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insanelupus

Recent comments from friends and family brought this about.  The wife enjoyed it.  She doesn't always understand why, but she does understand it is important.  Sometimes I'm afraid that I take her understanding for granted.  So I took some time to write a thank you and explanation.  Just curious if others have done the same trying to explain it to their spouses who may on occasion just shake their head and smile when the conversation turns to hunting (as it usually does in any amount of mixed company).

My Darling Wife,

I take occasion now to put into words the thoughts that have mulled through my mind in the last several months.  Comments that friends and acquaintances have made have not passed by my ears unheard, concerning the fact, that with every day off and occasion to do so, I am often found out in the mountains or in the valleys hunting, or on rare occasion fishing.  I know that it seems like these hunting seasons are many and often.  And even when the seasons are not open, that I am perpetually readying myself, my equipment and my dog for the next open season.  It is true that often my conversations turn to dogs, guns and hunting, the habits of the animals that I hunt, and all the newest information and fads concerned with the hunting sports.  After these years of marriage, I also realize with a thankful heart, how understanding you are to me and my ways to allow me to pursue this passion, or perhaps better worded, obsession, with nary a gripe, bitch or moan about it all, even encouraging me at times to go do this thing I enjoy so much.  I’m not sure that I’ll ever fully be able to explain all that is involved with my “hobby” as some folks call it, but I will attempt to, so that you now and our children in the future, may read this and perhaps glimpse something of an insight into what drives me so much to hunt.

First let me assure you, it is not an escape from you whatsoever, no matter what it is that you may hear others say.  You are, now and always, the very most important portion of my life.  You are the very definition of happiness in my life, even when we have our problems, trials and tribulations, never once do I regret the day I married you or the time we spend together.  Yes, I know I do work a lot, and with the both of us working, matching our schedules to see one another is difficult.  But those nights, when I come home from the field, tired and happy, there are no words to express the meaning and stirring in my soul when I look to see the lights on inside the house, the smoke rising form the chimney, and to see your smiling face, your gorgeous eyes hopeful and the excitement matching that of a child’s when you ask, “Did you get anything?”  There is something wholesome and meaningful to me that I can not describe, knowing when I’ve been out in the bitter cold, having walked many miles, my legs sore and ready for a rest, knowing that you will be home to greet me when I arrive.  And on those nights when I camp out, I love talking to you on the cell phone and telling you about my day, what I’ve seen and how I did, how well the dog worked and the pictures I took.  I would like nothing more at that point than to have you beside me in camp, to just share the silence of the night and the darkness of the sky.

My father hunted before me, and when he could, his father before him hunted as well.  It is probably one of the best things I have to relate to my father.  Even as a teenager, when life can be difficult for both parent and child alike, hunting season and hunting days were the best out of the year.  I never worked as hard as my grandfather, and I was never smart enough to run a farm or ranch like he was, but one thing he saw and noticed in me, was my ability to hunt.  And it was this thing we had in common that the last few years of his life we spoke of so often.  He enjoyed hearing of my hunting exploits, and he would tell me hunting story or two even my father had not heard.  My cousin, who is more like an uncle to me, is also a hunter and sharing a camp with him was a privilege I will never forget.  Sitting beside him in the mountains and hearing an elk bugle was like a music lover hearing Baach or Beethoven for the very first time.  I was there when my little brother shot his first deer, oh how proud he was.  I and a family friend had pushed that doe to him, and they went just like I said they would, he made a darn good shot too.  He was so excited it was all he could do to stay in the stand until I got there.  I helped him track the first deer he wounded and taught him a few things about tracking.  I was the first one there, when he put his first buck on the ground, and I’ve never seen a young man swagger so much in my life.  There are so many memories for me when I go hunting, like driving down a street you used to grow up on, or talking to an old friend about old times, where the memories make you smile and a small part of you wishes you can relive them again.  That’s part of it for me, every time I get out of that truck with a tag in my pocket and a weapon in my hand, I’m not only making new memories, I’m reliving old ones as well.

As a hunter I also find hunting to be a perpetual challenge, not only do I follow the applicable game laws, but each season I make a goal for myself, and always try to follow the rules of fair chase.  Out there, alone, there is only one person to rely on, win loose or draw the responsibility is solely  on my shoulders to meander the mountains and hills to return safe and sound.  Knowing that you are not the top animal on the food chain is both an exciting and humbling experience, but a thrilling one to have.  Hunting is an evolution of the maturity of a human being.  In the beginning the only thing that matters is filling a tag, later on, the trophy becomes the important thing, but eventually a hunter learns to hunt for the pure and simple pleasure of the hunt.  Some of the best days I’ve spent afield, have often been the same days I came home empty handed.  I still enjoy hunting for the trophy, but trophies are relevant, it may be the doe I shot at 15 yards while she watched me walk right up on her as she was bedded down.  Or the buck I shot with my handgun the first time.  The first pheasant that I shoot, with one shot, over a staunch point, and a delivered to hand retrieve will be one of my finest trophies, not to mention the first bull elk that I am lucky enough to anchor, regardless of how many points he has.  As you’ve heard me say many times, the value of a man and the prowess of a hunter, are not judged by trophies upon a wall.

But even these things do not wholly describe what it is that drives me towards my obsession.  And I’m afraid that a portion of the reason for my passion is far less tangible, and much more difficult to describe.  It is simply the feeling in my soul, the way that my soul breathes as it does in no other way.  To wander the outdoors, the wind  and water your symphony, the rocks and mountains your stage, and knowing that  you stand there alone in that one spot in time, it is simply freedom.  Freedom from all else that in this world concerns me, there I am in my element.  It is here that I can melt into the scenery, not being in it but becoming a part of it.  There, standing in this awesome world that God created, I feel a purpose and reason for being, life is simple and the world just is, no bad, no good, simply life.  Every sense I have becomes multiplied, I can smell the fresh damp earth that sprouts the spring mushrooms, I can feel the humidity from the nearby lake upon my skin, I can hear the drum of the distant grouse and I can see the tiny chipmunk in the pile of brush that tries so vainly to hide.  It is there that I belong.  Have you ever gazed into the sky, after the moon has risen, and seen so close to the moon, a star, that isn’t part of the moon, nor is it truly part of the body of the stars?  That is how I feel when I walk the streets of a town or city, or sit in a crowded group of people making polite conversation.  Sure, they are things I can do with confidence, but always I feel as if I somehow just don’t quite belong.  But in the timber, where I can stroll making little more sound than a grazing deer, I don’t just see that star in the sky, but I see the whole sky, and there the moon and stars all belong together, the same as myself in the woods.  

And I suppose, in a way, the last reason I choose to hunt is one of fairly selfish privilege.  In those towns where I have lived, thousands of people enter art galleries and museums, hoping to catch a glimpse of the greatest works of art that have ever been seen.  And while I will admit there are some remarkably talented people in this world, none have ever equaled the things I have seen in the woods.  No one can paint the full, silver, October moon as beautiful as it truly is.  And a sunrise leveling off over the cloud cover of the valley below, while sitting on a frosted mountaintop, no words could ever do it justice, let alone any painting.  The brilliance of a million sparkling ice crystals lining a trail just stomped out by a heard of elk, the steam rising from their nostrils, their panting, heaving, buckskins sides and the pregnant snow laden branches of a ponderosa pine, all these are things that can be seen in one fleeting glimpse.  Secluded water falls that burst forth from a rock face, cascading down a few dozen feet land in a large pool, there to be tamed and trickled on down the rock bed stream, so soothing and calming, is like a massage for the mind.  The rocketing colors of a pheasant, shooting out of hip high golden wheat, from under the nose of a wide eyed trembling dog, with the mountains in the background purple and hazy, this must have been what was meant when the words “Purple mountains majesty…” were penned.  

There are those times when I come home, the quarry which I sought is in my vehicle.  And be it large or small, there is some sadness and a reverence for this life that I have taken, that I may consume it’s flesh, hopefully to the well being of my body.  It gives me no great pleasure to snuff the life of another living creature, and the older I get the more difficult in some ways it becomes.  I always try to make sure that the death is swift and as painless as I can possibly make it, given the circumstances.  But there is a responsibility in having the power to take life so easily and I do not take that lightly.  But in the end, part of being a hunter means that you are a killer of living, breathing, creatures.  This, by the very definition of the word is what is required, without the death, I’d only be a hiker, or photographer, there are no catch and release hunting situations.  But this to has a meaning in my life, for it puts food upon our table, it taught me as a youngster, and will hopefully to our children, that self reliance is possible.  It is only just recently that our culture has tried to demonize the hunter and the role that he plays.  In other civilizations and cultures, the hunter was highly revered for his skills and it was these skills that also taught him to be a warrior.  Perhaps, the genetic code of a hunter is more deeply engrained in some of us than others, I do not know.  But I do know that this too makes me who I am, teaching me my strengths, skills, weaknesses and limitations.  

In the end though, I suppose that I will never fully be able to convey what it is that seems to drive me to pursue this activity I enjoy so much.  Perhaps the day will come when I can place the right combination of words upon this page to explain it.  Until then, I am eternally thankful, that you understand ,that it is simply a part of me and a way of life that I must pursue, to maintain my sanity and happiness.  And for this I thank and love you, for it is in no small way a truly great gift, that so very few men are able to enjoy from their wives.  

With Love,

Your Husband

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Don Steese

   

    My wife and I were sitting at the cabin the other morning enjoying our morning coffee when a small bird flew into the glass on the front door with a loud "thunk". We looked out onto the front deck and, sure enough, there he lay on his back, still twitching a bit. We felt badly for him but held out some hope for his possible recovery. (Sometimes they're just badly stunned.) After ten minutes or so, I looked out again. He had righted himself and was looking sort of like he was trying to get his bearings. I finished my coffee and headed out to grab the water jugs and head to the spring for some water. I mentioned to my wife that I'd use the back door so as not to disturb the little guy and asked her to please keep Maggie away from him while I was gone. If he were still there when I returned I'd use the back door again. Well as I passed him, he flew away as if nothing had ever happened! I was delighted and told my wife how happy I was to see him fly off. Although she didn't say it, I know what she was thinking, because she'd mentioned it on many times before. "How can you care so much about birds but yet think nothing of killing them?"

    That's not a valid question, because the premise on which the question is based is incorrect. I do kill birds, but I don't, "think nothing of it!" I think of it a lot. I think a lot about the fact that I kill other living creatures; an act that is engaged in by relatively few and is deemed unacceptable by many others. I think about it a lot; and no, I'll likely never quit...hunting or thinking.

    Do hunters enjoy killing? Some do, I suppose. Most I've known, don't. Most have never killed an animal that they didn't feel a bit sorry for. Most folks I enjoy hunting with would like to be able to "throw them back", like we do when we're fishing. The guys I regularly hunt with are animal lovers and naturalists. They don't have to consult their "Great American Bird Book" to identify the birds that fly by the cabin.I'd bet that my hunting friends and I think about killing a lot more than others who are responsible for the deaths of other living creatures. Let's cite some examples.

    How much do you think the developer thinks about the wild creatures he'll be responsible for killing when he builds one more shopping center on what was prime wetland? After all, we do need one more shopping center.....don't we? Besides, look at all the jobs he's creating..not to mention the money he's making.

    How much do you think the road builders think about the wild creatures they'll end up killing when they build that new super-highway through what was once prime wildlife habitat. People do need a new super-highway....don't they? Besides, construction workers need jobs.

    When that yuppie hits a deer while speeding down that new super-highway in his BMW, do you think the first thing that comes to his mind is guilt because he's killed one of God's creatures? I'd bet his first thought is how much damage was done to the Beemer! Some would argue that hitting a deer with a car is different, because Mr. Yuppie didn't really mean to do it. Tell that to the deer. Bet he doesn't really care much about the intent.

    When the lumber company uses every means at their disposal to eradicate the deer herd on their timber land. Do they think much about the living creatures they're killing? More likely they're thinking about board-feet, market prices for lumber, and the like. Besides, lumberjacks have to feed their families and people need houses and baseball bats and other wooden stuff.

    How much do you think those people from New York City thought about how they would be impacting wildlife when they decided that an hour-and-a-half commute was a small price to pay for a nice new home in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania? When the black bear had to be destroyed because it was a danger to their neighborhood; (which was, really, the bear's neighborhood ) do you think they thought they were responsible for killing another living creature? Some maybe, most not. Some of them are probably even vegetarians. They don't harm other living creatures....or do they.

    When we pick up that nicely wrapped package of hamburger at the supermarket, do we think about the fact that someone else had to do our killing for us? Probably not...it's not a very pleasant thought. Besides, that's the way things are done in our modern world.

    I'm one of those who have refused to accept that last little bit of modernity that would cause me to give up hunting. I love animals, and I occasionally kill one of the creatures I claim to love. Some would not be able to reconcile the two. I can.

When man is pitted against the other creatures that inhabit this planet, the other creatures always lose. That's why man must use his reasoning power and not kill gratuitously or with malice.  

     Accuse me of killing birds....just don't accuse me of "thinking nothing of it!"

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Don Steese
LLoyd Smith wanted to know if a guy named hraker wrote the above essay. Actually, a guy named Don Steese did. Harold Raker is my editor at the paper I work for. I copied his email address by mistake because it was sent to him to use as a column.
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SEARCH IS OVER

Poem in memory of Deuce who was killed while out training.

Deuce,

It was spring when I was searching, and we found each other, when I needed you most.From the first time in the park, to your first time on birds, I knew I found my hunting partner and friend. I knew my search was over.

In the short time we had together, you showed me what a true hunter and showman was.Your love of hunting and water made me realize, I was not alone. I knew my search was over.

In the fall we ventured to North Dakota for pheasants, you as a young pup, me a hopeful partner. On the way back, you were no longer a pup, but a pheasant hunter, and I full of pride and awe. We never gave up, two hunting partners I knew my search was over .

Winter came, the cold and bitter winds. We still ventured out for a run in the field. Looking and searching for whatever came about. We ventured home to the warmth and sat reminiscing, just you and me, two outdoorsmen and, I knew my search was over.

Spring came again and we ventured out as we have done before. You went searching, this time too long. I called your name, but instead of bounding enthusiasm, there was stillness. I went searching and when I found you, I knew my search was over.

I held you one last time, thinking of the past and the missed future.As I carried you, I felt your peace and I realized, like mine, Your search was over.

Your friend

Brian

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I wrote this, in a card, to a buddy of mine.  When he had his Brittany put down a couple years ago.  Whom both, I have hunted with many times.

       

                                                       "CASEY"

     I'm glad I was there........that day you pointed those two grouse, beneath that old white birch.

     As we both stood there watching, a chance for a true double.  Your master instead, missing with each shot fired.

   

     I'm glad I was there.......the day you pointed that second pheasant, the one that escaped unharmed.

     While your master stood there in disbelief, gun shouldered.  Not believing, you were nailing down another bird, when the first, was still in your grasp.

     I'm glad I was there........that day you gave up on that retrieve, while duck hunting last fall.

     The one I finished for you, because you had had enough and the years were gaining ground on you.

     I'm glad I was there........with you, last Sunday.  To give you a little scratch behind the ear and stoke your noble head.

     Something I thought I would do again.  But, not knowing.  That this time would be my last, instead.

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Dakota Dogman

When I picked him up in 1996 he was 49 days old & a bundle of chocolate fur over a belly that almost drug on the ground & two beautiful blue eyes.  We had high hopes & dreams & no money.  I would have loved a pure breed hunting dog, but couldn't afford one.  The ad said "hunting dogs $40".  The story was a family raising weim's whose neighbor's big chocolate lab broke in.  It was time to get rid of 12 "oops a puppies".  By the time I got there only two were left.  I almost took the second one for dad.  Probably should have.

My wife had never had a dog before & had no idea what to expect.  She was willing to try for me, but was worried about what would happen someday when we had kids . . . how would a dog take to being replaced?  Like I said, she had never had a dog before.  Sam was everything that we hoped & dreamed.  He was house broke totally in 3 days.  He became our best friend in an environment where we weren't very popular.  Then almost 1 year latter along comes baby to make 4.  How did he take the change?  As his own personal assignment.  The baby couldn't go to bed without the room being completely & thoroughly checked over for mice, boogiemen or anything else.  If Sam was outside when the baby went to bed he wouldn’t rest until he was allowed to look the room over.  As Luke grew up, the dog watched over him everywhere.  On a trip to the river, Sam insisted on staying just a little further out in the water than Luke, watching & protecting him.  Nothing came into our yard without our knowledge.  Sam would sit in the living room and let Luke crawl all over him.  The kids all "rode" Sam in the yard.

In 1998 God moved our family back into pheasant country South Dakota.  For a pheasant dog the move couldn't have been any better.  With the increased bird numbers Sam's skills have increased exponentially.  

I still remember the first day he showed real promise.  He & I were blocking a row of corn for the combines.  The driver slowed down about 20 yards from the end as a rooster jumped crossing in front of me hard right.  I swung through & shot.  Sam took off for the retrieve as a second rooster jumped to the left & tried to get away behind us.  The second barrel sent that one crashing to the earth.  I started towards the second bird thinking Sam would get the first, but I hadn't taken two steps when he brushed past me on the way for bird number two.  Fine, I went back for bird number one, but couldn't find it anywhere.  He brought me # 2 & I demanded he help me find #1.  He looked rather dejected & puzzled & went back to where I had shot from.  There on top of the two 20 gauge empties I had dropped was rooster #1.  He had retrieved it to my feet on the way by.

In many ways he exemplified the best of both breeds. He would point when he could & flush when he needed too.  One of the last hunts with my dad, Sam took the classic Weim Ghost approach as he worked a running rooster to the edge of a grass area.  He pointed just long enough for dad to get into position, flushed & retrieved to hand.  

He was a retrieving fool.  On a hunt with 12 guys & 5 dogs we surrounded a cattail slough.  The dogs were sent in & birds started folding.  The first was in the center, #2 was off to the left about 50 yards & # 3 went down on the edge of the grass on the right.  Sam retrieved all three birds to my feet before the other dogs caught on that we were hunting.  

Now Sam did have his issues.  He wasn't perfect of course.  He wasn't to good to crush a bird to make sure it was dead before the retrieve was done.  He seemed to think he was a whitetail deer made to jump over barbed wire fences.  I forget how many times I stitched him up.  He also had a vendetta against skunks; with a many as 4 killed in one season.  Where do you put a skunked pup in a IH Scout?

I think my favorite memory comes from the fall of the year after dad died.  Sam & I went down to dad's home farm, just the two of us.  I carried dad's old Win. 23.  Bird numbers had been down there for a couple of years, but it "just so happened" that the corn field next door had been picked the night before.  (I didn't know that before I got there.)  We started in the old tree strip & while I was waxing nostalgic Sam flushed 6 roosters in range.  I didn't even shoot.  We walked down to the corner where I shot my first rooster & Sam put up a nice bird.  1 shot & a retrieve to hand.  100 yards further & a second bird went up & down & came back to hand.  We continued down the fence row & Sam got excited.  He took off wild, moving too fast.  Suddenly he went wide around, out onto the gravel road & took off to the west just as fast as he could.  Quick stop, charge the fence & double back towards me, then at 30 yards up popped a beautiful old rooster.  1 shot & bird three was in the bag.  3 individual birds, 3 flushes, 3 shots, 3 birds retrieved to hand.  On the way back to the truck he pointed 4 times on roosters, but we were done.   Good memories.

Well Sam has been slowing down for a couple of years.  Pointing more, covering less territory, letting other dogs pick up slack that he wouldn't have given in his prime.  His hip was bothering him, but he didn't notice it until the end of the day when he couldn't get up to eat.  It broke my heart to leave him behind & it broke my heart to see how hard it was on him.  Finally this fall a vet gave us a sample of some med's that seemed to ease his pain substantially.  For the last month & a half of season he was his old self.  

Sam's last hunt was one of those "you have to be kidding me" dream hunts.  We were in the best pheasant fields I know of & the birds were bunched & thick.  If I tried to number them you'd call me a liar.  Let's just say the place only gets hunted 2 or 3 times a year, has cover, trees & corn food strips.  The party had 20 guys.  I know that I got to shoot my limit & that Sam was in his glory.  1 more day a puppy.

This last Friday, when the wife & kids were gone for the day, I got a knock at the door.  Somehow the old boy had wandered out on the road.  His eyes & ears weren't that good anymore.  I buried him in an old tree claim where we loved to hunt.  He is wrapped in his old blanket & has a rooster under his chin.  I gave him a 3 shot salute.  I never knew that old gun kicked that much.   So I come to that moment & what can I say?  He was a pheasant master, a family protector & so much more.  He was my friend.    

God Bless,

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  • 1 month later...

"Skunk Cabbage and Alders"

by

Ken M. Blomberg

    If it were not for alder and aspen, tadpoles and spring peepers, earthworms and grubs – woodcock would not return each spring to dance on our property.  Without spring trilliums and cattails, marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage – our piece of land would not be complete.

    Years ago, Andy, the town assessor called a large portion of our property waste land and it appeared on the tax roll exactly as that – waste land.  It was a term used to justify lower taxes and to a farming community, if you couldn’t work the land, it was worthless.  It may have lowered the assessment to the owner, but it increased the habitat value to our resident woodcock.

    You see, as the water table comes closer to the surface, so to does it increase the available worm supply.  A woodcock’s bill is only as long as a dollar bill is wide, so a two and a half inch reach is the extent of its ability to grab dinner.  Woodcock live and dine on our property, much to the delight of our kennel-full of bird dogs.

    Before the cement was dry on the kennel runs, way back when, I found out our property and the neighbors' contained a rich supply of game birds for finishing our bird dogs.  There’s nothing better to work your dogs on and except during the spring nesting and early summer brooding times, wild birds like woodcock add spice to the dog training menu.  Understanding the biology of the birds we pursue adds an important element to our overall awareness of the world we share.

    Spring woodcock migration is fueled by the urge to mate and male birds actively perform their courtship “sky dance” along the way.  Spring and fall, we know that woodcock feed and loaf in sheltered covers during the day and migrate after dark. The birds travel at heights of somewhere around 50 feet and depending on wind direction and speed, cover from 30 up to 200 miles a day, alone, or in loose flocks - often called "flights."  All along the route, male woodcock set up shop in openings in the woods, or singing grounds, next to suitable nesting habitat that attract females.

    By late March, our local male woodcock arrive and claim one of several singing grounds on our property in north central Wisconsin.  They begin dancing in the sky at dusk each evening, hoping to lure any early arriving females.  I have a federal permit to band woodcock and for many years, my sons and I set long, fine mist nets on the singing grounds.  Male birds begin “peenting” on the ground about twenty minutes past sundown.  If we’re lucky, the bird gets tangled in the nets and we fasten a US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) aluminum band to one of his legs.  We take the appropriate measurements, including the length of his bill, which measures around 66 millimeters, and release the bird into the darkness of the early night.  Interestingly, we often hear them peenting once again as we take down the nets.

    Some early spring males are migrants on their way to more northerly breeding grounds.  They pick up favorable winds and may continue up the Wisconsin River valley until they hit the south shore of Lake Superior, where they probably follow a northwesterly direction to somewhere like Minnesota, or perhaps beyond.  The aluminum band they carry might ultimately tell their story.  Local birds hang around all summer - nesting begins around the second week of April, so we keep the dogs out of the woods from mid-April until the end of July.  By early August, we begin to once again, train our bird dogs on the adults and young of the year which are then fully developed.

    Come early October, when powerful northwest winds and frosty nights occur in the northern fringe of its range, the annual woodcock migration south begins.  Typically peaking in late October and early November, it can begin as early as September and last well into November.  With the coming of autumn, winds push large numbers of woodcock south.  

    And once again, bird dogs and trainers become hunters.

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  • 5 weeks later...

“FIRST BIRD”

by

Ken M. Blomberg

  In some camps, they say you never forget your first bird.  In the case of ruffed grouse, I remember mine.  Unfortunately, it's one I missed.

  It was in the late 60's and I was on my first real bird hunt.  A high school buddy's grandfather owned an elderly German Shorthaired pointer named “Hans”, and lived in the oak and aspen forests of central Wisconsin.  Back then, land wasn't posted, giving us room to roam at will.  And that's what we did that day, following old Hans over hill and dale.

  "If you lose him, he'll find his way home."  said Grandpa.  "But before you do, bring me home a partridge, or two for dinner."

  I don't remember much about that hunt, except for the large, brown phased grouse that Hans flushed in front of me.  The thundering roar of his take-off nearly knocked me over, but I managed to fire a shot in his direction, just as it disappeared in the oak tree canopy.  

  "I think I got him!"  I exclaimed.

  We looked for a long time, but to no avail.  Hans ran off somewhere, probably back home and according to my hunting companions, that first grouse was no doubt, alive and well.

  To this day, I cannot remember when, or where I killed my first grouse.  But, I'll never forget my first woodcock.   It was a year, or two later, along the banks of a small creek named Karcher in southern Wisconsin.  My buddy, Mike Rutz and I were hunting dogless in an area where we'd seen numerous woodcock flying at dusk.  I walked right down the middle of the ankle-deep, hard bottomed creek bed and chanced upon a woodcock probing on the bank.  Up flew that little brown game bird and when it reached the aspen treetops, I shot.

  "I think I got him!"  I exclaimed.

  But I was alone and nobody was there to hear, or help me find the downed bird.  On my hands and knees I looked for an hour, with no luck.  Sitting on the bank of the stream, head in my hands this teenage boy sat, nearly in tears.  

  "I know I hit that bird," I thought out loud.  "It's got to be around here somewhere."

  Then I heard the soft tinkle of a bird dog's bell, off in the distance.  As the sound got closer, I moved to the spot I knew contained my bird, protecting my kill like a predator.  

  "How ya doing?"  asked a young boy who emerged from the brush followed by his brother, his dad and their German Wirehaired pointer.

  "I lost a woodcock in here somewhere."  I replied.

  "Just stand back," the boy's father replied.  "When you hear our dog's bell stop, he'll have located your bird."

  Sure enough, that wonderful dog accomplished in two minutes what I couldn't do in sixty, by finding my first woodcock in a place I had examined minutes before.  From that moment on, I was sold on a good dog's nose and hooked on bird dogs for life.  And that first woodcock became a memory for a lifetime.

  My "firsts" have expanded and become more limited over the years, but a new age of "firsts" entered my life when my oldest boy, Erik transformed into a hunter.  It was his third year in the uplands, and while he had shot many woodcock on the wing, grouse eluded his growing wingshooting skills.  We were hunting in December, a few miles from home on a large pubic hunting grounds in north central Wisconsin.  Buck, our eight year old German Shorthair had pointed one grouse not far from our truck, that we both missed cleanly.   About an hour later, he got birdy in a fifteen year old aspen clearcut, where pointed a bird on the edge of an opening.  

  "Walk in front of him and flush the bird."  I told my son.

  Before he could get near the dog, a grouse exploded from the cover, affording Erik a shot at 15 yards, then me at 20 yards and finally Erik a second try at 25 yards.  Like my first grouse, I missed.   Erik tipped the bird hard at his second shot.  Despite the apparent hit, it cleared the treetops and sailed across a much larger and younger aspen clearcut.  As it flew farther, I couldn't help but notice it begin to climb upwards.  Higher and higher it rose, as it traveled more than 300 yards across the small valley that engulfed the clearcut.

   "That bird's hit good," I explained to my son.  "Fatally hit birds sometimes fly up to abnormal heights, before coming down.  I once watched a woodcock fly straight up in the air a hundred feet before it died and tumbled to the ground.  Mark that white birch clump across the clearcut.  That's where I saw your bird go down."

  It took us more than ten minutes to cross the clearcut and walk up to the area where I last saw his grouse.  Then we put our dog to work.  Like that German Wirehair, thirty years ago, Buck found the gray phased male grouse in less than two minutes, dead as a door knob.

  We mounted the tailfeathers of Erik's first grouse and at the time, it hung in my office, next to the rest of our "trophies" from memorable hunts.  A man's first bird is never forgotten, especially when he's fourteen years old.

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At popular request I'll put this this here...

Growing up in a small West Texas town in the 60s (I graduated from high school in 1970) was a wonderful experience.  No internet, heck...no computers...but I did have a slide rule, no cable TV, no satellite radio.  Movier theaters had one screen, but of course the closest movie, pizza hut, or donut shop was 30 miles away in the big city.  Nearly all of us boys had a gun in the trunk or back seat and seldom did we ever lock our cars at night.  We made our own fun and in the process made friends that have lasted a lifetime.  Here's one story...

1970’s music…cruising for chicks…boy does that bring back memories…

It puts me in the mind of the time…

I was driving down the street of my hometown, doing “the drag”.  The drag consisted of driving up and down main street between the Starlight Drive In on the north edge of town and the abandoned furniture store on the south edge.  In between lay such landmarks as the parking lot at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store (better known as ‘the pig lot’), the closed-for-repairs-into-infinity Rose Theater, the Dixie Dog Drive In, a gas station and the single traffic signal (known affectionately as THE red light which after 10:00PM conveniently switched to a blinking yellow light so those on the drag wouldn’t have to stop).   FM radio was just beginning to be popular in West Texas and the local stations were 30+ miles away making reception iffy, at best.   We still relied on static-laden AM stations that would boost their power in the evenings and offer cutting edge Rock and Roll.  On good nights we picked up stations in Del Rio Texas and Chicago Illinois.  If you were a rich kid you might even have an eight-track tape player blasting out “Hey Jude” or “Born To Be Wild” or the sound track from “Tommy-The Rock Opera”.

Those wishing to see and be seen cruised the drag at about 10 mph.  Three or four boys in a car debating such hot button issues as whether the Marines or the Army had it tougher in Viet Nam (still very much going on), or whether Martin’s Chevy SS-396 could outrun Chan’s new SS-350 Camero in the quarter mile, and of course we always talked of the great mystery in life…the color of Peggy Sue Higgenbotham’s panties.   Groups of girls also cruised the drag discussing God-only-knows-what but we just assumed they were discussing us boys or comparing notes on the colors of panties that were most likely to drive a boy wild.    If you actually wanted to talk to a boy or a girl you parked your car in the pig lot, fluffed out your mating plumage, screwed up the courage to talk to Penny, Suzanne, or Kathy, and strolled over to demonstrate your suitability as breeding stock through wit and charm.   If you’d already paired up your car might end up just out of town on some darkened dirt road with the windows steamed up (sometimes prayers were answered).

It was on such a night as this…cicadas screaming in the cottonwood trees around the funeral home and hordes of ‘miller’ moths circling every street light…that one life’s great mysteries revealed itself to Claude Isbell.  

Claude was a big fella.  Just graduated from high school with a 1.1 GPA and a bright future changing oil somewhere in a dusty cotton-farming town.  Claude’s big claim to fame was his absolute immovability on the left side of the line on the town’s first-runner-up to 3rd place in district football team.   On this evening something happened that changed Claude’s life forever.  

Claude was parked under the awning at the Dixie Dog alternately sipping from a coke (there were no diet cokes back then) and spitting Skoal tobacco juice out the window of his Ford Ranchero.   Suddenly a car with out of state license plates cruises to the drive-up window.  Driving was a creature of such exotic beauty as to take one’s breath away.  Imagine Suzanne Sommers in the T-bird in the movie “American Graffiti”.   Using every ounce of his limited charm Claude caught the eye of the foreign vixen and using eyebrows, hand gestures, and a careless toss of the head made it clear to her that she was invited to join him, there beneath the glare of neon lights, for a session of sipping, spitting, and charm.

We were astonished on our next trip down the drag to see this creature of loveliness firmly entrenched alongside Claude.  Subsequent iterations of the drag showed them moving closer and closer.  Laughing and sharing secrets.  We figured she was either mostly blind, mentally deficient, or perhaps didn’t speak English too well…no other answer explained how Claude could get close to such a treasure.  How little we knew.

Suddenly, between one north-bound and one south-bound leg of the drag, they disappeared.  Her car was still there…Claude’s Ranchero was missing.  Now we REALLY had something to speculate about.  Those of the internet generation can’t appreciate the speed at which rumors and gossip used to spread.  The drag was abuzz.  My carload of guys was waiting at the Dixie Dog for them to return.  Ten cent cokes in hand we leaned against the bumper of my 1955 Pontiac and speculated on life’s great questions.   Around 11:30 PM we had something else to talk about.

Out of the dark stumbled a most bedraggled looking woman.  Hair askew, and looking plenty the worse for wear.  I could swear she was sporting what looked like would blossom into a full-blown black eye.  It was our Madonna.  Our vision.  And it was obvious that  Claude had gone way…way…over the edge.  She got into her car and drove out of town never to return.

What to do.  We were gentlemen and could recognize that something bad had happened, but we had never prepared for this moment.  Call the police?  Call Claude’s parents?  Work him over ourselves (a bad idea given his size).  We were still trying to arrive at a consensus when suddenly the time to act came upon us.  Claude drove up, ordered a fresh coke, and parked a few stalls down in the parking lot.

We could tell something was on his mind.  Guilt more than likely, but given the size of his mind nothing much could be on it for any length of time.  We decided to take matters into our own hands and deliver, if not the beating he deserved, then at least a stern talking to.  We West Texas boys wouldn’t abide an abuser of women in our midst.

When we got to his car he was carrying on a one-sided conversation with himself, the only conversation he ever fully understood.   We looked down on him sitting there alone…with only the faintest hint of perfume to remind us who had been in the car with him.  Our righteous indignation strengthened our resolve to have it out with him.  “Claude”, we said, “it is obvious to us that you mis-used that woman and that is just WRONG!”

“I never did no such thing!” he replied “and I don’t want to talk about it.”

Well, we just couldn’t let it go.  We wheedled, cajoled, double-dog-dared him, and finally threatened to take it to a much higher authority…his parents.    You could hear thoughts ricocheting around the inside of his skull like BBs in a 5 gallon bucket.  Images from an animated movie in science class of atoms in a cyclotron whirling at great speeds came to mind.  Finally, after what was to Claude an eternity of thought, he looked at us and said, “if you tell anyone about this I’ll tear off your heads and urinate down your necks (he didn’t actually say urinate, but I’m thinking of the censor who already wonders about the length of this post).   He looked right at us and said,  “I couldn’t help it.  We were parked at the cotton gin and I was kissing her…and she was kissing me…and she TOUCHED me…and I touched her…”  

He paused here and took a deep breath…”and she had a DICK!”

So that night Claude learned that you can’t tell a book by it’s cover.  I learned that you can’t actually die from laughing, but you can be incapacitated for a great deal of time.

Yep, we made our own fun back in those simpler days of warm summer nights, ten cent cokes, and 50 cent gasoline.

Have a great Upland Journal weekend...

BK

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  • 1 month later...

"Opening Day...circa 1980"

by

R. Pendleton

Opening day of Nebraska's Pheasant Season... 1980 will forever be my favorite.

Fall in Nebraska is a wonderfull time of year. The crisp air, endless blue sky, Big Red football...and pheasants!

My father was introduced to phez hunting (1978) by a local attorney who hunted Nebraska for years. We were living in Omaha at the time and I begged my father to take on these early trips...He said I was too young (10yr) and that when I was a bit older I would be able to tag along.  

First Saturday of November...1980

4am

12 years old

Dad is still sound asleep...

His friends arrive @ our house to pick him up.

I quickly dress...grab my fathers gear, our lab and walk out to their truck...I inform my father's hunting buddies that He will be right out...and that I am going w/ them.  

Then I dart back into our home...run upstairs and wake the dad...I said "dad your buddies are here and they want me to go w/ you"...

Once we get on the road...1 hour late the real fun begins.

We head west away from Omaha...joining a huge carrivan of trucks, vans and cars...all hunters going to birdland!

Dad turns on the radio...KFAB w/ the farm report...

Then sports...Huskers are heavy favorite over big 8 rival.

As we travel down I-80...I wonder what the day will bring?

"Hunters breakfast"...the sign read. Sponsored by local lions club...Best pancakes ever!

Then back to the road...gravel this time.

"Section roads" my father said. "Each section has 640 acres...a square mile".

Finally we stop...Yes the hunt begins...not yet?

Dad says we have to visit w/ the farmer to confirm we have access to this land...

The Hunt:

We unload from the truck...men, gear, coffee, and 1 dog...our lab Attie.

The men discuss tactics and I am overjoyed to be in the middle of all this!

A plan is divised and we march off into the prairie...

A bird jumps..."hen" someone yells.

A bit further..."rooster" and all hell breaks loose.

Wow!! my heart races and from that moment I am forever hooked!

The excitement continued all day and upon returning home I thanked my father for the best day of my young life...

RP

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Per yer request Briarscratch and the kind words of others....

"Dear Rhode Island,    Love Dad"

Erik,

I know we spoke a couple of days ago, but your mother was on the phone and you know how she gets bored with the hunting and fishing chatter.

Opening day was less than memorable, yet your brother and I had a great time.  You know that I was dealt a cruel blow this summer when my back went out.  The doctor called it degenerate disc disease, prescribed pain killers and a couple of steroid injections in my back.  Then with a little help from my physical therapist, Inga (mom thinks her name is John), I'm now able to walk more than a hundred yards without my walking stick.

We traveled upstream last weekend and in the process, crossed the Big River at least four times.  We were greeted along the way with a landscape exploding with hints of fall color.  Some maples, poison ivy and sumac were bleeding scarlet red, while other maples, basswood and roadside ferns were turning chocolate brown, or yellowing quite nicely.  We were transported briefly into an autumn time-zone and it felt good.  I posted that picture elsewhere here on UJ.

   

Bear hunters and their dogs were busy.  One group gathered along the gravel road told tales of running bears, reluctant to tree.  At least in that part of the woods, the bruins were outsmarting the hounds. Despite their frustration, there wasn’t a frown in the crowd of those seasoned hunters.

We managed to find some excellent spots away from the bear hunters.  I only tipped over once, when the ruts in the logging road got the better of me.  Karl was very patient with me and his dog Rocky hunted like a dream.  

   

We were greeted by warm temperatures, bugs and a steady rain.  In spite of less than ideal conditions and a scarcity of birds, we both agreed it was a good day to be in the woods.    Few things smell better than a forest after getting a shower and it does a hunter’s soul good to be there when it does.

Last night, I took Little Bucky to "The Secret Spot Nobody Knows About" patch.  You remember, it's where the Zorn boy shot that big black bear during our woodcock trial about six years ago.

Well, you wouldn't recognize the place.  They logged off the front side a couple years ago and it looks like woodcock heaven.  Buck and I putzed for an hour - half an hour in, the other half to walk back to the truck before sunset.  I didn't quite make it back to the whispering pines, but I figure I walked a couple of miles.  Inga would be proud!

On our way in, a grouse flushed off to our left near that spot you missed a grouse over Kane, (or was it Old Buck?) with your BB gun, so many years ago.....

On the way out, Little Bucky made a heart-stopping point along the edge of very dry drainage ditch.  I was in a great position to shoot, but alas, the bird hot footed itself down the ditch bottom and escaped.  Oh well, we'll see him again sometime down the line.

Two things I know for sure.  For one, I miss you most during the hunting season - and number two, Karl and you were right.  Little Buck is the perfect "putzing dog" for your old man.

Love,

Dad

P.S.  Here's a photo of what the "The Secret Spot Nobody Knows About" patch looks like today.

Attached Image

--------------

"Woodcock have their own ideas...Like gold, they are where you happen to find them."   John Alden Knight

"The dog....is the prospector of the air, perpetually searching its strata for olfactory gold.  Partridge scent is the gold standard that relates his world to mine."    Aldo Leopold

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Grouse Opener 2006

September 16, 2006

The sun hadn’t begun to rise when I awoke at 5:15AM. Despite knowing that I didn’t intend to embark on my 150 mile journey until noon, the anticipation was far too great to enjoy another hour or two of sleep. The dogs sensed something different in the air as well. They were alert and not at all content to lounge around as they normally would on a summer morn. Even the ancient Dachshund sensed a season anew and appeared to be in an elevated state of his typical anxiety.

After the coffee was ground and brewing, I went to retrieve my recently reorganized duffel. A quick inspection revealed that the contents were adequate for another start of a glorious grouse season. I deposited the bag on the dining room floor and went to pour my first cup of fresh black coffee. The first cup is always the finest and I savored the initial rich sips as my thoughts turned to possibilities of the afternoon.

I clasped my cup and stepped into the backyard to enjoy the sounds of the morning. The eerie dawn light sufficiently illuminated the yard to reveal the multitude of projects I had disregarded during the summer months. I despaired. Why hadn’t I tended to the lawn and the landscaping? Why had I dug one fence post in the 90F heat only to have given up? Why hadn’t I caulked and painted the peeling trim in the back? Why hadn’t I called the guy back to finish the garage roof? I could see the state of decay of my ninety year old home and my spirits began to sink. I decided to return indoors and attempt to put it out of my mind, as there would be no changing of the plans today. Snow would soon blanket and obscure this ugliness. I quietly rejoiced at the thought.

As I walked in the door, I heard a low growling from the dining room followed by the sounds of Cerberus. Young Dodge must have had the audacity to go near the hunting duffel and was being soundly scolded for his malfeasance by Blue. He would not back down today. I immediately told them “enough”, which is normally sufficient. It apparently was not for the magnitude of this misdeed, so I repeated my displeasure by stating, “$%^$%^, knock it the #$%$ off now you little ^&^*^& bastards!” This sent all dogs skulking towards separate points of the room and order was restored. It was then that I heard movement from above. From the top of the stairs my wife loudly inquired, “What in the hell is going on down there?!? It's six in the ^&*^%^& morning!!”.........

2:55PM CDT

I turned onto the dirt road leading to the coverts of my youth. These coverts are at best marginal today; but they are the places where I took my first grouse and are full of cherished memories of birds and dogs long buried. Every opener finds me here, even if the birds are no longer particularly abundant. As I drove the winding road, my spirits soared. Although likely a result of drought stress, the canopy resembled one of mid-October. Ferns alongside the road were wilted and a chocolate brown. Vibrant hues of purple, red, orange and yellow greeted my gaze as I looked across a large marsh. I ignored the temperature of 74F mocking me from the dash and was transported to a crisp autumn day, thanks primarily to the visuals and my blasting air conditioner. Regardless of the external temperature, I sensed today would be a good one. Blue and I would hit the best spots for a short duration, followed by water and some rest in the air conditioned truck. We would then move on to another and do the same. Tomorrow Dodge would get his chance at his first grouse, but today was Blue’s day.

I parked the truck at an overgrown logging trail. Blue knew the time had come and was standing ready to be unleashed on the birds. I laced up my boots and put on my warm weather mesh vest. I was confident the birds would be found here, so I deposited ten yellow shells in my right vest pocket and a large water bottle in the left. I extracted a shell and admired the shiny hull. Would the stars align? Would the contents find their mark today and put a bird in the game bag? I heard a whining in my ear. Tinnitus perhaps, but I didn’t have time to consider it. I opened the hatch and released Blue to her paradise.

I began working my way down the trail with Blue diligently working the cover to my left. I had walked about 50 yards when I was swarmed by what seemed to be hundreds of mosquitoes and dozens of gnats. The tiny vampires engorged in the flesh of my neck, my ears, and eyelids. They continued to swarm and feast, so I picked up my pace to that of a shopping mall power walker. It was to no avail. It didn’t seem to matter the speed of my gate, they continued to swarm. I removed the shiny yellow shells from their chambers and began sprinting back to the truck, slightly turning my ankle in the process. Blue continued to work the adjacent cover in search of birds until her bell grew briefly silent. I paused. The parasites continued their feast and quite possibly, to transmit a potentially fatal Third World disease to my bloodstream. I quickly returned the yellow shells to their chambers and entered the cover. The blackberry thorns tore at my flesh through the lightweight khakis I decided to wear to mitigate the heat. I heard the bell chime again and observed the dog rolling on her back. False alarm, but what was she rolling in? A dead animal, or perhaps the excrement of a live one? Indeed. It was then she stood and I observed the toilet paper clinging to her back.…………

4:32PM CDT

I removed the majority of the excrement from Blue using the water bottle and a towel. I vomited once during the process, while the vampires continued to extract another pint of blood and inject West Nile into the blood remaining. I put the towel in an empty shopping bag and secured it to the roof rack. It would need to be disposed of properly. I drove with the windows down back to the marsh crossing and deposited the vile dog into the water. She swam happily and hopefully, removed the remaining excrement. I then returned her to the truck to seek one last covert before making the long journey home. We drove approximately 10 miles to even more marginal cover, but with an elevation of 20 feet greater than where we came, perhaps the bugs would not be as bad here.

We exited the car and made our way back along another overgrown trail. The vampires were just as abundant, but we needed to find some birds. I continued walking about 200 yards down the trail and cut into the bush. I began working my way through the thick aspens looking for a bird off the beaten path. Blue was ecstatic and although her tongue was hanging long, rendering her nose worthless, she continued to beat the cover. I admired her diligence and watched her for a few strides. It was then that I nearly fell face first as the earth fell away below my right leg. I struggled to remain upright in the knee deep mud. Water and mud poured over the top of my boot, quickly filling it. I pried myself from the mud and called the dog in. We were leaving.

I hastily began making my way back to the truck, attempting to forget about this awful place and the brown birds that no longer inhabit it. My boot squished with each step as the muddy water oozed between the laces. I gave Blue a quick shot of the water bottle and she was reinvigorated. She continued to work the cover with a purpose, but I had long discontinued hunting. The bell stopped. Despite my foul mood, the flame was briefly rekindled and I dropped a pair of yellow shells into the chambers. I again entered the cover, my legs already burning from a constant beating by the thorns. Blue was locked on point, staring at a clump of trees 10 feet in front of her. I assessed the possible escape routes and moved in decisively for the flush. A lone woodcock spiraled up in the air and moved away at the tree tops. I admired the little bird and turned to Blue, “Good girl, next week.”

We arrived back at the truck and I gave Blue a chunk of string cheese. I unwrapped a nicotine lozenge to substitute for the cigarette I would’ve enjoyed in seasons past. I removed my wet boots and eased into the comfortable seat. We saddled up and drove down the winding dirt road. I stopped to observe four large turkeys in the roadway. They eventually dashed off and we continued our long drive home. As we found the paved county trunk and accelerated down the road, the forgotten bag containing the excrement towel flew from the roof rack. I backed up and retrieved it. It was another 10 miles with the windows down until I could deposit it in a dumpster.

Hank Williams III was singing about the attributes and ramifications of some mystery pills on the car stereo as I drove with the orange ember of a setting sun to my right and a glistening Lake Michigan to my left. Hot damn, it was good to be out in the grousewoods again!

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Wish

  I awaken to sound of a blaring alarm clock springing me to life. Where am I, oh I am in my tent. My heart races, it is hunting season. With coffee pot made I bring it to life with match to stove. And with that match I light fire for water to wash the sleep from my eyes. The lantern is lit and I rummage for cloths. I step from the tent to relieve a need and gaze upward through the fog of breath to see the shimmering of stars that illuminate the sky. Whether it be the cold or the stars that steal my breath I can’t say, but the awe is real. I hear the sound of perking coming from the tent and the smell of coffee begins to fill the air. I scurry back into the tent to the aroma that calls to me. With cup in hand I poor from a steaming pot and turn down the fire on both coffee and water.

  As I wash my face my thoughts turn to past trips to the peaks. The memories of screaming bulls that came to calls, only to evade my best attempts to dispatch their lives. But the thrill of the event burned into my mind so deeply that I can still see fire of the hatred for the bull that they couldn’t find. The badgering of the cows to leave this area and this unseen foe. For years I have played this game and the love it I do. But time is getting away, so I go about my chores so I can be on my way.

  I don my pack and grab my bow head away from camp. I turn back to see the lantern dim as the last of the gas bleeds out of the line and into darkness I go. I make my way slowly being careful not to fall as my eyes don’t see in the dark as they used to. I stop now and then to catch breath that in my younger days wasn’t lost. And look up at the stars and watch the intense flickering beauty. I notice off to the east a thin crack of light on the horizon, time to move.

  The timber is becoming thicker and making my way is harder, but I have been on this path so many times it is almost like being on autopilot. Knowing soon I will be at the burn.

  At the edge of the burn I slow down and look for my quarry in the dawn’s pastel light. But I am not seeing any elk, so I edge ever forward looking for them. I come to a place where I can see the peak and to my delight it is colored in pastel light. Illuminated to the point it looks surreal, color so vibrant it can’t even be described. A sky that goes from the palest light pastel blue to blue so dark it would make the ocean cry. And smell of air so clean and crisp that it sends chills down your back. The illumination on golden aspen leaves adds the final touch as they shimmer in the light morning breeze.

  A ridge away I see a herd of elk moving toward timber, in years past I would have been off like a jet to chase down this bull and his harem. But my legs can’t do that anymore. So I mark the spot where the group went and I will venture that way at a pace I can do. But for now I sit and watch the sunrise wishing that for as long as I live I will be able to make this trip. For here at timberline is where I feel the closest to God. And this is his time of day and you can feel it in your soul. This is an enrichment of life everyone should see for themselves. It brings a piece of mind that will never be forgotten, but you can never get enough of.

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  • 4 weeks later...

UP THE CREEK

by

Ken M. Blomberg

    The bald eagle caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks.  I stood and watched the majestic bird against a brilliant blue sky and scattered white, puffy cumulus clouds.  It trapped invisible updrafts and slowly circled the landscape below.  Where was he going?  Where had he been?  What was he hunting for?  What could he possibly find in this less-than-ideal habitat?

    The car horn blast woke me from my daydream.  You see, I was in town the other day and got caught standing in the middle of a grocery store driveway, looking toward the sky.  In the process, my absent-mindedness had caused a minor traffic jam.  A puzzled look on the annoyed driver’s face told me two things; he couldn’t see the eagle and he, like most folks these days, was in a hurry.  I moved off to one side, allowing traffic to return to normal.  Looking skyward once again I noticed the eagle was nearly out of sight, slowly disappearing in the clouds behind the tree line.

    Fall has the tendency to bring out the best in wildlife viewing.  Our urban and rural wildlife neighbors are coming out in family groups and you don’t need to travel very far to enjoy the show.  Formations of geese are more visible and vocal this time of the year.  Years ago, we waited for them to arrive from their Canadian breeding grounds.  These

days, local geese seem to be everywhere.  Later this month and next, they’ll be joined by their northern relatives and a whole host of other migrating waterfowl.

    Bird feeders can be home to a flurry of activity during this season between summer and winter.  Migrating songbirds pass through the area on a daily basis and are a constant source of pleasure for serious and amateur birdwatchers alike.  Keep your binoculars and bird books handy, as the show will continue through the end of November.

    The whitetail deer-mating season is close at hand.  Deer become much more visible during this period, much to the dismay of motorists, who need be more cautious than ever, as bucks become preoccupied chasing and harrying the does.  The rut lasts for several weeks, peaking along this stretch of the river valley around the first week of November.  Motorists will do well to hold their breaths in anticipation of the end of the nine-day deer-hunting season next month, when hunters have thinned the herd a bit.  In the mean time, there’s only one sure-fire way to prevent smacking a deer and that involves walking.  Talking from experience, our family has nearly a dozen collisions under our belts.      

    I’m not sure if it’s the colors, or the smells of autumn that turns me on the most.  Whatever the cause, this is the best time of year for outdoor enthusiasts.  Number two son and I traveled upstream late last month, crossing the Big River at least four times before arriving at a special place to hunt grouse.  The landscape was exploding with fall colors.  Most maples, poison ivy and sumac were bleeding scarlet red, while aspen, basswood and roadside ferns showed off their spectacular yellows.  We were transported briefly into a full-blown autumn time zone and it felt good.

    Bear hunters and their dogs were busy.  One group gathered along the gravel road told us tales of running bears, reluctant to tree.  At least in that part of the woods, the bruins were outsmarting the hounds. Despite their frustration, there wasn’t a frown in this crowd of seasoned hunters.

    Warm temperatures, bugs and a steady rain greeted us as we followed our bird dog down several trails.  In spite of less than ideal conditions and a scarcity of birds that day, we both agreed it was good to be in the woods. Few things smell, or feel better than a fall forest after a shower and it does a hunter’s soul good to be there when it does.

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  • 2 weeks later...

GETTING THE POINT

The sun was well on its way behind the hills and valleys of Southern New York.  The temperature was dropping as well, and the hunter began to think about heading back to the car.  Though not yet 40, he was tired, his daily desk-riding clearly not adequate preparation for 7 straight hours of brush-beating.  The dog was tired as well; over the last hour or so, he'd gradually decreased his range, and though he still went willingly into whatever cover his master pointed at, still the hunter knew he'd gladly kennel up for the ride home.

It had been a long day -- starting with a 250 mile drive to get to this place, followed by a full day's hunting -- and there was still the 250-mile drive home.  Plus, tomorrow was Monday, and work.

As frequently happened with young dogs, the pup's work had been inconsistent that day.  He had bumped a hen pheasant, and had run over a number of woodcock, which mistakes caused the hunter to let the birds fly off without shooting, though it pained him to do so. To his credit, the dog had had a couple of solid points where the hunter had been unable to get off a shot.  Truth be told, the hunter had also whiffed on a couple of birds, and had failed to get off a shot on the only grouse of the day, a bird which flushed from almost under the hunter's feet while he watched the dog work some cover off to his left.  Startled, he stared at the bird for far too long before trying to mount the gun, and the bird was well behind a screen of trees when the stock hit his shoulder.

Thinking about the day now, the man was frustrated with himself and disappointed with the dog, though he took care not to let it creep into his voice or actions as the dog occasionally checked in for some water or a quick nuzzle.  Despite all the training work, he wondered; was the dog was just experiencing growing pains, or was the inconsistency caused by some flaw in either the dog's makeup or the man's training style?  He wasn't sure, but he was concerned.

Coming back to the present, he called the dog in to heel, and they walked through the woods for 10 minutes, back toward the parking area at the edge of the large tract of state land.  Where the woods ended, there was a large field, with varying grass cover planted by the local fish-and-wildlife agency to improve habitat for the dwindling pheasant population.  At heel for so long, the dog was antsy, and seeing no other hunters evident, the hunter released the dog to hunt his way back to the car.

At "Hunt 'em up!", the dog raced left for 40 yards or so, then turned, and anticipating his master's path, swung back to quarter to the hunter's right.  Idly watching the dog, and thinking about how nice the warm car would be, the hunter broke his gun open to remove the shells -- and the dog took one sudden braking step and locked up tight, not 50 yards from the car.  Snapping the gun closed, the hunter moved quickly toward the dog, hoping it wasn't a field mouse or a box turtle that the dog had pinned this time.  10 yards from the dog, the hunter could see nothing--

--the big rooster cleared the grass, cackling madly, and broke to the hunter's right.  The bird was quick, but this time, the hunter was ready, and as the bird began its transition from the vertical flush to the horizontal escape (like a Harrier jet, the hunter had always thought), he was already bringing the 16-gauge Smith to bear.  As the bird accelerated, he remembered to slow things down, repeating the mantra, “Butt…belly…beak…”  The thought was his, but the voice was his father’s, and for a microsecond, he was 12 years old, struggling to find a different rooster over the barrel of a long-gone Ithaca 37, a bird nosed up by a long-gone Lab.  Then he was here and now again, and as the gun swung through the bird, he pulled the front trigger, and the bird rolled over with a puff of feathers and fell to the ground not 15 yards from the hunter and his dog.

The hunter looked now from the fallen bird to the dog.  Despite quivering with such force that his bell was tinkling steadily, the dog had remained steady.  As the adrenaline set in, he released the dog with a “Go get it!  Dead bird!”  The find and retrieve was over in less than 30 seconds – though not quite to hand, the dog dropped the rooster on the hunter’s feet, then stood waiting as the hunter stooped to pick up the bird.  After a moment spent gazing at the rooster’s bright plumage, and reliving the scene of point-flush-shot several times, he called the dog over and knelt again to receive him, loving him up as a proper hunting dog deserved.

Then as the sun slid from view, hunter and dog walked the remaining distance to the car.  Had the dog learned something from today?  The hunter wasn’t sure, but knew that he had.  Perfect or not, the dog was a part of him, and he a part of it; and birds in the bag or not, he’d give the dog every chance he could to do what they both loved to do.  And after all, wasn’t that the point?

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