Getting low

He’s running now. Bowling-ball sized chunks of rock are spilling down behind him as he races uphill. Sweat is dripping down his brow and you can read the profanity-laced tirade on his face.
This morning, he was hesitant, waiting for the birds to stop as if this was some kind of gentleman’s hunt where he wouldn’t have to break a sweat and the birds would cooperate.
Two coveys later, the thorns, cacti, brush, hills, rocks and sand have brought him to a more basic understanding of the guerilla warfare that is desert quail hunting.
Sometimes you have to run the bastards down and when they flush wild, you empty your gun at them.

– GM

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.
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.

Hunting alone

The water is warm and gritty but it will extend our range, so the taste doesn’t matter much.
Out here in the flat, away from the roads and far from the convenience store world we live in, it is the space in between that is most relevant.

There is nothing but the dog and I, the rolling hills and a cup of chemically purified water. It tastes almost sweet with the sense of self reliance.
The muscle aches that flared near the truck are gone and I’m walking easy now. We’ve been into a few coveys and our steady pace follows the terrain lines.
There is no sign that anyone has passed before us.
It feels good to be alone.
Self sufficient.
I came for the quail but now it is the horizon that pulls me along.
Besides the dog and my shotgun I have a handful of iodine tablets in my vest, a zippo and a two-bladed Case knife in my pocket. Everything a man might need to cross a barren landscape.
The urge to continue – to journey – is ever-present.
A biologist friend of mine told me about a female coyote that was collared out on the eastern edge of the Edwards Plateau in south Texas in the early 90’s. She turned up a few years later in the middle of Arizona, nearly 1,000 miles from where she started.
I often think of that coyote when I am afoot in wild country. Did she get run out of her territory or did she just have a touch of wanderlust? Did she journey west all at once or did she just gradually drift across the open spaces?
The sun has dropped well below it’s apex and if I turn back now, I will find the truck only a few minutes after full dark.
With a last look west I turn for home. The dog circles wide, still hunting.

GM

Learning curve

The dog and I are fresh into New Mexico, a return of sorts for me and a new adventure for the dog. We are out of our element here, short grass and cacti, everything spiny and dangerous.


The scalies and the gambels are sprinters. The first few coveys we tried to close in slowly, the dog straining against the tenuous strings of obedience as I waited for them to hunker down.
Instead, they simply ran away from us, climbing to the top of the ridge then jumping off the other side, never to be seen again.
That was ages ago, months and seasons and dog years.
Now, I let her run.
Bust them like an out-of-control mutt loose at a city duck pond.
I watch the covey rise and hear the mad beat of wings as the devil birds surge away just out of range. I whistle her back to heel and she comes, ecstatic, thrilled with the flush.
I mark the birds down and know that they will hold for a few minutes. We hike across the rocky hillside, past the cholla and up to the saddle where we saw them anchor.
Now we’re set, this flushing dog and I. The birds are holding tight and she knows it. She flies headlong into the clumps of tall grass, powers through a creosote bush and flushes a single.
At my shot, a second bird erupts from my near my feet and I spin to my right, unable to see him for a moment. Then I’m on him, swinging my gun past the square of my shoulders as he swerves downhill.
I miss.
She pauses for a moment and I like to think she is checking to see if the bird goes down, but I know it is not her belief in my shooting but a yearning – a fiery urge to chase that keeps her gaze locked on the disappearing speck.
Then we’re back in the saddle, working the patches of grass that won’t hide a dropped 28 ga. shell but can somehow cover a dozen birds. The dog lights up, shortening the strokes of her zigzag as she hones in on the foot trail of a quail. A flurry of feathers and they’re off. It’s half-a-dozen birds and I’m leaning hard, wanting the double and somehow connecting.
We pick up our birds. The dog is still hunting but we both know they’re gone, somewhere in the bottom now and not holding this time but running, hard and fast and without looking back.

GM