Monday, November 30, 2009

OK, so I know I've said this before...

But I really am planning on updating the blog in terms of its look, photography, links, the blogroll, etc, etc. It's just a matter of taking the time to actually, you know, do it...

I know a number of fellow bloggers have added me to their blogroll and I promise that my lack of reciprocity does not constitute blatant assholery on my part. As I once explained to an ex-girlfriend with whom I was breaking up, "It's not you, baby. It's me."

OK, so I just completely made that up. I've never uttered those words in my life and in fact the few times I ever managed to beat an ex-girlfriend to the break-up punch I always made it a point to blame everything on her. That, as they say, is just the way I roll...

But hey, the point still holds. The fact is, I'm still fairly intimidated by the fact that I am solely responsible for this blog's design and content. I'm just a writer, a scribbler. I am, by my own admission, horrible with visuals, art direction or creating anything that looks pleasing to the eye.

You want proof? I couldn't think of an appropriate photo to go with today's blog, so I just decided on this gratuitous cute puppy pic. Of course it's a brainless cop-out, but everyone likes puppies, right?

It's a perfect example of why every time I sit down with the intention of redesigning, adding to or tweaking the blog, my internal voice tells me "You suck at this. Just go have a beer." So I do.

See, I started this blog on a whim, a little side project purely for my own amusement. Just a place to stick things that didn't fit elsewhere, didn't make much sense or weren't and never would be publishable. It's horribly unfocused, completely scattershot, wildly inconsistent, has no target demographic, brand or identity whatsoever and is, quite frankly, a little weird. Just like me.

I never really meant it to be an online resume or portfolio of my writing, and I certainly never expected anyone to read the damn thing.

But The Suburban Bushwacker took a bit of pity on me, and since then I have accumulated a raging trickle of regular readers, a few of whom aren't even family. I mean, every once in a while if the topic is salient or pithy enough I may crack twenty unique visits a day.

And since I have a small family and few literate friends, that means there are literally tens of people out there who are occasionally interested or bored enough to visit the blog.

I thank you, and I once again apologize for failing to extend the courtesy you've extended me. I'm in the process of updating the blogroll, adding pictures, screwing around with the look and themes and generally mucking things up. You might want to avert your eyes, because it might get ugly (ier).

And if you've added me to your blogroll but you don't see yours in mine (when I get it finished) please let me know.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

To hell with deer. A hawking I will go...

Apologies for my recent inactivity. Our deer gun season opened last weekend and I've been trying to squeeze in as much hunting as I can between work and other useless activities.

For someone who said he was going to do more meat hunting this year, I've passed on any number of bucks, but sitting in the blind this morning I spied movement on the ridge opposite me and put the binos on what turned out to be perhaps the largest buck I've personally ever seen with a rifle in my hand.

I watched him make his way down the ridge into a heavily-wooded draw running perpendicular to the ridge I was on. All he had to do was come back out of it. Of course he never did.

If I was smart, tomorrow morning, well before dawn, I would slip into that draw and set up on him. But I'm not.

Instead, I'll be watching my betters hunt. Peregrines, gyrfalcons, goshawks, red-tails, perhaps even a golden eagle.

The North American Falconers Association annual meet is in Woodward this year and tomorrow I'm tagging along with a group of falconers and their birds.

It's a rare opportunity to watch something I've always been fascinated with, but never quite thought I had what it took to actually do.

So as much as I want to shoot that deer, I want to watch these birds fly more.

I mean, just look at him. Who wouldn't drop everything to watch that?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dogs on the mind.

Tomorrow is Oklahoma's quail season opener and rather than hunting I will be puttering around the house watching the boys while my wife takes a group of her students to an "Academic Bowl" tournament (sort of a high school Jeopardy for brainy kids).

Which of course is perfectly fine by me, because being a common non-landed, non-gentried public-hunting prole, I hate quail openers and avoid them like the swine flu.

In fact, were I not staying home with the kids I would be spending tomorrow morning sitting in the cattails with Tess or Lewey listening to the cacophony of shotgun blasts, beeper collars, whistles and the endless screams of "HERE! I SAID HERE, DAMN IT!" as a small army of pointers, setters, shorthairs, Brits and mutts of unknown "bird dog" lineage are loosed upon the land.

And many of them, tasting freedom from the kennels for the first time since possibly last year's opener, take full advantage of it. It's quite the scene. Of course, the sheer numbers ebb and flow according to the yearly quail outlook. This year is supposed to be merely so-so, on the low side of average so perhaps it won't be so chaotic.

Still, I'll sit it out, and when things calm down I'll load up the dogs and we'll go see if we can flush a few quail. Which brings me to the point of this blog post. I used to hunt quail quite a lot but in the past few years I really haven't done much quail hunting, because let's face it: chessies aren't exactly quail dogs.

But the dog in the picture certainly was. That is (or rather was) DP, which is short for Door Prize. I won DP at a QU banquet shortly after I got married and while I was still in college. DP was - and probably always will be- the sweetest little dog I ever owned. She was of Elhew/Fiddler and a little Guard Rail breeding, but heaviest by far on Elhew and so maybe that's where the disposition came from. I'm not enough of a pointer guy to say for sure, all I know is she was a lapdog in a pointer's body. If ever a dog had a truly gentle soul, it was DP.

She was also a beautiful, stylish hunter: her gait was effortless and fluid. When she locked up on point she had a straight twelve 'o clock tail and a gorgeous head (not so much in this photo, which was taken when she was fairly old and sported a head full of scars from a vicious fight she got into with (and barely survived thanks only to our vet) my first chessie (a mean, surly bitch who also ended up breaking my heart).

She was my first real bird dog. But as she got older her pancreas started to fail, and to make a long story bearable, I ended up burying her not far from where she pointed her first quail.

And I haven't had a pointing dog since, partly because I had the chessies to occupy me, partly because we didn't have room for three dogs in our old house, partly because I didn't think I could find another dog like DP and partly because I wasn't even sure I wanted to get back into bird dogs.

But lately I've been thinking. Just thinking, that's all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leave the cannoli. Take the (second) chainsaw.

There is a wonderfully droll scene in The Godfather (which in turn inspired the equally wonderfully droll book of essays by Sarah Vowell) in which Clemenza and a nameless minion have just dispatched a suspected rat with a few shots fired into said rat's head from the back seat of a car. As the two men are casually preparing to leave the bloody scene, Clemenza looks at his none-too-bright minion and says with a tinge of irritation "Leave the gun. Take the Cannoli."

Priorities, you see...

I thought of that scene last week as I was sitting on the tailgate of my truck cursing (loudly and longly) trying vainly to start a chainsaw that, up to that point, had never failed to start and indeed had never given me so much as a hiccup in the number of years I've used to it to fell trees, cut firewood and clear brush and the cursed Eastern redcedar.

But last week, it sure enough quit on me. And quit at a time when I was 30 miles from home and without the second chainsaw that I normally take as a back-up. I had forgotten to throw it in the truck. I was in a hurry because I wanted to cut a load of wood quickly and then lazily fritter away the rest of the afternoon hunting. Since we're heating mainly with wood this winter, enduring the former is how I usually justify (to the wife) getting away with the latter.

My chainsaw, however, wasn't cooperating with my plan. After it became apparent the damn thing wasn't going to start, I said to hell with it and decided to go hunting. The only problem was, there was no in hell my wife was ever going to believe that my chainsaw "just wouldn't start." It's November. It's bow season. And she's no fool. Somehow, I needed wood.

Then I remembered the 24-inch bow saw and and axe I always carry in my truck tool box, and thought "Silly modern man! Do you think your wood-cutting ancestors had chainsaws? Your great-grandfather's one-man crosscut saw hanging on the garage wall wasn't always decoration, you know."

So, with visions of self-sufficient rugged individualism looping through my head like some kind of uber-stylized Leni Riefenstahl-ish fantasy, I slung my saw and axe over my broad, rugged shoulder and sallied forth into the big woods, whistling Python's Lumberjack song as I went (Hey, it's the only lumberjack song I know...).

An hour later, with both my broad, rugged shoulders and all illusions shattered I came stumbling back, exhausted, soaked in sweat, rubbery, useless arms hanging from my sides like so much over-cooked pasta. I had managed to cut enough wood to perhaps keep me warm overnight, provided the temperature didn't drop to, oh, say 65 degrees or so.

I figured that at this pace to fill the bed of my truck with a load of firewood, a task that - with a chainsaw - I can usually finish in two, maybe three hours of work would with bow saw and axe take me roughly until mid-January.

My "O, Pioneers" delusions thusly destroyed, I once again said to hell with it, threw the saw and axe back in the tool box, flipped off the chainsaw one last time, grabbed my bow and went hunting. Which is what I should have done in the first place.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a "Field Notes" blog about an anthropologist's claim that modern man is, compared to his forebears, a screaming pantywaist

All I can say is yes. Absolutely yes. I, for one, am a wimp. And if I ever find myself in some post-Apocalyptic zombie scenario in which I must prioritize what I take and what I leave, both the gun and the cannoli stay. But the chainsaw goes with me. After I tune it up.

***As a postscript to this story, the next day, for reasons known only to the whimsical gods of the two-stroke engine, that same chainsaw started on the second pull and cut two pick-up beds full of logs without a hitch. ***

Monday, November 9, 2009

Of mallards, wigeon and Coppertone...

I finally got a chance to get out Sunday morning for a little duck hunting, the first of the season for me.
It's not often that I wake up on a November morning to pre-dawn temps in the sixties and a forecast of sunshine and seventies. Not exactly traditional duck hunting weather, but when you gotta go you gotta go, so I went.

I threw the waders and a half-dozen decoys in the bag, loaded up Tess and headed for a favorite slough on my local lake. It's just a shallow little bowl of water, maybe an acre surrounded by trees, and it's a fairly long walk in, but I can usually find a few mallards hanging around.

One thing that really surprised me was the number of duck hunters I saw on the lake yesterday. I live in a part of the state where duck hunting isn't at all common. During a typical season I'll run into a few hunters from back east who hunt the area until their zone opener, but after that I usually have the place to myself.

Not yesterday. There were no less (and possibly more) than four different groups of hunters on the lake. I'm not used to sharing, and I fervently hope those people had a lousy hunt and decide to go somewhere else in the future. Yes, I've become a little spoiled in my solitude.

Despite the warm weather we've been having there were a few ducks on the lake this weekend and I managed to shoot a pair of mallards and a wigeon. I had my chance to limit out but the poor shooting I experienced during dove season has apparently carried over into duck season.

In fact, my dogs are becoming increasingly concerned about my inability to hit birds. There's nothing quite like a disapproving look to make you feel inadequate.

What ducks I did manage to hit were pretty easy marks for Tess, so the dog work was fairly routine. I am, however, going to have to work on breaking on the shot. It's my fault, really. She knows the rules but I've been letting it slide some during hunting and it's now becoming a problem. One of the disadvantages of hunting alone is it's very hard to work on things like that by yourself, whereas with a partner they can shoot and you can train.

Of course, while I'm thinking I need a hunting partner to help my training, my dogs are probably thinking I need a hunting partner so they might actually get to retrieve something this season...

Friday, November 6, 2009

And I thought Oklahoma's liquor laws were screwy...

But apparently they're nothing compared to what some of our game laws used to be...

I was recently given a copy of the October 1935 edition of Outdoor Life. Besides that wonderful cover art the magazine features a compilation of all the states' game laws.

Here are the season dates and regulations for Oklahoma's 1935 quail season...

Quail....Nov. 20 to Jan. 1

Note: Quail may not be hunted except on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week during open season and on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day, or, if these holidays fall on Sundays, on the preceding Saturdays.

Bag and possession limits: 10 a day, 50 a season.

Believe it or not, the laws concerning what days of the week on which you could hunt quail persisted well into the 1980s or even the early 90s. I can't recall exactly when Oklahoma decided to take the great leap forward to something resembling a normal quail season. Maybe an old-time Okie bird hunter could chime in and refresh this youngster's memory.

I vaguely remember the old quail hunting laws but since I didn't grow up with any kind of quail hunting tradition when I took up the sport as a teenager (if you can call stumbling around with no dog and no clue "taking up the sport") I pretty much ignored what I considered a bullshit law and hunted quail whenever I could (in season, of course). What can I say, I was young and I usually couldn't quail hunt on Monday, Wednesday or Friday anyway because I was too busy skipping school to go bass fish, bowhunt, shoot pool and other various and sundry juvenile delinquent activities.

Quail season starts on the 14th this year, runs through Feb. 15 and I can hunt them on any damn day I want to. Screw the good 'ol days. Now if we could just figure out how to bring our quail population back to 1935 levels...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Notes from a recent outing...

This past weekend my eight-year-old son and I took a combination Halloween pumpkin-blasting, firewood-cutting, deer-hunting trip to Ye Olde Wife's Family Farm. Now my son has gone with me on any number of "hunting" trips but this was really the first time to take him with me when I was seriously planning on shooting a deer.

It would be a learning experience for both of us. Here are a few observations from said trip:

1. If you want to document your trip through the wonders of modern digital photography, it helps greatly if you remember to stick the Compactflash card in your camera before you leave the house.

2. When you think you've packed enough food and drink to sustain an eight-year-old on a daytrip, immediately double that amount and you should be good. And don't bother planning on eating yours. He'll want that, too.

3. While you may know to roll up your window when you're about to blast through a particularly muddy and slick section of washed-out county road, don't forget to remind your eight-year-old to do the same.

4. Leftover Halloween jack-o-lanterns make great targets for eight-year-old shooters, but they can only sustain so many blasts from a 20 gauge.

5. No matter how many times your eight-year-old son insists he's "man enough" to shoot your .50 caliber muzzleloader, tell him no.

6. If you feel guilty for wisely not allowing your eight-year-old to shoot your gun, bruise his shoulder, scope his forehead and instantly and permanently lose all interest in firearms, don't try to ease that guilt by handing him your brand-new $20 Swedish firesteel, your expensive custom-made knife and challenging him to make a fire. He will:

A. return 20 minutes later with your custom-made knife covered with charred firesteel slag and the formerly brand-new quarter-inch-thick firesteel ground down to the approximate diameter of a toothpick, or

B. return 20 minutes later at the head of a raging grass fire.

7. When you're bucking logs the wrong way, you know you're bucking logs the wrong way but you go ahead and do it the wrong way, anyway, make sure your eight-year-old son is out of earshot when your bar gets pinched and you let loose a string of expletives or you will be scolded for saying bad words and subsequently threatened with being told on to Mommy.

8. Your idea of "helping out" and your eight-year-old son's idea of "helping out" can vary wildly.

9. When it comes time to go hunting, make sure you pay attention to what your son is wearing. While you know that it will become chilly as the sun goes down, don't be a dummy and assume your eight-year-old son knows this, too. Otherwise, when it's way too late to walk back to the truck for a jacket you will be forced to surrender your nice warm fleece pullover to your shivering eight-year-old son and commence shivering yourself.

10. After you and your eight-year-old son have been sitting quietly in the blind for an hour or so, it's a good idea to take a quick look around before telling your son it's OK to noisily tear open that bag of Skittles...

11. When a nice fat doe walks across the clearing in front of your blind but the weeds and grass are so high the only part of her you can see is the top of her head, you will suddenly and belatedly recognize the wisdom of your eight-year-old son's words the last time you two were here: "Daddy, I think you need to bring the brushcutter down here, You can't see anything!"

12. When that same doe finally gets clear of the brush and you put the crosshairs behind her shoulder, don't start having an internal debate along the lines of "OK, I hope he's ready for this, old enough to understand what's going on, mature enough to handle the finality of death, etc, etc, hmmm, maybe I should ask him one more time if he's sure he wants me to shoot her, if he thinks he's ready."
Because when you lean over to whisper to your son "do you want me to shoot her?" the doe will instantly see your slight movement, the kind of slight movement you perhaps could have gotten away with had you been wearing the camo pullover that's now keeping your eight-year-old son warm instead of the bright neon blue t-shirt that contrasts so nicely with your orange vest.

13. When the doe you just busted blows and crashes off down the draw, taking with it what sounds like an entire herd of as-yet-and-now-never-will-be-seen deer with it as well as your plans to bowhunt this same draw next week, it's a good idea to start working on the excuse so you'll have one ready when your eight-year-old son asks you "Geez, daddy, why didn't you shoot the doe? I kept waiting and waiting but you never shot!"

No deer this trip but a great time was had by all. Deer gun season starts in a few weeks and this was a good trial run for our planned opening weekend camping trip. I guess if I could sum up the lessons learned it would be thusly "don't second-guess your kids and bring lots of candy."