Pre-season jitters

When the pegasus flushed, I shot it without thinking.
I was pretty surprised when it folded up and went straight down. I was using my standard quail load, 3/4oz of 7.5s in a 28ga, which in hindsight didn’t seem sufficient for a giant, flying horse.
Never-the-less, there it lay, it’s wings splayed out in a patch of tall grass and dead as a doornail.
It was at that point that I got really nervous.
What will everyone think? Did I need a special tag for this? Did I have my license? Did I have a migratory bird HIP number? Did I need a migratory bird HIP number? How ridiculously high is the fine for shooting a flying mythological creature?
Pre-season dreams are weird.



Filed under Ill-mannered Jackals, Soul

Wrong URL

MOF has a loyal fanbase (thanks mom) but we also have plenty of one-time visitors, many of who were captured here.

Since another hunting season is behind us, I thought I would do a quick recap of some of the actual search terms that brought people to MOF in 2015, answer a few questions and note some interesting factoids. What follows are actual search term and phrases that brought people to MOF via the magic of search algorithms.

Recently a gentleman (let’s go ahead and assume) found MOF after searching the phrase, “After I mowed grass there mocking bird is dancing with a little white part of wing open.”   I can offer no analysis of this phrase, but I certainly appreciate how search engines use MOF. I can just see some computer at google analyzing this phrase then determining “seems like this person is into birds and possibly bat-shit crazy, so let’s link them to MOF.”

“Renting a chukar dog in Winnemucca” – It was probably a good idea to use the Google for this one, as asking to rent a dog in Winnemucca seems almost guaranteed to get you an ass whooping.

“My pointing dog gets too for ahead” – We’ve all struggled with this and if your dog is young don’t sweat it, it will even out. If your dog is old and you’re still having this problem, it’s not the dog. It’s you. Consider some off-season cardio.

“Can I take a little jackal to my yard and hunt with it when it grows up with my dogs?” – I don’t know much about jackals, but offhand I’m going to call this a good idea. Worse case scenario, we will be happy to link to whatever catastrophic youtube video comes out of this experiment.

“Excuse me, but someone pooped in the hallway” – We’ve certainly all been there sir, but I think you were trying to contact the concierge. Just pick up the room phone and dial “0”.

“What do feathers taste like?” – Listen here you sick bastard, I told you to scram last year. Wrong site.

There was a significant amount of traffic around the search terms, “cross eyed”, “picture of crosseyed guy”, “cross eyed guys”, “cross side eyes”, etc. Whenever I see stuff people finding us with search terms like this, I say to myself, “Damn, what the hell are Tom and Bruce writing about these days? I really should read the content on MOF.” And then I wander over to the Drake or off the internet entirely before I commit to actually reading MOF.

“Good pheasant knives” – I prefer something medium sized with a wooden handle in case you have to hold it in your teeth. Pheasants are gaudy, but they’re not that great in a knife fight. Ignore the flash, stick them in the gizzard and basically any knife will work.

“Ground sluice” – I think I met this guy down in NM. He was an older gentleman hunting without a dog. His response to a rhetorical “how was it?” went something like, “Well, there are birds, but they are running and flushing wild, getting up at 50 yards and flying forever. I only got one shot.” A less rhetorical follow up question “get any?” was answered with, “Only three.”  Indeed.

“Why brain tend to forget hard learned lesson” – Judging by the grammar, I’ll go out on limb and say brain damage. Hunt chukar, fall, no talk good. Alternate scenarios, possibly from Utah or tried to rent a dog in Winnemucca.

“How to hunt chukar without a dog” – I’m suspicious that the guy who searched this phrase probably tried renting a dog, then resorted to ground sluicing.

Interesting note, many people found the blog while searching for specific towns and specific upland species. As in, “Chukar hunting near Salt Lake City.” We do all our hunting on Giffy Butte, so I’m sure those folks were disappointed.

Thanks for reading and if you found us by accident, I hope you’ll stay a awhile.


Filed under Talegate

Stuff they used to do

Some of you (who probably have too much time on your hands) know that I had a short-lived blog called Shotgun Chronicle. It was largely a running list of guns I couldn’t afford to buy. Eventually I simply couldn’t keep up with all the hours searching Gunbroker in an attempt to fill my imaginary gun room and I shut the blog down.

Since upland seasons are over and it’s gear season, I’m going to bring back some SC content and maybe even write a new post or two. This is the Shotgun Chronicle reboot, via MOF.

mcreynolds_g_-4This is a photo of a screw from a French-built 20ga SxS. It’s not a fancy gun, just a well-built  guild gun, trim and fast, well balanced and modestly engraved. You’ll notice it has a serial number that matches the gun’s. This is the screw that resides under the top lever and pulls the trigger plate tight to the bottom of the action from above.
It’s also engraved on the head. When was the last time a gunmaker hand cut the engraving on a screw head for a gun costing less than a small house? When was the last time someone bothered to engrave a screw that you can’t even see when the gun is closed?
All in all, this little gun has about a dozen numbered parts.
Admittedly, some of this part numbering was self-serving because every part need to be timed and mostly hand fit. Numbering ensured getting the right screws back in the right gun if you had more than one on the bench or if a gun was sent out for engraving or bluing.
Still, it’s impressive and pretty cool to think about.
It makes you feel a little connection to the small gunmaker laboring over an individual gun sometime between the wars.

1 Comment

Filed under Talegate


Each morning now, I go somewhere I haven’t been before. It’s an easy, solo routine that asks no one for permission, checks in with no authorities, goes where it wants to go. I have a hunting license and I’m American, camping on American soil owned by every damned one of us.

There are but two limitations: obey the state’s hunting laws and no camping in the same spot for more than sixteen days . . .  as if I’d want to stay in one spot that long. I can live with those two rules.
The other rules are my own. Get up when I want, go when I want, shoot only a few birds out of each covey, treat my dogs well, leave enough for next time.

It has been this way for ten weeks now as I swing into the last two weeks of a three-month sabbatical from my real job. I have hunted five states, nine species of upland game birds, a dozen national forests, and thousands of acres of BLM ground. I asked no one for permission to go there and I checked with myself to see if it was okay to go. It was. No one is more free.

It’s a rare honor owned by only four percent of the world’s population, we U.S. citizens. And were I less fortunate and had less than this chunk of time, I could still have gone. Gone for a weekend camping trip or an hour-long picnic with my family. It is as free a choice as deciding what side of the bed to sleep on.

In the evenings, I sit by the sharp clean burn of a hardwood campfire, smelling that good smoke, grilling my dinner. I sip corn liquor and pat my canine companions. I listen to coyotes talking from a near ridge and far off on the skyline, I can see the lights of the city to the north. I read good books by flashlight and I stretch, take a few aspirin for middle-aged aches, and turn in. Then I do it all over again.

This is my liberty. Rise in the morning in the camper parked on American ground. Coffee, bacon, eggs. Breakfast done. Put the gun and the dogs in the truck. Load up on water and food for the day. Pull out the forest map and decide where I want to go. In a few weeks, my family will join me and we’ll celebrate Christmas here. An outdoor Christmas with a nearby scraggly alligator juniper as our tree.

I’m only a few miles north of the border. Sometimes I wonder if anyone gets to hunt those beautiful oak slopes down in Mexico. I suspect not. It is likely owned by only one person while the ridge I’m standing alone on is owned by 320 million of us. Ironic that it feels in this moment as if I’m the only owner. Therein is the beauty of it.

I follow my little setter up onto benches of Spanish dagger and live oak. I drop into arroyos of granite and mesquite. I turn toward good looking bird habitat when I see it. No one knows I’m out here. I’m free. Sometimes, I stop and rest against a boulder and I watch contrails in the sky and listen to Mabel’s panting and think how damned fortunate I am to live in this country, with all of this American public land to hunt. Mostly, I just rest and think about nothing at all, which in this day and age is a good thing for someone who loves freedom and liberty. It is a good thing to get away from the raspy blather of the greedy.

I heard smatters of drivel coming from someone who has eyes on taking our American soil and turning it over to outside interests, claiming, incredulously, a constitutional right to such a theft from our people. “What price liberty?” asked the man with city-soft hands and never-seen-the-sun skin.

Try and take mine and you’ll find out, I think, and I pick up my shotgun and follow my bird dog into another covey.



Filed under Talegate

James, Chapter IV

DSCN1323There will come a time. I know this to be true, but I cannot acknowledge the truth. The truth is gossamer, whispy, a fog that shifts, thickens, then blows away. Elders speak these truths—the days go faster the older you get, enjoy it while you can because it won’t last, someday you won’t be able to climb those hills—and yet the depth of those words cannot be realized by the synapses of youth. Or even middle age. We deny that ache in the lower back in the morning after a day of work on the ranch, we ignore that tightness in the knee on the climb to laughing chukar, and that blood pounding in lung and temple is merely the price of exercise and not the product of a slowing physicality. We hear those words of things to come, but we don’t listen. They don’t sink. There is no overt repudiation of them. It is more of a “yeah, right, okay.”

Even when I see it right before me. We are driving to the airport in Tucson and it is early morning and my friend’s hunt has come to an end. I’m not sure if he has had a good time. I’m not sure I would were the roles reversed. A lame dog, a mysterious weakness and lack of energy that no amount of rest can cork, a dizziness that makes shotgun shooting tricky at best. Dangerous at worst. Meanwhile, your companion has climbed hills, dropped into deep oak, followed a racing young setter to shotgunning glory, brought home bounty and tale. No, I would not enjoy that swap.

So I drive and there is a quiet in the pickup. I’m keeping Pat, who is no longer lame and both his shotguns and his travel trailer and he’s flying home to Montana and a warm fireplace and a good wife who will take care of him. I wonder, as I steer through the rising dawn, what his thoughts are. I wonder if he knows how much I admire him for trying, how much I think of him as a stud horse who is ten-times the equivalent-aged man anywhere in the country. There are damned few middle eighties out there who can walk five miles in rough terrain, shotgun in hand. Who can camp for two weeks foregoing genuine indoor plumbing and a hot shower. Who can stay up at night talking Trueblood and Harrison and Leopold and the sad state of wildlife conservation, then rise early in the morning to do it all over again. Day after day after day. Pushing that wretched time tide back. And again.

And I wonder about his thoughts. About being here on a high mark for desert quail, about having a good dog and a fine old shotgun and a younger companion who happily does most of the work and all the driving. About being set up for success like that. And then not being able.

They wave us through the border check station, nodding at our cowboy hats, seeing the dogs in the back, making a quip about hunting. It’s getting lighter outside and there are no other trucks on the road yet. So I drive, pushing the pickup up past seventy, pushing north toward civilization, an airport and the end of my friend’s hunt.

Still south of the interstate. But if I hurry, I should probably have enough daylight left for an afternoon hunt.


Filed under Talegate

James, Chapter III

DSCN1265Less than a week into the trip, Pat pulls up lame. Favoring the left hind.
We are nearer true Mearns country now. In the vicinity, anyway. But on the first evening in the new camp, the dogs out for a piss put up a covey of Gambel quail, maybe fifteen birds. We are both in beer mode though, two into the evening, and we just laugh and watch them fly off. Call the dogs back in. We’ll be after them in the morning. I can see oak up on the rims on the north slope, within reach for a good walker.

In the morning, Jim heads out with Pat, chasing last night’s covey, but it proves as ephemeral as a phone number given without enthusiasm to a stranger on Friday night. And in the process, she comes in limping, her passion for birds slowed to a three-legged hop. I spend the day on the mountain, find one covey of Mearns, drop a male on a long swing, miss another and see no other birds. The pup works great, though, and I am happy. She is not running over birds now. Instead, it feels as if she’s starting to get it down. We stop for water a lot. It’s too hot, really, for good hunting.

We talk for a bit about what to do. The injury is athletic in nature, but there is nothing obvious. We’re miles from a vet and I have a field kit with various meds. We’ll give it some rest, see how it goes. In a way, I wonder if perhaps this is some kind of a sign, a reason for my old pal to stay back at camp, catch up on reading, soak in the desert sun. He has not been feeling well and while we used to hunt side-by-side, this hunt instead means I go my own way and we get together in the evenings. Sometimes he hunts, sometimes he stays back. And that’s okay. Life-long friends adapt to individual changes . . . . It is the being here.

I can see in my old friend the disappointment, though. This is his only dog. I have three. True, two are at an age where they are stop-gap, half-day companions on old legs, but I have reserves nevertheless. Like Matt Hasslebeck coming off the bench for Andy Luck.

We will take the days as they come to us.

1 Comment

Filed under Talegate

James, Chapter II

Certain aspects of life are bracketed. Bookended. Beginning and end. Sometimes it is not that simple. Sometimes it is. It is the human experience. Things begin. Things end. The day you met her and the day your divorce was final. The moment a new puppy snuggles into your folded arms and the moment you put a spade into soil as you say goodbye to an old friend. The first day of college orientation and graduation day. Like that.


If this desert is the end, the beginning was all high country. Wild currants growing beneath old growth Doug fir. Ned and Jed–setters of the Llewelyn strain—led us. A landscape of ridges at the top of the world, spines sprinkled with those big firs, sides falling away to grass and forb and berry. Snow on tall and distant peak.

It was September with frost and sunshine in combat. Sunshine winning the battle, frost the war. Chilled in a light jacket, but sweating as we climbed. Jacket coming off soon. Jed, a young dog with fire and drive. Ned, a tottering old man who somehow ended up on my side of the ridge. Hunting for me, or maybe just hunting for his old stubborn self and me just being in the right dumb place. Jim carrying that Browning double. A blue Rockies sky warming and as clear as headwater.

I was young then and full of what Aldo Leopold called “trigger itch.” Impressionable. Pliable. In need, if not want, of a mentor.

wyo. range trail 011Ned pointed and a big old male blue grouse clattered up and I swung on him and folded him and Ned pointed again and that one went up and then down too. The sky blued on and we went on. Stopped for an elk meatloaf sandwich. Olives. A crisp fresh red and yellow apple. Leaned against one of those old trees. Got acquainted as men do when they are new to one another. Treading somewhat carefully. Finding commonalities. He talked of pointing dogs and double guns and somehow, even at that pup stage of my life, I knew where I would be heading.

1 Comment

Filed under Talegate

James, Chapter I

It is not long. Not long until we settle into the routine of men who have spent a lifetime in the outdoors together. A camp routine.

We have known each other long enough that he knew me when I was a punk kid in my 20s all full of bullshit and bluster. Knew my wife before she became my wife and long before she became my ex-wife. I have known him since he was the age I am at this moment. Known him when he was a bachelor two-times divorced with a couple of good horses and two fine setters. When I hunted with a mutt and a piss-poor side-by-side that I bought with ranch-work money. Before he was an old man with no horses, a sweet wife, a nice cat and one fine setter that usually hunts by herself around the farm. And now we move around each other with the ease of time and the comfort of knowing one another and each others’ quirks. Hearing each others’ stories so many times we’ve lost count. It is almost father-son, except perhaps expectations and approvals are not as clearly defined. But they are there, without denial. He is my mentor in almost all things life.

On our first hunting adventure, he handed me his .35 Whelen and I laid across a carpet of aspen leaves and felled a large buck mule deer with one shot. My own rifle was back at home, left because we were packing out a cow elk I had shot the day before. No need to carry my rifle. But then we rounded the bend and the buck was there, broadside. Elk in panniers on the horses and my own rifle at home. “Take my rifle,” he whispered. “Thumb the safety forward when you’re ready to fire.” Two hundred and twenty one paces out.

That night we ate fresh elk steak, smothered in gravy from the drippings. The next day we packed out the buck on tired horses.

Now we are in quail country. Again. We have been in quail country many times. During the highs and the lows and the mediums. On years when you had to walk four hours or even all day to see one small covey and when you found them, you felt guilty for splitting them up late in the day and for shooting even one. You didn’t hunt up the singles.

This year is a high water mark. I never walk more than a half hour to game. To a point. I never return to camp without at least a handful of quail and a pocketof spent 20s.

We’ve seen the changes to the land, changes less subtle that the ebbs and flows of annual quail populations. There was a time we didn’t worry if we accidentally dipped down into Sonora in the great follow that is a setter leading a man. When the land seemed pristine and wild and raw and never trodden by man-track. When you did not fret about camp when you were not there. That was thirty years ago.

DSCN1365It was the trash, more than anything. Discards of a people on the move. Empty plastic jugs. Fuel cans. Pop cans worded only in Spanish. A shoe. Plastic sheeting. A tattered jacket, stuffing flying everywhere. You half expected to walk up on someone sitting in the shade of an oak as you followed your dog. Your heart beat a little more frantically than it does as a mere aficionado of the hunt and the canine. It felt dangerous. Still does sometimes.

But the fresh trash stopped and dust and dirt coated the old stuff. Maybe it was the economy crapping out or maybe it was something else. The drug trade. The fences. The patrols. Those are questions for other people and for the government. Detritus washed down arroyos, got covered in sand and duff. Plastic sheeting slowly disintegrated and blew to the wind, clung to mesquite thorn. Agave grew up through the leavings. Border patrol everywhere, just sitting in fancy government vehicles at intersections. All. Day. Long. Never waving hello.

We have seen the country change and each other age and we are back here. And we move around each other in the camp trailer and we hunt separately, me for half days, whole days. Jim for an hour or two. Some days. He is not feeling well. Complains of dizziness and weakness. I cook breakfast and dinner and he washes dishes and pours Kentucky over ice. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we read without saying much. It is another hunt in the desert and somehow, for the first time, it feels like our last.



Filed under Talegate

Genesis, Chapter III

Our camp is at the base of one of those short mountain ranges that are so much a part of this part of the desert. Sky islands, they call them, where points of pine and even spruce wring snowfall from a dry Southwestern sky on a December night and a good walker can move through a quarter dozen life zones on a big day.

For the dog man, the islands offer much promise. The deep grass toe of the island—the beaches—whisper to you of scaled, or blue, quail. The catclaw-choked canyon mouths farther up the island’s flanks, speak of Gambel quail. Higher still, up in the oak savannah, that most treasured of quail—the pointing dog’s quail—Mearns, Montezuma, harlequin.

My companion on this month of adventure is a mentor, a best friend, a life-long personal legend. He’s 83 and he carries a good Belgian Browning 20 that he picked up in a Denver pawn shop more than a half century ago. Jim has one dog, a young female setter. I have three, but only the streak called Mabel is functional. The other two are old timers, males whose saddles have a lot of leather worn off the tree. They are along for the ride, and because I didn’t have the heart to leave them in wintery Montana. I pay for my softness with periodic visits to the truck in the middle of the night so they can get out to empty. I lift them down to the ground and when they are done, I lift them back up to the tailgate beneath a star-splattered sky. They groan with the miles. They have given their everything to me. A lifetime of everything and the least I can do is get up in the middle of the night to let an old dog piss.DSCN1264

I did all the driving and do all the driving. Often, Jim stays at camp while I climb out of the trailer, load up my water and Mabel’s, thumb shells into my vest, pack lunch, load the gun, turn on the e-collar.

Sometimes, I come down off the mountain tired, my game bag heavy with a half limit. At night, we cook quail and vegetables in a Dutch oven over mesquite coals, accompany the meal with New Mexico chilies.

In the mornings, I do it all over again. The days are as I want them to be. On some, I get in the truck and drive the two-tracks north along the island’s run, looking for new canyons and new coveys. One evening, I come back to a few fingers of good bourbon and show Jim a license plate from 1954 that I found on a rusted truck bumper out in the middle of nowhere, pinned against the thick tough trunk of a mesquite by a flash flood long dead.

It’s the same year I bought that Browning, says Jim.



Filed under Talegate

Genesis, Chapter II

We climbed, this morning, on a rising bench from camp. The dog and I. We. We is just her and I.

I followed her into the tall grass and the coming sunlight, sometimes seeing her bounce through, then gone again. Pushing past Spanish dagger and catclaw, hoping for desert quail, heading toward a distant patch of oak up the mountain. The ache of two days of hard driving, of nights spent in a cold trailer on the side of a road, of more road, and more ‘truck butt’ and a diet of spitters and Mountain Dew is not even really a memory. Or an ache. It is winter and I am wearing a t-shirt and worrying about the heat on a dog that is used to Montana late pheasants.
Now, with two Mearns in the bag, we are above the bench and several miles from camp. The morning produced no desert quail and no points. Two quail shot off wild flushes, two “training birds.”

We sit for a time, me to slow pulse, her just because I make her. She waits. Doesn’t want to. She leaps to her feet every time I shift. And I make her sit down again.  And finally I rise for good, and we work down off the mountain, trying for new country, new cover.DSCN1268
At the base, down from the oak savannah, we hit the century plants and mesquite of a different life zone, and work past the remnants of an old mine. The shell of a Model A Ford rusts away in a dry climate, intact save being shot full of number eights from what no doubt was a frustrated quail hunter.
I whistle her in again, calling her close as we head toward a water hole where I’m hoping she can cool off. The heat is rising now, full sun and pushing up into the 60s, maybe even the 70s. Coming up.

She has only a moment to lap muddy water when a covey of Gambel quail burst from the other side of the arroyo and fly one hundred or so yards. I mark them down, call the dog in, keep her close, and move in, knowing they probably won’t be there when we get there. Nevertheless.

We drop into the leavings of the most recent flash flood, then scramble out, moving closer to the place the covey went down. Thirty birds, maybe? I talk to her softly now, keeping her close, trying to walk light on soil that is more granite crumble than dirt.

She flanks left, then slams to a stop, tail up. Point. Point! By God.

Three birds burst from the cover.


Filed under Talegate