Wind wedges its way between the boards, slowly deconstructing at a pace that could only be observed via time lapse imagery. A place where the roof was repaired with scrap tin lifts up, levitates for a few moments, and slams down in the breeze like a bad combover.  Shards of glass and porcelain and square head nails and the remnants of a kettle litter the yard.

Was it a family that lived here? Did children grow up and fertilize their foundational memories in this eastern Idaho soil, sweating through hot, dry summers, shouldering the bitter winters with tough, rural stoicism? Did the children continue to think about the imprint of this place as they got on with their lives elsewhere?

Was it all harsh, toil and drudgery, or were there days when you could take in that view and feel the heart lift a bit from what was no doubt not an easy life?

Did they sometimes take an evening to stroll these fields in search of a few grouse for dinner, as I’m doing now? Did they venture into the high country not far from here in hopes of an elk to fill the winter larder?

These thoughts swirl around as my attention from the task at hand wanders and I explore the old house, testament to the existence of ghosts. But then I hear barking far in the distance, and a young GSP, who likely held a point as long as a revved-up two-year old pointer possibly can, is trying to leap in the air at three flushed sharpies, and he’s barking at me as much as he is at them, and rightly so.

Wall tents

In the age of high-tech fabrics and two-man tents that require you to spoon your hunting dog and leave your boots out in the rain, I had a revelation.
Wall tents are awesome.
The Romans knew it. And the Souix, the Vikings, the gold rush miners, the military, the Bedouin…
You can stand up. Room for the dog? Hell, there’s room for the dog and her kennel. Not to mention chairs, gear and that holiest of holy, a stove.

Yes, it weighs 60 lbs and no, it will not replace my dog spooning, ultralight, no-room-for-boots backcountry excursion tent.
It will however, keep me out of bed-bug infested hotel rooms where you can play “what’s that shape” with the stains on the sheets.
I don’t like hotels. I often don’t sleep very well in them and if it’s warm, I prefer a bedroll near the truck off some Forest Service Rd.
Of course, late season bird hunting and frigid, wet weather can sometimes mean cheap hotels. Not that I mind that they’re cheap. I like that part.
It’s the smell of stale smoke and mildew and lingering doubts that anything has recently been washed that makes it tough.
I stayed in a hotel a month back and as my dog surveyed a donkey-shaped area of discolored carpet, I wondered, “was DDT really that bad?”
Enter the wall tent.
It’s warm, roomy and comfortable and it is really no different from the tents used for hundreds of years by outdoorsmen of all sorts.
In the age of polypro, Gore-tex, nylon, pop-up campers and ultralight dome tents, it’s good to know that you can’t really improve on 10oz treated canvas.
That’s to centuries-old technology, I have a base camp. It’s dry and warm, free of bedbugs and since it’s mine, I can be sure there was never a burro massacred inside.


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.

Jackets are the answer

It’s cold.
Seeing as it’s winter, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Apparently surprises the shit out of a lot of people though.
They are so surprised that many of them forget how to drive, or how to dress, or even how to take it in stride.
They forget how to talk about anything else. Don’t they know there are two weeks left in the quail hunting season? Or that ice on the river concentrates the ducks?

When you live in the Rockies above 5,000 ft, you have to know that’s it’s going to get cold sometimes.
The thing is, so many people never do more than brave the cold between their car and the front door of their office.
It makes them soft.
Unless they’re hunters that is.
If you have pounded through the snow clenching a 7lb chunk of frozen steel in your hands while following a deliriously happy dog, then what’s a little cold weather?
If you have felt your truck do the diagonal slide, where you look a bit like a crooked-gaited hound dog going down the road and asked your buddy, “We have a shovel, right?” Then what’s a little snow on the roads?
If you have knocked the ice off of your fly-rod guides so you could get an extra couple of feet on your cast, or sat shaking in the frigid predawn dark listening to elk, or taken off your gloves to cut the ice balls out of your dog’s toes, then what’s a single digit temperature mean to you?
It’s winter.
It’s what happens in the mountains.
It’s cold.
So what.

– GM

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.

Simple jobs

Our jobs are simple. She flushes, I shoot.
All she needs is water, a high protein diet and the occasional head scratch.
I however require boots, vests, high-priced shotgun shells, decent scotch, two barreled shotguns, cigars and eggs over-easy with sausage.
When I walk half-a-dozen miles, she’ll run 20, including forays into brush, canyons and places where I am generally too lazy to check for birds, but don’t want to pass up.

I hup and whistle and occasionally yell, often keeping her from what she really wants to do (and sometimes from the birds she knows are close.)
Then she hits her stride, we’re on birds. I barely say a word as she waits for me, pins them down and puts them in the air.
She brings a bird to hand, but I’m so focused on the birds, I don’t even pause to give her a kind word or a pat on the head.
Instead, I wait until we disagree and I hup her in line with my choice.

Expeditions in the city limits

I surreptitiously scan the rim, then the fence, looking for anyone with a badge, ticket book or binoculars. Seeing no one, I reach down and slip the leash from her head. She’s still waiting.
“Let’s hunt,” I tell her. There’s no whistle today and she rockets past the big white sign and its list of rules (No glass bottles. Dogs must be leashed. No hunting…) before she checks back. I hike up near the escarpment coiled leash in hand.
She knows there won’t be hups or yells, so she’s watching closely and only takes a few tenative steps after the big old jack she jumps.
Then she tightens her swing and I know they’re close even before I hear them. It’s a pair and when she puts them in the air, they stay low and only fly 50 yards or so before landing in a shallow wash not far from another sign listing the rules. Breathlessly happy, she comes to heel and I slip the leash over her head.
These are fat quail, gambels and scalies that thrive on sprinkler water and bird feeders before heading back to the basalt and cacti to hunker down at night. Like the patch of open space they inhabit on the fringes of the city, they straddle two worlds.
They shouldn’t be here.¬†According to the big white sign, neither should we.


Outside apps

A couple of weeks ago the guy in front of me at the grocery store was paying for his sixer in change and I was browsing the magazine rack when I came across a quarterly publication called iPhone Life.
There is a magazine ($6.99) that is dedicated to the iPhone? And it’s in its second year of publishing?
I’m sure I don’t have to mention that there were no outdoor magazines on the rack. Not even a copy of National Geographic.
Not a single periodical relating something of the human experience, or any experience. Just celebrity gossip and a magazine dedicated to a cellphone.
This news so disturbed me that when I got home, I went to said rag’s Web site.
The lead post on the Web site was titled “Why I Bought My Kids iPhones.
The post starts out, “My kids are not spoiled (well, maybe a little bit), I bought them iPhones for economic reasons. Let me explain. The cost of a new Nintendo or Sony PSP is…”
My kids aren’t old enough to want anything other than milk and attention, but it seems to me that buying kids an iPhone might be counter productive to being a kid.
A phone is a tool. Hell, I have a Blackberry and I’ll be the first to admit that it makes my job easier and me more productive. Still,

I don’t want my kids to start obsessively checking their e-mail until someone is paying them to.
Much like a shotgun, it’s nothing more than a means to an end. I love shotguns, but the reason I buy them is the high lonesome country that I visit with them in hand.
The existence of iPhone Life suggests to me that some people might think their iPhone is actually part of their life or that it somehow matters what kind of phone you have or what you can do with it.
All this tells me that there are a lot of people who don’t spend enough time outside in the company of a good dog.

Gear season

The upland season is fading the rearview, sheds haven’t fallen and turkey and fishing season are not yet on the horizon. That makes it covetousness season.
Time to sort through mud-filled shotgun hulls and scrape bloody feathers off unfired shells.
Time to finally rinse out that dingy water bottle the dog and I shared for the second half of the season.
Maybe sharpen a few knives and relace some boots.
Mostly though, it’s time to browse the catalogues and covet things I do not need and cannot afford.
For example, the CSMC A10 shotgun.

I have no need for a sidelock stack barrel, but I have been looking longingly at used Beretta S2s for years.

Now, along comes an American made gun with hand detachable sidelocks for about what I would pay for a used S2.
Do I need a straight stocked 20 guage sidelock with case coloring and an extra set of 28 guage barrels?
Maybe not during the quail season, but right now?

– GM

Learning curve

The dog and I are fresh into New Mexico, a return of sorts for me and a new adventure for the dog. We are out of our element here, short grass and cacti, everything spiny and dangerous.

The scalies and the gambels are sprinters. The first few coveys we tried to close in slowly, the dog straining against the tenuous strings of obedience as I waited for them to hunker down.
Instead, they simply ran away from us, climbing to the top of the ridge then jumping off the other side, never to be seen again.
That was ages ago, months and seasons and dog years.
Now, I let her run.
Bust them like an out-of-control mutt loose at a city duck pond.
I watch the covey rise and hear the mad beat of wings as the devil birds surge away just out of range. I whistle her back to heel and she comes, ecstatic, thrilled with the flush.
I mark the birds down and know that they will hold for a few minutes. We hike across the rocky hillside, past the cholla and up to the saddle where we saw them anchor.
Now we’re set, this flushing dog and I. The birds are holding tight and she knows it. She flies headlong into the clumps of tall grass, powers through a creosote bush and flushes a single.
At my shot, a second bird erupts from my near my feet and I spin to my right, unable to see him for a moment. Then I’m on him, swinging my gun past the square of my shoulders as he swerves downhill.
I miss.
She pauses for a moment and I like to think she is checking to see if the bird goes down, but I know it is not her belief in my shooting but a yearning – a fiery urge to chase that keeps her gaze locked on the disappearing speck.
Then we’re back in the saddle, working the patches of grass that won’t hide a dropped 28 ga. shell but can somehow cover a dozen birds. The dog lights up, shortening the strokes of her zigzag as she hones in on the foot trail of a quail. A flurry of feathers and they’re off. It’s half-a-dozen birds and I’m leaning hard, wanting the double and somehow connecting.
We pick up our birds. The dog is still hunting but we both know they’re gone, somewhere in the bottom now and not holding this time but running, hard and fast and without looking back.


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