Winter On

December at this latitude is cold and dark, the days all start late and every glimpse of the fleeting sun is considered a minor miracle. The skies are grey and low, night comes quick and the northern wind sneaks a bit of it’s bitterness into everyone.

Outside our window we watch the snow fall and drift and swirl and we dream of heading south, but even a long drive in that direction still leaves us pretty far north.

The birds, like the rest of us, head into a little seasonal depression after the first honest cold snap. They hunker down in the spruce boughs, just as we curl up with the dogs in front of the great flickering game. All of us, content to choose warmth above all else.

But eventually we come to the realization that winter marches forward and we dig out our long johns, double up our socks, dose our vitamin D and get back to our daily lives.

The birds start moving around again and so do we.

In defense of Alexander Supertramp

I began to incorporate Chris’s purposeful ignorance into my adventures in the broad landscape once visited by Lewis and Clark. Year after year I explored Montana. Much of it without aid of map or guide book of any sort.

I remember the august summer light shining through the western Kansas dust. Its angle illuminating gangly sunflowers and clutches of pheasants along the dirt roads where I grew up.  That light still triggers a combination of hunting season anticipation and lazy almost-fall memories.  August was the in-between-season for a young ranch kid and so my mind was left to wander.

I’d drift off to considering stories I had read and weigh the supposed attributes of great sportsmen. Perhaps someday I could be counted in those ranks.  I’d find myself lying on patches of native buffalo grass, hands cupped behind my head staring up at the passing clouds in one of my contemplative moods.  I’d merge my intrigue about famous sportsmen and my favorite curiosity.  The great explorers and undiscovered hunting grounds of past centuries had long captivated me and dreaming of them had become almost an obsession.

My favorite musings revolved around imagining I was alive in 1800. I’d continually pose the question; “who in their right mind, would not have sprinted to find Merriweather Lewis, or Captain Clark and beg to join up with the greatest expedition of all time?” Maybe I could have been their hunter.  Well, ok – Just me and George Druillard.  I’d lay in the hot summer wind and dream of wading across the Marias, or seeing the great Sioux villages, or the vast bison herds, or hearing the dancing sharptail grouse in the vast and unmapped wilderness of the Dakotas and Montana.

I was 10 or 11, and a few minutes of daydreaming would inevitably spur me to meander back home, grab a 22 rifle and strike out on a hike into the grasslands, over a new hill, or to a new prairie dog town. If I could not join the corps of discovery, I’d discover on my own.  Eventually my exploration obsession filled my bird seasons, and my fishing adventures.

It followed me to college, where I smuggled a Brittany spaniel named Mitch into my dorm for weeks at a time. We’d cut class together and I’d run out of town away from campus to a new quail spot.  Some days I’d knock doors until I found out how to get permission on a river bottom or patch of native grass.  When that would not work I’d hop a fence and explore.  Sometimes with permission, sometimes with willful ignorance as to ownership.  Mostly no one seemed to care.  Occasionally a famer would drive up and lightly interrogate me then take pity and grant permission.  I learned early on that exploration, pushing limits and willful ignorance usually produced better results than societal stigmas indicated.

Listening to my inner Merriweather once led me to a still unbeaten collegiate record of 31 straight days of quail hunting. If it was a weekday I’d attend a crucial class, cut the others and run with Mitch to a spot I knew. Find a few coveys and stop short of my limit.  I’d then force myself to try a new one.  Just look around, walk, take chances, follow my dog.

And so was born my respect for Alexander Supertramp who I first read about just before I graduated. Supertramp was his preferred moniker but he was also known by his given name of Chris McCandless. He made national headlines when he wandered from Arizona to Alaska, struck out into the wilderness and died of starvation in an old Fairbanks school bus.  Even today, he is a punchline in Alaska.  An example for the establishment Alaskans of a fool, a naïve tree hugging greenhorn who would have done well to adhere to the accumulated knowledge of others, read a map or check in with authorities at reasonable intervals.

That’s not how I saw him. I immediately respected his purposeful disdain of maps or guides.  He preferred to explore on his terms, not on the backs of others.  I came to see his desire to set his own course as emblematic of my own approach to bird hunting.

I moved to Montana in 1995 and there I further devoured the story of McCandless after John Krakauer penned his fantastic book about Chris. I began to incorporate Chris’s purposeful ignorance into my adventures in the broad landscape once visited by Lewis and Clark.  Year after year I explored Montana.  Much of it without aid of map or guide book of any sort.  I spent entire bird seasons allowing myself one day to hunt a spot I knew, then forcing myself to explore one I did not.

Sometimes I tried to obtain permission, sometimes it was impossible. Often, I would toil for entire weeks on what I now know is public land. It was my golden age.  Like “the time before the fences” as the old cowboys would say.  An attractive sharptail spot might be dozens of miles from a house and there was no GPS device to give me real-time ownership data.  I would be faced with the choice to follow a bird dog onto new ridges of promise or do nothing.  Following my dogs always seemed like the most sensible option.

Just like McCandless, I wanted the thrill of exploration and discovery and I wanted it on my terms. I never once regretted chasing a dog into a new haunt.  That’s not to say all explorations went perfectly.  Once while I was a mile or two from any road, I heard a rumble and turned to see a grain truck hurtling towards me at high speed.  Having been raised on a ranch, I knew that this was not a hopeful sign.

The big Peterbuilt stopped in a fog of dust, my dogs ran to my side and the guy in the driver’s seat started questioning. But it was all over in a few minutes, he gladly gave me permission and was just trilled to know I wasn’t some drunk high school kid out cutting fences or raising hell.  He drove off and a soon my lead dog Ruark locked on a big covey of huns.  My other dogs honored and I shot a double.

I’d bet he told the fellas in the coffee shop about the crazy guy in the middle of a pasture with a pack of dogs. They’d tip their caps back and listen as he poked fun at a fool who would walk for miles just to see a dog find a bird or two.  I’d imagine them getting a subdued farmer harrumph at my expense.  I just wish I could have been hunting out of an old Fairbanks school bus to make the story even better.

Now well into my forties with dogs of different names, I have only slightly altered my Supertramp ways. I now do everything possible to ensure I never set foot on private property without permission, but I do not shy from exploring new places.  Most are on public land and in places where people do not believe birds exist.  Just another way I can add value to an experience I want to be wild – devoid of previous explorers.  With arms crossed in satisfaction I think to myself about why I find these places and these birds.  It’s just because I took the chance and someone else did not.  I’d like to think Captain Clark or McCandless would nod in approval.

I’ve had to accept that I am not going to be one of those brave souls who join up with the Corps to explore the American west. Yes, that part of my dream is gone.  But I’ve not yet accepted that Alexander Supertramp was a naïve fool.  I prefer to believe that he and I are brothers of a sort.  Exploring our own personal Louisiana purchase.  I’d like to think that he once laid on native grass, looked up at clouds in an angled august light. He imagined untrampled country and wanted to touch it.

We are not that different I tell myself. There is a beauty in the way we live.  Forcing ourselves into unknown territory, experiencing discovery on our own terms. Embracing risk.  Mr. Alexander Supertramp did not want hints from others to be the spoiler for his own movie.  And I don’t think he cared what others thought about his unscripted ways.  I think to myself that I too am just fine not knowing all there is to know.  I even take a little pride in being the punchline for the old guys in the coffee shops.


A friend of mine has a golden that barks “treed” on forest grouse. At first, I found this annoying, the high-pitched yelps of the kind that only goldens can produce and usually only when the owner is cocking an arm to rocket a tennis ball across a lawn in Suburbia, USA. I asked myself, briefly, if it were the bias I have for tennis ball dogs or just bald-ugly jealousy. Briefly.

I was hunting with one of my setters, feeling the kind of sophisticated snootiness that occasionally plagues us setter owners, the kind reserved for pipe-smokers, smoking-jacket donners, double-gun only-ies. From the dark woods to my left came the yelp. Frantic. Ear-drum-stabbing. Frequent. Fucking goldens, I stewed.  At first, I thought she had been caught in a trap or hurt herself somehow and I chided my early thoughts of prejudice. Goldens are friendly, lovely dogs and certainly do not deserve pain.

Then, I heard Tim instruct one of his hunters to get in position. Northwestern Montana grouse are not known for their intellect, particularly spruce grouse which commonly fly up into the nearest tree and await the well-thrown stick before flushing for real. The end of this story goes like this: Tim threw the stick, the grouse launched out of the tree and the hunter had his first spruce grouse and the dog stopped barking because she had her mouth full of feathers.

We walked on, listening to the tinkle of the bell on my setter, sniffing the air like some snobbish cartoon character. Grudging. A few hundred more yards and the annoying golden barking came again and now Tim’s hunter had two grouse. My hunter had none. We were guiding three gentlemen from the South who wanted to experience a grouse triple: blue, spruce and ruffed. I felt a competitive ire which, when it washes over my tortured soul, makes me feel ashamed. Tim’s guys had two grouse. Sure they were spruce grouse that flew stupidly into a tree and waited like feathered statue until a stick preceded a wad of six shot. But still, he had two grouse. I had zero.

Thick woods are not my home cover. I’m a hunter of high crag where sagebrush is the tallest plant. Not a denizen of thick fern, tall larch, staggering cedar. I am of light, not darkness. Except, of course, my thoughts when I’m getting my ass kicked in the hunting game. Competition is something that sneaks into our hunting lore, no matter how we purists think it doesn’t belong there. But there it was. I was losing. Damnit.

Here in the pheasant fields of South Dakota, I had no clue that I was in the presence of a talented “tree” dog.

I was jealous. No way around it. Indeed, very jealous. My setter got some good points and grouse flushed, but they bent around trees, stooping and ducking and diving and in a forest, I had little clue where the went. My hunter had not one chance to even mount gun to shoulder. Sitting incredibly still on a spruce branch, you quickly learn just how invisible a spruce grouse can be. Which is pretty damned cloaked, frankly. As a survival tactic, very effective, actually. Perhaps these birds aren’t so bird-brained, I thought. A blind troll through the timber, grouse gone and not to be found. Unless one has a dog that barks “treed.” I didn’t.

The next day, I pulled my big male, Echo, out of the kennel instead of my veteran female from the day before. I had two hunters on this day and we headed into a cover known for ruffed grouse. I belled the dog and released him. He worked close and I watched and listened for the bell. It stopped. From somewhere off in the dark timber. Then I heard a whir of grouse wing. Followed, strangely, by panicky, high-octave yelping. In fact, an annoying yipping from deep in the woods. I thought, split-secondly, that he might have hurt himself, but there he was, looking up into a tree at a mature ruffed grouse. Holy crap, I have a pointing dog that barks treed! I told myself.

The hunter shot the grouse when I shook him out of his roost, and we pressed on. Then, hark! Another yelp from woodland interior. No fluke this. There’s a grouse in that tree. Two grouse for my hunters. Two in the bag. And ruffed grouse, I told myself, not these sesame-seed brained sprucers. Ruffed! A gentleman’s bird. Yeah, right. Whatever.

I have a dog that barks treed at treed grouse.  A gentleman’s setter? Perhaps not. But we are back on level ground with the tennis ball dog. Let the competition commence.


The Best Kind of Tired

Opening day for sharpies. You escape work early. Pull the necessary gear out of the closet. Instantly the dog knows. He sits by the door, stoically, not the least bit worried about whether he’s going on this adventure or not. He’s maturing.

A half-mile long plume of dust kicks up behind you. Ryan Bingham sings of bread and water, of dessicated places. In the actively worked fields, the last cut is happening. You pull over for large equipment on a road with no shoulder, leaning into the ditch.

Warm enough to hunt in jeans, shirt sleeves rolled up. You have the place to yourself; something that still isn’t hard to find around here. You wonder if/when this will change. Will you grow old watching one cherished spot after another disappear, as those before you have?

The dog is learning to slow down at times, beginning to learn finesse. This is new. The first bird gets up not ten minutes from the rig. It’s so close you have to wait to pull the trigger, lest you sluice it. It folds and falls. Clearly a first day of the season bird, you think. In a few weeks it won’t be so easy. The second bird offers a long passing shot, just far enough out that you ponder for a second whether to take it or not. Swing through and lead it and hope a skeet choke will get it there. It plummets into the grass as feathers blow back toward you in the breeze.

And that’s it. You’ve limited, short but still sweet. You stop at the river and clean the birds. Sharpie stink on the hands for the first time of the season, and as it hits your nostrils, a flood of memories from previous years come back, reminding you that more than just fun, something about this is essential to feeding your soul.

You turn down a dirt road you’ve never been down before, just because you’re in no hurry to get home. Crumbling old homesteads intersperse with sporadic spec homes, their yards having gone wild, weathered realty signs leaning at odd angles. But there are still small pockets of errant field, hedgerows, aspen stands that might hold a few birds – just the kind of pockets best hit in a clandestine manner, alone, with one dog. Gun and run, like fishing the illicit golf ponds of your youth.

You finally hit pavement again and the pointer curls up in the back, content that he’s done what he needed to. Before long you can hear his deep breathing over the Random Canyon Growlers pining about being in the doghouse again. Soon, you’ll follow suit, the kind of tired you welcome and savor. October is always at least a month too short. This year, you aren’t going to waste a minute of it.

We’re coming for you

I packed the dry box already.
A month from now, the bottom will be filled with empty hulls, spilled dog food and an indiscernible assortment of shotgun shells, granola bars, trash, mud, blood and feathers.
Now though, it’s neatly packed with organized boxes of labeled shells and dog supplies.
Meanwhile, the dog and I are aching to hunt. We took a walk early this morning. We jumped a fork-horn bull and saw the remains of a fox-killed ruffie. We savored the cool air of early morning, pretending that it wouldn’t hit 98 as the sun fell from its apex.
On the walk back to the truck, the dew fall glistened on the still-green grass in the high country. The promise of a flush and a fleeting shot against an aspen-filled backdrop are no longer idle thoughts of summer, they are valid mental exercises.
Before leaving, I turned back and looked across the hillside.
For the first time in an equinox, it wasn’t a look of longing.
I loaded the dog in her box and said softly to the unseen birds, “We’re coming for you.”

Dirt road soundtrack

Dirt roads traveled in the company of bird dogs and dog-eared maps deserve their own soundtrack.
The season is still somewhere ahead, but the road begins to beckon. The first trips are for mountain grouse, so September is for driving. It’s for sunflower seeds and cold beer in the cooler, lunches in Aspen groves and beside tiny trout water that you promise to re-visit with a rod, but never do.
Much of hunting blue grouse and ruffies in the west is an arm-out the window pursuit.
Later in the season, we’ll make the long treks into the backcountry for prairie grouse and chukar, starting early from the spots we know.
The first week of September, we set the cruise at 26 mph and glance at a stack of maps printed off with intentionally cryptic notes (lest they fall into the wrong hands) as we explore old logging roads.
The windows down and the dog whining in anticipation, we’ll stop and look, hunt a spot, then back in the truck.
We’ll spin a disk of old favorites and rejoice in birds and dogs and the roads to get there.
Here’s my disk for day 1
Stay a Little Longer – Willie Nelson
Photograph – Charlie Robison
Broken Bottles – Sons Of Bill
Out here in the middle – Robert Earl Keen
Circle back – John Hiatt
Threadbare Gypsy Soul – Pat Green
Down By the Water – The Decemberists
Guitar Town – Steve Earle
Pearl Snaps – Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Birthday Boy – Drive By Truckers
Lonely All The Time – Reckless Kelly
Horshoe Lounge – Slaid Cleaves
Rusty Cage – Johnny Cash
Wicked Twisted Road – Reckless Kelly
Snake Eyes – Ryan Bingham


Here’s one they don’t tell you: Birds’ innards stink.

To holy hell.

It’s nice when you can breast out a bird neatly without breaking into the internal cavity; when you can fillet the meat off in two perfect little slabs. But when the shot mangles the meat or the freaking dog chews a bit too hard and the crushed organs behind the breast bone are exposed to air, the smell is almost toxic.

Worst bouquet ever: A small garage on the farm we stayed at in South Dakota where seven of us each cleaned our limit of roosters. It was like walking into a commercial poultry processing plant.

Even the lingering effects of quick stop breakfast burritos and draft beer caught in old neoprene waders can’t compare. Sunday morning frat house bathrooms smell better.

If you’re a dedicated crop-opener like I am, you have some insight on where the foul fowl scent comes from. Imagine what a diet of decaying apples, grasshoppers and aspen buds would do to you.

I know folks like to wax poetically about that magic moment when a dog’s olfactory system triggers the pooch to stop suddenly. Maybe, just maybe, our dogs are getting a whiff of the fetid internal stew inside the little birdies and they’re pulling up short.

Could you blame them?

– Matt Crawford

Last Call

Grasshoppers whirl at my feet like playing cards snapped into a stiff wind, a sound that is enough like a rattlesnake to skip my heart a couple of beats. This is snake country, and they are still active, even now with mornings frosted and the aspens stripped naked. I tell the white setter to watch out and stay close to my side.

We have only a few hours of light left in the afternoon and one thousand feet to descend. The air seems frenetic, everything sun-baked, hot, late in the day and year. Even the hoppers seem hurried. Or maybe it’s just me.
Most people are hunting elk and deer, but the river calls. I can’t hear it from way up here, but it sings to me. I know the flow is low enough now to wade and the water clear enough to fish. The last hoppers are on, defying autumn. Go. Headlamp in the pack, hair-and-feather hoppers tied the past winter in the box, cold dinner of elk salami and Havarti in the bag. Go.
So we drop off the rim, and I can feel the pain of it in my quads almost immediately, half jogging, power hiking down into the canyon. There is a faint game trail that someone, damn them, has flagged with plastic tape. My secret place discovered. I’ve been scrabbling down into this canyon every year for ten years. This is my one trip for the year, and this one only a few hours squeezed between walls of sheer limestone. Not many make the effort. There are easier fish and gentler places.
I stop long enough to yank the flagging down and call the dog off a family of grouse he’s pointing. The trail fades and then disappears, and I’m in the thick north-side Doug fir with gravity as my only guide. I ignore the feel of my toes hammering into the boots. Is that a hot spot developing? To heck with it.
Finally, the river. It is squashed down here, flowing season’s-end-low through limestone boulders shed from the top. The river pools, then rushes, twisting. Both banks are too steep and tangled to hike. The river is the only path and only if you are willing to get wet. I rig the fly rod and tie on a hopper, wading into the first pool, heading upstream. The dog stays at my side, pointing fish now instead of birds, happy to be trembling in cold water, watching the trout rise.
The first is a brown, ten inches, sides sprinkled like he’s been rolled in black pepper and cayenne. The fight on the two-weight is brief, fun, then over. The next is a rainbow, complete with rainbow acrobatics. The next is a brookie. And so it goes, good fishing in clear water with big flies. Reward for sweat. Made sweeter by the effort of the hike, the urgency of the late hour and season. We wade upstream in the shade of the canyon walls, in the fading light of an October day.
By the time I fish back downstream to my stowed pack, I can no longer see the hopper riding the waves. The hike out, up, will be in moonlight and headlamp. We will take our time on the climb, however, for now there is only sleep ahead.

Fall comes with a quickening in the heart. You smell it early, maybe. Even in the hot years, perhaps as early as August. It happens suddenly. One morning you are standing on your front porch sipping your coffee and it dawns on you how cool it is. There’s a smell in the air, too, a smell of grass cured by the sun, of leaves, of sap, of faint thin wood smoke. Now your attention turns to the aspens on the hill above town and to the alder along the creek, watching, waiting for them to signal the beginning of it.

One morning, you notice a thin line of ice on the horse trough, like salt rimming a margarita glass. It won’t be long. Not long now. You start to dream when you are awake, just as you did back in April. They were vivid conscious dreams of salmonflies and caddis and trout rising above willow-blanketed islands. Dreams of summer coming. But now your dreams are laced with the smell of wet, happy dog, of elk bugling, of leaves changing and falling, of grouse warm and sun-dappled in your hand, of gunpowder and dog bell.
Autumn is a season that sings of harvest and bounty. Yet, on some days, it is still hot and sweat streams down the center of your back and you worry about hanging meat and fret about blowflies and rattlesnakes and loud leaves crunching under your boots. But it is time to harvest and there is not much time. Most days leave you happy, harvesting, collecting, breathing those great smells.
And yet with fall comes a sadness that washes over you for no apparent reason until you realize you are mourning the good things of summer lost. Still, you remind yourself of the peril of this melancholy path, of the fact that summers, like loves, are remembered only for the good things. Summer may be gone, but gone, too, are the blistering long, hot days, the parched landscapes, the mosquitoes, the horseflies, and the rivers with water too warm and low for healthy trout.
Early on, you look at your calendar and cross out days. You’ve hoarded your vacation time for this season and the Xs made by your pen take up days, then weekends and finally, whole weeks. Bird hunting. Antelope hunting. Berry picking. Wood gathering. Bird hunting. Harvesting the garden. Canning. Elk hunting. Deer hunting. More bird hunting. Listening to the Denver Broncos and the Wyoming Cowboys on AM radio. Hauling hay. More wood. You are awash in a frantic river of activity and then it hits you.
Fishing. You almost forgot fishing.
Autumn fly fishing is for the dedicated. The rivers have cooled and the action, at least the action of humans, has chilled a bit as well. Most have gone home and are settling into a season of football and cheese dip. So here, at long last, you have the rivers to yourself. If you are lucky, the hoppers will still be going, sometimes as late as mid-October. And if you are really lucky, the big browns will be on the move.
In late October, from the Miracle Mile to the Big Horn to the Green, the fish that we have credited with legendary intelligence, a trout worthy of kings—King Brown himself—will be on the move.
They run into the rivers from the reservoirs and up the rivers into the streams, and up the streams to the cricks. In October, it is entirely possible to catch a brown trout as long as the crick is wide. Big spawners, with sides as yellowed as the meat of a ponderosa pine. If you tie into one of them on your new four-weight, you’ll pray for its spine, its soul, and thank gawd that the manufacturer has a breakage guarantee, and you thought to bring a back-up rod.
The big brown boys of autumn react quickly to well-presented flies, as if enjoying the cooling of the water. They’ll slash and slam into grasshoppers and other big dries, while beneath the surface, they hammer Montana nymphs, girdle bugs, and wooly buggers. There’s nothing subtle about a fall-run brown trout. They have sex on the brain, and like bull elk, thinking about sex can get them into trouble. No longer are they delicately sipping those size 22 midges on 7x tippet. Instead, they’ll knock the snot out of a size 6 muddler fished on 4x and leave a hole in the water that seems to take forever to fill back up.
Rainbows and cutthroats, too, seem to frolic in the cooling waters, taking some of the smaller stuff on top, perhaps following the spawn of their brown cousins, perhaps just feeling the urgency of the shortened days. Brook trout run now as well, wearing colors almost too gaudy for nature, reds and blues and greens. They are hungry, and they act quickly and seemingly without premeditation.
The beauty of fall fly fishing is you can wait for the sun to come up over the rimrock before you leave the truck. You can wait for the waters to warm a bit and for the scattered hatches to come on, for the frost to metamorphose into dew, before you rig up and pull on the waders.

You’ll fish well, for the whole summer of fishing is behind you and your moves are practiced and honed by solstice-length days.
This short fall day finds you moving carefully among spooky trout, false casting just enough to get the job done, easing over boulders slick with the dying algae of summer. In the cool water, the fish you land fight vigorously and swim off defiantly, still full of spark. Each one you land has you wondering, Is this the last one? Is this the last trout I’m going to land this year?
If you have planned your day well and have had enough smarts to leave the shotgun and bird dogs at home on this rare fall day, you will perhaps—midday and six trout landed—have enough time and the good sense to sit on the bank for a while. Here you can contemplate the vicissitudes of the sporting life in this urgent, too-short, best-of-all-seasons season. You’ll watch golden aspen leaves spinning boat-like in the water and once in a while, you’ll rise to your feet and cast again. You may even have planned well enough to have packed a lunch into your fly vest. Perhaps, you’ll take a break from this quickening of season, from that hurried feel in your heart.
But more likely, you’ll fish hard and return many trout to the water and then you’ll start to think about that dog. It sure would be nice to put him on some ruffed grouse today.

This essay is excerpted from Blue Lines, A Fishing Life, published September 2010 by Riverbend Publishing, Helena, Montana. For more information, check out

Land of the lost

Troy and Samantha are perfectly fine people. He works hard, fishes a bit and uses his small college baseball skills as a Little League coach. She also works (not as hard), looks a little more than good in a sundress and unloads a torrent of dirty jokes after a couple of cosmos.

But the sonsabitches destroyed a bird cover of mine. Sometimes I can’t get past that. Sometimes I want to pull into their yard on a Saturday morning, uncrate the dogs and let ’em shit on the lawn as I stand on their beautiful back deck and fire both barrels at their clothesline.

I won’t do that of course. I took at a verbal poke at them one buzzed night for being flatlanders – chiseling down the price of 20 acres from a nearly broke dairy farmer and then building a tidy $400,000 home in an overgrown apple orchard and taking away a sweet little spot I had to hunt just minutes from my house. It didn’t go over so well – maybe it was my delivery. Maybe it was a little too close to the truth.

It happens a lot around here. A lot, a lot. A new house goes up in the middle of a perfectly good bird cover – an overgrown assemblage of old apple trees, a few awkward aspens, a clumping or two of softwoods and maybe some dogwoods. I’ve stood in Troy and Samantha’s back yard, long before it was a backyard, of course, and killed a big mature grouse as it flushed directly over my head. Where I was standing – I folded the bird with the first barrel, by the way – is now the spot they keep their kayaks in the winter.

Troy told me it wasn’t his fault, you know, that we build new houses on old land. We’ve got plenty of trees and forests around here (which is true), so it’s not like he assembled a strip mall in the middle of a wildlife refuge.

He reminded me I’m not without sin, either. My house stands in an old farm field. It’s not like I live in a old house in the middle of town and walk to work. I should have come up with the money the farmer needed and bought the bird cover if it meant so goddamn much to me. He told me this as I sipped his Crown Royal. As a response I took a big, deep drink.

He’s right. He’s not entirely to blame. I’m not, either. While I’ve gained friends and damn fine neighbors and all that hunky dory stuff, I’ve lost a few bird covers over the years. All in the name of progress and growth, I guess.

I’m waiting for the day they tell me – they’ll be laughing of course – that those birds I always hunt, what are they? Partridge? Grouse? Are they the same thing? Yeah, well, anyway one of them flew into the sliding glass door on their back deck and must have broken its neck. They found the poor thing dead, “Tits up” she’ll say, right there on the Trex deck. She’ll tell me it kind of made her sad.

Yeah, kind of sad. That’s about right.

– Matt Crawford

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