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Brad Eden

Essays, Poems, Thoughts. . .

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Andrew Lam

For some bizarre reason, I hunted pheasant again here in Colorado. I've been out five times so far, with a single rooster to show for it. The week in Nebraska never happened, but it might next year. Opening day this year was a lot better than past years, though. We saw a lot of birds, a buddy shot one and I missed one. A decent day's hunt here in the pheasant ghetto of America.

    As I walked miles of CRP, I didn't have pheasants on my mind. I was thinking about how great the grouse season was. I am one of just a handful of people who target blue grouse seriously here, and though I wonder why most of the time, I am certainly OK with the limited pressure my birds get. My first successful blue grouse hunt was with a buddy who knew where a few hung out where he elk hunts. He is not ashamed at all that he kills the vast majority of his birds off of branches with a bow, and while I cringed a little about his methods, he knew where they were and I didn't.

    My first blue was blasted out of a tree with my 12 gauge. I had tried finding the birds by myself, three times, and hadn't seen a thing. So when I saw a big ol' grouse, I shot it. I don't brag about it, but it just felt good to come home with supper. I did it again that year, and figured these grouse are just stupid. The next time I went out I carried my 10/22.

    I had assumed that everyone who had come across a blue grouse was correct in calling them fool hens. I could see why people only shot them for an elk camp dinner. And then a story in a John Gierach book reversed it. He praised the blue grouse, calling it every bit as challenging as a ruffed, when properly hunted. And I made a promise to myself, to hunt these birds like I would any other grouse.

    That next year I had a new pup, a female chocolate lab. And I brought along a friend who can really shoot. We got away from the logging roads where the stupid birds where, and started hiking. We hunted all over that mountain without seeing a thing. I felt bad because I told Bob I knew there were birds up there. And like a bomb, after an entire day of nothing, a grouse blew up right in front of the dog. Bob and I were hunting uphill, and the bird flushed from a small stand of quakies right between us, and flew downhill. I was still recovering from the flush when Bob brought his gun down, smiling. The dog found it, and I beamed. Bob made a shot that I still talk about, and a couple grouse hunters were born. We found more birds that day, and found more birds later that season. And they all flushed.

    This year, I shot three birds on two different trips from a very reliable aspen stand. And on a whim, I hiked to the summit (a mere 10,500 feet for Colorado standards, but still, 10,500 feet). I found birds mostly in small clearings among the dense firs, which gave me a couple of easy shots that I missed, and I missed some incredibly hard shots in very thick cover. The dogwork was great. Goddammit Sam was more like Atta Girl Sam, though she gets confused when she works close, finds and flushes a bird, and I can't shoot because I never see the damn bird.The retrieving saved me a twisted ankle or two for sure, and she was good company around the campfire when it was just us for a week on my mountain.

    I imagine I'll keep on chasing pheasants, even in Colorado, because I love the camaraderie. It lends itself to larger hunting parties better than grouse hunting does. Lee's boys are just starting to carry guns in the field, and it's fun watching them learn about hunting. There's also too much snow on my grouse mountain in mid-November, and I can't let that dog get rusty.

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insanelupus

Waiting for Autumn

In an old leather chair,

With a scotch in his hand,

He stares off into the flames.

Reliving the past in memories,

Of coverts that had no names.

Over sixty-five years,

He thinks of dogs he had known,

That long since passed away.

And good friends, buddies and partners,

Who were no longer with him today.

Cabins, wall tents and hunting camps,

Crowded with gear, men and dogs,

All filled with barking, voices and laughs.

With trails in mountains, valleys and hills,

Seemed in the not far distant past.

Outside the winter wind,

Whistled, howled and moaned,

As the gentle snow piled deep.

But he keeps thinking, flanked on each side,

By two good dogs, fast asleep.

His grandfather's last pheasant hunt,

The twenty-gauge cradled in arm,

When they didn't shoot a bird all day.

He walked mile after tireless mile,

With a smile the entire way.

There was the time his father doubled,

With quail he teased it was all luck,

Shooting his little Spanish made four-ten.

And then on the very next flush,

Damned if he didn't do it again.

On top of Bear Trap Mountain,

Who could forget a lone blue grouse,

Pointed and retrieved to hand.

By a little black Britt named Zeke,

The first dog for a boy who'd grown to a man.

The young and amazed wild eyed wonder,

From his own child, a young boy,

When he saw that drab little Hun.

That fell to the tremendous thunder,

Of the young man's first gun.

And oh, his wonderful and lovely young bride,

She stuck with him through every season,

Even after forty years.

Bless her for listening to every hunting tale,

That must have bored her to tears.

Every year it was a ritual,

Required to feed his soul,

When every winter follows fall.

That he sit and reminisce,

So he may remember it all.

Spring will come,

And the dogs will train,

Through the summer they will dream.

Of autumn's fall of aspen's leaves,

With frost in first light's gleam.

The heft of his fine double,

As the dogs bells fall silent,

On point they are a beautiful sight.

And so he drifts asleep to the sound,

Of a flushing bird, taking flight.

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Don Steese

This will be my newspaper column on January 8. I could have said a lot more but my editor would have just cut parts I didn't want cut.

1/8/06

I got the news a couple days before Christmas. The years worst news always seems to come during the holidays. Mac had passed away. I'm writing this on December 23rd, so he's still very much on my mind. I think he will be for a good long time.

Mac was a once-in-a-lifetime bird dog, and I loved him nearly as much as I love my own Maggie. I fall in love with most good bird dogs. Ask any of my hunting companions.  I love them all, but Mac was special.

I first met him a few years ago after having invited myself to New Brunswick to hunt with Mac's business partner. ("Owner" is not a term Mac would have approved of).  I'd met Ben through an internet website that catered to grouse and woodcock hunters. Both our wives thought we were crazy to agree to share a cottege and hunt for several days seeing as how we'd never met.  Neither of us was the least bit worried. We knew by the things we talked about and the way we talked about them, that everything would be fine. I had pictures in my mind of what a bird hunter should look like, however a diminutive oriental guy wasn't one of them.  I guess the name Ben Hong should have given me a clue.  To say we hit it off would be an understatement. We'll be life long friends. Enough of the human talk. This column is a tribute to Mac.

Mac was a brittany. Soulful eyes, square head, boxy body. . He wouldn't have won any dog shows. Mac looked like what he was. A working dog. He was about eight when I first met him and looked like he'd been places and done things. Probably been rode hard and put away wet more than once. The look I love.

In the house Mac's needs were minimal. A bowl of kibble, a bucket of water, and a doggie bed to lie on. That was about all he required. I have another hunting buddy who says his dog is "needy"..meaning he needs a lot of human attention. Not so with Mac. He'd accept hands-on affection, but never seemed to crave it. If there were a cottege full of people, Mac would seem to disappear. If he needed to go to the men's room, he'd stand by the front door. You could leave him out and not worry. He'd be in the neighborhood.

In the field Mac was unbelievable. Best grouse and woodcock dog I've ever seen. Lots of guys spend a lot of time teaching their dogs to "quarter", which is zig-zagging in front of the hunter. Mac thought that a great waste of time and energy. He'd hit the ground and go directly to the first bird. It might be a quarter mile away, but he'd go straight to it. After you finally found him and flushed the bird, he'd go directly to the next one. Didn't matter how long it took you to get to him either. Even if you stopped for lunch on the way, when you got there he'd still be on point.  Efficient and unhurried.  No bird could sneak off either. He'd just re-locate and point again. Some people  would have called him a "meat dog". I'd as soon not hunt with those people.

In 2004 I invited Ben, Mac, and a few other bird hunting fanatics to hunt with me in Kansas. Mac handled those wild pheasants and quail like he'd been hunting them all his life. He was the standard by which the rest of us judged our dog's performances. I remember thinking, "Is there anything this dog can't do?"  Probably not.  

I'm now retired and Ben will be in a couple years. We'll have a lot more time to hunt together. If only Mac could be there with us. On second thought, he will be.

"A dog does not live as long as a man and this natural law is the font of many tears. If a boy and a pup might grow to manhood and doghood together, and together grow old, and so in due course die, full measure of heartache might be avoided. But the world is not so ordered, and dogs will die and men will weep for them as long as there are dogs and men."------Ben Ames William from Wingshooters Autumn.

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WIPartridge

I'll jump in the ring with eyes closed and hope for the best.  Criticism welcomed, I'm still new to this game of writing.

I came through the cut between the bluffs and paused to take in the view in front of me.  The small creek I had followed through the alders and marsh behind me now began its short tumble down through the rocks before slowing down in the hardwoods I was now surveying.  I glanced up at my dad on the ridge to my right, seeing him pause to get a drink of water.  I took a deep breath, pulling in the sweet aroma of October in Wisconsin.  Moving away from the northwoods had worn me down more than I had realized, and I closed my eyes for a moment to capture the scene and file it away for another day when I wasn't so fortunate to be here.  I just didn't get this kind of silence and solitude living in an apartment, 2 minutes from a major highway and 4 minutes from the paper mill where I work.

My dad's voice brought me back, as he called his Brittany pup up to him for some ear scratching.  Sam took the cue and found a pile of fresh leaves to curl up on at my dad's feet.  It was only Sam's second hunt, so we weren't pushing things too hard.  I strode up the hill and found a rock near the two of them to sit down.  

About to comment on the lack of birds this fall, I saw my dad looking down at a patch of balsam next to the creek at the bottom of the ridge, all the while stroking Sam's belly.  He smiled and chuckled for second.  

"Remember that covey we got into down there in the balsams a few years back?  Never saw a bird there before, haven't seen once since, but they sure were in there that day."

Sure I remembered...how could I forget? We came up to it from the other side, our guns over our shoulders as we walked the logging road through the hardwoods to get back to camp.  It was one of those picture perfect fall days.  The leaves on the alders were down to make for good shooting, but the maples were still dressed up in their finest reds and oranges.  Roscoe was down splashing in the creek, getting a drink and cooling off after a long day of hunting.  As if watching some hunting show on TV, he came out of the creek and locked up on that clump of balsams like he was made of stone, one paw just barely raised off the moss.  Dad motioned to me to fan out while he went in to flush the bird.  I got in position and he and Roscoe started into the little patch of cover.  With a rush that only partridge hunters can know, three birds came out at once with flames from their wings, and I found myself trying to get all three lined up with the bead on the end of the barrel at one time.  I finally picked the one that singled off into the open hardwoods, and shot as he flew through a good opening.  The bird folded and went down behind a windfall.  Roscoe took off for the bird as soon as I shot, looking more like a puppy than I had seen in a long time.  Just after he disappeared behind the windfall, the bird went out the other side, running on the ground.  Roscoe came out hot on his heels, nipping at the bird and not showing any of the usual stiffness we were used to seeing from his 15 years of age.  Neither of us could get a shot with the dog so close to the bird.  We started after them, but were met by Roscoe as he came back around the bend in the road with the bird in his mouth, head held high and prancing like a show dog.  He dropped the bird at my dad's feet and jumped in circles, proud as could be.  My dad held the bird up, and found it missing all but two tailfeathers.  We looked at the dog again, and noticed a couple more hanging from his mouth.  We laughed out loud, realizing he had been nipping at the bird a little closer than we realized before he had caught up to him!

My eyes cleared up as I returned to the moment and chuckled myself.  

"I'll never forget that, damndest thing I ever saw."

Dad smiled and sent Sam down the hill as we spread out to continue the search for old ruff.  We were at the bottom of the ridge when out of the corner of my eye I saw my dad's arm come up.  I saw him waving me around to the other side of him.  He noted the somewhat confused look on my face, and waved me over, giving me the sign to be still.  I slowly came around an oak by him, as he pointed down to the balsams.  There on the edge of the creek was Sam, locked up as tight as could be on that little bit of cover.  For just a moment, I didn't see a 10 month old puppy on his first point.  I saw a dog that was a little overweight from slowing down in his old age, trying like hell to keep his balance on just three paws, his graying muzzle pointing out the object of our quest.  A thousand memories poured through my mind in a fraction of a second, and, at that moment, I knew that Roscoe was still here, and I saw a single drop fall from my dad's chin as he started in after the bird.

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Wisconsin

“A New Year’s Wish”

by

Ken M. Blomberg

    The old man sipped on his third cup of coffee and stared intensely out the kitchen window.  His bird dog lay curled up at his feet.  As he watched the sun rise over the pines at the far end of the training field, illusions floated across the grassy landscape.  His daydreams brought fond memories of seasons past, departed gun dogs and hunting partners.

    The spell was broken when the dogs in the kennel out back began howling.  The front door opened and his sixteen-year-old grandson stomped into the room.  “Hi grandpa,” he exclaimed,  “Ready to go?”

    The old man and the boy had hunted together many times before, but today’s hunt would prove to be special.  It was New Year’s Day and grandpa had promised the lad a special gift six days earlier.  “Put old Buck in the dog box,” he instructed the youngster, “I’ll go get my shotgun.”

    “Old Buck?  He died eight years ago.  This is Duke, the son of Buck,” the boy thought to himself.  “Dad must be right, the old man is getting senile.”

    They drove west for twenty minutes, then headed north on a gravel road for another ten until they reached a locked gate.  A key in the glove compartment gave them access

to an area the landowner seldom allowed anyone else right of entry.  Beyond the gate the gravel gave way to a logging road that was quickly swallowed up by an aspen clear-cut.  They pulled off the trail and parked the pickup truck between a row of pines and a small creek.

    “Never advertise your hotspots by parking in the open,” said the old man. “Let Buck out of his dog box and then we’ll get started.”

    The old dog stretched and relieved himself on the nearest pine before ambling off into the poplar stand.  The old man told the boy to follow the dog while he walked down the trail.  For the past few years, he seldom strayed off the more level paths.  Aging legs can be unsteady in the woods and a tumble might break something, ending a hunting career in a hurry.  The old man knew his limitations.

    The dog’s bell stopped off to the left side of the trail and before he could ask what for, he heard his grandson shoot and curse.  With no need for further explanation, the three moved on.

    They continued to work their way along the trail, crossing the creek twice before reaching a meadow where the path ended.  It had been a forty-five minute hike and the elder hunter needed to rest.  A rock fence bisected the field and included a large, flat boulder that made for a fine seat.  From his perch, the old man could watch the dog and boy hunt the perimeter of the meadow and the creek bottom.  It was a spot that never failed to hold a bird or two.

    “Wow grandpa, this looks just like the painting in your den.  There’s even a windmill and barn up on the hill.”

    The old man recalled the Ripley print, “Autumn Cover” that he purchased at a flea market years ago.  He hung it in his home because it reminded him of this very special place.

    “Why don’t you take my gun for awhile, it’s time for this old timer to take a break.”  

    The youngster couldn’t believe his good fortune as he stared down at the old double-barreled shotgun in his hands.  The family heirloom was a Winchester Model 21 and he was holding it for the very first time.

    “Hey, pay attention to Buck, he looks birdy down there by the creek.”

    Sure enough, the dog hit a scent cone and with one foot in the water, stood stock-still while the boy moved in from the side.  From under an alder clump, a ruffed grouse exploded and flew left to right.  The gun jumped to his shoulder and without thinking, he swung and fired instinctively at the bird. The dog broke at the shot, but before reaching the downed bird, slammed into a second point.  Meanwhile, the boy fumbled for a shell, reloaded and moved in for another flush.

    This time, two birds took to the air simultaneously, one flying directly over his shoulder and back towards his grandfather, the other to the right along the stone fence.  He knew better than to fire at the first bird, so he whirled around and to his amazement, dropped the second one going away.  

    “Nice shooting boy,” the old man yelled. “Two are enough, call old Buck over here and let’s have a look at your birds.”

    They admired the brace of grouse for a long time, comparing the two color phases and length of the tail feathers.  One was gray, the other was brown. Both set of feathers were

long, indicating male birds.  The two hunters felt the deep satisfaction that comes from success.  Grandfather and grandson had never been closer than at that moment in time.  Before it ended, the old man reached into his pocket and pulled out the key to the gate.  

    Handing it to his grandson he said, “Here’s your gift for Christmas and a New Year’s wish.  I’m not going to be around here forever, so it’s time for the gun and the key to be yours.  Treat both with care and if you do right by them, they’ll do right by you.  I hope that someday you will be able to pass them along to the next generation.  And remember, when you’re up here hunting with your dog, think of old Buck and me.  We’ll both be watching and smiling from somewhere along this stone fence.”

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bosco mctavitch

This happened to me the other day, and it seemed worth sharing.

Dave

I've never really given much thought to the contents of my hunting vest.  Mine was given to me by my brother, and is (was?) bright orange with a bunch of pockets on the front and a big game bag that extends to the front, I guess so that you can more easily lose things in its cavernous interior.  During the hunting season, my vest usually resides on the back of the old rocking chair by the front door, as far as my wife is concerned ostensibly "to dry", but it's really just because I like to keep it visible--maybe I like the constant reminder that the clock's ticking and December 30th is just around the corner so I better get out while I have the chance.  Throughout the season, I typically leave it packed and ready to go at all times, for a faster getaway I guess.  There's certainly never enough time to actually CLEAN it, and anyone that suggests otherwise is in for a serious eye-rolling!  Every so often I'll take empty shells out of it, and add more live ones to the front pocket.  Sometimes I actually use the little penlight that's in there (I think), which might have gotten thrown in the passenger seat last time I used it, not sure…certain things tend to stay there all season, some come out to use elsewhere, etc…so it was without really thinking about what I'd find or of the full ramifications of my actions that I sat down the other day to empty my vest before I hung it up for the season.

First, I reached in and pulled everything out of the pockets:  Nine shells, 6 of 7 1/2 and 3 of 6's.  One empty yellow hull, still smelling faintly of cordite.  My watch!!  A ziplock bag full of map-sections, mostly of areas that I wanted to hunt but didn't manage to make the time for.  A compass, which was stuck to the inside of the pocket with some unidentifiable sticky substance.  A broken whistle.  Several candy wrappers and a crushed soda can.  One left glove.  The antenna-cap from my e-collar transmitter.  An unopened Snickers bar with at least 100,000 miles on it.  A cord and clip I use as a leash.  Cloth dog bowl.  2 cigarette lighters, one works.  A NY backtag from 1990.  A gas reciept from 2003 with an unknown phone number on it.  A pen. Angus's orange jacket.  

It was very obvious to me that I was carrying a lot of useless junk, and that I hadn't emptied my vest in a long time!  Perhaps mistakenly, I decided I should actually clean the vest, so I went about dumping out all the accumulated flotsam I hadn't already gotten, so I could run it through the washing machine--and that's when I ran into trouble.  There were literally handfulls of old leaves, twigs, remnant briars, crumpled brown stuff that used to be part of some vegetable, dirt, catkins, assorted feathers and the like to remind me of seemingly every hunt for the life of the vest.  I found leaves that reminded me of a Thanksgiving trip to Partridge Run with my brother.  I found dried and shrivelled berries that reminded me of a particularly nasty cover on a foggy pre-dawn morning before work.  I found stains that told of a few lucky shots and a few giddy moments sitting alone on an old stone wall somewhere in an old abandoned orchard on a farm that isn't there anymore, wondering at my own good luck.  I found tears and frays that took me back to every wild rose bush I've ever had the misfortune to encounter.

I was sitting on our (new) couch in our (freshly cleaned) living room with my ratty old vest on my knee and a handfull of forest detritus in my hand, apparently staring into space with a vacant look in my eyes, because my wife suddenly appeared next to me simultaneously asking if I was OK and yelling at me to clean out my dirt somewhere else!!  I mumbled some excuse about cleaning up after myself and shuffled off to the mud room to put all the twigs and leaves back in my vest before I hung it up again.

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HAMMER DOG

My Day With the Covey

Chapter 1: Off To The Field

I‘d like tell you all about a great experience I had with a covey of Quail on my 80 acres yesterday. As many of you know I save this land for working cover dogs and younger dogs, and keep it alive with Quail, Colinus Viginianus, or Bobwhite to be more specific. So the sighting of a covey was nothing new. What followed the sighting is the good part.

I left the house early intending to beat the crows out and set up in the flight zone on their way to the feeding area but got sidetracked by a covey of Quail. I was driving in on the only access road to the area just as the false daylight was showing on the dreary windy morning that it was, when in the glow of early morning I see something running across the road. I stopped to see a group of 7 birds milling around, when they saw me they hot footed it into the woods next to the road. The next thing I know there’s another boogying across, followed by 10 more birds one at a time. I sit and watch as they run from the high grass they were coveyed in. Wow I thought 18 in this covey great .I decided then and there to heck with the crows.

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Chapter 2: The Front Scout and Rear Guard

I was fully camoed so I stole in the woods about 20 feet from where they entered. I entered the woods as I do when still hunting deer thankful for the damp cover of oak leaves to deaden any sound. As I rounded a red cedar at the edge of the woods I looked and saw one quail standing at the edge of the woods to my left looking out to the field they had exited , I watched as he looked all ways from his perch on a downed Hickory limb I cut last spring. The little rooster stood there for a few minutes as his friends made their way deeper into the woods, then took off on a short flight till he got within running distance of them, whereupon another Rooster took his place at the rear guard. This bird did not take a post but continued moving but lagged behind the rest of the covey about 15 yards, stopping and looking around every so often as they made their way through the woods. We were maybe 40 yards into the woods when the group stopped, suddenly, all but one that is. This bird went on ahead of the rest maybe 10 ft to the edge of a clearing I had made for a food plot several years ago that still threw some millet and milo every year along with the sumac thicket I had left there.

I cut around the birds as they moved into the clearing, to get the sun to my back, and have a better view as they were feeding. Once i reached my destination under a large cedar I noticed there were only 16 birds in the clearing so I started looking for the other bird and found it. She was standing on a pile of leaves about 10 yards into the woods preening and watching to the East while she ate insects and seeds off the pile. Wow I thought to myself again, a front scout and a rear guard. Watching as the covey fed. The birds stayed in the clearing feeding and every once in a while one of the scouts would come in and another would take its place in the woods, near where the other was but not quite the same spot I guessed this was for feeding reasons or maybe just personal preference of the individual birds. I watched as the birds milled around the area picking up seeds and the occasional bug, which were easy pickings due to the cold weather this morning when I noticed a few were missing. I watched as they left the clearing one or two at a time. When there were only a few left I heard a very quiet covey call and then here came the rear guard.

The birds then moved to the South in the woods where the scout was at and he joined them with the rear guard coming about 2 minutes later. I watched these birds move under a large oak and start picking at acorns the squirrels had cut, which Mr. or Mrs. squirrel highly objected to I might add, cussing them the whole time from its perch above. The little birds were as oblivious to it as they were the black capped chickadee which joined them at the outside of the loose circle they fed in. I had heard before a quail could only get the acorns that squirrels and other animals opened previously which I found out was wrong.

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Chapter 3: Memories

These little birds I had pursued for all my life nearly were great fun to watch as well as hunt behind a good dog I thought to myself . I began to reminisce some of the times we had with quail in the past. I recalled the first covey I flushed as a boy of only 4 while looking for snake skins and such in the woodlot behind our house. I remembered the look in my dads eye when I shot my first quail at 8 with the old Mossberg bolt action 20 gauge with the select a choke on the end of the barrel .I thought of the trips to Gradys, the Richards spread, the Private stock as we called it, the big ranch owned by the furniture tycoons from the city and many others to numerous to mention.

I thought of the dogs I had known and the pleasures they had brought and the trials and tribulations of owning bird dogs. The skunkings, the close calls with snakes, the porcupines and sore feet. I remembered Lady my Dad’s old pointer who I still judge a dog by. Sam the young Britt our butcher friend owned wild as the wind and never honored even after Lady whipped her once for busting a covey. Other dogs I remembered but only faces not the names, the black and white pointer who buried the quail in the creek bed, the young setter who despite outstanding lines was hard headed as any dog, the lemon pointer I just called missing since we rarely saw him except when he stopped to point amazing we never lost him.

My musings were interrupted suddenly by a loud call from the scout who was downwind of the covey and he took flight with the rest of the birds. I looked and saw the problem a coon was making its way down the tree from where he had bedded for the day disturbed I guessed by the noise being made below. I watched as the masked bandit made his way to the water hole and stared sniffing around ,he raised his head and sniffed the air with a look like where did they go , he walked around hunting furiously but gave up when he picked up no scent . The birds at least the nine I could see had gone to tree for protection this was no surprise as I had seen it before. No surprise at least till I realized that the birds responded totally different from the hawk. The coon was not giving up his pursuit any time soon it looked like so I figured I would get rid of him myself to help the birds out of this jam and future ones. I stood from my position and removed my mask, wishing I had brought my gun with me do dispatch him and end any possible predations on the nest, and away he went. When the coon saw my white face appear from the trees 10 feet from him you would have thought he had seen a ghost with a hissing squall he turned tail and ran like a scalded cat. And thus ended my day with covey four hours and twelve minutes had elapsed from the time I left the truck till I returned.

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Chapter 4: A New Respect for Ole Bob

I realized as I sat in my truck lighting a cigar and sipping coffee to warm myself I had just experienced something few ever will and I maybe never would again. The most surprising thing was all this happened no further than fifty yards from where I first saw the birds cross the road that morning in the cold winds that blew. I have hunted Quail in woods such as these since I was a boy but never before had I been so close to my quarry for so long in such intimate settings. Never before had I been able to watch the habits of the small brown bird pursued by so many hunters including myself for so many years.

That day I came away with a new respect for our little friends a feeling of what its like to be a quail and what I would go through everyday. I watched teamwork between birds as the three who chased the grasshopper demonstrated. I watched hierarchies like the big hen that ran the young rooster from “her spot” on the woodpile. My biggest fear is that some day a future country boy may ask ,what’s a quail Grandpa? and all Gramps will be able to do is get an old book out with a bird dog on the cover open its dog eared pages and tell his grandson. . Believe it or not son these birds used to be all over the place then they just went away, with a tear in his eye as he whistles the baleful BOB, BOBWHITE he recalls from so long ago.

Duane Maness

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DennyB

I have been thinking of him alot lately and I don't know why

In my younger years, you could say we never saw eye to eye

But on the night they told me my mother had died

My little brother said "Denny, he just sat down and cried"

We became a little closer then, this old man and I

But then came the day that I had to say "Goodbye"

And go to a strange land, to fight and perhaps die

We exchanged letters over that year

But it was plain to see that the gap between us  

Would always be there

When I came home on that cold winters night, he didn't day

"Hi"  He just wanted to fight

"You had no business over there" he exclaimed

There it was, again, the wall that caused me such pain

But I tried to understand him and after awhile

We came to love each other, each in our own style

The years flew by, and with kids of my own

I never returned to the place I once called home

Then came the day, so very long ago, my little brother said

"Denny, they say its his time to go"

On a sunny October day we sat with him and watched him die

And I think of him alot lately and I don't know why

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Alan Briere

The Season

It's only early-January, but it's impossible not to think of the coming fishing season. The real season, the one with green leaves and a sun that actually climbs above the treetops. The one that presents a bit more benevolent deference for one who has frostbitten his fingers and toes often enough to understand the pleasures a cat enjoys, as it migrates across the living room floor at the speed of window pane sunbeams. That season when you needn’t worry about slipping hazards until you actually reach the water. The word creeper is supposed to be preceded by the word brown and mean "a small woodland bird." Not with the word ice, which means "if these aren't on your boots, the little birds will be circling over your head as you rub your elbows, and lie flat on your back."

I respect ice fishers. I respect most of the outdoor sporting faithful. I'm not a big fan of ice fishing though; the frozen fingers and feet, bundled up in layers so thick that merely moving should qualify one for Olympic medal honors. Who in their right mind would encumber themselves with so much outerwear as to resemble the Michelin man with a thyroid problem?

It's not an issue if your selected transport is a snow machine, or other horsepowered device to haul your person and gear from place to place. But for those of us relying on two foot drive, and only one back on which to carry all the necessities for an enjoyable day walking on water, albeit frozen; an afternoon sorting fly gear on the living room floor seems preferable.

Most of the sporting journals I read indicate that the preferred lunch for a day on a petrified pond is venison, and I'm thankful that I can satisfy that requirement this year. But wouldn't the steak be just as delicious grilled out on the deck? If the ice makes that much difference, I can always add some cubes to a glass of bourbon.

I've admired the stoic presence of committed hard water fishermen. You stare out across the glaring plain and there they are; insulated specks peering into ten inch holes in the vast expanse. I'm told that the new age of "bob" houses provides for all the comforts of home. But somehow I could never find the similarity between carrying an armload of firewood into the woodstove in the living room, and hauling the wood, the living room, and the stove, a half mile or more across a frozen lake. There is the argument that there are no phones out on the ice, but with the popularity of cell phones among outdoor adventurers, that is likely not a very convincing factor. I would probably experience the same benefit by unplugging the phone cord from the wall jack. One unique advantage to the cell phone that I had not considered is the possibility of calling out for pizza, to be delivered to the temporary water-top dwelling.

Perhaps it is the ethereal elements of the warm weather fishing that holds the fascination for me. The sounds and feel of the energized water as it curls about your legs; the atavistic surge of adrenaline when you suddenly discover that the midstream channel is chest deep rather than thigh. The intangible elements become vital; the call of the warblers in the forest, or the inspiration of the osprey circling overhead, reaffirming your selection of this stretch of river. Your senses are awash in the redolence of the pines and the whispering of aspen leaves undulating gently on invisible zephyrs. All of these contribute to the satisfaction of time along the river.

Perhaps I prefer the similarity to still hunting. Where are they, what are they feeding on? The search for the trout hiding places; eddies, pocket water, the long riffles and deep pools connect me to the trout in a way that other fishing methods don't approach. There is expectancy built into each cast, as if all the possibilities the river holds are concentrated within casting distance. The rhythmic wave of the fly rod synchronized to the patterns of nature's eternal performance. For a time you are a willing collaborator in an elemental crusade.

Your worldly possessions are reduced to the few items you have specifically selected for this day, this river, and these trout. The numerous pockets of the fishing vest allow for far more gear than you need, so leave a few pockets empty for the souvenirs you will accumulate. The wood duck feathers clinging lightly to a log at the edge of a quiet backwater, the rare deer antler tinged green with age and aquatic algae, a beautifully polished pebble of marble or quartz. Perhaps even a small set of fisherman's pliers, or a bottle of fly floatant mysteriously vanished from another angler's vest.

The visual souvenirs are the best, and the most numerous. The sight of a Heron lifting out of the water as you round a bend; the silver explosive wake of a family of Mergansers as they race upriver. The alert angler may actually see the coiled water snake before it explodes out of the grass at his feet, and the muskrat that mystically transforms into a mink as it climbs a midstream boulder to show off its white throat patch. Most of all, the sudden flash of the trout as they tilt for nymphs carried in the current, briefly catching the sun's rays and catapulting them skyward again. Suddenly the world around you disappears into the promise of the cast, a drag free drift, and the moment of suspense as the trout rises to investigate your offering. The white lining of the salmonid’s mouth visible for just an instant, until . . . ?

Ahhh . . . The Season!

Alan Briere

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Andrew Lam

My Team

The first time I heard about her, it was from Bob. Said he and Lindsay had a new dog, a little 18 month old black lab. I was happy for him, and happy that he thought he might have a hunting dog. Not long after Sam had joined Bob’s family, I was asked to housesit. The first time we met I was taken aback—this dog had energy! Wow, she was off the walls. But she would fetch a bumper like nobody’s business.

    Bob and I would have late-night drinking sessions back then. His wife had gone to bed, and as long as we were quiet, we would shoot the breeze until early morning. And during a few of those late nights, that dog that is actually a chocolate lab would snuggle up right next to me.

    I have always wanted a hunting dog. In my younger years, I read and reread all of the Jim Kjelgard books. I didn’t care if I had an Irish Setter, a retriever, or even a hound. And Bob knew this. He gave me Sam, and even before she became mine an unbreakable bond was formed. I finally had my birddog, and everything soon revolved around her.

    I took her everywhere. She was gentle and sweet when I took her to the nursing home where my mom works. She behaved herself when we went to the sporting goods store to buy some training gear. And I’ll never forget the day at the dog park when she retrieved her Dokken pheasant dummy for hours for a busload of developmentally disabled children. “She’s got a chicken!” one young boy squealed. They each waited patiently (for kids) for their turn, and Sam would jump down the riverbank, swim across the creek, find her “chicken” and retrieve to hand. Seeing the joy she brought those kids is something I will never forget.

    We had some big obstacles to get through during her initial training. She didn’t want to leave my side. Her first family had sent her to obedience boot camp, and although I am glad she heels on command, it was tough to let her know that it’s ok to run around. Luckily, the state park located just minutes from my home has a pretty healthy population of wild ringnecks. We would take long walks through the cover, and eventually she found her first pheasant. I think she was more startled than that bird. I gave her lots of love for that, and she was starting to catch on. I knew she was turning into a hunting dog one snowy day. She started to follow some tracks, and because I could see the tracks, I knew she was on a bird. She ranged out a little, and I could she wasn’t scenting on the ground anymore. Her nose was working in the air, and as she worked around a patch of brush, her body slowed down and her tail started going wild. She froze for a second, something like a flash point, and dove in. A pair of hens flushed, and I beamed. She wouldn’t even come back to me for some praise, because she went back to work.

    She has been by my side from day one. She has covered miles of CRP and stubble with me, as well as miles of mountainous blue grouse cover. And as of recently, she is becoming accustomed to watching decoys with me for long periods of time with little or no action. I posted a question on a bird hunting forum asking for help in dealing with her behavior in the duck blind, and nearly every response was telling me to use physical force to curb her restlessness. Since that post, I took her out four times, and hooking her to a lead that was around my waist seemed to drastically reduce her poor behavior. She was pretty content to quietly watch the skies with me, and her whining was almost non-existent. She is far from a polished game dog, but if she doesn’t go duck hunting, I don’t go.

    My dog Sam is turning out all right. She’ll find upland birds, fetch up all kinds of birds, and will usually listen to me. She’s not quite three years old, but has already fulfilled all of my dreams. She lives for me, and although I sometimes wonder why, I won’t give up on that brown dog.

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Andrew Lam
All these stories about losing great dogs made me appreciate what I have now.

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insanelupus

A bit of explanation is due here.  I wrote this for my father, almost 10 years ago now, for Father's Day.  He asked me to write the date on it.  Other than that, while appreciative, as a gift, he didn't act like it was much.

Three days ago, I got an email from him, with a copy of the poem scanned in.  It was dated, the only reason I knew when it was written, as I'd remembered writing it, but barely remembered giving it to him.  But it was the email that accompanied the scanned copy that took me by surprise.  My father lost his father this past spring, and it was this poem in which my father, sent me a thank you.  He had found it, folded up and put away in his drawer where he stowed all things, he wasn't sure what to do with, (i.e. a junk drawer we called it).  A very emotional email accompanied the scanned image, explaining how humbled he had been upon reading it a second time, ten years later, and how a) thankful he was that it had been given to him, b) how he hoped he was worthy of it, and c) an indication of how much influence he had truly been on all three of us kids.  I've written many things, many, honestly, a bit better than this, and while I've had many reactions to my writings in the past, none have ever meant so much to me, as that email from my father.  

Papa, What Is A Man?

Just the other day,

I heard a boy ask his dad.

“Papa, can you tell me,

What really makes a man?”

And I had to smile

And laugh just a little.

Out of this boy,

Came an age old riddle.

I heard the father,

As he answered his son.

“Son, a man is a person,

Who gets the job done.

He holds his head high,

Sits tall in the saddle.

He’s always the one,

To fight his own battle.

He is never too proud,

To admit when he’s wrong.

Someday you’ll understand,

Now, you’re just too young.”

The boys eyes filled with tears,

He grabbed his dad and said,

“Papa, I’m glad I’ve a father,

That I can call a man.”

His father looked down,

And smiled at his son,

The father then knew,

A boy is never too young.

-N.A.

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StormsGSP

The Impossible Wish

Birds chirp and peck at the ground in a never-ending search for food. The bees buzz about, pausing for a moment, then dive bomb a flower, searching it intensely for any signs of nectar.  We are lying side by side, fingers interlocked underneath our heads which are raised to the warming sun. With my rod at my side, line hanging limply in the water, I stroke the smooth cork grip.  The early morning fishing escapade had began at five. A large, weathered, calloused hand had woken me gently; my Grandpa’s shining face greeted my weary eyes.  Rods, tackle, and bag lunches in hand, we walk to the special spot: Behind the old barn, through a stand of cedar trees, one hundred yards past the stump where the old gopher always was, left of the fallen tree that looks like a crocodile, and then a step through the wall of vines and leaves that conceal the perfect spot. There, Mother Earth’s uncut grass forms the perfect mat. The bank with a slight downgrade to the pond is the perfect place to lie with my grandpa: providing a view of the rising sun, and the shade of a weary willow, and of course it’s just a rods length from the crystal-clear water’s edge.  

Having cast the smelly bait, I lean back and close my eyes, all the while feeling the nicked monofilament line between the pointer finger and thumb of my right hand.  My grandpa, glasses perched masterfully on his nose, ties a long perfected Uni-knot.  His worm, alive, squirms as it flies in the air towards the mirror-like water. The mirror is shattered, the worm having landed with a plop, followed by the smack of the orange and yellow bobber.  Grandpa reclines now, winking at me, sure of the action to come.  We haven’t spoken yet; words would only sour a moment as special as this.  A muscular buck with antlers like ivory towers appears warily from the brush on the other side of the pond.  Approaching water’s edge, the elegant animal drinks the refreshing mountain water.  

After the buck leaves, I slowly lean my head back on the matted grass.  The line, forgotten between my fingers, tugs some.  I look over at him and nod slightly.  We talk without speaking.  I slowly grasp the worn brown cork handle and wait for the next bite.  It comes still stronger, but I patiently persist.  Finally the fish bites into the bait, having verified its authenticity.  I pull back the rod and set the hook firmly.  The rod tip bends suddenly like a limber dancer beginning a routine.  The reel buzzes like a bee as the fish pulls line off the reel.  I pump and reel, pump and reel, just as he taught me to do so long ago.  Soon a defeated rainbow trout surfaces close to the bank.  Minutes later there is a trout in my hands with colors so brilliant that they put a rainbow to shame.  I admire the fat fish’s beauty as it slides back into the water and glides away with one wave of the colored tail.

Casting again, I go back to my spot, wondering how that lunker compared to some of my Grandpa’s fish. As if on cue, he clears his throat, ushering in silence. The birds stop chirping and the bees stop buzzing, for they too want to hear what will certainly be a great story.  He proceeds to take up the next fishless hour regaling me with stories of fish so big that he would have had to use a fish like the one I had caught for bait.  He has more stories than one can imagine, and not enough time to tell them all. His mouth tells the story of how he fought in the Korean War at age sixteen; his hands tell the stories of years outdoors, his eyes tell the stories of the struggles of an aging man.

With the sun directly overhead, and only one fish caught, we tear open our lunch bags with youthful enthusiasm. Sandwiches, chips, and fresh lemonade come with a side of more fishing stories. We finish eating and scour the area for any trash we might have left. Full, we reel in our lines to change the bait.  While our hands work deftly, my Grandpa tells me how sometimes blue heron carry a feather in their beak while they wade through the shallow water looking for fish. They will then drop the feather and wait for a fish to come and nibble at it, and when the unsuspecting fish does nibble, the heron will strike. In awe, I wonder what other amazing facts he knows.

Carrying our rods, we venture to find a different spot. Although the pond is only three acres, there are still plenty of good fishing spots.  We settle down to a promising clover filled patch, overlooking a shallow area teeming with lily pads. We cast and rest against the apple trees behind us that are laden with succulent shiny spheres that we can’t resist picking. We bite into the crunchy apples, sending bits of spray everywhere.  Finished, we drop the cores at our sides, which are quickly inspected by ants. Fish start to tug at our lines, testing the bait.  In three stories time we both have caught and released a couple of fish. Checking the sun, Grandpa decides it’s about time to head home. We pack up and head to the place where we entered. Before breaking through the vines and thick foliage that hides our spot from the rest of the world, I look back and see the beauty of a world untouched by man.  He silently gestures that we have to hustle back.

I awake then, but don’t open my eyes because it usually ends this way.  I think about it often, and wish for it even more: time to spend with the Grandpa that I am so like, who I know I would love so much, but who died two years before I was born. I sigh because I know that, like most of my desires, this one, the one I want most, can’t ever come true.

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brian lengling

I dug this one out to share...Myfirst real bird dog

Belle

    1988  -  2003

The sun was sinking ever faster toward the horizon, the sky ablaze with orange, pink and red and I was sitting, my back against the tall sugar maple, my hand scratching her behind the ears as she lay beside me. The last of the coffee, though barely warm after a day in the thermos still tasted good and I smiled to myself as remembered the days beginning.

The ferns were still glistening with the early morning dew in the sunshine. My setter Parker was on a point in the alder thicket along the creek. Belle, my springer, ambled by my side ever the faithful companion. It was a familiar and comfortable scene that played out more and more frequently for me. At the sight of Parker on point, Belle once again transformed into the bird dog she once was, her stubby tail becoming a blur as she smelled the bird.. I quietly heeled her, for it was Parker's bird and after thirteen seasons of hunting she understood, but that didn't make it any easier for her.

Belle came to be with me fourteen years earlier. A chubby ball of liver and white, the last of the litter, I didn't even have to make a choice. I had been wanting a bird dog for several years by then and after buying the old farm of twenty acres and finally moving in, I was ready to get a dog. I was an impatient young man back then and when I decided to get a dog, I went out and bought the first dog I found. Her parents hunted and they managed to get a few birds every year and that was fine with me. We dickered on the price and settled on one hundred and fifty dollars and I took her home and named her "Belle".

Armed with little more than a book on how to train a gun dog and a strong desire, I embarked on what would prove to be an adventure. Belle became a fairly good bird dog and traveled with me on my many quests for different upland game. In time she would learn to handle a variety of birds as she was a quick learner. She was not without her faults and when game was scarce she would hunt rabbits or mice. Once in a while she would sneak off and hunt a bird for herself, usually a pheasant. I believe she thought it was great sport to chase a rooster through the corn and I would watch as the bird launched itself at the end of the row, some hundreds of yards away. She would do this once and then return and hunt for me the rest of the day. I would scold and admonish her when she returned while I secretly reveled in the thought of what was going through that rooster's mind as she gave chase.

She was a veteran of many types of birds and the country they were found in. Grouse and woodcock in the thickets of Wisconsin and Michigan. Pheasants and Hungarian Partridge of South Dakota's farm belt, sharptails and prairie chickens further west on her grasslands. In Kansas we found Bobwhite quail. She learned to handle them all and many were the day  I walked back to the truck pleasantly burdened by a full game bag.

Belle has a heart as big as the country she hunts. I thought she was inexhaustible until one December day in South Dakota. We were four days into a five-day hunt and it snowed the night before, leaving us trudging through about eight inches of new snow. We hunted hard and my tail was dragging as I marveled how Belle just kept going and going when all of a sudden she just stopped and lies down on the tractor path. I called and she just stayed there, refusing to budge. As I walked up to her, I could see her panting and the look of fatigue in her eyes. My heart sank as I realized I may have hunted her beyond her limits. I handed my father in-law my gun, bent down and picked her up carrying her back to the truck.

Back at the motel, I brought her in and set her on the bed and there she stayed all night refusing to budge, still panting. All through the evening and into that night she lie there. I was next to her and for most of the night, sleep refused to come for me because I feared she was going to die. Later, I drifted off to sleep and in the morning awoke to find her nuzzling my side bright eyed and eager to hunt once more. After that day I have been careful with all my dogs to watch for the little tell tale signs of fatigue.

Belle is a tough old dog all right.  She has grit, real grit as they said in the old westerns. She ruled the farmyard with her deputy "Squeek" a rat terrier. The two of them would challenge anyone and anything that came up the drive. On a fine spring day the UPS truck came up the drive. He dropped off a package at the door and headed back to the truck. When my wife opened the door to retrieve the package, the two dogs flew out the door. To make a long story short, the end result was the truck backed over Belle crushing her foot and degloveing the skin on her leg up past the elbow. Belle lost two toes and half the pad on her foot. The vet managed to get her skin back down to her foot and stitched it backed together. A week of daily visits to change bandages, drain tubes and to check her progress was followed by three more weekly visits and then a couple of months recuperation. Belle, it seemed, would survive despite her injuries and the indignity of having to wear that infernal collar shaped like a funnel to keep her from chewing at her bandages.

I coaxed Belle thru rehabilitation with the hope that she might still be able to hunt on a limited basis. By the time fall came around, I was confident she could hunt at least part of the day. Boy was I wrong! There was no holding her back, she wanted nothing more than to go, go, go!I had to fit her damaged foot with a boot for protection and she required buffered aspirin both  morning and evening, for she was going to have arthritis in her leg for the rest of her life, but there was no doubt though, Belle wanted to hunt.

Belle hunted for seven more years, but one year after the accident I acquired Parker my setter and Belle seemed happy for the company and they fast became friends. They made an odd but an effective team, when, at times I hunted them together. Some would argue against hunting a flushing dog and a pointer together but it worked and I had many an enjoyable day watching them work together. They were the dynamic duo when hunting pheasants among cattail sloughs. Parker would point a bird at the edge of the cattails and then Belle would burrow in and under the cattails to flush the bird out. They would share retrieving duties and never fought over birds.

Belle was smart also. She learned what a beeper collar was and what it meant when it changed to point mode. She would hear it beep "point" and home in on the collar in hopes of a chance to flush or at least a retrieve. She was also near sighted, always giving up a woof or a growl to anyone no matter how well she knew them, until they were close enough to recognize.  Those who hunted with her knew to say something so she would recognize their voice before she could identify them by sight.

Belle is thirteen now and old age and hunting have taken their toll. Bad hips, arthritis and cataracts have brought her hunting days to an end and she is living her final days in retirement. Belle still makes a fine companion and also retains a special place in my heart, which brings me back to the beginning of the story with Parker on point and Belle at heel.

Parker's tail was high and her hind quarters shivered with excitement. Two dogs, my physical presence and my voice were more than the bird could take and it flushed, then another one, a millisecond later. The gun came up, barked once, then once again as two small brown objects fell to earth. Belle broke and with more enthusiasm than she had shown in a long time made her way to the woodcock nearest her as Parker retrieved the other. She picked up the bird and with great show, paraded in a large circle with it before coming before me and dropping it at my feet. I tussled her behind the ears and praised her effusively as Parker presented me with the other bird. It was one of those magic moments that come along all too infrequently in an upland gunner's life.

Brought back from my reverie by a chill gust of a breeze and the rapidly fading light. I rose to my feet as Belle struggled to hers and I was struck by a pang in my heart as I realized how few hunts Belle had left in her. The sad truth is, that was Belle's last hunt and retrieve. The next day her mobility was greatly reduced. She can barely manage the stairs to go outside now and when she can no longer negotiate them I am afraid I will have to put her down. Dogs can bring so much joy to ones life yet in the end there is a sadness as they depart our world. For me the pluses transcend the minuses and I hope to have dogs until it is my turn to leave this place

Belle left today for wherever old dogs go, she would have been 15 in November. Maybe when I leave I will find her on the road to Tinkemtown. I do know I will miss her and that's why I wrote the story on the next post and keep it in my journal. I wrote it last winter remembering that special day.  Fortunately I still have Parker and a new Setter who goes by the name Toni to keep me company in the grouse coverts of Wisconsin and to wherever my travels will take me.

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Andrew Lam

Jan. 7, 2006

What It’s All About

Some people have wives or girlfriends that don’t allow them to hunt and fish all of the time. Some people have more important priorities, or jobs that don’t allow them to hunt or fish all of the time. I don’t. Hunting has never gotten old to me. I can hunt or fish every day of the year without getting burned out.

    To an outsider, it may seem I lack drive or ambition. Or that I don’t have goals, or at least a long-term goal. Not so. I may not care a lot about paying bills, or setting money aside for retirement, but I care a whole lot about shooting a duck tomorrow. Truthfully, I’m not that great of a hunter. I might get burned out if I shot a limit every time. To be fair to myself, I shoot birds sometimes. But my failures are what make me obsessed about succeeding. When I started hunting blue grouse, I was bad at it. I kept at it, though, ignoring family and friends, only answering my phone if there was a potential hunting partner calling, and hoarding money for gas. I eventually found really reliable grouse coverts, and saw enough birds to hit a couple. I now am confident that I will see grouse when I hunt them, and that’s what it’s all about.

    Pheasant hunting is another story. My state of Colorado has very poor pheasant hunting. And I rarely drive the extra two hours to get to areas with better numbers. But I hunted pheasants relentlessly for the past three seasons. If I were a decent shot, I would have recorded a few limits. But those birds are tough, dammit, and that’s what it’s all about.

    Hunting ducks has become my obsession this year. I have almost given up on Colorado pheasant, and I own all the gear necessary to hunt them. So it’s only natural that I start hunting a bird that requires an extra garage for all of the gear. I started the year with my fishing waders and my Carrhart. Quickly I had myself a nice camo jacket. And after the day of hunting where the high temperature was a single digit, I had myself a nice pair of 5mm neoprene bootfoot waders with 600 grams of thinsulate. In camo, of course. I also acquired two dozen borrowed decoys, a dozen of my own, and a dozen goose shells that Bob broke down and bought. I also have a single-reed mallard call, a short-reed goose call, a drake mallard/teal whistle, a shaker feeding call, and a new dog whistle. I am dangerously close to buying a new Benelli Nova shotgun in camo, because the ducks must be seeing my non-camo Remington. I am also close to buying my dog a camo vest, and maybe a camo dog blind.

    But I still have yet to shoot a duck. At first, we were hunting the river when we should have been hunting lakes and ponds. Then we were hunting the river when there just weren’t any ducks flying. And just a few days ago, on a marathon duck hunting weekend, just after sunrise, the ducks came. They surprised me, because they didn’t fly over me. They came in low, and the first three cupped and prepared for landing. I sent three shots of number 4 steel in the general vicinity of the ducks, but none fell. After I shot, I noticed more than a dozen greenheads flare from across the river. But I’ll be back tomorrow, more than an hour before sunrise, and this time Bob will be there, who can really shoot. And that’s what it’s all about.

    It took me an entire year to be able to fish with a fly rod. I went into the sport the right way. A great rod, reel, and fly line. I knew all the knots before I ever went out. I bought the right flies, and fished during good hatches. And, eventually, I caught a fish. And I learned how to nymph correctly. And my obsession turned to catching trout on flies I tied myself. And after I had a handle on trout, I turned to bass. And I fished a nearby reservoir relentlessly, until I could consistently catch bass with a fly rod. I started taking other people fishing, and I made a little money doing something I love.

    And I would tell every fishing story I had to my dad, and I would mail pictures of my big fish to my grandfather, which he put on the bulletin board in the nursing home. And that’s what it’s all about.

    I did the same thing with ice fishing. I got sick of fishing elbow-to-elbow in the popular tailwaters in the winter, and honestly, I kind of missed fishing with bait. Ice fishing became such a regular activity for me that I began to notice the regulars at the lake. One old timer would come out against the advice of his entire family, and he would chip out old holes other people drilled the day before. At least until I got to know him. All I have is a hand auger, but on several occasions I drilled a bunch of holes for him, in good spots. Something to do when the fish weren’t biting, and it warmed me up. And seeing how this old timer hadn’t lost his spark is what it’s all about.

    Getting a dog, and teaching her to find and fetch birds is what’s all about. Seeing the dog climb up a pile of boulders with a grouse, catching her watching the big Vs of geese in the air, seeing her get birdy in a tall patch of CRP, and her being the only dog to find the pheasant Luke shot on opening day. I guess it can be a number of things, but it winds up the same at the end, which, you guessed it, is what it’s all about.

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