Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This is why I can't escape the agri-industrial matrix...

You see, that's one of my little peach trees that fat beotch is munching on. I originally planted five of them (along with a bunch of apple, pear and plum trees) with visions of someday harvesting a bounty of free, organic fruity goodness. My natural larder, safe from the vagaries of our food-distribution system and our unsustainable and out-of-balance corporate agri-business complex.

Silly hippie.

One tree got shredded almost immediately by a rubbing buck, one tree took a look at the soil in which it was being planted and decided it was better to just get it over with and die immediately, and the remaining three have become sort of a never-ending buffet for the neighborhood deer. I water and fertilize. They tear and masticate.

I could shoot her, of course. Bow season starts Thursday and the idea of arrowing a fat doe while sitting comfortably at my kitchen table drinking the morning coffee does have a certain lazy appeal to it, especially in light of the fact that I've been feeding this ho and the rest of her herd all spring and summer.

I could put a fence around all the trees, but that involves the kind of work and expense I generally try to avoid.

So I just bitch, occasionally shoot them in the ass with my son's Red Ryder and continue buying my peaches at the grocery store.

Because, truth be told, I enjoy having them around. Especially during hunting season. Not for the prospect of easy venison (I still haven't decided whether it's merely ironic or stupid to have a herd of deer watching you load up your gear to go drive somewhere else to hunt...deer) but for the window it gives me into deer behavior and activity.

I hate to admit this because I've been hunting deer a long time, and I'm pretty good at it, but in the past two years I've probably learned more about deer behavior, deer vocalizations, deer body language and the overall rhythm of their existence by sitting on my back porch drinking beer than I ever have in the woods.

It's kind of my own personal rut and wildlife activity calendar. Last fall I had bucks chasing does literally across my back porch, bucks locking horns in the yard, bucks making scrapes under the bird feeders and bucks using my fruit trees as their sparring partners.

And I had this guy hanging out pretty much all the way through bow, muzzleloader and gun season as his competitors showed up one by one at the local check station. During gun season he actually watched me skin out a buck as he patiently waited for his bucket of corn. I think he ended up fathering half the fawns in the neighborhood last year. Smart fellow, that one.

It was great fun watching it all and learning something new from it, and I guess in the end that trumps fresh peaches.

But next year I'm planting okra. Behind a fence.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Marlin update...

Joe Cermele's Hook Shots episode is up over at the Field and Stream website.


Not only is Joe is a seriously talented video editor who did a great job on this one, he's also a helluva nice guy who busted his ass to make sure I had a great time this weekend.

Head on over, watch the video and leave a comment on Joe's blog. And you even get the chance to watch yours truly getting my ass flat whipped by that magnificent fish.

Well, I'm back...

And to be honest, I'm too wiped out and too busy catching up on stuff to write a proper post, but I'll leave you with a few pics to give an idea of the kind of trip I had...

Getting strapped into the fighting chair...

After an hour in the fighting chair...

Grabbing the bill...

And here's 600 pounds of blue marlin coming into the boat...

I'm not quite sure what I was thinking here...

Time for one quick pic from the bridge (See the blood on my teeth? I bit the hell out of myself while in the chair and I was too wiped out to even notice it)...

Length and girth measured...

And then back into the Atlantic...

Un. Freakin'. Real. I'll actually post words when my brain re-sets and I regain the use of my right arm well enough to type...

Joe Cermele(who took the majority of these photos) is working on getting it all together on a Hook Shots episode over at the F&S website and I'll post a link when it's up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm off to the wilds of...New Jersey?

The problem with success is, that's never the end of it. You can’t just leave well enough alone when you do something right. Can’t just enjoy the moment. You have to go and muck it all up by trying to do it again. Success just breeds success, and then pretty soon you have all those damn expectations. Then when your expectations aren’t met you get disappointed, which makes you work harder to succeed, and then when you don’t...well, you get the picture.

Luckily I don't have that problem. Failure’s always been one of my options. In my world, you always have the choice to not succeed. In fact, if I was in the business of creating jingles for losers, I start with something like "Failure: just keep the option open" or perhaps "Failure: is it really that bad?" or maybe "Without losers there would be no winners!"
I've had some spectacular failures in my life, but nowhere have I been as consistent a failure as in my attempt to catch a fish- any fish - with saltwater coursing through its gills.

My epic failures in this endeavor are sustained by a potent combination of geography (landlocked), funding ('aint got none) and general incompetence (got plenty).

Oh, I've tried. My first attempt came on a college road trip to Galveston with a couple non-fishing buddies. I brought a rod and had every intention of fishing, but we decided to "grab a quick beer" when we arrived and from that point - with the exception of a few lingering nightmares involving motel cockroaches - my memory fails, but I'm fairly confident I didn't catch anything. At least from fishing.

I tried again last year when my wife and I spent a week in Key West drinking, eating and watching drag queens. I also spent the entire week attempting to catch a fish without resorting to either a guide or plunking bait off the side of a bridge. Because I'm a purist, you see. And a dumbass. After a few days even the bums were feeling sorry for me. And when a guy who - literally - lives under a bridge tells you to keep your chin up, you know things aren't going well.

So I kept trying, and after one week, countless casts, numerous hook-ups that didn't stay hooked up and a some truly interesting conversations with the local color, I caught...this starfish. I named him Patrick and let him go.

After that trip I pretty much resigned myself to forget saltwater and go find other windmills at which to tilt, but a combination of ultra-cheap airfares and the pity shown me by Field & Stream assistant on-line editor, saltwater fiend and all-around good guy Joe Cermele has once again given me an opportunity to break the curse.

I called him up one day a few months ago and said "hey, Southwest has some really cheap tickets right now. Any suggestions on a quick weekend trip I can make to sit on a pier somewhere and catch tourist fish?"

He replied "Give me a couple hours, I'll get back to you." By that afternoon my humble plans to drop a bobber off a pier had been transformed into an epic overnight offshore fishing trip off the coast of New Jersey in a boat bigger than the town I was born in, chasing fish I've only read about in magazines.

Joe's good.

So I'm off once again. Pride goeth before the fall, so pride's sitting this one out. Expectations, too. All I'm taking with me is the saltwater monkey on my back. We're going to see just how powerful my saltwater fishing curse is. Can it triumph over a 65-foot boat, a crew of grizzled, experienced saltwater anglers and an entire ocean of fish? Or will it finally be vanquished?

We'll see. I get back early next week. Until then, I'd look for news stories with a New Jersey dateline that read something like this: "Freak waterspout accident sweeps Oklahoma man from local fishing vessel as he attempts to land first tuna. The boat's crew says the man's last words before being swept off deck were "I'm gonna do it! I'm finally gonna do it! Hey, what's that cloud?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Self-medication, Mallard-style

To the person who stumbled across the blog after Googling "Is there any cure discontent":

Sadly, no.

It is, at least in my case, a terminal condition with no known cure. You can briefly deaden its symptoms with drugs (both legal and illicit), booze, reality television or Wal-Mart people-watching.

All of these things will temporarily make you feel better about yourself, but eventually the discontent will creep back in and soon, very soon, you will be pissed off and dissatisfied all over again.

So my advice is rather than fight your discontent, accept it. Embrace it. View it as a cattle prod for your soul and let it zap you in the ass every time you start becoming complacent, malleable, unquestioning.

Do you really want to be a shiny-happy, well-adjusted, content person, all docile and smiley-faced and ready to accept the fate society hands you? I call those people livestock.

I don't trust happy, contented well-adjusted people and you shouldn't either. Your discontent is a gift that lifts you above the cud-chewers. Use it to your advantage.

And if that doesn't work, if all else fails, then go get yourself a big-bore handgun, a few boxes of shells, a shitload of water jugs and start blazing away. In the long run it's cheaper, more cathartic and a helluva lot more fun than a shrink.

Sorry I couldn't be of more help.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Say baby, how YOU doin'?

Hunting season is about to get cranked up in a big way. The problem is, many of us aren't in the kind of shape serious hunting demands.

So, as a public service, here's my pre-season get-in-shape routine. And I must say, it's working pretty well for me so far...

Wake up one morning. Step on the bathroom scale. Yell at it. Call it a damn dirty liar. Check the batteries in scale. Tell yourself "that can't be right." Step on scale again. Weep.

Look in mirror. Recoil in terror. Accept the fact you're now officially 25 pounds over your formerly athletic high school weight. Mourn. Go eat a pan of brownies to ease the pain.

Wake up next morning. Suck in your gut. Tell your wife you're going on a diet. After she leaves, eat a pan of brownies.

Wake up next morning. Tell your wife "this is the day, it starts now!" After she leaves, eat a pan of brownies. Because you see, it's the last box of brownie mix and you're just "getting rid of them" because you can't just let them go to waste, right? And besides, how can you be expected to start a diet with a bunch of brownies lying around? Geez...

Wake up next morning. Don't bother stepping on scale. In fact, flip it off as you go by. Head straight to kitchen. No more brownies, so grab the kids' Pop-Tarts with one hand. Use other hand to grab a nearby spatula and start beating the hand holding the Pop-Tarts until said Pop-Tarts are released.

Spend the rest of the day munching on cauliflower while staring at the pantry full of delicious, individually-wrapped snack items. Fight back urge to gorge by grabbing your ample mid-section with both hands and doing your best Ned Beatty impersonation.

Go to bed with shooting pangs of hunger in your ample belly, tempered by the distant, haunting chords of "Dueling Banjos" in your head. Tell yourself you've got to get back in shape before bow season opens up or you'll have a heart attack trying to drag out a deer. Fall asleep and dream of sugar. Pure, beautiful, sugar.

Wake up the next morning. Rummage through your man-freezer (the one containing both wild game and other items (stinkbait, pelts, frozen carcasses, etc) your wife won't allow in the "normal" freezer) pull out one of the turkeys from last spring. Skin it, de-bone it and slow-cook it overnight.

Wake up the next morning. Walk into kitchen. Prepare a healthy, low-carb roast turkey wrap with healthy green, leafy vegetables while blankly staring at unhealthy Pop-Tarts and dreaming of unhealthy brownies and unhealthy pecan pie. Tell yourself that being healthy really sucks.

Eat a turkey-based meal for lunch. Eat a turkey-based meal for dinner. Go to bed. Wake up. Eat a turkey-based meal for breakfast. Eat a turkey-based meal for lunch. Eat a turkey-based meal for dinner. Go to bed. Wake up...

Repeat this pattern until you have consumed the flesh of an entire 20 lb. turkey and you've started dreaming in turkey, thinking turkey, speaking turkey, walking turkey, eyeing the hens in the back yard...

Chase hens in backyard, unsuccessfully. Rupture your larynx attempting to gobble. Frighten the neighbors. Come to your senses. Tell yourself the next turkey you consume is going to be deep-fat fried and served with a side of deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried Snickers bars and pretty much anything else that's carbohydrate-based and can be deep-fried and consumed with beer. Lots of beer.

Wake up the next morning. Step on scale. Discover that your two weeks of strict adherence to the diet has resulted in a net weight loss of almost twelve ounces. Rejoice. Celebrate with a pan of brownies...

See? Piece of cake. Now you're ready for hunting season...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A photographic chronicle of youth versus age...

In a previous post I wrote about the opening of dove season acting as a series of waypoints along the path of my life. Well, for better or worse, here's a little photographic proof...

You'd be hard-pressed to find a gamebird that's had more photographic injustices done to it than the dove. Other gamebirds get the artsy poses with fine guns and weathered barnwood, while dove generally get photographed with a group of grinning, none-too-bright-looking Bubbas standing over a huge communal pile of freshly-shot carcasses.

Take this unfortunate photograph, for example. It was taken on the side of some forgotten old section line road south of Mountain View, Oklahoma way back in (if rusty memory serves me) 1988. Despite the potentially destabilizing weight of that massive mullet and dove-flaring properties of that bright red ballcap, my friends and I shot obscene numbers of dove in the disced-over fields on either side of that road.

And as befitting our youth, exuberance and our complete lack of sophistication or taste (Isn't that any teenager?) we took obscenely bad photos. We'd pile our dead birds on the back of that old Datsun, dove spilling off the trunk lid like lifeless little rags, and grin at the camera.

Oh to be young, stupid, clueless and truant. I miss those days greatly, setting off with no plan, no money and no worries beyond finding the next place to hunt. Destination? Nowhere, and damn eager to get there. Just drive west. We’ll find birds. Somewhere.

But time and change are inexorable. I haven't been that young and carefree for a long time, and I rarely shoot dove in waves any more. My friends have long gone on to their own lives, their own changes and so I hunt mostly alone now, and probably will until my sons are old enough to accompany me if they so choose.

And killing something with no other company than your own thoughts is an activity best done at a measured pace and for a measured purpose. So I try to do it with a little more restraint and a little more taste than I did as a youth, despite that underlying urge, the compelling need, to hunt being just as strong in this picture as it was in that one.

Yes, it's a well-worn and familiar pose. Certainly not original at all. And I'm not trying to apologize or make up for the photographic transgressions of a reckless and bloodthirsty youth by getting all faux-elegant and tastefully understated.

Nope, both youth and hunting are what they are. I make no apologies for either (with the exception of the mullet. And for that I'm truly sorry...)

But I like it anyway (the picture. Not the mullet). It speaks to who I am.

And despite its horrendous technical deficiencies and its questionable artistic qualities, I like that old snapshot, too. It speaks to who I once was.

In a few years I'm sure I'll figure out a way to meld a shotgun, a walker and an oxygen bottle into a photograph that speaks to who I'll someday be.

** Since Youtube and SonyBMG won't allow any embedding of their music videos, I guess I won't be clever by adding Social Distortion's "Story Of My Life" video to the end of the blog...

Well, piss on them. Here's the link anyway.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Pretty Sure It Was All the Gun's Fault...

Early-season dove hunting in my area is one of those things best done without the help of a dog. It's usually very hot, very dry, very snakey, sandburrs are everywhere and if you're not careful heatstroke is just one long retrieve away.

Plus, if you're sending the dog on a blind, or even on marked birds that have fallen in the sagebrush, they often have a hard time finding them because scenting conditions are so poor.

So what did I do? Took my dogs dove hunting, of course. I knew at the outset it was going to be a low-percentages hunt, but I wanted to get the dogs, especially my male, the chance to start getting into the hunting season mindset, so I decided to hunt a stock tank on my local WMA and shoot "training" birds, only taking specific shots that would be good retrieves for the dogs.

That turned out to be a fair bit of chutzpah on my part...

My area's wheat crop was a total bust this year. My local WMA manager told me he didn't even bother discing and burning the food plots they plant to attract dove, so right there one of the main concentrators of dove on the areas I hunt is absent this year. That's not to say there aren't good numbers of dove still around. There are. But when there are 16,000-odd acres of native vegetation to feed on, figuring out a good spot from which to shoot a few can be a challenge.

But dove must drink, too, and one of the best (and one of my favorite) ways to shoot a limit around here is to set up on a stock tank or windmill in the evening. Usually by late August/early September we're dry as the proverbial bone and those creaking old Aermotors are dove magnets.

Unless of course, you get rain. Which we have. And unless we've had a spell of cool, cloudy weather that starts getting those dove thinking about leaving for warmer climes a bit sooner than normal. Which we have.

In those conditions, if you hunt public land that means there are few easy birds. You have to hustle and you have to walk and scout to find enough birds to shoot. Not good for dogs when it's in the 90s.

But I felt sorry for the dogs. They've lounged around all summer getting fat and lazy. I couldn't just leave them there, could I? So off we went.

I've shot a lot of limits off this particular tank, and for what I wanted to do it was perfect: fairly short walk, good spot and thanks to all the rain it was about four times its normal size, big and deep enough to provide a good swim for the dogs.

Despite our recent cool weather, it's still getting pretty warm in the afternoons. Which makes this...

One of my absolute favorite parts of dove hunting. Being public land, you (thankfully) have to hoof it to reach most of the windmills on northwestern Oklahoma's WMAs, but when you get there you're rewarded with one of life's greatest simple pleasures: clear, cold water straight from the outlet pipe of a high plains windmill.

That is, if the wind's blowing. If it's not, well, then you're hot, thirsty and screwed.

So we get there and we sit and wait for a dove to fly by. And we wait. And wait. And wait.

I mean, I know I just waxed poetic about the beauty of not shooting dove, but after a while it was like "come on, throw me a bone here, hunting gods! I've been sitting here broiling and musing on life long enough. Now I want to shoot something."

I am nothing if not hypocritical...

So finally, two hours, a sunburn, four gallons of water and two burned-out retinas later, a dove flies by...while I'm eating a bag of peanuts. A few minutes later another one flies by...while I'm taking pictures of the dogs. Several minutes later a pair flutter by...while I'm up trying to chase off the cattle whose sole purpose in life is to mill around in my line of fire while chewing cuds and shitting on each other.

And then, it happens. A dove finally flies by when I have my gun in my hands, a perfect quartering away shot that, if I can hit it, will force the dog to swim the pond diagonally, exit, keep the line, pick up the bird and then swim back.

That is, if I can hit it. Which of course, I don't. Bang. Bang. Shit. This, however, is just the opening salvo in what would prove to be possibly the worst bout of shooting I've ever experienced.

Now I'm not vain nor do I have any grand illusions about my skill with firearms. I consider myself a pretty lousy pistol shot and a merely adequate rifleman. But I've always been reasonably good with a shotgun, and I'm especially proud of my dove shooting.

But for whatever reason - bad luck, self-doubt, karma, the folly of pride - I literally can not hit anything flying. I miss crossers left and right. I miss them flying away. I miss them in singles, I miss them in pairs and I miss them in groups. It is an epic display of shotgunning incompetence.

And after each miss, I look down at my gun - my beloved little Beretta - in amazement and ask "Are you the same gun? What the hell did I do to piss you off?"

Yes, I was starting to get irrational. And the dogs were getting bored.

But finally, after expending a number of precious and now-quite-expensive AAs, a number so staggeringly large it shall not be repeated here, I hit a dove. Sort of. After the shot it flutters across the pond in that way that says "I'm dead, I just don't know it yet." It finally crashes into the side of a sage-covered sandhill about a hundred yards distant.

So much for easy marks for the dogs. My male is a good marker but he doesn't handle very well yet and I don't want to get him out there and get him confused, so I decide to send my old female.

She's a good dog, but, bless her stumpy little heart, she's not the best marker in the world and I know I'll probably have to handle her to the bird, because she's got a pond and at least two depressions to cross before she hits that hill. She also has a tendency for her lines to drift on longer retrieves

I know she saw the bird drop, so this isn't considered a blind. I line her up as best I can and send her on her name, "Tess" (if it had been a blind I'd send her on "back").

Now Tess has always been something of a bank-runner, which is mostly my fault because I never really worked her on things like channel blinds. If she thinks she can get to a bird or bumper faster by running around water instead of swimming through it, that's what she'll do.

But not this time. She hits the water, swims across the pond and starts toward the hill. I lose sight of her when she drops into the first depression behind the pond dam and when she comes out she's tailing off the line to the left.

Thank god for that, because another of Tess' annoying little habits (thanks to my lousy training) is she always, always turns to her right when she turns around on the sit whistle. So if she's tailing to the right to begin with, this means I usually have to give her a left "over" to get her back on line.

I give her the sit whistle and she of course turns to the right before sitting facing me. This puts her directly in line with where I think the bird is. I cross my fingers, give a little prayer to the dog gods, raise my hand and give her a "back!"

She wheels around, takes off and to my utter amazement, nails the bird at the base of the hill. Not only that, she keeps the same line coming back, hits the water, swims back across the pond, gets out, comes to heel and when I say "drop" she gently spits the bird into my hand and looks at me like "whaddya think of that?"

I look down at her - my fat, stubborn little chessie - in astonishment and say "Are you the same dog? Where the hell did you learn that?"
Did I have my camera out for any of this? Silly question. Of course not.

Even though I still had a half-hour of shooting light, I decided picking my gun back up (besides being a superfluous and futile gesture) would surely sully what had suddenly become a good day. So I decided to end it on a positive note.

I let the dogs splash and swim around, threw them a few bumpers and just sat and watched the hard light of day slowly melt into dusk. All in all not a bad way to start the season.