Author: Greg McReynolds
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.
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.”
I wonder if cactus man gets quizzed about his taco addiction?
Herd of dogs
From our friend Josh Duplechian…
Rainy day rooster
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.)
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.
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.
The experienced hand
Of course the setter sits in the middle. That way she doesn’t have to drive and she doesn’t have to open the gate…
We only get so many Octobers
“It is easy to forget that in the main we die only seven times more slowly than our dogs,”
The Road Home, Jim Harrison
October is finite – not only in volume, but in reoccurrence.
In Idaho, October is the perfect month. The weather cools and the aspens start to drop their golden leaves. Brown trout move upstream to spawn, colored up like the aspens and hungry and edgy and mean. Sharp tail seasons line up with other upland species so the whole host of bird hunting is on the menu.
October is a marker for my years and sometimes it’s alarming how fast they tick past. Throwing out a pair of worn out boots I realize it’s been a dozen years since I bought them. Sorting boxes of factory pheasant loads with $9 price tags, I try to remember when you could buy Golden Pheasant loads for that price.
Fondly remembering a hunt with a good friend, I realize we haven’t spoken in years. I look at my dogs and see I no longer have one in her prime and one on the upswing, but one in her prime and one that may not have another October left in her.
For a good long time, I was certain my springer was faking deaf. As in, “I can’t hear you boss, but there’s birds!”
Turns out she is not faking, at least not anymore. Sometimes I walk past her bed and out the door without her waking. In the evening, I occasionally have to walk out and retrieve her from the yard. She’s healthy and happy, but she has lost most of her drive and she can’t hear anymore.
She’ll make a few trips this year. Judging by our walks and initial trips out, she will mostly be at heel, strolling along as the old lady of the pack.
Last fall, I took an ill-advised shot at a rooster on the last day of the season. He seemed well hit, but locked his wings and glided across a good-sized channel of the Snake River into some cattails on the far shore. My old girl was never a good water retriever and I never force fetched her, but as I stood there wondering if my waders were in the truck, she lit out into the cold and fast water. She hit the shore and worked the cattails for several minutes before wading out and swimming back. She held a totally live rooster in her mouth, his head erect as she braved the current again.
I remember thinking, “That could be the last great retrieve I see her make,” because even then she had slowed down. Mostly, the fire has gone out of her. She still wants to go, she wants to head out the door and ride in the truck, but the barely controlled bird craziness is gone. It’s nice to have her around. She’s mellowed. She can lay down at your feet instead of pacing constantly. She can ride in the car on a gravel road without howling to be let out.
She’s just older. It happens to all of them. And to all of us. For me as well there is a day coming where hunting turns into something else.
We only get so many Octobers.