January wilts and the wind whips. It is cold and dry and barren as an old cow. No winter really, or no snow that is. Doug fir pops in the wood stove and piles of gear lie around the shop, waiting to be stowed. A wall tent, last used a month ago in chukar country, hangs loose in the barn, as if putting it away for the winter is too much, too painful. Or perhaps it is just laziness, nothing more. No special or secret meaning to a tent un-stashed. But it is there and it will stay there for a while longer.
There is one more ahead. One last trip south. The runs there this year have been a thin broth–birds few and scattered wide. Land there as dry and parched as this cold Montana range. But the season is open a few precious days in February and then it’s done. After that point it will be time to stow and clean and repair. Time to give the right knee a break, to run patches through the auto-loader, to let the dogs rest and sleep and gain weight. But there is one more hunt. A meeting with a friend you’ve hunted with hundreds of times, a person who knows your moves and pace as you know his. It is a reunion of friendships, with some drinking, some cigars, lots of laughter. Some new country too, and some old. Good dogs and big hikes. Muscles hard at season’s end and fishing season still off there so far you can’t even imagine it.
Tomorrow and the next day you load the truck and then the next day, you will turn south with 12 hours in front of the hood and then five days of hiking talus and scree, smelling the sage on the dry high desert wind, the big open. Five days. Five last days and then that’s it. There will be time enough ahead for all that other stuff. But now, one more round. And that’s it.