Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rage, Rage, Against the Dying of the Sight*

The fixed-power optical sight, that is...


Duck and quail seasons are still a month away, so I figured this was a good time to get my oldest son's deer rifle set up while I had the time to do it. This is a combination of three of my favorite things: a Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight (a New Haven gun), the venerable 6.5x55 caliber, and the classic Leupold fixed 3X straight-tube scope.

Personally, I think it's about as perfect a beginning hunter's deer rifle as you can get. The rifle itself is one of mine, and it's a gem. It's not quite as accurate as my CZ 550 in the same caliber, but accurate enough (and in its defense, I haven't much tinkered with loads for it). It's light and nimble and elegant, not some ponderous beast of a gun, and it doesn't offend my sense of aesthetics, which is important.

Not much to say about the 6.5x55 except that it's about as perfect a caliber for deer-sized game as has ever been created. Those long, skinny, 140-grain, high-BC bullets traveling along at (depending on what load you're shooting) a relatively mild and sedate 2600 or so feer-per-second are relatively flat-shooting at reasonable ranges, produce a mild, almost melodic muzzle blast, and in the (paraphrased) words of Dave Petzal, might create enough recoil to "dislodge a thrush from a thistle." And as an added bonus, it pretty much kills whatever you shoot with it, quickly. What's not to love about that?

And then there's the scope. Talk about a dinosaur... under-powered, under-featured, under-objective lensed, under-reticled, under-tacticaled, under-branded, and most definitely under-"cool". But all it does it work, beautifully. There is no power ring to fumble with. There is no confusing bullet-compensating reticle to try to interpret in the heat of the moment, and it has four inches of eye relief so he won't get scoped no matter how much he may crowd the ocular lens. It's light, unobtrusive, and doesn't make the rifle top-heavy like some of the Hubble-sized scopes now in vogue. It's bright, has plenty of magnification for the maximum distances I want him attempting a shot, and it has a huge field of view so he can easily find the deer if one steps out close to us. Simple, effective, bombproof, and perfect.

And sadly, fast disappearing. You really have to seek out fixed-power scopes these days. They're rapidly going gentle into that good night of widespread consumer disfavor. They have become novelty throwback items, the shooters who use them seen as fringe-y, anachronistic loons, kind of like the guys who shoot flintlocks during muzzleloader season or longbows during archery season. Few companies still offer them. Leupold still makes several (including my favorite 6x42), Weaver still has their K-series, a couple of the European companies offer a tiny handful of fixed-power scopes for the American market, but the vast majority of us now clamor for the giant, bulbous variables. Hell, even I own a few, and they're good scopes, I cannot deny. But fixed-power scopes are still my favorites, because they still work well, and look elegant doing it.

* With apologies to Dylan Thomas' ghost... 

     

Monday, September 29, 2014

If You're Bird Hunting...

In my part of the world this fall, you'd better not forget dog boots, because we've got an absolutely insane crop of these things...


Endless acres of sandburs, the most horrible, useless plant to ever diminish the world with its presence. Most years, in most areas, they're usually not bad enough that I think I need to boot the dogs. Both my dogs have pretty tight feet and tough pads. Burs usually don't bother them too much. But based on what I've seen so far this year, it looks like I'll be breaking out the dog boots more than normal, which means I'll be losing dog boots in staggering numbers. There are guys who can wrap a boot to where it never gets thrown, and then there are guys who don't think a hunt's complete without losing at least one, and more likely two. Guess which guy I am?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Regeneration



I was scrolling through the news this morning when I came across a story on the return - after a 102-year absence - of Chinook salmon to a river in Washington that had recently had its dams removed.

From the story

The largest dam removal in history experienced a key first signal of success this week, as three adult Chinook salmon were spotted above the site of recently blasted-away Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River in Washington’s Olympic National Park. The discovery, by snorkeling Park Service biologists, marks the first return of Chinook in 102 years to upper reaches of the Olympic Peninsula’s master river.
“When dam removal began three years ago, Chinook salmon were blocked far downstream by Elwha Dam.  Today, we celebrate the return of Chinook to the upper Elwha River for the first time in over a century,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. The dam removal will open up an estimated 70 miles of salmon habitat in a river system once populated by thousands of Chinook salmon, some reaching 100 pounds in size.

Now I have never had the privilege of fishing for real, wild, salmon (snoozing trolling, endlessly, for 10-inch long kokanee in Montana's Lake Koocanusa doesn't count) but for some reason this story struck a chord, not only because it gives hope that someday, if I'm ever in a position to do so, the fish will be there for me to experience (salmon, as well as others), but also because it illustrates, beautifully, the wondrous mysteries of the natural world, mysteries worth pondering, and saving. How did those three fish know to get there? Some vestige of an ancient, genetic memory? Pure chance? Three weeks after a century-old dam is gone? That's just eerie. The mind boggles, in a good way. How does nature know how to pull these acts of regeneration?

The salmon reminded me of a story I wrote last year for Covey Rise magazine, about a place in Mississippi's largely-disappeared black belt prairie region, a working ranch/farm/hunting lodge called Prairie Wildlife. The  owner, Jimmy Bryan, is trying to balance the demands of running a large, diversified ag operation with conservation efforts designed to restore long-gone native prairie, and wild quail. And he's pulling it off. As we drove around his property, he showed me areas where native plants, and the insects and animals that depend on them, had come back on their own, almost as if it was a sort of spontaneous regeneration. "I didn't plant it," he told me. "It was just here, waiting. You start doing things, or not doing things, and this stuff just appears."   

Nature seems to pull this trick out of her hat all the time, doesn't she? Whether it's salmon or quail or whatever, nature responds, always responds, to doing right, even if it's just a tiny, seemingly inconsequential bit of right. I'm often pessimistic, gloomy even, about the future of wild places and wild things. I do not know if I will ever get the opportunity to catch a sea-run salmon, or a bluefin tuna, or a steelhead, or all 15 or so subspecies of cutthroat, or any of the other fish on my personal list. I don't know if I'll ever get the opportunity to hunt lesser prairie chickens (at all), or sage grouse (again), or any of the other birds on my list.

The future is a great unknowable, and always will be. But if there's anything this certified cynic can take away from three fish showing up in a river in Washington, or a patch of big bluestem appearing in a patch of dirt in Mississippi, it's this: there is no level too small or too large on which nature will not pay us back tenfold if we can just manage to do a little right, by both us and her. And that's a wonderful thing to contemplate, even for a grouch like myself. Now actually doing it? That's another story, but who knows, maybe we'll get there yet.        

Monday, September 22, 2014

Time Will Have His Fancy...


From a few years back. Never got a chance to get Tess out for the early teal season this year, so old pics will have to suffice for another month until the regular season opens. I always liked this picture. It was damn cold that day, and she was having great fun breaking through the skim ice. She wasn't especially young in that picture, seven, maybe, or eight, but still spry.  These days her foul (fowl?) weather, ice-breaking hunts are mostly behind her, but we'll get out often enough to suit her advanced age, when the wind's not howling and the snow's not blowing and the mercury's not too low and the morning is gentle for an old dog, the kind of morning where she can hear the fall of the bird to help mark it by sound now that her eyes are going.

Old W.H. Auden was right; Time will indeed have his fancy, but he won't have it quite yet. Not this season, at least.


Bradbury Estate Auction



If you are (as I am), a huge Ray Bradbury fan, and you have (as I do not) some disposable cash you'd like to trade for some Bradbury-owned art, you'd better scuttle yourself over to this auction site (hat tip to BoingBoing) to bid on a huge lot of art the late master's estate is auctioning off.

There's some fantastic stuff  being sold, like the original oil painting (above) of the 1969 edition of "The Illustrated Man." And here's one that I really like, the original artwork that became the cover of the 1953 edition of "The Martian Chronicles."


I've got a later printing of that edition with this artwork, and I'd gladly trade my spleen for the original. And here's a fantastic Joseph Mugnaini original...


Obviously the original paintings are going to go for high four or five-figure amounts, but there's also a good number of etchings, sketches, artist proofs, and drawings that don't have any bids at all, many of them from Mugnaini, who was Bradbury's longtime illustrator on a number of books, and a personal favorite of mine. Here's one from "The October Country"...

And another...

And of course there are some artist proofs for his most famous work, also drawn by Mugnaini...



I'd really like that one...

I guess there are some advantages to being poor, because if I were rich I'm quite certain that whatever money I didn't blow on shotguns, rods, or books, I'd just blow on stuff like this. Anyway, if you're a Bradbury fan, check out the rest of the auction items out of curiosity if nothing else, but you'd better hurry; the auction ends on the 25th.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Bully For You...


If you've been watching the Ken Burns PBS special on the Roosevelts. If you haven't, then you need to. It's a must-see. Fascinating, especially the first few episodes focusing primarily on Theodore. If he's not your favorite president of all time, then he should be. Anyone take a guess as to what gun he's carrying in the pic above? Doubt it's one of his beloved Winchesters, since he died in 1919, a few years before Winchester came out with the Model 54. Some iteration of Mauser would be my guess. I bet Steve Bodio would know. 

Watching his life makes me want to grab my Winchester 1895 in .405 Winchester and head to Africa. Except, of course, that I don't have a Winchester 1895 in .405 Winchester, and I can't afford to go to Africa even if I did. But if you've got $4,629, you could buy this one at the Sydney Cabela's gun room and just pretend while you used it on whitetails.


Lion medicine, indeed...

If you wanted to be a bit more frugal, or didn't have almost five grand for an original, you could buy one of the Miroku-built reproductions for a bit less, around $2,000 or so. At least then you'd have some extra money to buy ammo. A five-round box of genuine Kynoch 300-grain, Woodleigh-tipped ammo will set you back close to fifty bucks. Hornady makes a load for the .405 that's cheaper, but it's apparently a seasonal run and is unavailable most of the time. Reloading is cheaper, of course, but bullets and brass are still spendy. Looks like nostalgia's gonna cost you...

Friday Flotsam: Redneck Bike Computers, Chi-Chi Chainsaws, Scottish Brogues, and Armpit Fires


Yes, that really is a Garmin Alpha parachute cord-lashed to the handlebars of my bike, all ready to record the particulars of today's "Get My Ass in Shape For Hunting Season" bike ride. Don't laugh, I don't have a real bike computer, so I gotta make do with what I've got. Sure it's a bit clunky, but I've been doing it for years now, and the good thing about using the Alpha instead of the Astro (which is what I used to use) is that with the Alpha I can wear the collar, too, so when I'm feeling tired and want to cheat a little by coasting, I just give myself a momentary nick and then my legs start working again right quick...


According to this breathless Outside Magazine article, the chainsaw above, the "Ego Power+, is a serious wood-cutting machine. The author was able to get "forty minutes of hard cutting" (Forty minutes! Wow!) with its 56-volt battery. He had no problems cutting through four (four!) sixteen-inch cedars. No report on how it does on a two or three-foot-diameter hunk of oak, elm, hickory, or deadstanding maple, so color me skeptical. I admit, this thing does sound like the bee's knees...for your backyard Chiminea. But for cutting actual, you know, firewood, I think I'll stick to Mr. Stihl and/or Mr. Husky...


This is apropos of nothing in particular, but it's late September, the dove are mostly gone, November seems far away, so right now I want to be here...


Somewhere near Lewistown, Montana. I'm getting back up there next fall, even if I have to go down to Beelzebub's Pawn, Gun & Gold and sell off a few pieces of my soul collection that I haven't used in a while... 

On to international matters...Although I am an unabashed Anglophile, I am, obviously, not a citizen of the UK. As such I have no informed opinion on whether Scottish independence would have been a good thing or bad. Moot point now, of course. But I thought it was hilarious watching news coverage of American reporters interviewing Scottish voters, in English, and then seeing said Scottish interviewee's responses - ostensibly in English, or something vaguely approximating it -  appear in subtitles at the bottom of the screen. I've actually read Irvine Welsh's "Trainspotting" in its entirety, which I think qualifies me as being fluent in Scottish guttural, but even I had a hard time understanding just what the hell some of them were saying.

And finally, here's a story that speaks for itself...

 BOISE -- A teenager crashed his SUV Sunday morning after a passenger used a lighter to set his armpit hair on fire, according to the Ada County Sheriff's Office. The crash happened at 5:30 a.m. on Columbia Road between Meridian and Linder roads. Eighteen-year-old Tristan Myers was driving when his front-seat passenger, a 16-year-old boy, set Myers' armpit hair on fire. The driver lost control of the Ford Bronco, rolling the vehicle. Two girls in the backseat, ages 15 and 16, were thrown from the vehicle. Myers, his front-seat passenger, and a 17-year-old boy remained in the vehicle. None of the teens were wearing seatbelts, deputies say.

Just remember, folks, these are our nation's future voters. On that thought, sleep well tonight...




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Random Quotes


 It's always interesting to unearth forgotten artifacts, which is what happened recently as I was digging through some of my old notebooks while cleaning my office. I came across a few random pages of notes I had scribbled years ago one fine day while sitting in the University of Oklahoma library stacks researching a feature story on the natural and cultural history of wind and drought on the southern plains. Some of the quotes made it into the story, others did not, but they were apparently interesting enough for me to jot down at the time...

"Does the wind blow this way all the time?"
"Hell, no! It blows the other way about half the time."

                                                Edward Everett Dale*, Cow Country


"To the Oklahoman who loves his state, the salient agricultural fact is that much of it has already gone down to the Mississippi Delta."

                                                Angie Debo*, Oklahoma: Foot-Loose and Fancy Free

 And curiously, a random quote having nothing to with wind or drought that had been scrawled in the margins of my notebook, a quote from one of my favorite historians, the hell-raising Bernard DeVoto...

       "A decisive point has been reached when a culture begins to believe its own advertising copy."

I have no idea where that one came from, because it had nothing to do with the story I was working on...

And then a bit farther down, a bit of my own writing, specifically, a few of my thoughts on the impact of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (you know, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains...)

"The fact that a cornpone musical written by a pair of New York composers who had never set foot in the state so quickly became our preferred self-identifying iconography is an indication of just how hard Oklahoma had been buffeted, both physically and culturally, by the winds of the 1930s. The hokey, gingham-wrapped twaddle of "Corn as high as an elephant's eye"  easily beat out the grim, quiet dignity of the Joads as our favorite cultural avatar, to this state's everlasting loss."

Yeah, that passage never made it into the story. You just don't criticize an entire state's sappy, beloved pap... although technically the musical Oklahoma! was based on an earlier play "Green Grow the Lilacs", which was written by an actual Oklahoman, Lynn Riggs. I've never seen it. I much prefer that other famous work written by that other out-of-state dandy who also didn't know beans about Oklahoma, or what parts of Oklahoma the Dust Bowl actually withered, but whose work was at least firmly based in the reality of the times and the reality of the human condition, a reality that thankfully didn't include any goddamned dancing cowboys or warbling maidens...  

* Both Edward Everett Dale and Angie Debo are the two acknowledged giants of Oklahoma historical scholarship. I took many of my classes at the University of Oklahoma in buildings named after Dale, none named after Debo, but of the two I much prefer Debo, who was a student of Dale's and the better writer and historian. Dale was a Frederick Jackson Turnerite. Debo was not. Her "And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes" was a landmark book that pissed off a lot of powerful people, sidetracked her career for a long time, and is required reading for anyone interested in the history of white/native relations. Next time the traveling production of Oklahoma! comes to your town, take the money you were going to spend on a ticket and go buy an Angie Debo book instead.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fly Rod ID?

Lately I have developed a serious infatuation with fiberglass fly rods, so much so that I'm in the process of selling off a couple of my graphite rods to help fund, eventually, hopefully, the purchase of some decent glass.

I have no idea why I have become so enamored of fiberglass fly rods, because I absolutely loathe (with a few exceptions) most fiberglass casting rods, and haven't actually bass fished with one since my pre-adolescent, late-seventies, early-eighties Lew's Speed Stick and Fenwick Lunkerstik days.

But bass casting is not fly casting, and the fiberglass rods (and slower-action graphite) just seem to suit my flailing, untutored stroke. And I must admit there is an aesthetic component as well: holy smokes some of those custom and semi-custom glass rods are beautiful things to behold. For months I've been lurking on websites like The Fiberglass Manifesto and the various Facebook fiberglass fly rod groups, staring at those lovely, translucent creations, and dreaming...

This, however, is not one of those...



It is in fact, butt-ugly, some nameless and unknown fiberglass rod that my son - ever the hawk-eyed picker - paid (IIRC) a dollar for at a garage sale while visiting his grandparents last year. All identifying markings have long-since worn away, so I was hoping someone could maybe ID it from general appearance. It's an eight-foot, two-piece, maybe a 6 or 7wt, and it's rough, really rough. All the eyes are loose and/or bent, the finish is peeling, and the EVA foam handle had sort of melted all over the end of the rod, so I took it off. I'm assuming it's an inexpensive, department-store rod, so I was considering using it as practice blank for a crude first attempt at building a fly rod.

Anyone have any idea what, exactly, it is?

I Got Nothin' Today...

So here's one for all the Trekkies out there...