The Book

A project we’ve been kicking around for some time is finally happening, and frankly, we’re damn excited about it. In early December of 2013, Mouthful of Feathers: Upland Hunting in the West will be released, featuring a collection of original, full-length essays by:

  • Tosh Brown
  • Reid Bryant
  • Michael Gracie
  • Chad Love
  • Greg McReynolds
  • Tom Reed
  • Bruce Smithhammer
  • Bob White

With an introduction by Miles Nolte.

Cover art by Bob White.

The book will be published by Pulp Fly, Ltd. and available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble for Kindle, Nook and iPad platforms.

More to come soon – please stay tuned. And if you haven’t done so already, the best way to stay tuned is by signing up as a follower of this blog, which you can do on the menu on the right side of this page, and by “liking” our Facebook page. Thanks.

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Bloody hands on the wheel

It’s only after I have been through the drive through, paid and taken the heart attack in a paper sack from the teenage boy at the window that I notice my hands are covered in blood.
It’s only pheasant blood, but in hindsight, he probably didn’t know that. In my head, I start working on my explanation for when the blue lights flash and the questions start.
Luckily, I make it across the state line, no sign of pursuit.
On the short-grass prairie, near the Canadian River, I water the dog and wash the blood from my hands.
I have escaped.

Road rage

The road there sings anticipation. Dogs grumble from the shell, butts and junk sniffed, dominance decided but as tentative and thin as September ice. In the cab, laughs and Dew and miles to go. This year a new place relayed by another with “don’t tell any-damn-one caution,” a place of memories yet made and you push it, this road. It stands in your way, between you and the reason, between the dogs and the birds, in the way of the canvas that awaits your paint and your brush. So you grasp steering wheel, cradle caffeinated drink in your crotch and shovel mini mart popcorn. At the end of the road,  you will work it off on canyon rim and shale.

Once in a while you find a safe and lone ranch road–“no service”–and you pull down it and stand spraddle-legged and piss on cracked gumbo and tumble-weed scrap and let the pack out to piss on each other and sniff ass and walk stiff-legged around the stranger and grouch at him. Goddamnitttttttt, c’mon, Ike. Sonafabitch. And back onto the road, slab concrete beating radial in three-quarter time. When finally you hit dirt, ten hours of truck seat imprinted on your butt, BLM map folded out in your lap, camp circled in pencil, ridges marked with “CKR,” you crack the first beer and crescendo down gravel-clay. The dogs up on all four, nose to the crack-wind coming through. Wagging, whining. The blank sheet awaits your notes, maestro.

A week later the road home. Carrying one hundred pounds of Nevada gumbo in the undercarriage. One spare flat. Rock break. Cab stale cigar and jounced beer. Feet hot and damp in two-day socks. Legs tired and complaining of the hop from gas pump to steering wheel. Dogs flat and dead out, not moving for ten hours and then only to stiff-sore piss and back to bed. No whine no grumble. Founder on Winnemucca Basque, sleep in Motel Six between pipeline workers grilling Sunday dinner on homemade grills in pickup beds. Up at 3 into a gray dawn as overcast as your mood. Heading out, heading home and the road slapping on rubber . It went too quickly, this road, and a year is a long time.

Bullet Points

There were long hours behind the wheel. There was more snow than we’d expected. There were roads that could have stuck our vehicle for days. Roads we turned back from. There were blown shots on what should have been easy covey flushes. There was a jaw-dropping running point by a setter that has taken her craft to the level of artistry. There was cold, biting, open country wind that leaves you feeling ragged and still slightly on edge when you finally get out of it. There were practical jokes, which some found funnier than others. There was setting up camp in the dark, in the snow. There were deep discussions about the relative virtues of one cheap beer over another. There was forgotten dog food (yours truly…). There were, at the end of 3 days with the combined effort of 3 guns and 6 dogs, half a dozen chukar in the cooler.

But then, there were also moments like this:

Basin and Range. Have some.

– Smithhammer

Hard to Argue With

The sign on the diner read, “If You Don’t Stop We’ll Both Starve.”

Hard to argue with, so we did.

And over cheeseburgers and home made fries we basked in all that days on end of hunting new country, on foot and horseback, with friends old and new, can do for the soul. Meanwhile, tired dogs curled up and slept in the way that only hard-working, contented bird dogs can – satiated, and I like to think, already dreaming of being afield again. By the time the pie arrived, there was more right with the world than seemed possible.

Though the hunting may be behind, the trip isn’t over till it’s over, and all these other details are still relevant – almost as important as watching a covey of Huns explode. Almost.

– Smithhammer

Waiting For Godot (Upland Version)

 

Scene:

Late October, overcast. Two hunters are conversing in an SUV, driving through CRP fields somewhere in Idaho. Though it is 35 degrees out, windows are partially rolled down in defense against persistent dog flatulence. As a result, wind turbulence fades in and out in the background throughout the conversation. Both hunters have hardly worked at all for the last month in order to devote more time to chasing birds. Hunter #2, in particular, has hunted something like the last 25 days in a row…

Curtain Rises:

Hunter #1: Talked to Q last night. She said she’s taking tomorrow off.

Hunter #2. Cool.

Hunter #1: She said she’s got some stuff to do in the morning, but it sounds like she’s psyched to hunt the rest of the day.

Hunter #2: I thought you said she was taking the day off?

Hunter #1: Yeah, I did. She’s taking the day off.

Hunter #2: But….you just said she’s going hunting.

Hunter #1: Yeah. She is. She’s taking the day off.

Hunter #2: But…how can she be taking the day off if she’s going hunting?

Hunter #1: (Turning to look at Hunter #2) What? Yeah, she’s taking the day off – taking the day off from work. She has a job.

Hunter #2: Oh….from work….taking the day off from work…gotcha.

(Scene ends with both hunters now quiet and staring ahead at the road, dangling on the precipice of self-examination. Sandhill cranes are heard in the distance.)

Curtain Closes.

 

– Smithhammer

Luther

He was the “assistant foreman” on a ranch in West Texas. I had a gate key to that ranch and permission to hunt quail, but nothing else.

At dusk on a January afternoon, I was parked on the edge of a CRP patch when Luther came clattering up the road in his derelict Ram Charger. His two Blue Healers were standing on the toolbox and peering over the cab. I clipped my pointers to the tailgate and filled their water pans as Luther ground to a halt in a cloud of red dust. He left his truck running because it likely wouldn’t start again if he didn’t.”

“Any birds in that?”

“Three coveys.”

“Get any?”

“Five.”

When the dust and exhaust fumes cleared I caught a whiff of a sickly perfumey smell wafting from his open truck window. He was somewhat shaven and his hair was slicked back. He had on a black felt hat and one of those patchwork Garth Brooks type shirts.

“Luther, where you off to?”

“Town.”

That could have been any number of places but I assumed he was referring to Lubbock.

“What’s the occasion?”

“I got a date.”

“Are you wearing Hai Karate?”

He flashed a sheepish grin and I noticed that his scraggly mustache had been touched up with a grease pencil, a Sharpie, or something similar. It didn’t do much for me, but maybe she would like it.

“Who’s the luck lady?”

“Gal I grow’d up with. I ain’t seen her in years. She’s lately divorced and living back with her mom, and them.” He leaned over to his rearview mirror and checked his teeth; then he plucked a toothpick from his hat brim. “She’s a real looker.”

“Yeah?”

“Head twirler back in high school.”

Luther looked at me with a wink and a nod. I turned and looked at his dogs. They turned and looked mine.

“So, where you taking her?”

“Kenny Chesney concert. She won some free tickets through the radio. She answered four trivia questions about livestock and politics and all.”

“Smart gal?”

“Apparently.”

“You taking your dogs to the concert?”

He pointed into the bed of his truck with his thumb. “They’ll be fine back yonder. Anybody tries to steal em will thank better of it when he has to pry some teeth off his boys.”

He waited for me to reply to that but I didn’t. He watched me unclip my pointers and open their boxes. It was getting dark and I had an hour on the road back to my motel.

“Whatta you give for a bird dog like them?”

“A lot; depends on their breeding and their finish.”

He studied the dogs as they spun and jumped into their boxes. “You gonna hunt again tomorrow?”

“Not sure; sounds like we’ve got some bad weather coming.”

“Well, if you do, I seen a big covey at that wire gap going into the croton pasture this morning. Least I thank they was quail—mighta been doves—do they run along the ground?”

“Doves?”

“Yeah.”

“No, not as a rule.”

With that, he let off the clutch and his trucked lurched and sputtered down the road. After about fifty yards he stopped and hung his head out the window.

“Hey—if you come by the house in the morning and see my truck but I don’t answer the door….”

“Yeah?”

“…don’t keep on knockin, cause I might be doin some good?”

It was 22-degrees and spitting snow when I turned out my dogs the next morning. I hunted for a couple of hours before the wind picked up and it started dumping. On the way out of the ranch I drove past Luther’s house. His truck was out front with the driver-side door standing wide open. The snow was blowing sideways into the cab. His two Healers were sitting on the porch.

Two weeks later the paper said that Luther had been arrested for public intoxication and assault on a gal that was once a head twirler. I hunted that ranch one more time on the last weekend of the season and Luther’s house was locked up and dark. I never heard what happened to his dogs, and I never found that covey by the wire gap leading into the croton pasture.

– TB

The lonely life of a desert Santa

Santa Claus was more emotionally needy than I expected him to be.
TR and I had stopped to refill our water jugs at a remote BLM outpost manned by volunteers.
“You guys here to see the museum,” he asked hopefully. He was a large man, sporting a full beard and was almost surely the real Santa.
“No. We’re just here for a little water.”

“Huntin’?”

He asked the question as if we weren’t covered in a week’s worth of dust and driving pickups loaded with camping gear and dogs.

“Yep.”

His wife, AKA Mrs. Claus, comes out and brings Santa a spotless cowboy hat. Were if it covered in grime, it would be a near twin of those worn by TR and myself.

“Those are our cats,” he gestured towards two big toms.

TR and I were non-committal, but they looked like quail killers and bird-dog fodder to us.

“One has different colored eyes and the other has different colored balls,” he said casually, adding, “I can tell them apart coming or going.”

That night over beers we speculated that Mrs. Claus might have brought out a different hat, depending on what the visitors were wearing.
We imagined Santa in a beanie, sombrero or maybe a cheesehead.
Weeks later I stop by again, ostensibly to get water. I throw my hat on the floor board and don a ball cap.

“Here to see the museum?”

Mrs. Claus walked out a moment later, bringing him a barely worn baseball cap.
I guess it’s a lonely life.

Cactus Dreams

The country cascades. Everything moving, drifting along on gentle river of earth and sky.

A setter. Another and another.

Setter long tails and feathers matching the cadance of grass.

The grace of dog and desert steppe, the dance of the driven, the music of gentle December sunlight.

Grass everywhere, belt-deep, tawny. Breezes talk, whisper Coues deer and Mearns quail. Yarn of past hunts, decades and dogs gone.

A few thorns here, but mostly a stroll, a waltz, a flow like clear water over polished stone. A solid point. Honor. And more honor. Mearns burst, twittered alarm and shotgun shouldered.

In the evening, quail broiled on oak, tangy sweet spice of hardwood smoke and mesquite. Hatch chilis roasted. Agave sipped. Dogs resting, sated. Dreaming. Cactus dreams.        –TR