Enough

There’s half an hour of shooting light left but with the snow blowing in it might as well be midnight. A handful of chukar call from across the canyon to the half-dozen a hundred feet above me.
A few minutes ago, my young setter got an honest-to-goodness point on this covey of 15 or so birds before they broke and flushed wild.
I was above her, looking down when I saw her go on point.
I’m still out of breath from the hillside sprint toward her.
It was like being the weakest link on the seventh-grade mile-relay team all over again, pushing as hard as I could and still watching it slip away.
It wasn’t her fault though. These are tough birds, tricky in the best of conditions and difficult for even seasoned dogs to pin down.
I got close enough to see them flush at least. And we saw some light halfway up the slope where we now repose.
It was pure adrenaline that got us up here and as it starts to darken, I wonder how I’m going to get back down the snowy slope without sliding on my ass through the mud and the muck.
I can see the road at the bottom and on the other side I can just make out the hillside where we started a few minutes before.
My legs are burning from the climbing, my feet are soaking wet, the truck is parked a mile down the road and I haven’t fired a shot.
But the young dog got a point on chukar and I’ll call that a win.
So when the birds above me answer the call of their covey mates across canyon and fly directly over my head, silhouetted against the billowing white snow clouds, I don’t even raise my gun.
I didn’t come to pass shoot them.
I came to see them pointed and for now, it’s enough.

Two forward, one back

Sometimes we regress.
After steady points and shot birds, I suddenly had a second flushing dog – a long-range flushing dog.
As a remedy we cruised the roads and looked for coveys of huns to point in roadside ditches on a check cord.
So when I saw a dozen roosters run from a tilled field into a 100 foot circle of CRP, I held out little hope.
But I knocked anyway and with permission granted I unhooked the check cord.
And watched her go on point.
My little setter every bit Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nowhere in sight, I walked in, flushed and shot the first rooster she had ever seen dead on the ground.
So we went a little further and she pointed again. This time a hen, no shot.
The next bird was a rooster that she didn’t point but flushed by pushing too hard. I knew I was pushing my luck, but before I could think about it too much, she went on point again. When I walked past her I noticed the tip of her tail pointing up at the sky and hoped for a shootable bird.
He got up further away than I expected, and I wondered if she pointed him from so far away or if he had been on the move.
It was an old bird and there was no cackle. He swung right and I pushed the barrels and squeezed the trigger.
He landed on his back in the tilled field and when I walked up my little setter was trying in vain to pick him up but getting nothing but a mouthful of feathers.
We’d come only halfway around this piece of cover and I knew there are more birds, but we’d pushed our luck far enough.
We headed for the truck, for once, moving forward.Iphone hunting

Lunatastrophe

This is not a dog.
This is a nuclear-powered starship headed for another galaxy. It is only coincidence that brings her to earth where she will flush birds at high speed and low regard until she escapes from gravity and continues on her interstellar journey.
Iphone hunting
A covey of sharptails explodes like cosmic dust in front of her and for a moment, while their trajectory lines with her own, she gives chase. When they turn, she stays her course, occasionally leaping sage brush and other obstacles with the glee and grace of a cape wearing nine-year-old.
I watch her turn in a long loop, not because she is re-centering on me, but because she was running out of field and had no choice but to alter course.
“She’ll settle in,” I tell myself, just before she blasts through a covey of huns without so much as easing off the accellerator. A few days ago, she pointed a covey of huns so perfectly, so steady and confidently, that this disregard for her pointing accumen is startling to me.
I whistle her in and try to settle her down but when I turn her loose, I can already tell that she is going to make another break against the bounds of gravity.
So when she blows through another covey of sharpies then proceeds to flush two dozen pheasants one after another without even tapping the brakes, I know that last week was not a turning point, but an anomally.
And so we go home, back to the check chord.
Back to the blue grouse and the huns on the road, back to known birds, back to “whoa” in the garage and yard work.
Back to school for both of us, learning to pilot a rocket ship.

Luther

He was the “assistant foreman” on a ranch in West Texas. I had a gate key to that ranch and permission to hunt quail, but nothing else.

At dusk on a January afternoon, I was parked on the edge of a CRP patch when Luther came clattering up the road in his derelict Ram Charger. His two Blue Healers were standing on the toolbox and peering over the cab. I clipped my pointers to the tailgate and filled their water pans as Luther ground to a halt in a cloud of red dust. He left his truck running because it likely wouldn’t start again if he didn’t.”

“Any birds in that?”

“Three coveys.”

“Get any?”

“Five.”

When the dust and exhaust fumes cleared I caught a whiff of a sickly perfumey smell wafting from his open truck window. He was somewhat shaven and his hair was slicked back. He had on a black felt hat and one of those patchwork Garth Brooks type shirts.

“Luther, where you off to?”

“Town.”

That could have been any number of places but I assumed he was referring to Lubbock.

“What’s the occasion?”

“I got a date.”

“Are you wearing Hai Karate?”

He flashed a sheepish grin and I noticed that his scraggly mustache had been touched up with a grease pencil, a Sharpie, or something similar. It didn’t do much for me, but maybe she would like it.

“Who’s the luck lady?”

“Gal I grow’d up with. I ain’t seen her in years. She’s lately divorced and living back with her mom, and them.” He leaned over to his rearview mirror and checked his teeth; then he plucked a toothpick from his hat brim. “She’s a real looker.”

“Yeah?”

“Head twirler back in high school.”

Luther looked at me with a wink and a nod. I turned and looked at his dogs. They turned and looked mine.

“So, where you taking her?”

“Kenny Chesney concert. She won some free tickets through the radio. She answered four trivia questions about livestock and politics and all.”

“Smart gal?”

“Apparently.”

“You taking your dogs to the concert?”

He pointed into the bed of his truck with his thumb. “They’ll be fine back yonder. Anybody tries to steal em will thank better of it when he has to pry some teeth off his boys.”

He waited for me to reply to that but I didn’t. He watched me unclip my pointers and open their boxes. It was getting dark and I had an hour on the road back to my motel.

“Whatta you give for a bird dog like them?”

“A lot; depends on their breeding and their finish.”

He studied the dogs as they spun and jumped into their boxes. “You gonna hunt again tomorrow?”

“Not sure; sounds like we’ve got some bad weather coming.”

“Well, if you do, I seen a big covey at that wire gap going into the croton pasture this morning. Least I thank they was quail—mighta been doves—do they run along the ground?”

“Doves?”

“Yeah.”

“No, not as a rule.”

With that, he let off the clutch and his trucked lurched and sputtered down the road. After about fifty yards he stopped and hung his head out the window.

“Hey—if you come by the house in the morning and see my truck but I don’t answer the door….”

“Yeah?”

“…don’t keep on knockin, cause I might be doin some good?”

It was 22-degrees and spitting snow when I turned out my dogs the next morning. I hunted for a couple of hours before the wind picked up and it started dumping. On the way out of the ranch I drove past Luther’s house. His truck was out front with the driver-side door standing wide open. The snow was blowing sideways into the cab. His two Healers were sitting on the porch.

Two weeks later the paper said that Luther had been arrested for public intoxication and assault on a gal that was once a head twirler. I hunted that ranch one more time on the last weekend of the season and Luther’s house was locked up and dark. I never heard what happened to his dogs, and I never found that covey by the wire gap leading into the croton pasture.

– TB

Dirty Love

I have to be honest – I rarely ever think about you. Which, I suppose, is the ultimate testament to how good you are at what you do. At times, however, I know this may come across as ingratitude, and for that, I’m sorry. You’ve accused me of being a fickle S.O.B. and I know there is a certain amount of truth to that. I expect a lot in a lamentably short period of time, and offer little more than neglect the rest of the year. I’ve smeared you in various pastes, oils and creams, seeking to improve upon perfection. I’ve even experimented with others, and you keep taking me back without question. You continue to endure these indignities with a level of class well above my own.

IMGP2449

There was that time when the conditions were a lot muddier than I had expected, and I caught myself wondering out loud why I hadn’t worn a good pair of rubber boots instead. You took it silently, as is your way, and then sent me ass over tea kettle as I tried to remove you while standing balanced on one foot in the mud room when we got home. I knew I had it coming, and I can only hope the warm bath and oil rub you got that night made everything ok again.

We both know there will come a time when you’ll need help – there’s no use beating around the bush on that account. Hell, the day will come when I’ll need it too. Trust that I’ll spare no expense, and thank Dog we live in one of those places where skillful cobblers haven’t yet gone totally by the wayside. Your seams and soles will be lovingly taken care of. I imagine by that time my lustful, wandering eye will have been cured as well. We’ll settle into a comfortable, if seasonal, monogamy. Frankly, I’m looking forward to it.

– Smithhammer

Color

This year there was no vibrancy to the slow fade of summer. A norther came down out of the high arctic and froze everything in early October, dropping temps down to singles, dropping a foot of snow on the backs of surprised baby partridge. The leaves on the aspens, the alders, the cottonwoods, turned black and fell off overnight.

Now deep winter.

Any hint of summer is long gone, drained from the grasses like blood from a corpse, the horizon sprawling out and the light as flat as the land. Petrified and pale. Along  the empty and benumbed ditches are the stems of red willow, but even they have no verve, no splash, no elan. A man could get despondent in such a landscape with its off-tones and nothingness. When your partner compares the coming day to the soft pastels and dim light a Russell Chatham watercolor, you realize why you’ve never found the man’s art all that appealing. Why hang “Depression” in one’s living room?

Twenty below. Weather for fools and cattle feeders. The fools carry shotguns in refrigerated fingers. The cattle feeders feed from the heated cabs of tractors because they have to. You want to. Dolt.

Out into that drab vista with the only real vibrancy at your feet, panting and wiggling and dancing and wagging. Hell’s bells. It’s 20 below.

The sun splashes a little bit of yellow across the snow carpet, but still, nothing much more colorful than a hard-water stain in a commode. You crunch on in complaining squeak-snow and blow on the plastic whistle only once. Only once because the damned thing freezes to your lips and the end of your nose hurts and the lobes of your ears remind you of the last time they were frost nipped. Skiing a January or two ago. Skiing. Activity that makes sense. Or ice fishing. In a hut. With whiskey or schnapps or hot buttered rum. Not this idiot’s plod with a shotgun so cold the receiver glues  to your glove and when you stop to get rid of some coffee, you worry about frost nipping the business end of your business. Jesus H. Jack London.

The path is a canal that in summer probably runs bank to bank with silt water but now is as empty as the land itself, its banks lined by brown brush and black weeds and reddish stems and here and there an acre or two of bled-out cattail. The dog charges into it and tufts of hair from the cattails drift and blend into the frost and you push on, coagulated limbs working, pulled only by the dog and his vivacity. In those thick cattails. Now quiet. Silence. A point, you think, and you pound into them, pushing through the floating cattail dust and the 20-below crystals and find him there, iced-over himself, and yet absolutely on fire at the same time and you kick about and hear a frantic beating at your feet and up she goes. Brown and black and a little white and flying. Hen! Dingy bitch.

A mile like this, along that canal, through blankness, your toes cold, your lobes slowly going from ‘nip to ‘bite, the whistle tucked away and forgotten, the dog stopping now and then to bite out chunks of ice between his pads, but bursting on, still giving it all. Would have liked to have that kind of drive and no-quit on your college football team. Who is playing probably right now while you are out here freezing your junk right the hell off. A simpleton’s trudge, yours. The farmer out there in his growling tractor, feeding faded green hay to his black cattle. Even that sounds more appealing.

You near the end of the canal where a big gray cottonwood presses into the sky and a ferruginous sits fixed on a limb, puffed out and gray and brown and black and reluctant to move. Does finally, launching silent into the freeze. The dog doesn’t see the hawk, though. Occupied and animated. When he stops again, solid again for the fifth or sixth time, you think: Probably another damned hen but you wade in anyway.

Your toes hurt from kicking the cattails and then a chaotic splashing at your feet and a cackle. A cry that is in reality probably one of fright, but you’ve imagined it a scold, an angry, cursing, pissed-off mean-ass sumbitch.

And there he is. A  flying box of Crayons: Purple! Red! Green! Russet! Rouge! White! Black! Yellow! Chartreuse!

Color!!!                                                                                                              –TR