Some very talented folks have put together one of the coolest media pieces I’ve seen and it tells a compelling story about the places we hunt and fish. Go check it out here.
Some very talented folks have put together one of the coolest media pieces I’ve seen and it tells a compelling story about the places we hunt and fish. Go check it out here.
Today is National Public Lands Day, a day worthy of recognition.
I saw one grouse here.
He flushed left to right, a brown phase ruff. Going like a bat out of hell. Carrying the mail, as they say.
I shot about twenty feet behind him and then my little setter burst from the chokecherries with a “did you get him?” look on her face.
Um, no. Sorry. I wanted to. Sorry. I tried.
So every year for the last ten or so years, I spend a bit of time on this old homestead, tromping over old barbwire fences wilting and rusting into nothing. September sweating up through willows, scratching through gooseberries and raspberries. It’s always a solo trip because there’s only been one grouse in all this time. There have been bears and burrs and brambles. There has been mud and blood and, after, beer. But no grouse. That setter has been buried two years now and I have new one to chase the ghost. Different boots, less hair, more aches. Still going.
Every year. Ten years in a row. Sometimes twice a year. I have never seen another grouse here, ever. But I still go.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
There are a lot of posers in the upland hunting community. In the interest of full disclosure, we here at MOF are old, mean (especially when we’ve been drinking) and skeptical of everything and everyone. In other words, we assume basically everyone is a poser.
If you say you like to hunt upland birds, my line of questioning goes something like;
You have a dog? (Answer “no” and you’re out.)
What kind? (Answer anything that includes “doodle” or requires an explanation and you’re out.)
Other grounds for dismissal include; using the word “Bra” or “Bro”, wearing a flat-brim baseball cap, party hunting, using a “loader,” having someone else handle your dog, being a dill weed, walking slow, over using your whistle, wearing neon laces on boots, fanny packs, hats with propellers, riding in a jacked up 4-wheel-drive following someone else’s pointers, coiffed beards, taking selfies in the field or wearing purple.
There’s a reason I tend to hunt alone.
Posers litter the upland landscape. Just take a gander at nearly any upland product marketing material and you will almost certainly see a bearded hipster dressed like he’s headed for Sunday afternoon cocktails pointing a shotgun at a limp-tailed pheasant flying directly at the camera. I want to shout “Don’t shoot the photographer,” then I realize it’s likely the photographer who has set up the shot and put himself in harm’s way. Of course, it’s unlikely he’ll be shot by the hipster, but there is a pretty good chance he’ll be kamikaze-ed by the pen-raised bird careening toward him.
And that’s the thing. Upland marketing seems to center around pheasants even though a passel of enthusiastic upland hunters are not chasing pen-reared pheasants. Instead, they choose to hunt wild birds, often on public land. They are hunting ruffed grouse in the Carolina’s or the UP, chasing chukar in Nevada or desert quail in Texas or Arizona. They hunt sharptail grouse in the northern plains of Montana or sage grouse in the sage brush sea of Wyoming. They chase blue grouse on high ridges of Colorado or Utah. They might even scratch down an old rooster every once in a while in a few of those places. Some of them hunt pheasants in the Dakotas or Kansas, but the ones who hunt passionately are usually hunting wild birds, often on publicly accessible tracts.
Follow dogs across enough forest and prairie and you learn to notice things. Hunters can tell by the wag of their spaniel’s tail or the way a setter carries herself when birds are close. They learn to veer towards a falcon holding high above the cholla or to walk out of their way to swing past an abandoned farm implement. They notice how a pheasant will run like hell in short grass but hold up before he crosses a low spot or how huns will flush in a circle and after a few flushes, eventually lead you back where you found them. Upland hunting is a pursuit of subtleties and when you’ve see enough flushes, you know a setup when you see one.
Sadly, many of the companies selling guns and boots and vests are pretty far removed from the realities of upland hunting. There are some exceptions like Wingworks and Russell and Quilomene and Kenetrek and Gundog Supply. Big companies who understand upland hunting are rare, but one that stands out in a good way is Orvis, whose catalogues often feature the birds and places people actually hunt. I think that’s mostly because their CEO, Perk Perkins, and their Vice Chairman, Dave Perkins, are serious outdoorsmen and upland hunters. And damn good fly fishermen as well. And while I’m not typically prone to endorsements, Orvis gives 5 percent of company profits to conservation and I think that’s a pretty big deal.
Orvis recently posted this video about upland hunting. It’s a pretty accurate assessment of what most of us at MOF do and how we feel about upland hunting.
Perk, Dave, if you’re reading, you’re in.
This afternoon I heard on the news that Apple is getting rid of the headphone jack hole on the new iPhone 7. Apparently lots of folks are upset about this but I think it’s a pretty good idea. In fact, I think there are a quite a few jack holes we could get rid of, starting with the ones in congress who are pushing to transfer (sell) the public lands where I hunt and fish.
So I say go for it Apple – dump the jack holes – just don’t stop with the iPhone.
MOF has a loyal fanbase (thanks mom) but we also have plenty of one-time visitors, many of who were captured here.
Since another hunting season is behind us, I thought I would do a quick recap of some of the actual search terms that brought people to MOF in 2015, answer a few questions and note some interesting factoids. What follows are actual search term and phrases that brought people to MOF via the magic of search algorithms.
Recently a gentleman (let’s go ahead and assume) found MOF after searching the phrase, “After I mowed grass there mocking bird is dancing with a little white part of wing open.” I can offer no analysis of this phrase, but I certainly appreciate how search engines use MOF. I can just see some computer at google analyzing this phrase then determining “seems like this person is into birds and possibly bat-shit crazy, so let’s link them to MOF.”
“Renting a chukar dog in Winnemucca” – It was probably a good idea to use the Google for this one, as asking to rent a dog in Winnemucca seems almost guaranteed to get you an ass whooping.
“My pointing dog gets too for ahead” – We’ve all struggled with this and if your dog is young don’t sweat it, it will even out. If your dog is old and you’re still having this problem, it’s not the dog. It’s you. Consider some off-season cardio.
“Can I take a little jackal to my yard and hunt with it when it grows up with my dogs?” – I don’t know much about jackals, but offhand I’m going to call this a good idea. Worse case scenario, we will be happy to link to whatever catastrophic youtube video comes out of this experiment.
“Excuse me, but someone pooped in the hallway” – We’ve certainly all been there sir, but I think you were trying to contact the concierge. Just pick up the room phone and dial “0”.
“What do feathers taste like?” – Listen here you sick bastard, I told you to scram last year. Wrong site.
There was a significant amount of traffic around the search terms, “cross eyed”, “picture of crosseyed guy”, “cross eyed guys”, “cross side eyes”, etc. Whenever I see stuff people finding us with search terms like this, I say to myself, “Damn, what the hell are Tom and Bruce writing about these days? I really should read the content on MOF.” And then I wander over to the Drake or off the internet entirely before I commit to actually reading MOF.
“Good pheasant knives” – I prefer something medium sized with a wooden handle in case you have to hold it in your teeth. Pheasants are gaudy, but they’re not that great in a knife fight. Ignore the flash, stick them in the gizzard and basically any knife will work.
“Ground sluice” – I think I met this guy down in NM. He was an older gentleman hunting without a dog. His response to a rhetorical “how was it?” went something like, “Well, there are birds, but they are running and flushing wild, getting up at 50 yards and flying forever. I only got one shot.” A less rhetorical follow up question “get any?” was answered with, “Only three.” Indeed.
“Why brain tend to forget hard learned lesson” – Judging by the grammar, I’ll go out on limb and say brain damage. Hunt chukar, fall, no talk good. Alternate scenarios, possibly from Utah or tried to rent a dog in Winnemucca.
“How to hunt chukar without a dog” – I’m suspicious that the guy who searched this phrase probably tried renting a dog, then resorted to ground sluicing.
Interesting note, many people found the blog while searching for specific towns and specific upland species. As in, “Chukar hunting near Salt Lake City.” We do all our hunting on Giffy Butte, so I’m sure those folks were disappointed.
Thanks for reading and if you found us by accident, I hope you’ll stay a awhile.
Some of you (who probably have too much time on your hands) know that I had a short-lived blog called Shotgun Chronicle. It was largely a running list of guns I couldn’t afford to buy. Eventually I simply couldn’t keep up with all the hours searching Gunbroker in an attempt to fill my imaginary gun room and I shut the blog down.
Each morning now, I go somewhere I haven’t been before. It’s an easy, solo routine that asks no one for permission, checks in with no authorities, goes where it wants to go. I have a hunting license and I’m American, camping on American soil owned by every damned one of us.
There are but two limitations: obey the state’s hunting laws and no camping in the same spot for more than sixteen days . . . as if I’d want to stay in one spot that long. I can live with those two rules.
The other rules are my own. Get up when I want, go when I want, shoot only a few birds out of each covey, treat my dogs well, leave enough for next time.
It has been this way for ten weeks now as I swing into the last two weeks of a three-month sabbatical from my real job. I have hunted five states, nine species of upland game birds, a dozen national forests, and thousands of acres of BLM ground. I asked no one for permission to go there and I checked with myself to see if it was okay to go. It was. No one is more free.
It’s a rare honor owned by only four percent of the world’s population, we U.S. citizens. And were I less fortunate and had less than this chunk of time, I could still have gone. Gone for a weekend camping trip or an hour-long picnic with my family. It is as free a choice as deciding what side of the bed to sleep on.
In the evenings, I sit by the sharp clean burn of a hardwood campfire, smelling that good smoke, grilling my dinner. I sip corn liquor and pat my canine companions. I listen to coyotes talking from a near ridge and far off on the skyline, I can see the lights of the city to the north. I read good books by flashlight and I stretch, take a few aspirin for middle-aged aches, and turn in. Then I do it all over again.
This is my liberty. Rise in the morning in the camper parked on American ground. Coffee, bacon, eggs. Breakfast done. Put the gun and the dogs in the truck. Load up on water and food for the day. Pull out the forest map and decide where I want to go. In a few weeks, my family will join me and we’ll celebrate Christmas here. An outdoor Christmas with a nearby scraggly alligator juniper as our tree.
I’m only a few miles north of the border. Sometimes I wonder if anyone gets to hunt those beautiful oak slopes down in Mexico. I suspect not. It is likely owned by only one person while the ridge I’m standing alone on is owned by 320 million of us. Ironic that it feels in this moment as if I’m the only owner. Therein is the beauty of it.
I follow my little setter up onto benches of Spanish dagger and live oak. I drop into arroyos of granite and mesquite. I turn toward good looking bird habitat when I see it. No one knows I’m out here. I’m free. Sometimes, I stop and rest against a boulder and I watch contrails in the sky and listen to Mabel’s panting and think how damned fortunate I am to live in this country, with all of this American public land to hunt. Mostly, I just rest and think about nothing at all, which in this day and age is a good thing for someone who loves freedom and liberty. It is a good thing to get away from the raspy blather of the greedy.
I heard smatters of drivel coming from someone who has eyes on taking our American soil and turning it over to outside interests, claiming, incredulously, a constitutional right to such a theft from our people. “What price liberty?” asked the man with city-soft hands and never-seen-the-sun skin.
Try and take mine and you’ll find out, I think, and I pick up my shotgun and follow my bird dog into another covey.
There will come a time. I know this to be true, but I cannot acknowledge the truth. The truth is gossamer, whispy, a fog that shifts, thickens, then blows away. Elders speak these truths—the days go faster the older you get, enjoy it while you can because it won’t last, someday you won’t be able to climb those hills—and yet the depth of those words cannot be realized by the synapses of youth. Or even middle age. We deny that ache in the lower back in the morning after a day of work on the ranch, we ignore that tightness in the knee on the climb to laughing chukar, and that blood pounding in lung and temple is merely the price of exercise and not the product of a slowing physicality. We hear those words of things to come, but we don’t listen. They don’t sink. There is no overt repudiation of them. It is more of a “yeah, right, okay.”
Even when I see it right before me. We are driving to the airport in Tucson and it is early morning and my friend’s hunt has come to an end. I’m not sure if he has had a good time. I’m not sure I would were the roles reversed. A lame dog, a mysterious weakness and lack of energy that no amount of rest can cork, a dizziness that makes shotgun shooting tricky at best. Dangerous at worst. Meanwhile, your companion has climbed hills, dropped into deep oak, followed a racing young setter to shotgunning glory, brought home bounty and tale. No, I would not enjoy that swap.
So I drive and there is a quiet in the pickup. I’m keeping Pat, who is no longer lame and both his shotguns and his travel trailer and he’s flying home to Montana and a warm fireplace and a good wife who will take care of him. I wonder, as I steer through the rising dawn, what his thoughts are. I wonder if he knows how much I admire him for trying, how much I think of him as a stud horse who is ten-times the equivalent-aged man anywhere in the country. There are damned few middle eighties out there who can walk five miles in rough terrain, shotgun in hand. Who can camp for two weeks foregoing genuine indoor plumbing and a hot shower. Who can stay up at night talking Trueblood and Harrison and Leopold and the sad state of wildlife conservation, then rise early in the morning to do it all over again. Day after day after day. Pushing that wretched time tide back. And again.
And I wonder about his thoughts. About being here on a high mark for desert quail, about having a good dog and a fine old shotgun and a younger companion who happily does most of the work and all the driving. About being set up for success like that. And then not being able.
They wave us through the border check station, nodding at our cowboy hats, seeing the dogs in the back, making a quip about hunting. It’s getting lighter outside and there are no other trucks on the road yet. So I drive, pushing the pickup up past seventy, pushing north toward civilization, an airport and the end of my friend’s hunt.
Still south of the interstate. But if I hurry, I should probably have enough daylight left for an afternoon hunt.
Less than a week into the trip, Pat pulls up lame. Favoring the left hind.
We are nearer true Mearns country now. In the vicinity, anyway. But on the first evening in the new camp, the dogs out for a piss put up a covey of Gambel quail, maybe fifteen birds. We are both in beer mode though, two into the evening, and we just laugh and watch them fly off. Call the dogs back in. We’ll be after them in the morning. I can see oak up on the rims on the north slope, within reach for a good walker.
In the morning, Jim heads out with Pat, chasing last night’s covey, but it proves as ephemeral as a phone number given without enthusiasm to a stranger on Friday night. And in the process, she comes in limping, her passion for birds slowed to a three-legged hop. I spend the day on the mountain, find one covey of Mearns, drop a male on a long swing, miss another and see no other birds. The pup works great, though, and I am happy. She is not running over birds now. Instead, it feels as if she’s starting to get it down. We stop for water a lot. It’s too hot, really, for good hunting.
We talk for a bit about what to do. The injury is athletic in nature, but there is nothing obvious. We’re miles from a vet and I have a field kit with various meds. We’ll give it some rest, see how it goes. In a way, I wonder if perhaps this is some kind of a sign, a reason for my old pal to stay back at camp, catch up on reading, soak in the desert sun. He has not been feeling well and while we used to hunt side-by-side, this hunt instead means I go my own way and we get together in the evenings. Sometimes he hunts, sometimes he stays back. And that’s okay. Life-long friends adapt to individual changes . . . . It is the being here.
I can see in my old friend the disappointment, though. This is his only dog. I have three. True, two are at an age where they are stop-gap, half-day companions on old legs, but I have reserves nevertheless. Like Matt Hasslebeck coming off the bench for Andy Luck.
We will take the days as they come to us.