimes the roosting cover as well. There are a few steep and windblown slopes that are snow free and will keep some birds going, but there is deep snow on much of the best bird country.

It’s been long enough and cold enough that I even worry a bit about pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse, though those are much hardier birds. Last week, I saw a handful of grouse graveling on the side of the highway and I took it to be a bad sign. Still, sharpies can actually burrow under the snow for food and protection and they are native to some of the toughest places you can imagine. Their range straddles the northern plains from Wisconsin to Washington state and unlike pheasants, which share some of that range, they don’t need grain crops to get by.

Technically, it’s still hunting season in Idaho; you can hunt chukar and Hungarian partridge until the end of January. But many – myself included – will hang it up for the year and let the birds alone to survive the cold and snow.

Hopefully, I’ll get out of the snow and hunt a few more days before the end of the season, but part of me is already moving on to spring and fly fishing and the sound of sharpies drumming on the leks.

 

shot show

I’ve never been to Shot Show, but I do enjoy watching the industry news feed from Vegas. In particular, I love how excited everyone gets about “new” guns. I recognize that I am out of the mainstream here. My idea of an AR is my Winchester 1894 and I think ejectors on a double gun are over-rated.
In my mind, the last major innovation in guns was gas-operated autoloaders. Before that, there were some pretty significant firearm innovations. Recoil autoloaders, the over/under shotgun, breech-loading cartridges, smokeless powder; now those were inventions worthy of a week-long party in Vegas.
A new autoloading shotgun built on the same basic action designed 40 years ago with a new name and a camo stock? A bolt-action rifle that takes AR parts? Another rifle/shotgun/lawnmower maker producing a 1911? None of this strikes me as new or even interesting.
What I love about guns – double guns in particular – is that they are mature technology. I love seeing guns built before WWII that were the pinnacle of shotgun technology in 1930 – and knowing they still are the pinnacle of gun engineering.
So in honor of Shot Show, I’m going to post some ideas from days gone by that actually seem like cool gun innovations to me.
I’ll either put them here or on our MOF Instagram account (@mouthfuloffeathers in case you’re not following it yet) with the hashtag #shotshow1940. Feel free to make your own contributions.

Shooting poorly

There is no amount of shooting well than can make up for shooting badly over a sustained period. When your dog works her tail off for one or two points, it’s demoralizing to walk in and miss. Early this season I killed a dozen birds with only a single miss over three days, then proceeded to miss 6 out of my next 6 shots. Part of it is that I don’t shoot as much in the off season as I used to and practice helps. But for me it’s more than just a reduction in practice that has diminished my shooting consistency.

A few years back, I considered myself a pretty consistent and fair wingshot. Some of it was practice, some of it was shot selection, but mostly it was confidence. I remember the day that I started to shoot poorly. I was using a tightly choked, lightweight (tough combination) gun that I hadn’t shot much. It was shortly after I lost a 20ga O/U that had been my primary gun for years. The wind was blowing on a steep patch of sage-covered CRP above a cut grain field. I’d let my springer nose into the wind and she was really stretching her legs. She flushed a series of roosters, 7 to be exact. Each one of them would flush, turn with the wind, then rocket directly over my head.

I missed. Every single one. With both barrels. Later that day and in the following weeks, I missed some more. I piled bad shooting on on top of poor gun fit and too-tight chokes until I expected to miss.

I sold the offending gun and replaced the lost one, but the damage was done. Doubt had crept into my mind.

Last month, I hunted with my nephew. He’s 17 and the world is his oyster. We’ve hunted a few falls together and it’s been fun to watch him grow into a competent and confident woodsman. It wasn’t that long ago that I could walk away from him without trying but those days are gone. He’s at an age where he can hunt all day at an elevation he is not accustomed to and still leave me in the dust when a dog goes on point. He is also at the age where it does not cross his mind to miss.

gmcreynolds-29

We hunted one day in the howling wind, following a line of cottonwoods up a narrow drainage. I could see the white setter pointing maybe 200 yards ahead in the grass about 20 yards out from the tree line. Before I even had time to yell, the rooster got nervous and jumped wild. He turned with the wind and bombed the hill using the trees as a course guide. He flew directly at us, right at treetop level maybe 60 feet in the air with a steep glide path and a 20-mph tailwind.

I never closed my gun or even lifted it from where it rested open across my shoulder, knowing from the moment it flushed that I wouldn’t hit it. My nephew, slightly to my right and downhill, fired an ounce of number 6 and knocked it from the air. It sailed 50 yards past him and hit the ground like a bowling ball dropped from a rooftop. Over the couple of days we hunted birds, I only saw him miss once. It never occurred to him that he could miss; so he didn’t.

For a long time, it never occurred to me to miss either. When I was shooting well, I never thought about lead or if I was swinging or pushing or pulling through or anything else. I just raised the gun and shot the bird.

Now there are days when I think about missing, and so I do.

Note from the southwest

I placed what I thought was a pretty normal order at the taqueria. Two chile rellanos, two soft chicken tacos, two fajita tacos, six bean-and-cheese tacos and one iced tea, to go.

The kid behind the counter looked up from his notepad and asked, “Is anyone else with you?”

I could have explained that I was hungry, had a long drive across four states ahead of me and knew it would be a while before I ran into an excellent taco again.

But earlier in the day, I’d found a cactus man in the desert. I’d seen some weird shit in New Mexico and I didn’t feel like I needed to explain myself.

So I handed over the cash and replied, “No.”

gmcreynolds-11

I wonder if cactus man gets quizzed about his taco addiction?

Don’t be a penguin*

As I type, hordes of angry labradoodle owners are besieging the walled compound where I store my collection of Stetsons, my wardrobe full of Wranglers and my motor pool of Chevy C-20’s. Since I penned “Posers” and posted the classy response “Hardasses” from This Long Haul’s Kyle Smith, I have heard from several of the MOF faithful writing in passionate defense of fanny packs, pen-raised birds, 7-shot autoloaders, 40-inch tires, soap-on-a rope, wiener dogs, and a host of other objects or animals that I haven’t yet had a chance to offend yet (have no fear, I’ll get there.)

So, I have two things to say. First of all, to everyone who owns a Pudelpointer, please note, I said “doodle.”
Second and most importantly, I was categorically wrong about one thing…
Propeller hats are awesome.
dup_4613-pheasant
Thanks to Josh Duplechian who not only shot this photo, but also designed the best bird hunting hat ever seen. He is a true artist.

Hardasses

Kyle Smith is a MOF reader, (it continues to baffle me that we have readers) spey caster and upland hunter who blogs at This Long Haul. He kindly offered the following response to Posers.

By Kyle Smith

Maybe sometimes my hat’s brim tends towards the flatter side of the spectrum. My Tacoma has an obnoxious hood scoop. I’ve worn out a few Patagonia puffy jackets. I’d take an IPA over a Banquet beer on most occasions. And I’d love a well-coiffed beard if I wasn’t such a damned babyface.

066

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in the gear I’ve bought and the shots I’ve taken and the birds I’ve flushed. But I love my time in the field as much as the next guy and wild birds on public lands are just as much my birthright as they are yours.

Admittedly, choosing a Pudelpointer is something I’d think twice about if I had it to do over again. While she’s the best animal I know, I’m beyond sick of hearing “that’s a cute/cool mix,” every time Joe Public asks me about the breed of my dog. Amongst the educated she’s still a Pudelpointer but to everyone else she’s now a German Wirehair.

I didn’t grow up in a hunting family. In fact, I came to upland hunting in my late-20s after a friend sent me a link to Smithhammer’s elegant, moving, hipster foodie fodder, “The Words We Use.” That post stuck with me and put into words some thoughts and emotions that had been banging around in my cosmopolitan brain for a long time. Not soon thereafter, I used my student loan check to buy the first 12 gauge over under I could find at the local gun shop. A couple years later and I had a gun dog.

Guess what I’m saying is that you should think a little more about the judgments you make and the words you use on this blog. There’s a bunch of us noobies out here that respect and dare say admire the writing on MOF and aspire to appreciate and understand upland bird hunting and our relationships with the natural world the way you so often capture with your posts. While we might be Posers now, I figure if we keep at it long enough maybe someday it’ll all come together and we’ll end up as Wrangler-clad, cowboy hat wearing, C-10 driving, Setter hunting hard-asses like you guys.