Sharp-dressed Bird

I really like sharptails. If we ever run out of bobwhites in Texico, I’ll probably move north and hunt them fulltime.

Looking, first, at some of the sharpie’s kinfolk, I’d classify the ruffed grouse as the haughty blue-blood of the clan. He frequents the upper east and he’s often chased by folks who smoke pipes and belong to gunclubs. The spruce grouse is the inbred mountain-man of the family. He’s dumber than a stump, and that’s usually where he’s standing and staring blankly when a shotgun points his way.

Between these two intellectual extremes, we have the sharptail. He’s the sodbusting prairie-dweller that wakes up each morning with a different M.O. When it’s hot and windy he’ll flush underfoot and give you a decent chance. On cold days he’ll jump from the grass when the truck door slams and fly out of sight. I like his furry little feets and the way he cackles when he flushes. It’s a nasal, mocking, staccato, yodel that reminds me of the grade school punk that always needed an ass-whooping, but never got one.

Most endearing, though, is the sharpie’s little stomping and spinning jiggy-jag that he does when the ladies of spring are around. Thanks to Dawson Dunning for shooting this incredibly cool footage. – TB

The sounds

My eyes won’t stop watering. It’s the lack of sleep. Three a.m. wake-ups are by far the biggest drawback to turkey hunting.

To stop the spigot, I close my eyes. Surely I’ll hear a gobbler if he lets loose. To make sure, I take an auditory inventory. I start with the close sounds first – the buzz of the mosquitoes, the warblers and wrens, breeze through the trees. Now I expand – vehicle hum of a far-away road. Maybe a dog bark, way off? Maybe.

And then, seemingly from within my head, a “Bum. Bum, bum. Bumbumbumbumbumbum.” Sort of like a lawnmower starting. Then it’s gone.

It’s a male ruffed grouse, somewhere within a quarter mile of the pine tree I’m nestled up against. He’s drumming, which is his way of marking out his spring breeding territory.

I’ve been told drumming creates a mini sonic boom. It might. For me, it creates hope.

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
Caffein
Early morning fix
Warms the body, defrosts the brain

The First

Killing a wild bird involves nearly flawless insertion into both the time and space continuum, you know, being in the right place at the right time.

Trouble was, I’d put the kid into those sweet spots a goodly number of times in the last two seasons in an attempt to get him his first ruffed grouse before the Sirens of high school – girls, cars and sports – chilled his wing-shooting ambition.

He missed, of course, or farted around with the safety or was too slow to mount the gun every time we hit that time/space crossroads and The King eluded the kid in a thunder of wings and flash of gray.

But the black Lab and me or my hunting partner and his French Brit continued to stack the odds in the kid’s favor. Eventually it paid off.

A grouse ran out from under the Britt’s nose and as the dog relocated in the tangle of alders, the kid moved off to my left, toward the cornfield abutting the thicket. The bird exploded from somewhere behind me, banking for the sky, giving the kid what amounts to a decent shot in the New England grouse woods. He pulled the trigger, the bird tumbled and mission was accomplished.

I snapped pictures, him proud and happy, the bird limp and warm. More than anything, I wanted somebody to hit the pause button on that constantly moving time and space continuum. I wanted to stay right where we were, to stop time from shifting the moment to memory.
– MC