Scalies

GmcReynolds (1)

A point on the ragged edge of tenuous obedience
Two dozen birds, running
A jog, a flush, swinging through
A shot, a miss…
dammit
She’s running again, and big
There are birds and her blood is up
Mine too
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

 

GM

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Waste, loss and legs

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. gmcreynolds-4

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.fullsizerender-8 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.

Public lands are no accident

We at MOF occasionally write for other outlets and linking to some of our more MOFish content elsewhere on the web.

Here is a piece by Greg McReynolds on Trout Unlimited’s website from a couple of years ago when the fight for our public lands was just ramping up.

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The effort to rob Americans of our public land birthright is well-funded and the threat is real. In the last two years, there have been dozens of bills in state legislatures and numerous attempts in congress to sell, transfer or otherwise degrade the places where the vast majority of us hunt and fish. These attacks pretend that Americans don’t value our National Forests and Parks or that National Forests were never meant to be.

And so I became a public lands sportsman

We at MOF occasionally write for other outlets and linking to some of our more MOFish content elsewhere on the web.

Here is a piece by Tom Reed on Trout Unlimited’s website from a couple of years ago when the fight for our public lands was just ramping up.

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She first rattled west in a 1914 Cadillac. I think about them sometimes; all crammed into that open car, the hot, oppressive Iowa wind in their hair. The cool sweet mountain air of Colorado must have seemed like heaven to her. She dreamed of owning her little piece of heaven. One day when she was in her late 50s, she accomplished just that, purchasing a ranch with insurance money from her husband’s suicide a decade before. She had been looking a long time, but when she and my uncle set foot on the place, they turned to each other in the cold autumn air and steamed out: “This is it.”

Hot takes courtesy of a late-season road trip

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Water is important – I like to carry it in plastic 5 gallon containers with handy dandy built in spout. Filling up before you leave is smart. Driving 15 hours in the bitter cold with aforementioned water jugs in the shell of your truck? Not a great idea. A 5-gallon ice cube is hard to thaw, especially when it’s in a plastic tub.

Sleeping bags are important – It might be Arizona, but it still gets into the low teens at night. Leaving your sleeping bag hanging in the garage is not a great idea. Two dogs – each with a sleeping bag of their own – will share, but it’s a squeeze.

Flanken steak is awesome – My buddy took a chance on packet of pre-seasoned meat in a border grocery store. Neither of us knew what flanken steak was. Later, when the grill was hot, we discovered it is basically an off-cut of short ribs. And it’s incredible. Fresh tortillas with limes and grilled flanked steak? Yes please.

Proper fueling – Bird hunters powered by sunflower seeds and coffee can run a long time past normal expiration when there are birds somewhere ahead.

Limes – Beer, flanken steak, bagels, water, sunflower seeds… Limes. We need more limes.

Serial podcast, season two – It’s no season one, but if you’re looking at a solo 15-hour drive, I highly recommend it.

We are an army

We at MOF occasionally write for other outlets and linking to some of our more MOFish content elsewhere on the web.

Here is a piece on Trout Unlimited’s website from a couple of years ago when the fight for our public lands was just ramping up.

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Public lands are the symbol of the things we as a nation have managed to get right. We are a nation of explorers and adventurers. We believe in freedom and we deserve it. We need these vast public spaces to find ourselves, to journey and to test ourselves. We need these places not just as people or westerners or sportsmen, we need them as Americans. We have pioneered from the edges of space to the depths of the ocean, just as our ancestors pushed across this vast continent. The men and women who pioneered these lands, farmed and ranched and hunted and bled and died for them knew their value.

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.

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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.