Blood and Plunder

He’s a knife-in-the-teeth type, a run-hell, fast-go, wound-tight, son-of-a-bitch, so when he yelps down by the creek—out of sight (again)—I don’t think much of it. He comes roaring back and I can see blood dripping from his ear. The cut is perhaps a quarter of an inch in length and right at the tip and not bleeding very heavily. Yet. As a horseman friend of mine would say, “It’s a long way from the heart.”

The Bloody Duke pauses only long enough to check in.

And we’re a long way from the truck. It’s 15 below zero and the pheasants are holding tight. There’s about one point five minutes of debate. We push on. If he could vote—and he can—he’d vote “aye.”

This is the way. His way. He’s pretty good at it. Full-fricking-tilt until he’s completely gassed and done. This is also the way of Western pheasant, those savage bastards of greasewood and buffaloberry, their craws stuffed with Russian olive pits, their hearts full of bitter fuck-you fire. No other bird evokes the chaos, the running pandemonium beneath the wide skies. Wild bird, of course. Feral is more apt. You hit the ground running and you need a “Katie-bar-the-door” dog. Barbwire, thorn, bur, be damned. Late season? Snow? Even more so. Those runnin’ sons-a-bitches. David Alan Coe, or perhaps it was Chris Ledoux captured it this way: “Oh, it’s forty below and I don’t give a fuck, got a heater in my truck, and I’m off to the rodeo.”

So we continue, despite the bleeding, because, darn it, the pheasants are holding tight and the injury is superficial. It is worth a repeat: the pheasants are holding tight. It’s too cold to hunt. But the pheasants are finally, for once, holding tight. This is the epic once-every-seven-years cicada hatch on the Green, for crying in a bucket. The pheasants are holding tight and you may not see this again in his lifetime. Maybe even yours. It’s too cold to hunt? Yeah, right. Unless you are a cold-hearted bastard. So, onward, blood flying from sliced ear. Hey, we’re hunting late season wild roosters. Call the ASPCA. Go ahead, call ’em.
In the whitewash of eastern Montana’s winter, he is lost quickly and then I pick him up again. The ear is bleeding freely now, and he’s frozen on point. I huff up and watch the blood dripping into the snow. He’s oblivious to anything but the smell in his nose and when the cock bird goes up and the shotgun barks, he’s on it. Hard on it. A 24-inch-tailed rooster and he retrieves, then blasts onward. I think for a moment, “Maybe I ought to do something about that ear.” But as soon as that thought enters, he’s gone again, romping into the snow, blood-be-damned, as if affirming my “long-way-from-the-heart” mantra.


By the time we get back to the truck (with three stone-dead rooster pheasants being flash-frozen by Montana December against my back), he’s a red and white setter. He looks like something out of a slasher movie, all from the flopping of an ear splattering blood everywhere, a minor cut with a major bleed. He doesn’t care, though. I tape him up as best I can, but the tape comes off and the ear bleeds more. I wrap his head and he digs into it and off comes the bandage. Screw it, he says, I’m a tough guy.
That night in the motel room, the bleeding finally stopped, he gobbles his feed, then promptly pukes it—and a wad of cocklebur and pheasant feather—up on my bed. Twice. “Get off the stage, you god-damned goof,” sings Ledoux. What an animal. Both. Or all three of us.


Waiting For Godot (Upland Version)



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


My skin tingles and for a moment I feel the lightning before it strikes.
Synapses fire, screaming at my brain and flooding my body with adrenaline.
I flatten myself further into the dirt, too late and to no effect.
The blinding white light explodes onto my retinas while a simultaneous explosion rocks my ear drums.
“Shit that was close,” I hear my mouth say.
I’m lying flat on my face in a copse of small pines on the edge of a high-country meadow. The towering ponderosas to my left are like lightning beacons.
The last summer storm of the year is chasing a cold-front across New Mexico, giving the mountains and those in them one last lashing before the snows fall. The truck – and my rain jacket – are a couple of miles south, two 10,000 foot treeless meadows away.
Another flash crashes close and I ponder briefly the possibility that I have been struck and my brain doesn’t know it yet.
The smell of wet pine needles is overpowering. When the thunder rolls into silence I can hear the hail pinging off of my pack and feel it stinging my skin.
I’m alive.
More so than I have been in weeks.

– GM

Meat hunting

I’m two woodcock and a couple of spray-and-pray shots at ruffed grouse into the day when Henry’s little French Britt, Koda, goes on point. Or at least the beep-beep-beep of  his electronic collar tells me he’s on point.

I jam my way through the nasty tangle not yet suppressed by a real hard frost toward the dog. In this thick stuff you’ve got to be within 15 feet of the dog to see him, so I’m walking with the 20-gauge at the ready, unsure how close the bird might be. And then Koda moves, or least the tinga-ling of his bell tells me he’s moving.

And he’s back on point. Then barking. Then moving. And barking. And seemingly on point again. Weird.

“You see him Henry?” I yell.

“No,” Henry yells back. “He’s closer to you.”

Koda barks again, about the same time the beep goes off on the collar.

“What the hell is going on with him?” I yell to Henry.

And then I see it. At first I think it’s a fawn stuck in a muddy depression, but when my brain catches up with my eyes I realize Koda is standing – barking – a few feet from a mature whitetail doe with paralyzed hindquarters .

“Christ, Henry!” I yell. “It’s a deer!”

Henry emerges from his patch of thick alders just as I notice a quarter-sized hole on the doe’s spine. It’s a fresh wound, oozing blood, not a lot, and she thrashes around at our feet using only her front legs. I can see her backbone in the hole.

It’s archery season here, and I know the landowners have a couple of treestands hanging not far from where we are in the cover.

“We’ve got your deer!” I yell, thinking the archer would be within earshot if they were still in the woods.

Once it becomes clear there’s nobody but Henry, Koda and me in the woods with this deer we have to devise a plan. I run back to the truck to get my cell phone and a knife. I call  the landowner’s son – who’s still in high school – and ask him if he might have shot at a doe from his stand in the last 24 hours.  No, he hadn’t. Maybe his brother did? No, he hadn’t, either. A couple of phone calls later and it’s clear that whoever shot this doe is neither the landowner or still around. The game warden is called, and he’ll come around to tag it for us so we can get her out of the woods without violating any big game laws.

With little fanfare, I lay on the doe’s front legs, holding them tightly so she can’t swipe us. She doesn’t protest much, her bulging eyes the only real sign of panic. Henry takes the knife, tenderly caresses the doe on her neck just once, and plunges it into her jugular. She doesn’t die quickly, the blood gurgling in her throat as she bleats.

“They are tough bastards,” says Henry, as she flops and flutters. I notice he has blood stains on the knees of his pants. Finally, after a period of time longer than you’d think, the life drains out and her heaving chests stops moving.

The warden comes with the high schooler and his brother. We meet them on the edge of the woods and we drag her out. She’s legally tagged. They clean her and bring her to a butcher shop.

Henry and I finish our hunt – we found the deer in what’s really the sweet spot in the cover – and I manage to knock down one more woodcock.

The woodcock, too, is still alive when Koda finds it.

I just rap its head against a small tree. The bird does not bleed. It immediately goes limp.

– Matt Crawford

Getting to the Point

Sometimes, I forget what I’m doing. Seeing him locked up like some ancient, graven image, with a level of simmering, white hot focus beyond anything I’ll never truly know, yeah, I’ll admit that I can easily forget everything else, including why we’re supposedly here. That there is an unseen third party somewhere close by. That this is merely the prelude to an explosion that can go any one of several different ways. I want the moment to continue; this traingulated tension to be savored indefinitely, but all such swings of the pendulum eventually seek equilibrium, and the longer the build up the more abrupt and chaotic the release tends to be.

But sometimes, all of this just goes out the window, and I look at him, truly dumbfounded by the capabilities of this  high-performance animal, and the ways he must experience the world so differently from my own, though we stride through it together. I’m so distracted with admiring the beauty of this point that the bird gets up and I’m not ready and I feel like a head in clouds idiot. And the briefest of glances from over his shoulder makes me feel even more so. But he immediately forgives and forgets and throws every bit of himself into getting out there and doing it again, and it is this, not the missing of the shot, that lets me know I’m the lesser of two creatures here.

The frequency of this doesn’t decrease with experience. In fact, quite the opposite.

– Smithhammer