Waving the white flag

My first gun dog, a pudelpointer I bought fresh out of grad school with almost no research into other breeds, pedigrees, or breeders, has made a wonderful family dog.  She’s gentle with our toddler, keeps my wife happy with her minimal shedding, and has been a serviceable companion both in a duck blind and in chukar country.  Her start was anything but ideal, as her early upland hunting was largely limited to planted pheasants at the wildlife refuges and pay-to-play preserves near our home in the Willamette Valley.  While I have some fond memories and glimpses of brilliance on epic retrieves and staunch points, I can’t help but feel like I failed her with a lack of time training and exposing her to the kinds of experiences that make for a solid gun dog.  As she approached her eighth birthday, my thoughts turned to the next dog that would join or family, the lessons learned and the mistakes made, and what I’d change with our next pup. 

Those thoughts all came to a head two years ago, with a much-coveted invite to join the MoF crew at a chukar camp comprised of four setters and two shorthairs in the wilds of the Great Basin.  Often described as elegant and stylish, my impression of the camp’s setters reminded me more of a Rage Against the Machine mosh pit than some old white guy in tweed and a necktie. Those dogs absolutely ripped through the sage and bitterbrush in search of birds and after five days of following them around, I was firmly sold on the English setter as my new breed of choice.  I went home and put down a deposit on a litter that shared pedigree with Tom’s Mabel.  

October Sadie May

The following November, on my second invite to the MoF annual chukar camp pilgrimage, Tom and Greg were both cool and encouraging as then five-month-old Sadie romped around without much interest in birds or scent.  “These dogs train themselves, all you’ve gotta do is take ’em hunting,” was the constant refrain back at camp as I returned time and again with an empty vest and the nervous edge of a drug addict in need of his next fix.  I couldn’t bear the thought of failing another gun dog.  With a three-year-old son and a full time job waiting for me back home, intrusive thoughts on my own ability to give Sadie the future she deserves were with me on the lonely drive home to the Willamette Valley.  

Sheepishly, last winter I began researching gun dog trainers.  Much like the feelings I’ve long harbored over guys who only fish with hired guides or pay others for home improvement projects rather than admit their skills aren’t up to the task, sending Sadie to a trainer felt like cheating.  I wavered whether or not to even tell my hunting partners of the decision I’d made.  So I wasn’t surprised by the guilt mixed with excitement that washed over me as the hood of my Ram crested over Santiam Pass en route to a mid-point visit to see Sadie, after her first five weeks at a bird dog trainer outside of Bend.  

After some small talk with the trainer, he brought Sadie out on a long lead and directed her to a couple of pigeons strewn about his training grounds in launchers. A light breeze bent the field’s tall grass as she quartered back and forth, nose held high into the wind.  As her saunter slowed and she froze, tail rising skyward, any feelings of guilt or remorse I had were far from my mind. 

I look forward to the day when I’ll have the time, space, and freedom to train a dog on my own.  Much like tying flies, reloading ammunition, or refinishing your own kitchen, there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes along with figuring things out yourself.  But unlike a fly, or a shotshell, or a kitchen cabinet, there’s no do-over with a gun dog.  The choices I’ve made over the last twelve months of Sadie’s life will be with both of us for the rest of her life, and will echo across my memory until my time comes as well.

I’m kid-on-Christmas-Eve excited about the career Sadie and I will have together and I can’t wait for the lessons I’ll learn about training and companionship she has to teach me.  And as for the rash of shit I’m bound to get from the chukar camp crew, I’ll take my lumps a little easier with a few birds in the bag.  

Commemoration

There are those in the literary world to whom nostalgia and sentimentality are an anathema. There may be a point there; why look backward when forward is the thing? Why think about a time before the time we are in?

This is not my school. Mine is old. I like manual transmissions. AM radio as long as it’s tuned to mariachi or Ray Price-Marty Robbins country, no rantings of conspiracy and anger for me. Tent camping. Straight black coffee. Cast iron cookware.

And I love this old man. He turned 90 a few weeks ago. Greg and I rented a Forest Service cabin with a long view of Montana where neighbors are mountain bluebirds and barn swallows up from mariachi country. We sat on the porch of that cabin and thought about Lewis and Clark and we talked about Winchester rifles made before 1964, fly rods made by hand, canvas tents, bonafide American double guns. We watched skeins of elk and antelope work across sagebrush benches greening in a May sun. Saw a black bear galloping across cattle country and a snowshoe hare going white to gray.

“Greg, I’ve turned into a stumbling, drooling old man,” he said.

“You’re not drooling.”

“Not yet.”

He stopped himself at one gin and tonic and I said, “I understand.”

“I don’t,” he said. And then he said, “Stop me if I’ve told you this before.”

He had, but we didn’t. He has stories, nostalgia, sentiment for days gone by. So do we.

Poor is the one who does not listen to this, stealing gems from one’s own cache. Bring it on.

Jim and Greg doing a little target shooting with an old school Winchester 1890 .22 WRF.

Evidence of interlopers

On the tailgate of a pickup covered in the grime of four states, I pull out my boots and lace them while Tom buys green chile cheeseburgers at Blake’s Lottaburger.

It was a long drive through the night. A February snow hammered us for 300 miles from Utah until we drove out of it near Albuquerque at daybreak. The mid-day desert air is warmer than I have felt in a month, but when I pull on the boots they are still full of cold, Northern Rockies air.

There are a handful of chukar feathers stuck in the laces, a remnant of a last day Idaho hunt. I pick them off and watch them flutter across the parking lot and catch in the grass at the edge. I wonder if some other rig packed with bird dogs and desperate for a green chili fix. Will they raise an eyebrow? Will they get a chuckle? Or will they think, “go home you miserable spot stealing bastards!”

I hope it’s the latter.

Letter to Lucy Gray

I don’t even know what a Godfather does. I have a vague idea and I think there may be presents involved. I could ask around, get some thoughts on what other people think it should be, but I kind of like having a blank canvas to make it up as we go along.

Your Dad came up to Montana this summer to ride and camp with me and that’s when he asked me if I’d be your Godfather. He said he and your Mom had talked it over and it seemed right. I laughed it off, but I also have got to tell you, it brought tears to my eyes. The honor of it. We were heading up into the West Pioneers on a four-day horsepacking trip, your Dad riding my old mare, Mac, me on Black Jack, and my new young filly, Sis, carrying our food and a bottle of good Irish whisky. We got rained on, caught some fish, shared that bottle, and had lots of good laughs. In the mornings, when it was quiet and we fed twigs into old coals and watched flame rise in the campfire, I thought about what it means to be a Godfather. To have someone I’m going to watch grow up and turn into a young woman.

This morning, your morning, I hiked out to my upper pasture, caught old Mac and rode her bareback to the house. I didn’t know you had been born, but already in my head, I was thinking about what I might say to you. What I might teach you. Is there something an old bachelor can teach a little girl? Some lesson? Some way of going? What do I know of raising children with no experience of my own?

It’s horseshoe time again. Hunting season is on me and there’s a wind off the Tobacco Roots pushing leaves off the cottonwoods, telling me it’s here, and so I caught Mac and let Jack and Sis run loose, bringing them down to the barn to meet the farrier. In the stirred up wind, the horses skittered. I swung up on old Mac with just a halter, and she pranced and threatened to run with the other two and I thought to myself, “I’m getting too old for this crap.” As the other two galloped off in the loose wind, I worried that I might find myself on top of my head, but pride kept me up there even though she jigged and jogged and threatened to tip me off. She defies her age and I’m at the age when I deny mine.

When I got back to the house, there was a message from your Dad that you had been born. And so you are here, Lucy Gray. A new soul in a complicated world. I’m a new Godfather in that same world. And here are my first words to you: Get outside, find the passion in your life, love someone, and throw yourself at it.

There’s a solace in nature that you’ll find just by putting yourself there. I know your parents will take you into the mountains and desert and open plains and you’ll find that peace. You will learn to ski and ride a bike and a horse. You’ll learn to row a boat down a beautiful river, cast a fly to a rising trout, eat wild raspberries right off the stem.

It’s a wonderful life, this life spent outside. When life is troubling you, go there. Learn the wildflowers, know the birds, the insects. Listen. Grow a garden. Eat farm eggs and elk steak. We live life in a world of machines, but our true nature is nature. This is where our species has evolved, in a world that is dangerous and exciting, a world beyond our inventions. Breathe in that clean air. Get outside.

There will come a time in your life when it will seem as if stress is all you are swimming in. It is at this moment when you will need to open the door and step out into it. Away from the indoor pressures into a space big enough to wash it all away. Get on a horse. Put on some hiking boots. Pick up a fly rod. Get away. Get out.

I’ve been lucky in my life, for my passion is the outdoors, and the outdoors is my work. But there are many other passions. Find yours. Most of all, have fun. We only get one of these things called life. It’s not a dress rehearsal. Find something that you love to do and do it often. Find something worth fighting for and fight for it. Stand up for people and creatures that can’t stand up for themselves. Argue for your beliefs, but be civil about it. Try to see both sides, for that way you’ll be able to understand others and your convictions will be all the more firm for that understanding. But more than anything, have fun. Enjoy it.

Your life is going to be filled with many great people, people you’ll love deeply and without condition. Good people, starting with your parents and spreading out from there. You are born into goodness, with rich souls all around you. You’ll meet many and you’ll know, by looking into their eyes, the depth of their goodness. Love them. Love animals the same way and watch how others treat their fellows and how they treat animals. You can do a lot of weeding if your own eyes are open.

Finally, go at it hard. If the road is rocky, take it. If it’s tough and hard and difficult, it’s worth doing. If it were easy, anybody could do it. No man has made a good name for himself by taking the easy way out. No matter how much it sucks, suck it up.

And so there it is. Get outside, be passionate about it, love well, and work hard.

And always remember, if you need help in this world, if you need someone to protect you and love you and help you fight the fight, he lives in Montana and runs a string of great bird dogs and rides cranky old mares bareback.

Welcome to the world, Lucy Gray.

________________________

First published in Wyoming Wildlife magazine and then in the book, Give Me Mountains For My Horses, Lucy Gray is now twelve years old, the old horse Mac has gone to the other side of the ridge and the author has children of his own.

Gunfight In Our Birdcamp

His hat lies on the floor of the old house. A narrow ray of sunlight crawls through a hole in the roof and illuminates the tattered carpet a few inches away. The hat once was sharp and bold; black with big gold letters and those striking wings on the bill that us kids called “scrambled eggs.” But my Grandpa Clarence died years ago and his old cap is now tired and gray from accumulating dust. A mouse emerges from beneath the crown and scurries away through the rubbish of the crumbling bedroom in the once-vibrant Kansas farmhouse.

As a boy, I spent countless days in this home with my grandparents. On special occasions, I would travel with Grandpa from the red and white house as he proudly wore that NRA cap to church potlucks and community barbecues. By the time I was in high school, I could spot him in the crowds of my ball games by those three big gold letters. 

Grandpa survived the dust bowl, the great depression, and WWII. Dignified but never ostentatious, he was a dedicated FDR Democrat who believed the shared sacrifice and self imposed decency of his generation had saved democracy. That NRA cap had a very specific meaning to him; it was an extension of his patriotism. 

His hat signified responsibility, solidarity, pride, and family; all things I experienced with him as a boy. After enough of my begging, he would agree to jump in an old pickup truck and bounce down a dirt road until we arrived at a ditch where he knew pheasants lived. We spent the better parts of fall days together, me with a borrowed gun from my dad and Grandpa with his prized Model 31 Remington 12 gauge. I remember the soft fall light pouring over us as we took aim at the birds and then laughed together about shots made and missed. 

Those old romantic days of Americana with my grandfather are now gone. Where there was once a lawn and a home and a family, there is now a head-high forest of kosha and thistle. There are pheasants scurrying through those weeds in the decaying homestead, and I take aim at roosters flying over the bedroom where the old NRA cap lies sad and forgotten. 

I make a good shot on a bright, long-tailed bird and it lands with a thud near the foundation of what is left of the house. My grandpa would have been proud of that shot, but I am glad he did not live to see the things that his once-proud hat now signifies. 

I am sad for him. So much has changed. Like his favorite hat, he was proud of me in his own quiet way. In his later years he beamed as he told friends that his grandson was a bigshot at a gun company. He kept a catalog from that company to show off what I did. It’s probably in the house now with the old hat and the dust and the mice. 

I was proud too. Back then neither of us had the perspective to see what was happening. As Grandpa neared the end of his life, about the time I was winning awards in the gun business, the memories, pride and idealism signified by his cap were already being twisted into a political machine that Grandpa would have wanted nothing to do with.

Eventually I would be a part of an industry that was doing things he would not have been proud of. For a while I was too close to see it, and as Grandpa faded, he was too far away. I suppose there are blessings in the blind ambition of youth and in the calm ignorance of old age. But there are dangers too, and I hope that our country is neither too close nor too far away now.

People like us bird hunting vagabonds, those of us who read and write on this assemblage of words and images, are almost all romantics. We want to believe things are true, we hope the country is not changing, we want to remember our old hats as crisp, proud and righteous.  

But not everything is as we wish it to be. The blind romance and passion of people like us is often the very fuel for the mechanized forces that eat away the old homesteads and favorite memories of our lives. I spent decades inside that powerful machine, I fed it, learned how it worked and tried to maneuver within it. Sadly, I came to understand it had used people like my grandpa and me. 

Coming to terms with this reality has not been easy. Writing my memoir has not been easy. Dealing with the truth of a deeply divided country has not been easy. Knowing that my grandpa’s hat is lying in that hold house has not been easy. Challenging what some of you believe will not be easy.

Shooting cackling pheasants over the old Kansas bedroom was, truth be told, pretty easy.  

The words I have offered to my Mouthful Of Feathers colleagues and readers have always been honest. I have always appreciated the depth of this audience. The words I write in my forthcoming book are also honest. The truth is that there is a gunfight in our national bird camp and I have written a book about it all. It’s going to be controversial. Some of you will be prone to dismiss it before you read. 

But just like everything else we write here, I ask that you give this story a fair shake. Because in the end, this book is about all of you too. This is about our country, about how we ended up in a place where half of America hates the other half. 

Just days ago I received notice that Gunfight has been named as a prestigious top ten most anticipated book for the fall of 2021, so someone thinks this is going to be important. But the audience of MOF means a lot to me and I hope that the book can live up to your expectations. 

Thank you for allowing me to share words about things we cherish. I invite you to preorder this book, to read it in October and to think about our old hats and the parts each of us play in our great American story. 

We are all characters in this one.

Learn about the book and preorder here:  www.ryanbusseauthor.com

Getting off on the right foot

“I should shoot you.” 

I said it as flat and cold as I could. 

The view was nice up here, and while I may have been pleased to be at the top, I wasn’t feeling it yet. About five minutes prior, I had been skirting a hill in chukar country. I’d showed up to camp about an hour before, having driven through part of the night in a snowstorm and laid up short of camp to avoid rousting everyone at 2 a.m. I had driven into camp at sunrise, a little delirious and feeling like Gandalf arriving at dawn on the third day. In truth, I showed up a couple of days after camp had started with my covid 15 packed into my shirt.  

That first morning, my three companions headed in other directions and I lit out into the wilds low on sleep, overweight and needing to get my chukar legs under me. I took the low road, moving west, skirting the big hill. I’d let loose Maggie – the big running young setter – based on some logic that seemed sound at the time, but fails me now that I try and recall the rationale. I started moving, cold still, knowing I’d would warm eventually. Maggie swung wide into the flat off to our west as I trudged north. I was optimistic that she might find a covey of huns in the lowlands, and I felt soft at the wish. Maggie had other ideas. She swung north, then made a great sweeping arc all the way to my right, climbing the hill I had avoided, disappearing over the skyline, still climbing at a dead run.

I turned northeast, following her on the path of least resistance, climbing, but at a gentle pace. And then she stopped. The Garmin said she was pointing, 425 yards. Straight uphill. 

Days later, my chukar legs under me and the first day’s trepidation gone, I would think back to this moment. Heart hammering, a messy jog hampered by 8 months of covid fat hanging on me a like an anchor, but climbing like a mad man. Sweating, panting, slipping on the snow and ice-covered scree. Occasionally calling out a feeble, whispered “good girl, whoa”, mostly for myself. Narrowing the gap, 300 yards, 200, navigate around a basalt rim, 100 yards, almost to the top, “where is she?” Then 50 yards, at the summit. And she’s moving. She comes right to me, happy as only a bird dog afield can be. 

I look around desperately to see if I can find the birds flying and maybe mark them down. Instead, I see Tom. Laughing. Giggling like a child who has just played the greatest joke of all time, holding the little setter by the collar, patiently petting her as I scrambled and raced uphill. 

“I should shoot you.” 

I said it as flat and cold as I could. 

But came out more like, “I…” followed by gasping and retching, “I… should,” more gasping, wheezing, and sweating. “I… should… shoot… you.” 

I was pissed and not yet in the mood to laugh about it. But even if I had been pulled there involuntarily, I was at the top of this little hill, now in chukar country for real. To the east, a mountain range loomed another 2,500 feet up and ahead of us was a dry creek and another hill. Down, then up again. Vertical gained, vertical lost. And if you want to kill chukar, you have to be casual about it. Birds climb up and fly down. Get used to it. When you find them, you chase them. 

Tom managed to slow the giggling to a smirk.

Sorry buddy. I had to do it,” he said. “You want to hunt together?” 

We dropped down into the creek bed and started upward again.

The first day in chukar camp is always tough. Particularly after a year like this one. But you have to start climbing eventually, and truthfully, it’s not exactly the Himalayas. It’s more of a mind game than anything. You just have to steel yourself and go right at it. As the trip wound down, I regained my sense of humor and told the rest of the crew the story. On reflection after days of non-stop climbing, maybe I even owe Tom for getting me off on the right foot on that first morning.

Yep, I definitely owe him. I’ll have to do something nice to repay him next season. 

Growing up rich

In 1981 my dad ordered a Chevy truck from a small town dealer, stripped bare of any amenities to keep the cost down. Not even the truck bed was included. He welded up a simple flatbed for it so that it could easily haul hay and pull cattle trailers. Years later, when it was not engaged in those activities, it was my school truck.

On most days, reminders of the truck’s working-class roots were there beside me. A lariat rope or a pipe wrench on the seat as I parked by the school in the morning. Maybe a wad of twine on the floor if I had fed the horses before class. Not exactly the symbol of privilege or status I saw in the movies of the time, but on all days from November to February there was a shotgun behind the seat, that gun hinted at my incredible wealth.

After basketball practice, on weekends, sometimes on the way to school, that old truck was my ticket to chasing pheasants. Western Kansas was full of them.

My father was a devotee of Aldo Leopold who planted CRP grass wherever the government would allow; his way of bandaging the nation’s prairie wounds. Our ranch held birds in nearly every crook and corner because of it.

On many evenings as I drove the dirt road home, I parked in the ditch then darted into a ravine or fence row with gun in hand. Rarely did I emerge without a rooster or two. On weekends we would limit out by noon or complain about a tough day. I did not yet understand real dog work, but I would involve my dog Daisy where I could. A half lab half springer with just enough birdiness.

I hunted pheasants beginning when I was a young boy and I became an expert, dedicating almost all spare time to the pursuit. I knew where to go on hot days, how the birds would fly with a north wind, how they tried to escape in every scenario, knew every patch of grass, what time they finished in the grain fields.

We counted birds in the hundreds. I took it all for granted, got spoiled I suppose. For all I knew, all kids grew up with wild birds and pocket full of 20-gauge shells. Like a lot of rich kids, I was too dumb to know how rich I was.

Occasionally my father hauled my brother and me to what felt like another world. 30 miles or more to another ranch up north where there was a beautiful creek bottom covered with giant old cottonwoods. Enormous trees that were used as corral corners for the big Texas cattle drives of the last century.

These groves were on the edge of quail country. Chasing native covey birds in the trees and brush was mesmerizing. It challenged me in a new way. My dog acted differently. The birds held better. When I was lucky enough to harvest quail, I cradled them as if they were an exotic gem from a far-off land. Reverence that is still within me today.

In my sophomore year of high school I got another rich kid break. Mr. Leach, my high school football coach, needed some company on a trip to quail country many hours to the south and east. He had a fine Brittany and I said yes in an instant. That was my first experience in great quail country with a pointer.

It was 1985 and the big city rich kids were hooked on cocaine, forgettable fashion and bad music. I was addicted to hunting wild quail with a pointing dog.

By the time I was in college the habit was worsening. Living in a dorm room surrounded by great habitat and coveys galore, I knew I needed my own pointing dog. I noticed an ad in a local paper, cobbled together every bit of cash I had, drove 35 miles and bought a 10-month-old Brittany for $125.

The runt of the litter was tethered by a chain to an austere outdoor kennel. He needed rescuing and I needed a friend that could hold a point. Neither of us could afford to be picky. I named him Michener and was shooting quail over him later that afternoon. The first of hundreds of such days we shared together.

We lived in a small dorm room where canines were not welcome. Many evenings were spent evading the hall monitors not friendly enough to look the other way. Once safe, we would examine maps with the aim of discovering new quail haunts. The next day, after a classroom test or sometimes despite one, we would slip away from campus. Day after day we rolled in the quail country of central Kansas.

Like a kid with fresh $100 bill, I held the place up to the light then close to my nose. I breathed it in just to make sure it was real. That was a magic place and time, with its wild birds and farmers who granted easy permission. With coveys darting over hills in the soft fall light and stray singles holding tight for Michener to point.  

I was told that College was supposed to prepare a kid for the larger world. Lucky for me it did. Eventually I’d put my bird-chasing degree to work, but just out of school I struggled for footing in a world that required more than just hunting experience. Michener became a ranch dog and stayed back home with my parents as I bounced around looking for a place in the world. Within a year or two I found it when I moved to Montana. And just as I had when I landed in quail country, I soon located a birddog companion. I drove back to my rental house from Missoula with a new Britany puppy on my lap. Ruark and I would roam the west together for the next 16 years. 

This dog became my new wealth advisor. He pushed me to discover another part of my incredible inheritance. A 640-million-acre estate, too much of it already pot-marked and two-tracked, but some of it still wild and unspoiled. I owned this place, or at least a part of it. I was now exploring our public lands and discovering some of the finest wild bird hunting on the planet. Another lucky stroke for the spoiled rich kid.

By the 90s, the world was flooded with the cash of the internet boom. I was enjoying my own fortune. Living in Montana pulling in just barely enough to buy shotgun ammo. Taking my quail experience and multiplying it just a savvy rich kid should. 

This new land afforded me the opportunity to trek nearly 20 miles in a single day. In most places I granted my own permission. Even after many long days in a row I stood on high points and saw another month’s worth of vastness.

I came to love hunting sharptail, huns, sage grouse, chukar, quail and mountain grouse in the expanse of the west. Here I could unfold maps with public land measured in dozens of sections. I camped where I wanted. Walked for days on end. Learned where sharpies lived and what they ate. Watched them travel many miles on a single flight.  I’d chased hun coveys over high ridges and through skree fields. Occasionally I’d stumble into a creek bottom and find a stray pheasant or two, a reminder of my days as a youngster. It was country big enough for an army so Ruark and I recruited more dogs. Any random day might turn into an adventure suitable for the finest publications with scenery too beautiful to describe. And I owned it, right along with every other American.

I often mentioned my wealth to old bird hunting friends. One of them made a living selling fine shotguns. Through his work he had been lucky enough to hunt across the globe. He lived in the pheasant and quail country of Nebraska and gladly took me up on an offer hunt in Montana. On one cold evening after a strenuous day and lots of shooting, the dogs were curled up in our camper. He and I were out under the stars near a small campfire, bourbon in hand marveling at constellations. He grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and earnestly proclaimed, “Don’t ever believe that it gets any better than this.” He already knew what I was figuring out. I was living the life of a king on the budget of a pauper.

Wild quail and pheasants in America’s heartland remain very special to me. I still consider bobwhite hunting to be among the finest sporting experiences available to mankind. But there is something spiritual about public lands bird hunting. 

I have been fortunate enough to spend hundreds of days on our vast public estate in the west. Exploring new haunts. Climbing new mountains. Seeing dogs point 9 or 10 different bird species in a single year. Hunting days or weeks without seeing another hunter. Shooting limits some days. Loving the tough days of exploration just about as much. Wearing out boots every year. Developing a synergy with big running bird dogs that is so magical it is impossible to describe.

A monetary system will never exist that can measure this sort of wealth.

In my formative days I was like a lot of spoiled kids, never realizing the fortunate accident of my birth. I flopped from one lucky bird hunting break to another without much consideration. But as time has gone on, and attacks on our public lands have increased I have grown to see my existence in a different light. 

Yeah, I’m rich. Spoiled goddamned rotten, but so are all other Americans. 

We all own the same places. We all have the same permission. As I realized what I owned I went to work fighting to protect what is mine, and yours. I assessed what was important in my life. I hunt it just as hard as I ever did but I now devote my life and politics to saving an inheritance.

It’s the great leveling field, maybe the last one left in the world. This is no exclusive club. You don’t need an aristocratic last name or an old-money trust fund. Fact is that new fancy boots and shiny cars don’t mean shit out here. No one cares what color you are or where you went to school. The implications are as beautiful as a Kansas covey drifting over the little bluestem at last light. Just like the kid in front of the school in the ranch truck, any old shotgun can be the symbol of your wealth too. Truth is, we were all born rich.  

Save Giffy Butte

You can post all the hashtags you want, but please knock it off with the geotagging and mapping bird hunting spots. Social media hotspotting is not cool man. Name a state. Name a region. Name a large city with a good BBQ restaurant. But don’t name spots. I know it’s not just hunters. It happens in fishing and mountain biking, sometimes splashing back on hunting. I’ve lost many a blue grouse hunting spot to user-created mountain bike trails, many of them spurred on by social media stoke. And I’ve given up a lot of spots over the years.

Once you see a place making the rounds on social, you can bank on it getting more traffic. And the thing about free spots, places that a person didn’t have to earn with boot leather and gas and miles and time, is that they don’t hold any value for the recipients. The guy who found a spot on a social post is likely going to post it for his followers. He’ll tag it proudly, even stack a three-day pile of birds on the tailgate to make it seem extra juicy. And then he’ll drive away to hunt another spot that someone else posted. And that little out of the way patch of public ground that you hit once or twice a year and was always good for a covey? Now there is a well worn parking spot, complete with some Keystone cans and an empty box of golden pheasant loads. There might even be a couple of dead bird carcasses lying in the ditch if you can get there early enough in the season. 

Constituting somewhat less than half of what remains of the MOF writing crew comes with a certain notoriety – certainly not fame. And in a world that long left behind blogs for more “social” media long ago, it is notoriety that is limited in scope. We accept that. We are not effective hash taggers. We are not even on Facebook. Our Insta account is an after thought. We are writers. And MOF has always been a repository for writing that doesn’t fit elsewhere.We have always said what we think and feel. And we have taken our lumps for it, much of it deserved.  But we haven’t run from it. When we write something and the angry hordes loose fire from their keyboards, we let them comment. Maybe we are just too damn old. Maybe our experience as writers in print steeled us for the peanut gallery. 

For whatever reason, I am often surprised the softness of the social media mavens. Earlier today, I noticed a person I follow on Instagram had posted a tailgate-trophy photo and tagged it with a very specific, very small western town, off the beaten path. Now I don’t know the guy, but judging by his photos he seems like a good dude. He has bird dogs and kids, likes hunting and hole-in-the-wall bars. If I was a more likable person, maybe we could even be friends. I didn’t want to be rude and comment on the photo, so I dropped a private message. “Hey man. Great photo! Maybe next time, consider skipping the location tag. Some of us like to hunt there too!”I figured I’d get a response, maybe even an indignant one. Instead I got blocked. I didn’t see that coming, but maybe I should have. We live in a world where people don’t have to talk to people they disagree with. They don’t have to hear opinions they don’t like. Don’t like CNN? Try Fox. Don’t like Fox? Try Newsmax. Disagree with a perspective? Block it. 

So here in a place that can only be ignored but not blocked, I beseech you. Please knock off the geotagging. Even if you don’t care if a spot gets blown up, someone else does. 

Sometimes this is all

A chickadee, somewhere off in the conifers. A light breeze from the west now, and the dog out into it, working atop old snow.
Last week, he was here, a flash of gray like a fleeing thought, a mirage in the timber and the gun up, swinging. The sudden wham and waves of sound from down-canyon and back, silencing the chickadees, stopping the breeze. The smell of Christmas now, a tree taking the whole wad of sevens and the odor of sap filling the air and the chickadees, only temporarily silenced, taking up their chatter again.
The monochrome twinkle in conifer light gone as if it he was never there in the first place. Escaped. Just as well.
This week the little setter finds nothing except the evidence that he is still here.
Glad for that.

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