Don’t even think it

I shouldn’t have said it out loud. Even thinking it was a strike against bird-dog karma.

But I did. I thought it, then I uttered it aloud.

In my part of the world, killing a limit of wild, pointed roosters can be done, but it’s tough. This isn’t Kansas or the Dakotas or even Montana. But, I had a week off to hunt birds. The last week of my local pheasant season. “I wonder if I could kill a limit of wild, pointed roosters every day for a week.” And like putting the hex on a no hitter, I ruined it. I called down the wrath of the bird-dog gods and they deemed me unworthy.

I started the veteran on Monday. We hit a small private land parcel that I bribe my way onto once a year with the best salsa I can make. I let her out, she went 200 yards and pointed. I walked in and killed my first bird of the day before 9 a.m.

That’s when I started to think about it. That it took until 3 p.m. before I found another bird should have clued me in to where I was headed, but I didn’t make the connection. After two bumped birds, the young setter made a solid point and I walked in and knocked down my second rooster. Late in the day, the veteran pointed a bird and I claimed three birds for the day.

That is when I said it. Talking to the dogs on the tailgate, reveling in a big day spent with my setters, I mentioned you know what.

Tuesday, I was in high spirits. This was prime time. I was hitting the best public-land spots I had on the map. I brought coffee and granola bars to keep me in calories and caffeine. It went poorly from the start. The veteran pointed a bird that flushed low and offered no shot as it sailed downhill for private lands.

Then, back at the truck, the veteran went on point in the ditch as I shrugged off my vest and cased my gun. I watched a pair of roosters and a hen flush across the road, flying towards the highway where they were nearly hit by a passing truck.

Miles went by. Miles and miles of no birds. Then finally – the veteran starting to get footsore – a point. Jog for the beeper. There she is. A ruckus. A flush. A bird up. A shot and we were back in the game. He was down and I looked for the dog. She was pointing again, only moved a dozen feet. I saw a tail sticking up from a dead bird on my right so I moved to the point. Another flush, another rooster. Another shot. Two birds in the bag.

I considered the games remaining on the schedule. Three days left in the week and plenty of daylight left for the young dog to get it done. “I’m going to need my starter,” I had the audacity to think. We headed for the truck and moved locations. I called the rookie’s number and I felt the light get thinner as the day aged. She went big and I started to hedge. “Maybe they don’t all need to be pointed,” I mused, before reminding myself that the 8-month old pup needed me shooting unpointed birds like I need another hobby. She bumped two hens, then a rooster. I restrained myself.

And then she got birdy, shortening her swings. I made a bee line for her and arrived just as she pointed. The bird must have been running and it was out there when it flushed, 30 yards at the jump maybe. But she pointed and all was going to plan. I swung and shot and watched it fall from the sky like destiny. And hit the ground running. And vanish.

The little dog and I searched. And searched and searched. An hour later we stumbled back to the truck in the dark, minus the rooster.

I shouldn’t have said it out loud. I shouldn’t even have thought it. But I’m going hunting tomorrow. I’m taking plenty of coffee and granola bars, and I’ll probably start the veteran.

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Chukar rhymes with

The definition of joy.

On the first day, fell flat on the face and onto the shotgun. On the flat ground, which was a great irony after scrambling over shale and climbing caprock. Broke a big chip out of the butt where it meets the receiver, enough to make it unshootable. Fortunately there was a spare.
Road-flushed a covey, the only birds seen en route to burning 3,000 calories to shoot a bird the size of a Cornish game hen. (A smart-watch that tells how much vertical has been gained and lost and how many steps have been taken and calories have been burned on a chukar hunt is a blessing and a curse). Found the road covey up the mountain with the pup off somewhere over the rise, so shot one of them anyway. Out of anger more than anything. An excuse to pull the trigger on the loaner gun too.
Walked eight miles the next day and never saw a bird. Broke the truck that night. The driveline. Fortunately we had a spare truck, but we lost a day. Found some good cover on the way to the mechanic 100 miles away, a cliff near water, sagebrush, cheat, bitterbrush, lots of hiding and feeding cover, some green-up. Salvaged a couple of hours for a hike. Seven-hundred and fifty feet climbed. That damned smart-watch again. Never saw a bird.

Cozy camp.

Snowed that night and wood stove in the camper made for a damned fine experience, particularly the good company and fine bison steak grilled to perfection, but then sustained a camp injury by running a crucial muscle—the thigh—into the trailer hitch in the dark. Blame it on the lack of chukar or the abundance of bourbon. Thighs are important.

Found a good covey the next day but they flushed wild and uphill despite a veteran dog working them cautiously. Put them up and over a ridge and then found single after single. Missed a rising overhead shot off a point. Clipped one down and had a nice retrieve to hand which made up for all of the previous mishaps of the previous four days. Missed the next seven shots, mostly pointed birds and some wild-flushed. Shot at everything. A chukar hill is no place for self-imposed codes of conduct.

Left the best pair of shooting gloves I’d ever owned, made by my pals at Orvis, up on the hill when I cleaned that bird. Went back the next day to look for them and maybe that covey again. Never found the gloves, but found a wild-flushing covey of four that flew into the meanest cover on the planet, never to be seen again. Lost a pocket knife, out of the pocket. Stumbled back to the truck only to find we’d left the beer in the camper 20 miles of bad road away.

Ran out of booze and beer on the last night. At least something went right.

Fortunate ones

Tires breaking tracks in two-day old snow, up the mountain, beyond where the last guy stopped his rig on a high slope. Stopped to glass the benches and ridges, the dark timber, the aspen.
Cutting fresh up past the old homestead with its root cellar of stones, its feral lilac and rhubarb, past the old spring and up the other coulee to the cabin. Park. The dog pirouettes and tap dances. It has been too long for me and she does everything in dog time. Can’t imagine.
We move off through the timber, cutting a loop down through the aspens in the snow. Ready.
The dog gets birdy once in a stand of Doug fir in the middle of the aspen river and we bend to the snow and see the tracks of a grouse going his grousely way. Get ready some more. Ready to swing up and pop a shot in the thick woods. Telling ourselves to swing even if there’s a tree in the way. The dog sneaks, eager, tail frantic, points once, but the tail is moving.

She’s not sure. But get ready.
Nothing. The tracks disappear and we circle and do not pick them up again. Bastard is probably watching us from a tree.
Oh, I’m sure.
More tracks. Moose. A bed. Then another. Maybe more than one. Down through the aspens and alder. Brambles. Another stand of fir and the dog birdy again and more tracks and we spend time there, but no birds. Back up the other side, the sunny side, the dog vaulting logs, running hard. Eating snow on the fly. Barely stopping for anything, the bell tinkling all the time. More tracks.
That’s a cat!
Yeah, you are right. Bigger than a bobcat. Young lion maybe?
That’s what I think.
Those tracks peel off into the sagebrush flat, past the old homestead with its feral lilac and rhubarb. Following the track of the moose.
We head over the bench and down to the next coulee.
I’ve always moved birds here.
A prophecy.
A flash of gray in the trees, the other side of the dog who had just started working scent and had no chance.
Spooky bastard.
Loop up past the flush point. Tracks. Lots of them among the skeletal stems of gooseberry and currant. Another bird out, this one out of a tree that is right at twelve o’clock. Hear the sound, don’t see the bird.
I got him.
Good, where?
Right in those trees right ahead.
We stand there like fools looking at jet contrails. Open-mouthed. Peer through thick needle and branch. Even the dog is looking up, standing on back legs, paws on bark.
Bastard is probably looking right at us.
No doubt.

I think this is one that got away.

I could shake a tree, see if he comes out.

I don’t know which tree.

Okay, he wins.

Work back to the truck, over the ridge, down another coulee with willow and gooseberry. Remember a time when another dog in another canine lifetime flushed a beautiful brown phase ruffed right out of these willows on Christmas Day. The bird flew dead into the window of the cabin. Became part of Christmas dinner.

I’ve got another spot.

Good. I’ve got a couple more hours. I’m game.

Another old homestead with its rusted hope. Another loop. A point or two this time. Huns. But they fool us, circle back then flush out of range. Put two shots after them, but they are gone. Far gone and the time is up.

God, we are lucky bastards, aren’t we?

 

 

Durable goods–Orvis Pro LT hunting pants and shirt

There was a time of Wranglers and Chuck Taylors, even among mesquite thorns and Gambel quail. Cotton long underwear. T-shirts. But you were dumber and younger. Bullet proof and able to work your way through tequila shots on birthdays.
Along came common sense, somehow you survived. Found comfort in small things, good things.

Orvis Pro LT gear came along recently. The kind of lightweight and yet durable stuff that makes you think, Where you been all my life? First time out, the day cooked to the near nineties in the sharptail fields. Next time out, another warm day up on a blue grouse ridge far above timberline. Designed for those hot days, breathable, flexible. Then a deep cold in early October and with long underwear beneath, still a damned fine piece of equipment. Pants and shirt both.

It’s the little things, the good things. Orvis Pro LT. Remember it.

 

-30-

Cane in one hand, Superposed 20 in the other and a good setter at his side. Eighty-six years young on a blue grouse ridge somewhere.

In the newspaper industry back before journalists were pecking on computers, the insertion of  -30- at the bottom of every story was common practice. It meant the end.

Thirty is also the number of years, almost to the day, that we’ve hunted together. Thirty years. How can it be? We greet this realization with incredulity sprinkled with gratitude. Peppered with memory. All of this swirls as I drop the old boy off at the top of the ridge on the high road, a celebration hunt of sorts for mentor and protege, for 30 years of hunting and the outdoors together.

Blue grouse live in the slide rock and currants of the northwest slope of this ridge we’ve hunted together for years. Doug fir twisted by hard living shoulder the sky. It is not an easy walk, but it is doable and simple.

“Work down the ridge and I’ll meet you at the truck by the cattle-guard.”

It is a move we’ve repeated many times, and an easy plan for 50-something legs. Not for 80-something cane-assisted legs.

This thought comes to me only hours later, hours after there is no sign of him, hours where mild concern has roiled up into near-panic, like some evil brew atop a witch’s stove.

It is a hunt that for me would be less than an hour, dropping down the ridge, following Mabel and Edna, moving quickly on birdy dogs, swinging on big rooster blues peeling down between the big fir trees. Down, down. Gravity as friend, not foe. Quick, easy. Rendezvous. Move on the next spot.

I have an image of him in my mind, the last glimpse. An old man and a bird dog hobbling down a logging road, cane in one hand, Superposed 20 in the other. When he doesn’t show up at the truck after an hour, then two, then three, it becomes the image that haunts me. Concern becomes oxygen to embers and a flame leaps in the brain, inventing thoughts Did I have a premonition? Is this the last time I’ll ever see him? Is this the last sight picture of him?

When you go into the woods with men of middle age, you don’t think about such things. But octogenarians, enough rawhide ones, make one take stock of things like medical certifications and emergency kits.

The first hour, I climb the ridge, expecting to run into him half way down. Too many years of shooting pistols and rifles and shotguns has left him deaf. “I can’t hear thunder,” he tells people as he leans in, cupping. So I do not yell for him because I have to climb the ridge. Twice, then three times. Need my breath. Three hours goes to four, and concern darkens to thick anxiousness. There is just no way that he came down this mountain without me seeing him, or at least his all-white dog.

I drive back to where I left him, then ease the diesel down the road, hoping that maybe he will hear the truck despite his auditory challenges. I stop at places in the two-track where the dust lies an inch thick like talc and look for tracks. None. Drive back down. Climb the ridge again. Six hours. It is September, but it is high country and it is cool and there were rumors of a storm moving in. As always, he is out there with no water, no matches, no food. No need to carry supplies on such a short trip—the epic oft-repeated words of the hypothermed and exhausted. All he had to do was climb off the ridge and meet me at the truck, but everything is seen through my eyes, not his.

At seven hours, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I find his body, about the poetry of an old man dying on his last hunt. It is not an easy feeling, not a romantic visage for my addled soul. I don’t want this to be the way we say good bye because we didn’t say good bye. Goodbye is for the living, I guess because he might want to go this way, up on a ridge with a good gun and a good bird dog. Maybe a blue grouse in the pouch. But it sure isn’t how I want it. Is this the end? Surely, this can’t be the end? This isn’t -30-.

I start thinking about how I’m going to get a cell signal to get some help up here, how many hours I have to drive in the wrong direction to get that signal, leaving him on the mountain. Start to think logistics about something that may not have a good ending.

I waft the concern away from these flames for a minute, then decide to hop in the truck again. Leaving water and a cooler full of beer and food where the truck was. Drive up the ridge again, thinking about first aid training, about what I’m going to tell his son, wondering if there is such a thing as sudden-onset dementia.

And there, at long last, he is, walking down a random off-shot road, cane in hand, tired, sore, with his dog and his gun, coming toward me. Thirty will click toward 31 after all. Not the end.

The core of discovery

There is, in the hunter’s heart, a conflict that builds as the season descends. It is a conflict fed by many things: the state of canine, the state of the freezer, the need to expand the “rolodex” of place, and even the very date and timing of the hunt itself. Go where you have gone before and know there will be birds, or go where you’ve never gone but think there should be birds?

Blue grouse and sharptail grouse combo on a Montana September morning.

Each of these elements of conflict is driven by its own nuance as well. The state of canine, for instance, can be the age of the dog (old and last hunt or new and first hunt), how tightly wound the veteran who hasn’t been hunted in months is, and, sometimes, sadly, the health of said best friend. You’d like to put the new pup on her first birds, or if you’ve got an old timer, put him on his last birds. Or maybe you just want to find a new place to go because the old tried-and-true got discovered.
Idaho’s grouse season opened on August 30 and Greg and I had penciled a trip on the books months before. Pencil because with busy lives, sometimes the eraser comes out. We each did our best to erase and reschedule, but we each, separately, resisted the other’s attempts to bail. We actually pulled it off.
We’d seen “grousey” looking country on the Idaho/Montana line exactly midway between our two homes and talked often about that ground. Never been there, either of us. Knew some folks who lived in the area, but felt uncomfortable just cold-calling and asking to be put into their home cover. Kind of like calling up and saying, “Hey, mind if I take your wife out for dinner?”
So we used our decades of mountain grouse experience, a few good maps and a summer scouting trip and just went. Didn’t see shit. Well, actually did. Walked all morning long, didn’t see a bird. Saw some bird poop and had a false point and discovered enough to go back. We semi-sated our canine needs by each running pups whose age is measured in months, not years, then pivoted to the veterans. Got the dogs out is about all you can say about that. Saw some pretty country, a new place.
Saturday on Labor Day weekend, Montana’s grouse season opened up. Worst possible opening day ever.  Jason and I coyoted out Friday night at the for-sure-always-see-birds place. It has been discovered. By the time we were half way up the mountain in barely-shooting-light, the parking lot had five other vehicles and two more were bouncing in on the two-track. I already had a Hun in the game vest, and we were well ahead of them, so it didn’t really matter, but it was still a bummer to know that someone else had discovered a place we’d been hunting for years. Probably bummed them out too to see someone up the mountain while they were still pulling on their boots and maybe it was a place they had been hunting for years and just as much “theirs” as “ours.” Was running the veteran this time because it had been a long summer for her and for me without a whole lot of fun and the freezer was empty of both grouse and Huns. We filled it a bit and came down the mountain with that heavy, humbling, good weight in the back of the bird vest.
On Wednesday, my friend Tom Hanson, who is one of the crack employees for the great upland program at Orvis, and I got together for another hunt. Tom had never killed a western grouse, so getting one or two for him was my top priority. Problem is, he’s a busy guy. Just like everyone else. He had to be in Great Falls early that evening and Great Falls is a long way from my home ground and unknown territory. So I called another buddy, one that I knew I could impose upon, and asked for a general direction. He gave me one, like all good buddies would, and off Tom and I went, hunting in the cool of the morning with the Rocky Mountain Front over our shoulders. If nothing else, it was one hell of a pretty place to chase after good bird dogs. Which can be a problem if you’re looking at the scenery on the horizon instead of the canine scenery within gun range. Tom managed to kill his first-ever sharptail grouse off of one of Mabel’s points when we weren’t gaping at the skyline and then later in the morning, his first-ever blue grouse. On the same half-day. I didn’t kill a thing, but it hardly mattered. I had never seen that particular combo done before. It was pretty special.

So that’s how it has started. Completely blind on the first day, old reliable on the second day and semi-blind on the third day. Varying levels of success. But new country discovered. Let 2018 begin, at long last.

Zero bird dogs

If you ask my vet, my kids or my wife, they will tell you I have three bird dogs. That’s three eating, shitting machines ready to chase birds, bark at the neighborhood deer and rack up vet bills at a moment’s notice.

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Unfortunately this isn’t Sesame Street and the counting isn’t quite as straightforward as I wish it was. There is a different number of bird dogs that I have as the forest grouse opener approaches in six days.

That number is zero. Zero bird dogs.

I have an old dog – 13. Deaf. Mostly blind. Gives no shits about anything. Retired.

I have a young dog – 5 months. Energy like the sun itself. Obedient as a house cat. More likely to point bumble bees than birds.

I have a dog in her prime – 7. Steady. Trustworthy. Laid up from surgery. Probably not hunting next week.

The vet removed a benign cyst from her shoulder a couple of weeks back. We’ve cut it out before, only to have it return. She’ll be fine and probably ready in a couple of weeks, but the wound is healing slowly.

Come Thursday, maybe I’ll give the veteran a spin. The pup will blow off some steam. If she heals quickly, I might even give my starter a short run. But I won’t have three dogs.

It reinforces something Tom told me last fall; the line between one bird dog and no bird dog is thin.

The inexorable tan

In this piece of country, the mid-section of summer comes on July 15. Mark it down on the calendar. X it out. On July 14, the grass that has not fallen to sickle mower to make hay for beefsteak is green and tall. On July 15, the unstoppable tanning of that grass begins.

There is a tendency, particularly among those whose outdoors experience is a water park or a golf course, to lament the downward slope of summer into autumn. Shrinking are the long days of summer light, the barbecues, the evening cigars against mosquito whine, the gin and tonics on the back porch, the cycles of mayfly on clear water.

Good things, all. Viewed from the lens of February’s monochrome, great things. Wonderful, highly anticipated things. Who, in the throes of high country March does not dream, at least a little bit, of a June cutthroat trout brought to hand briefly? Captured and photographed only by synapse and gray matter. Unhooked. Released. Memory captured for the next long winter’s lament.

But now it is August and upon us is the dwindle. Mourn this?

Grieve the end of summer when one finds the thermometer at 40 on a cool dawn morning? Chill enough for a sweater, enough that morning coffee is not only a kick to the heart but a welcome heat to the palms. Bemoan the babble of young coyote pups from up on the sagebrush bench, stretching their lungs and legs in celebration of a late summer bounty that includes everything from chokecherry on the stem to barnyard chicken? One morning, up on that same bench, flush a covey of young Huns, eight or nine in all, little buggers that can barely fly yet somehow avoid coyote belly. Then flush another covey of the same size and vigor. Yes, summer is now fading and the tan on the land is coming on strong, covering the body from horizon to horizon.

One morning, the trail camera you put out on the cottonwood down by the trail from the neighbor’s willow thicket reveals a buck in full velvet, a massive buck that you’ve heard whispers of in prior seasons. Last December at the Town Haul Cafe, “Boy, I saw a huge buck cross the road down by your place yesterday morning. That sucker slipped through the season.” Now there he is on camera. In a few months, perhaps hanging in the shop ready for the knife work and freezer.

One early August day you drive the old Ford home from the post office and the corner of the eye catches movement in the borrow ditch. Pheasants. You pump the brakes, because that’s the only way to stop a 1970 F250, and there they are, three young roosters with just enough color on them to tell you their gender. Remind yourself to swing into the neighbor’s place and ask about October opener.

There are raspberries on the stem down by the northeast headgate. Lots of them now—if you can beat the birds and the coyote pups and the farmhands who come to change the water—to them.


You know that one morning, maybe soon, you’ll wake up and there will be a heavy frost on the ground. If you’re lucky, you will have listened to the weatherman and pulled all the tomatoes to vine-ripen in the barn, or at least have covered them with blue tarps every night.

Half of the shed is full of lodgepole cordwood, split, stacked. Five cords. Need ten. Just to be safe. Two woodburners will do that. The propane lady stopped by the other day. Remarked on how little propane was used last year. “Sure like your dogs,” she said, as Mabel jumped up on her for a scratch, despite the scolding and embarrassment over a four year old setter that suddenly forgets her manners. “She knows a dog lover, it’s awright,” she said.

August now and the hoppers are out there in the tall stuff that is left standing and that is now in full color. Hoppers for young pheasants and Huns and sharptail grouse.

This is no ending. This is no long slide to a dismal black winter. This is a beginning. There are four bird dogs on this place and now, as August gets rolling like an old Ford building momentum down the country road to the post office, there seems to be just a bit more zip in their zing. Sure, they still loll about in hot weather, but the mornings are cool now and there is a feel to everything that says hello. That says welcome. That says it is nearly on, let the games begin. Release us into this landscape of sky and tall grass. Release us to those young birds before gun and canine olfaction. Long walks are ahead. Perhaps on the loop back to the truck, soon, there will be the extra weight of the bounty of the land and there will be a sated, happy heart beating its old beat in the chest.

There will be no keen for a summer gone in this house.

Dispatch from B.C. bear country

Special to MOF –  Mike Thompson 

British Columbia – I was bear hunting in British Columbia with Primitive Outfitters.

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw the grouse cubs flutter up into the trees. An angry sow grouse came charging out of the bush flapping her wings and hissing with rage.

Keeping my wits about me I dropped to the ground to show I wasn’t a threat. She circled me until the grouse cubs had enough time to get away and then she retreated back into the bush without a trace. It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to grab the can of Grouse Spray I had with me.

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Mike Thompson is a hunter, angler, professional artist and a MOF kindred spirit.  You can follow him on Instagram,  @upland_ish.

The Sharptail Caucus

As a young man I once stood on a mountain ridge so beautiful that I now find it impossible to describe. It was summer and a bird dog was at my side when I first discovered the place that would change my life. It came to be part of my very being.  Like a military boot camp it broke me and then built me back up. Wild, remote, harsh, and unspoiled by the hand of man. Owned equally by all citizens of the country. Many of my best days on the planet have been spent there.

Soon after I adopted this place as my spirit home it came into the sights of energy companies. Just another place for them to profit from one fossil fuel or another.  And of course those big companies had guys in very nice suits to infiltrate the highest halls of government.  And between those fellas with the Italian ties and the former energy bigwigs in the executive branch they cooked up schemes to roll dozers and derricks into my sacred spot.  I came to find out that my story was one of many.  The only things that changed in the other tales were the actors who played my role and the location of the wild land.  The rest of the script was the same.  The sequels are playing out in the sagebrush steppe and the canyon country still today.

I became a fighter, and student of the fine print. A purveyor of press conferences and pithy quotes in national newspapers.  A lobbyist.  A student of Ed Abbey.  A political animal.  I sharpened my existence and my tongue.  I assessed what mattered pressed my shoulders into saving it.  Of course politics were involved.  I figured out how to engage in battles and win wars. I committed never to shy from either.

Those were the days that wiped the crust of naiveté from my eyes. From that time on, politics and policies have never left my consideration because their impacts never exit my days.  I’ve known people who say politics don’t matter or that they are overplayed or that people like me care too much.  I don’t buy a bit of that dribble. I say your politics is a window to your soul.  What you care about and how much you care about it can be seen through your political window like an old gas lamp on a pitch black night.

I care about wild places and losing myself within them. That’s probably why I love bird hunting so much. My panes are wide open but you don’t have stick your head in to figure me out.  My politics and life are one in the same and nowhere is this more evident than during bird season.  In other words if you wanted to do a political profile on me, just follow me around for a couple days in October.

On an average day you’ll find me hitting the road early in the morning before anyone else is up. And if I don’t ditch the tail you’ll follow me to a remote chunk of public land.  I’ll drop the dogs and we’ll be gone for hours, maybe all day.  I rack up ten miles or more and dogs will do thirty.  I like big tracts of wide open country.  Unspoiled.  The less human intrusion the better.  I feel alive in the vastness.  I am an explorer on my own land. I like going where others won’t.  I imagine people in far off farm houses looking at me through binocs muttering at my stupidity before they go back to watching the news and drinking coffee.  I imagine some of them voting for people who want to sell these places and the anger at this drives me up the incline.

You might note that I stop to examine grasses or flowers. I watch deer and elk.  I hope to see a badger or a northern harrier falcon.  When I am not admiring the place I am laser focused on my dogs and the terrain. We hunt wild birds first and always and they require tenacity.  My dogs have never even smelled a bird from a pen.  I hope to keep it that way.  I tell myself that if I depend on wild places I am more likely to fight for them.

I might stand and watch as a sharptail rises from a point. I pass on the shot and just watch him flap a time or two then hear him cluck as he starts to glide.  I watch him in earnest as he gets up to speed.  A marvel of aerodynamics.  I’ll stand there until he is only a dot in the distance and then gone from my sight but still in flight.  I think how far he flew on this one small journey and how much grassy country he requires to exist.  Its fall, nearly election day, and I’ll dream of that sharptail voting his self-interests in the booth.  I think I know which ovals he would blacken.  If you could document my thoughts you’d note that I am thinking of gathering up the sharpies into a great caucus so that we might vote together en masse.

If I see a BLM, USFS or game warden truck I will stop and chat with them. Sometimes for an hour or more.  I always thank them for the work they are doing and note that I understand they have a tough and largely thankless job.  I want them to know I appreciate what they do.  I know this place and opportunity did not happen by accident nor will it continue to exist if we are apathetic.

Somedays you might find me hunting in the CRP. If you were in my head, you’d see memories of my father planting thousands upon thousands of acres of native grass in Kansas during the heyday of CRP.  A disciple of Aldo Leopold on a 4230 John deer and a 12 foot grass drill trying to restore his corner of the Great Plains.   And you’d see the resulting pheasants I chased, seemingly everywhere as if mosquitoes in Alaska. Even a mediocre dog could find a limit in short order. A kid with a Model 42 Winchester could fill a vest in a couple hours.  I was that kid. You might note that I count the acres that are being removed from this federal program now.  I glaze over, staring at a newly tilled field as I remember where a covey once lived.  You might hear me gritting my teeth.

I like to stop by a local bar when the bird day is done. I figure those big national corporatized chains have figured out how to make plenty of profit without me providing too much aid.  I want to eat and drink where the locals are.  I like authenticity and dirt under fingernails.  I want to know how things are going for these folks and what beer they drink.  And if the waitress grew up on a big ranch up north that just happens to have a bunch of birds, all the better.  “What’s your dad’s name again and you think I could call him?” I might ask.   When she hollers her dad’s name in an affirmative tone, I’ll respond, “That’s awesome, I appreciate it, and Yeh, I’ll have another beer” And then I’ll mutter under my breath with a slight grin, “I sure hope he don’t care that I am a redneck hippie.”  As I take my first drink from the beer I’ll wonder if maybe he will vote with the sharptail caucus too.