Snakes in the grass

The solstice is weeks away, but the heat has arrived in New Mexico and the prairie rattlers are sun bathing. This guy was hanging out not far from my house last week. It may be the Hopi rattlesnake sub-species, but I’m no herpetologist and that’s only a guess.

It’s time to step carefully and keep the dog on a short rein.


Lamenting empty pockets

A pair of .22 rimfire case heads adorn the pivot pin, covering the cracked walnut scales. The quick and dirty repair job has held up for nearly two decades now. Abused it may be, but still the most useful tool ever invented.

It can slice cheese, open boxes or trim sheets of paper. It can cut rope or trim arrow shafts from straight-stalked dogwood.
Last year, it boned out a 3×3 muley and cut a mesquite thorn from my swollen pinky finger.
Years ago, with the help of several glasses of whiskey and a Zippo, it seared a relief hole in a friend’s blackened finger nail at a bar room table.
Countless times, I have used a half-open knife to pull a piece of cholla cactus from the dog’s leg and sometimes from my own.
Every once in a while, I head into the workshop and build a new folding knife for myself.

Always though, I end up giving the new knife away and returning to my old standbys. A two-bladed Case that was a gift and the carbon bladed slip-joint knife my dad gave me decades ago.
There are others, an auto I built on a whim, several variations of factory-made liner locks, lockbacks and other stainless steel contraptions that were made for intentions other than whittling and minor surgery. They lie in a drawer, unused. Pointless in their existence.
It’s the little brown knife that proves most useful, though I fear even it faces an uphill battle.
Knives are steadily becoming relics, feared weapons of mass destruction.
Only a few years ago, I traveled on flights all across the country with a modest knife in my pocket.
I took it to school every day from the 4th grade on. Now, I can’t go into the Post Office, the County Courthouse or dozens of other places because of a small carbon-steel blade that doesn’t even lock open.
How do I teach my sons to carry knives? How will they be able to trim a nail or cut a toothpick when a Swiss Army knife can get you kicked out of school?
The post 911 era has brought some worthwhile security reforms, but in my opinion it has limited what I consider a basic right.
In the grand scheme of things, my 3-inch knife is not any more dangerous than a ballpoint pen or a medium-sized rock. It’s certainly less dangerous than the two-ton cars which we routinely let 17-year-olds drive to school.
That schools trust kids with cars and condoms but can’t trust them with a pocket knife baffles me. That adults can’t be trusted with a knife in many public places blows my mind.
Who are these people that think a pocket knife is to be feared?
Maybe the more pertinent question, who are these people that don’t carry a knife and what do they do when they need to cut something?
The people without a knife are foreign to me, unknown and unknowing.
Familiar is the feel of smooth walnut and filed tool steel.
Adrift in my pocket, surrounded by loose change and lint, the little brown knife awaits its next task.

– G. M.

Outside apps

A couple of weeks ago the guy in front of me at the grocery store was paying for his sixer in change and I was browsing the magazine rack when I came across a quarterly publication called iPhone Life.
There is a magazine ($6.99) that is dedicated to the iPhone? And it’s in its second year of publishing?
I’m sure I don’t have to mention that there were no outdoor magazines on the rack. Not even a copy of National Geographic.
Not a single periodical relating something of the human experience, or any experience. Just celebrity gossip and a magazine dedicated to a cellphone.
This news so disturbed me that when I got home, I went to said rag’s Web site.
The lead post on the Web site was titled “Why I Bought My Kids iPhones.
The post starts out, “My kids are not spoiled (well, maybe a little bit), I bought them iPhones for economic reasons. Let me explain. The cost of a new Nintendo or Sony PSP is…”
My kids aren’t old enough to want anything other than milk and attention, but it seems to me that buying kids an iPhone might be counter productive to being a kid.
A phone is a tool. Hell, I have a Blackberry and I’ll be the first to admit that it makes my job easier and me more productive. Still,

I don’t want my kids to start obsessively checking their e-mail until someone is paying them to.
Much like a shotgun, it’s nothing more than a means to an end. I love shotguns, but the reason I buy them is the high lonesome country that I visit with them in hand.
The existence of iPhone Life suggests to me that some people might think their iPhone is actually part of their life or that it somehow matters what kind of phone you have or what you can do with it.
All this tells me that there are a lot of people who don’t spend enough time outside in the company of a good dog.

Gear season

The upland season is fading the rearview, sheds haven’t fallen and turkey and fishing season are not yet on the horizon. That makes it covetousness season.
Time to sort through mud-filled shotgun hulls and scrape bloody feathers off unfired shells.
Time to finally rinse out that dingy water bottle the dog and I shared for the second half of the season.
Maybe sharpen a few knives and relace some boots.
Mostly though, it’s time to browse the catalogues and covet things I do not need and cannot afford.
For example, the CSMC A10 shotgun.

I have no need for a sidelock stack barrel, but I have been looking longingly at used Beretta S2s for years.

Now, along comes an American made gun with hand detachable sidelocks for about what I would pay for a used S2.
Do I need a straight stocked 20 guage sidelock with case coloring and an extra set of 28 guage barrels?
Maybe not during the quail season, but right now?

– GM

Rough shooting

As it turns out, I need a gun-bearer.

I’ve been reading a copy of Shooting By Moor, Field and Shore, an almanac of shooting in England, published 1929. It paints a portrait of a different time and a different world. Furthermore, it points out the inadequacy of my low brow ways. In the brief section on “walk up hunting” as opposed to shooting driven game, the authors point out the obvious burdens associated with “rough shooting.”

“In order to kill game on a rough shoot, you must either walk it up, or indulge in impromptu driving either with the help of a friend of friends. You have to carry your own gun all day, and most probably the game bag as well.”

Imagine the horror of having to “carry your own gun” and game whilst hunting. I should have flipped through this book before I logged a hundred or so miles to shoot only a handful of quail this season, carrying my own gun the whole time.

Beauty marks

I like shotguns.
Specifically, I like old, lightweight shotguns with two barrels and well-figured walnut.
Preferably in 28 ga. or 16 ga.
Some of my hunting buddies now carry guns made of black plastic that look like they might shoot lazer beams.
Personally, I don’t own anything I won’t hunt in the rain with, but I also don’t own any guns I would put a bumper sticker on.
When I was ten, I had a Remington Nylon 66 rifle. It was black plastic with white diamonds where the checkering should have been and it had glimmering stainless barrel and action.
It was the ugliest rifle I have ever owned and it could not dependably shoot beer-can sized groups at 20 yards.
Since then, I have stuck to guns that are made of dark-blue steel and checkered walnut.
I like them to smell of boiled linseed oil and 3-in-1 and if I leave it leaned against a fence, I want to be able to imagine my grampa standing next to it.
Last year I bought a 1936 Ithaca side-by-side 16 ga. with no butt stock.
I spent most of the spring fitting and shaping, sanding and oiling until I had a new-to-me upland gun.
She still has some of her case coloring and when the light is right, the barrels shine like obsidian. I added a few inches to the trigger tang and an english style stock in place of the Prince of Wales that would have adorned the gun originally.
The maker’s marks on the barrel denote ‘modified’ and ‘full’ chokes. On the pattern board, it’s more like ‘full’ and ‘rifle.’
Still, I managed to shoot a few birds with it this year and that brand new stock already has its first ding, earned high in the Pecos Wilderness on an early grouse hunt. I don’t worry much about the scratches and scuffs that mark the passing of the years.
I think what I like least about plastic guns is their inability to show the character that comes with age and use.
My guns carry their dings and scratches proudly, like little historical records of antlers and pack frames and chukar hunts gone wrong.
It’s how I like them.


The lonely life of a desert Santa

Santa Claus was more emotionally needy than I expected him to be.
TR and I had stopped to refill our water jugs at a remote BLM outpost manned by volunteers.
“You guys here to see the museum,” he asked hopefully. He was a large man, sporting a full beard and was almost surely the real Santa.
“No. We’re just here for a little water.”


He asked the question as if we weren’t covered in a week’s worth of dust and driving pickups loaded with camping gear and dogs.


His wife, AKA Mrs. Claus, comes out and brings Santa a spotless cowboy hat. Were if it covered in grime, it would be a near twin of those worn by TR and myself.

“Those are our cats,” he gestured towards two big toms.

TR and I were non-committal, but they looked like quail killers and bird-dog fodder to us.

“One has different colored eyes and the other has different colored balls,” he said casually, adding, “I can tell them apart coming or going.”

That night over beers we speculated that Mrs. Claus might have brought out a different hat, depending on what the visitors were wearing.
We imagined Santa in a beanie, sombrero or maybe a cheesehead.
Weeks later I stop by again, ostensibly to get water. I throw my hat on the floor board and don a ball cap.

“Here to see the museum?”

Mrs. Claus walked out a moment later, bringing him a barely worn baseball cap.
I guess it’s a lonely life.

In search of the empty

Damn the red lines.

They crisscross the green and yellow areas on the map like bloody cracks.
On the ground, they are uglier and more numerous.
These are not the access routes that bring us to the edges. No, these are far from the rural route roads-the gravel arteries-that deliver us from here to “out there.”
Dusty, rutted trails, crosshatch the landscape. Parallel routes that go nowhere, achieve nothing except to reduce habitat and lessen the experience.
The ungulates see them as warning signs, for the quail they are deathtraps.
The red lines often begin and end at the same places. On the ground, they simply wander as if an unmanned machine had prowled the landscape at random, leaving ruts that will last a hundred years.
On the map, I search for an area devoid of the red lines. A place I can’t walk from one road to the next in the time it takes to smoke a decent cigar.
There are few.

Rock Star and the Old Lady

My sons are just starting to notice my dog. They follow her with their 2-month-old eyes as she ambles past their swing or give a baby yell when she stops to lick the milk off a tiny dangling hand.

My sons are just starting to notice my dog. They follow her with their 2-month-old eyes as she ambles past their swing or give a baby yell when she stops to lick the milk off a tiny dangling hand.
Today, she’s recovering from three days of hunting after a season with precious few days afield. A dog in her prime, she is nursing sore feet and moving like an old lady.
After the days of perfection she just turned in she is entitled to a little soreness.
In rough, dry country we cut a wide swath. Her zigzagging in front, never straying out of shotgun range but occasionally breaking her pattern to check out a particularly good piece of cover. She held tight, she flushed in range and she retrieved more dependably than any season past. She was more than steady, she was a rock star.
We had company this week and she put him on his first birds.

The first afternoon, he followed her lead into a patch of tall grass and Gambel oak and stopped when I called out. She put a pair of birds in the air and after his shot she brought a beautiful male Gambels to his hand.
When he looked back, I could tell she had just created an upland hunter.
My two upland hunters are years from their first shotgun.
The realization that Roxy will not be their dog brings an air of melancholy to the day. Her exploits will live on in my journal and stories but to them she will never be a rock star, just an old lady.

Camp coffee

The explosion wakes me from a mostly sleepless night
Outside the frost covered hood of my sleeping bag, a raging fire burns
My companions are huddled too close to the flames, one clutching a can of Coleman fuel
It’s too cold to stay in the bag
Out into the biting cold to rummage around for the coffee pot
The excesses of the previous night are evident
A tin coffee cup is frozen to the table; a solid whiskey and coke ice cube in the bottom
Stumble to the water, bust the ice, dunk the percolator
Coffee boils over a gasoline fueled fire of wet, frozen wood
Early morning fix
Warms the body, defrosts the brain

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