Thursday, December 30, 2010

More Uncommon Commoners...

I've been simply inundated with common-ness lately: I shot a common goldeneye, got inspired by Steve Bodio to start a commonplace book and then today, this...

A pretty pair of common mergansers that came into the spread this morning, and the fifteenth species of duck the old lady has delivered to hand. My memory is failing so I'm not completely positive, but I believe they're the first common mergansers I've ever shot, and if they aren't they're certainly the first commom mergs I've shot over Tess.

I don't generally shoot mergansers, but certainly not for lack of opportunity. We have tons of hooded mergs on the lake I hunt, and I literally can't keep them out of the decoys. I'm pretty sure they'd decoy in to a bunch of two-liter pop bottles. Not terribly bright, but they're beautiful and fun to watch with their "grrrrt" calls to each other and I figure they add a little motion to the spread as well as give Tess something to stare at while we wait for other ducks to come in.

But common mergansers? For whatever reason I just don't see them whenever I hunt the main lake, which - because my puddles and ponds are mostly dry due to drought - is what I've done a lot of this season.

So when a small group came winging by the decoys not long after LST, I didn't hesitate to shoot a couple. Probably won't do it again, as mergansers don't have the best reputation as table fare, but they are undeniably beautiful birds and I'm toying with the idea of having the drake mounted.

And if you're wondering what's up with the blue speculum, there are also a couple greenheads under there somewhere. All in all not bad for a quickie one-hour hunt, and Tess got another species notch on her collar. Truth be told I've been feeling guilty about that, as I've spent a disproportionate share of time this past month either gone or running Jenny in my ongoing quest to get the pup as many days afield as possible.

But she was happy today, despite having to stand around in chest-deep water again. I haven't, however, informed her that tomorrow she sleeps in while Jenny and I go chase the mythical (at least this year) wild bobwhite quail. I fear she's going to get uncommonly pouty when she sees the truck leave without her...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Of blogging breaks and old profs who resemble Steve Earle ...

After the last post I decided to take a little break from blogging, do a little hunting and get through Christmas before starting up again. I was going to wait until after the first of the year before resuming, but I was perusing our state newspaper yesterday and came across an interesting story about one of my old college professors.

From this story in the Oklahoman

History Professor William Savage doesn't own a cell phone, a new computer provided him by the University of Oklahoma sits untouched in its box in his office, and his e-mail address is listed as “I$have$no$”

“I embrace the forms of technology I find useful,” Savage explains. That includes a few “gizmos,” as he calls most devices that are more contemporary than the pencil and legal pad he has used to compose 11 books and countless journal articles over his decades in academia. For instance, since he likes movies, Savage has a VCR and two DVD players he uses with his cathode ray tube TV sets, provided they have “enough holes” to accept the wires those devices require.

In today's light-speed wireless, electronic, digital technocracy, where most people are consumed by a 24-7 matrix of smart phones, social media and texting, Savage ambles along with “snail mail,” landline phones and books printed on that flat material that appears from laser printers. The “troglodyte.” That's what Savage, who won't reveal his age other than to say he is a “pre-Boomer,” has been called, he said. “Mostly it's ‘fossil,' ‘geezer,' ‘coot.' My colleagues frequently refer to me as a Luddite.”

Savage, who tries to have a cigar in his hand whenever he has a photo taken “because it's offensive,” doesn't care for e-books, cell phones jabber in the checkout line and people who e-mail co-workers at the next desk. And don't get him started on Boolean logic. To explain his opposition to what others might call progress, Savage turns to his expertise in Oklahoma history. When farmers needed fences on the Great Plains, he said, there wasn't enough timber to build them with split wooden rails as farmers in the forested East did. Barbed wire solved that problem. When farmers on the arid prairies needed water, the windmill pump was invented.

The point is that the Industrial Revolution solved existing problems, Savage said. These days, he said, countless electronic whatnots solve problems that don't exist and fill needs we don't have, at least until marketers convince us we do. “An awful lot of the stuff made available and marketed to people is nonessential.” The result, he said, is a din of self-expression a thousand miles wide and a quarter-inch deep. “Nobody thinks about much anymore,” he said. “They're too busy talking.”

I took (If I recall correctly) three of Savage's upper-division western history classes at a time when I was seriously flirting with changing my major from public administration to history. Why I didn't is one of those enduring mysteries we tend to look back on twenty or so years later and ask ourselves "Why didn't I? Just what the hell was I thinking?"

As a teacher Savage was exactly as he comes across in the article: a gruff, grouchy, abrupt, opinionated and generally misanthropic asshole who spoke his mind and didn't really give a shit who it might have offended. His classes were great fun, and to this day it's one of my great regrets that I didn't run screaming from the OU public administration program and into the history department.

But in reading the article it occurred to me that "Wild Bill" Savage (as he was known among students) is a dead ringer for Steve Earle. Not young, lean, hairy, dangerous-looking Guitar Town Steve Earle, but portly, post-addiction, male-pattern baldness The Wire Steve Earle. I didn't realize this at the time, of course, because back then Steve Earle looked like this...

While my professor looked (even back then) pretty much like this...

Not much resemblence, is there? But that was then and this is now...

So I guess the moral of the story is: if you're a lean, hairy, cool and dangerous looking outlaw country-rock/folk singer-songwriter, don't go on a decade-long booze, coke and heroin bender or you'll end up looking like a portly, balding history professor who hates technology.

Don't say you weren't warned...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Diver Down

Funny how adding a few diver decoys to your puddler spread in hopes of giving it a little more variety and color tends to bring in a few...divers. Common goldeneye. Not so common around here, at least in the areas I hunt. This is the first one I've shot in several years.

Because of where and how I hunt, most of the divers I shoot are incidental, just random drop-ins. But if I had a boat, oh, if I only had a boat, I could see myself really getting into those big, open water diver spreads...

She'd really appreciate it, too...

I'm not sure on the literal translation, but I think that look says "This standing in chest-deep water shit is starting to get a little old, bub. How 'bout you buy me a boat, loser?"

And Josh, if you're reading, I haven't forgotten your wood duck flank feathers. I'm just waiting until the end of the season in case I have anything else to send you...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just Words...

There aren’t many things a person can hold on to over the course of a lifetime. We lose friends and family to death, distance and petty grievances. The passing of years turns youthful hopes and expectations into scraps of memory we lock away, wistful artifacts of the people we once were. And promises made in the exuberance of that youth, promises we once held to be inviolate and forever, are revealed as words, just words, as illusory and fleeting as the breath it took to utter them.

I’m no different. There’s not a helluva lot in this life I’ve managed to do right, and the man I am is a lifetime removed from the man I once thought I’d be. I’m difficult to live with. I’m moody. I’m often distant. I’ve never lived up to the potential, the expectations and the faith others have placed in me and I’m not at all sure - and never will be - that I am deserving of what I have.

And what I have, despite having screwed up virtually everything else that’s ever been handed me, is a wife; a remarkable, beautiful wife who fifteen years ago today made a promise. Words, just words, as illusory and fleeting as the breath it took to utter them. But she is still here. Through all the innumerable little disappointments, joys, defeats, triumphs, heartaches, discoveries, losses and every other daily struggle that taken as whole comprises life, she is still here. She’s the anchor that keeps me from drifting, the only one I’ve ever had, the only one I’ve ever needed. She’s the best friend I’ve ever had, and without her I’m not just lost, I cease being me.

I don’t tell her I love her nearly as much as I should, don’t show her those small, spontaneous acts of public affection as often as she deserves. I’ve never been much good at showing affection. But in quiet, unguarded moments I find myself looking at her with the same sense of wonder and amazement I felt when I saw her for the first time, when I first saw that smile that made me feel weak and funny inside and fell instantly, unequivocally, in love. And in those moments I marvel that after all these years I still have the only thing I ever really wanted.

Happy anniversary, honey. It’s not crystal, but then again I was never very good at presents, either. You are the best thing that ever happened to me, you're a better wife than I am a husband and I don't love you just as much as I did when we married, I love you much, much more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'm back. Yet again. With news, even...

If I recall correctly, I ended my last blog post, oh so many days ago, with "I'm going to bed." And I suppose it would be reasonable to infer from said statement that at some point in the near future I'd wake up and actually write something rather than simply leave the blog cold for ten days or so.

I did, in point of fact, wake up, but only long enough to wash my clothes, re-pack them and then catch a plane to Utah, where I spent last week engaged in various and sundry activities involving shotguns and birds, activities that would normally - were it not for the kindly largess of others - be way, way above my tiny and impoverished rung on the socio-economic ladder.

More on that, and my trip to South Dakota, later. My schedule has been a bit hectic the past couple weeks, to say the least. It's something that I, as a crabby, short-tempered and generally reclusive (my wife would say hermit-like) misanthrope, am not used to. I've obviously got a lot of catching up to do, blog-wise, so I'll start with some work blog changes that may or may not affect the personal blog.

A few of you may have noticed (or not, if the chirping crickets and lack of comments are any indication) that last week I started co-writing Field & Stream's gundogs blog (Here's a link to my introductory blog. Please tell the world how great I am and much you love me). I'm also still co-writing the Field Notes blog, but David Maccar, who is the newest addition to the online editorial staff, is now doing much of the Field Notes material (and doing a helluva good job, I might add).

I am extremely honored and very excited to get the opportunity to write for the F&S gundogs blog, as the late Bill Tarrant, who was Field & Stream's gundogs editor from 1973 until he died in 1998, was one of my all-time favorite writers of any genre and a huge influence growing up. He was inarguably one of the best writers to ever grace that magazine's pages, and for a publication whose sporting literary tradition can't be touched, that's saying a lot. Now obviously Bill Tarrant never knew what the hell a blog was, and I have no idea what he might have thought of them if he had, but to be able to write about dogs and hunting with dogs in the same publication (even if it is now digital) is a professional and personal milestone for me. I just hope I don't screw it up...

It does, however, pose something of a quandary: I've grown quite fond of writing about my dogs on this obscure little personal blog, and I don't know how much - if any - of what I do here will, or even can, transfer to the F&S blog. I'm still taking baby steps over there, but I'm hoping to eventually be able to get a little more experimental and a little more literary with some of the material (Mouthful of Feathers, Wingshot and Eight More Miles dudes, I'm lookin' at you...).

If that happens, and at this point I honestly don't know if it will, then I might be cutting back some on the dog and upland/waterfowl-related items I write here. But not much, because I can't abandon writing for my own amusement altogether, and of course I've got everything and anything else to write about, too. It's a strange and inchoate beat I march to, and I don't see the blog deviating much from that course regardless of what I write for others.

And whatever I write, next time I'll try to keep from going almost two weeks between writing it...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Back from My Own Rooster Road Trip #1

My apologies for the week of non activity. Immediately following the last post, the Gods decided to throw me a bone and I put a nice fat doe in the freezer. And it's the damndest thing: I don't even miss the horns. Hopefully a few more will follow before the season(s) ends.

But no sooner had I finished that then I had to pack for a week of driving (endless driving) and pheasant hunting in Aberdeen, South Dakota with the folks at Pheasants Forever, thus the reason for my absence.

I had a wonderful time. I experienced some amazing hunting, managed to not embarrass myself shooting, watched a lot of good dog work, watched my dog chase after said dogs (maybe she learned something) met some new friends, learned a lot about the conservation work PF does, finally got to meet in person a number of guys I had only known through e-mail, generally had a blast and hope like hell they invite me back next year. Pics and more info to follow, of course.

But I'm home now, having just stumbled in after a fourteen-hour drive that started in a winter storm warning and ended in t-shirt weather. I'm bleary-eyed, dead-tired and haven't checked my e-mail since Monday. I'm going to bed...  

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Memo from the Gods

To: Chad Love

From: The Gods

Date: 11-23-10

Subject: Re: Mallard of Discontent Blog Post 10-24-10 specifically, graf 1 lines 4-5 "Provided I have the opportunity to do so, the first two bucks and the first four does I see will be going in the freezer. No questions, no hesitation, no contemplation." (please see attached response below).

Dear Mr. Love,

In reference to your uttering of the above noted passage, we regret to inform you that pursuant to statutory requirements set down in the Immortal Deity Code (27th Edition), we must invoke Rule 3C of Section 42 of the IDC, "Quashing Rash and/or Overly Self-Confident Mortal Pronouncements" which clearly states (and we quote)...

                      "Announcing your plans is a good way to make the gods laugh"

We are now laughing at you. If you feel this decision has been made in error please contact our customer relations department by making a sacrifice at the alter of your choosing. We accept goats, pigs, chickens and most other domesticated beasts, but due to ongoing legal issues we unfortunately cannot accept virgins at this time.

Once your sacrificial request has been submitted it will be forwarded to our Consideration of Mortal Pleas Committee and a decision will be made within 90 days. If you do not hear from us in that period of time that means the original decision in your case has been confirmed and you have no further appeals. The laughter will continue. Please do not contact us, as incessant inquiries may incur a smiting penalty.

If however, the committee reverses the original decision in your case, the divine laughter will stop and the stated intentions set forth in your original rash and/or overly self-confident pronouncement may proceed without further interference. If this is the case you will be informed of said decision via mysterious old crone, spectral vision, talking animal or other appropriately god-like sign.

And please understand that we can process pleas only in the order in which they are received. This is our busy time of year and your patience and cooperation is much appreciated (incessant complaints may incur a smiting penalty).

Thank you and have a wonderful day,

The Gods

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Things That Other People Say Don't Suck: Little Giant Food Bowls

I haven't done a "Things That Don't Suck" for a while, so I'm going to cheat and do a "Things That Other People Say Don't Suck," which is a category of items I've discovered through other bloggers' reviews, tried and found to be eminently non-sucky.

I have used stainless steel food bowls for years. They're indestructable, but if you've never had the pleasure of hearing the earth-shattering sound of steel pan on kennel concrete, courtesy of your dog jumping on and subsequently launching said food pan into the air, lucky you. It's in my top 10 all-time annoying sounds.

Enter the Little Giant Duraflex food bowl. I found out about this rubberized little gem through reading Scampwalker's excellent post on the best hunting gear or gadgets you never heard about.

So I went right out and bought four of the two-quart feed bowls. Two for the kennel and two for the truck. Total cost, ten bucks. I have to admit I was skeptical. My dogs can chew through Kryptonite. Last year for Christmas my in-laws bought me some "chew-proof" dog toys. The next day I scooped their pooped-out remains into the crap can, along with what was left of a granite headstone, an engine block from a '78 Chevy and a big pile of re-bar I had thrown into the kennels to keep the dogs occupied. So much for chew-proof.

But it's been a week of blessed silence, and the bowls are as new. Not a mark on them. And surviving a week with my dogs is about as strong an endorsement as I can give. Next up, just in time for winter, is the purchase of two of the Little Giant water buckets. I'm done with shattering regular plastic five-gallon buckets every time I go to break the dogs' ice.

And incidentally, if you have a good tip on a piece of gear, you might want to head over to Scampwalker's Eight More Miles blog. He's running a contest for the best gear tip, and giving away (giving away!) a schweeeet Boyt bird vest to the best entry.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Desperation is the Mother of Invention, Stupidity its Father.

What do two old rusty aluminum play arrows left by your son in the back of the truck, a rubber band and a bit of decoy cord scrounged from the floorboard have in common?

They can all come together to save your dumb ass when you realize you left the shooting sticks sitting on the workbench back at the house and the other side of that draw is way past offhand range. Your offhand range, anyway. ***

*** The author would like you to know that no deer were harmed in the creation of this blog post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reluctant Hiatus...

Today I'm dragging the dog box out of the truck. Won't be needing it much for the next few days. Deer gun season opens tomorrow and while we have a sixteen day season on private land, for the next nine days the public hunting areas are closed to accommodate the army of deerslayers currently girding their blaze orange loins in preparation for the pending battle with their ungulate quarry.

So no bird or duck hunting for me unless I drive to Kansas. Which I might, depending on what and how many deer I shoot this weekend and how accusingly the dogs look at me over the next few days.

Tomorrow's sunrise will find me down on the farm having my "Screw the headgear and shoot the first thing I see and be done with it" philosophy sorely tested. I mean, it is just the first day, right? Maybe I should hold out just a little bit for a, uh...heavier buck. Yeah, that's it. Heavier buck. It's not horn hunting because heavier bucks have more meat, right?

We'll see. Last year I ate a tag waiting for a palpitation-inducing buck that was glimpsed only once and never seen again beyond memory. In all likelihood that particular buck's current physical address is someone else's wall, so that won't be happening again. I may, however, wait a few days, anyway. If I can't bird hunt I might as well be hunting something, right?

Besides, it gives me a chance to carry Sweetness, my beer budget Sako...

Now I am not generally a rifle loony and my personal firearms aesthetic runs strongly to walnut and blued steel, the older the better. But this is my one exception to that rule. She's a Tikka T3 Stainless Synthetic in 6.5x55, a configuration that's a bit hard to get here in the States. She's the only synthetic-stocked rifle I own, and damn it, I don't care if she does look like a cheap floosie, I love her.

Some guys don't care for them, (they're ugly, they've got a detachable mag, they're made of plastic, they're furrin') but I think the Tikka T3s are among the best bang-for-buck guns out there. They're cheap, they're well-made and they shoot insanely well.

Mine weighs in at seven pounds, eleven ounces with the scope, sling and four rounds of ammo and feels like about six pounds in the hand. It shoots MOA or better (sometimes much better) with pretty much anything you care to stuff down its throat (in fact it and a CZ 550 in the same caliber are the two most accurate rifles I own) and the bolt on a T3 feels like liquid ball bearings.

I paired it up with a Leupold FXIII 6x42 fixed-power scope (as close to perfection in a hunting scope as I am ever apt to experience) and the resulting package is my personal idea of the perfect deer/antelope gun. About the only thing I'd change, and I probably will this year, is add a set of aftermarket rings.

Two years ago Sweetness took a pretty nice buck where I'll be hunting tomorrow. Her positive juju wasn't enough to bring last year's bruiser up from the depths for me, but we'll see how it goes this weekend...  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Behold My Mighty Nice Clapstick...

It's been a rather hectic week since my last blog post; the start of quail season (no birds), the continuation of duck season (a few more birds, including the year's first greenhead and greenwing), getting ready for the deer gun opener in two days ("No horn porn and if it's brown it's down. Or gray. Or whatever" is this year's theme), the need to shoot a turkey before the fall season ends in a few days, a sick child, a sick wife, trying to get one story finished and sent off, travel for another F&S assignment, some news of pending work changes and the work involved in said changes, trying not to forget to clean the shower so as to avoid the weekly beating from the wife and seemingly dozens of other distractions, all of them blog-worthy.

But will I write about them? No, (at least not yet). So in lieu of all that I'll just make a dick joke instead...

Tuesday found me on the road on a story assignment, so I spent Tuesday night in ye old home town before continuing on the next morning. So naturally I hit all the used book stores searching for literary trash and treasure, as I always do when I find myself in a university town with a plethora of good used bookshops.

Most of them know me, or at least know who I am and what I generally look for, and as I walked into one particular shop owned by a sweet old marmishy-looking spinster, she jumped up and said (Verbatim. I am not making this up) "Hey, I bet you'd like a mighty nice clapstick, wouldn't you?"

I froze, taken aback at this most intimate and personal of questions, and it took me a second to realize she was talking about Peter Hathaway Capstick, famous churner of purple-prosed African hunting adventure of sometimes dubious authenticity.

"I don't see many Clapsticks any more, but this one's really nice and I thought of you," she said. I bit down, hard, on my lower lip to keep from laughing. The smartass in me longed, nay, ached, to reply "I used to have one of those, but penicillin cleared it up nicely."

But of course, I didn't. And though I have no idea why she got it in her head that it was "Clapstick" I didn't correct her for fear of offending. What else could I do?

So I came home with the Clapstick. Now my wife is gonna kill me...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's What's For Dinner...

The British blokes (I'm looking at you Suburban Bushwacker and Rabbit Stew ...) aren't the only ones who can break out a little air power.

You know what's magical? Rediscovering a simple, unadorned and largely forgotten joy that you thought you'd left behind years ago...

A little off-topic...

Apologies for the lack of any posts this week. I've been distracted with a multitude of issues both minor and mid-major that have prevented me from posting anything of depth, meaning or substance. So once again I'll just cop-out and post something stupid, off-topic (or at least as off-topic as I can get on this scattershot blog) and juvenile.

And I apologize, too, for those few readers (among the overall few) who live outside the somewhat myopic confines of the Big 12 football conference, because you just aren't going to get, nor will you care to get, this blog post. For that I apologize, and I promise I'll get back to the regular stuff forthwith.

But for all you Sooners and other Big 12 college football fans out there, this was just too damn tragically funny (if you're a Sooner) to pass up. Sometimes we have to laugh to keep from gnashing our teeth and wailing...

Original link is here via The Lost Ogle...


Sunday, November 7, 2010

2010 Duck Hunt #3: Morning Wood for Your Viewing Pleasure...

Yes, it's silly and a little crude, but I haven't shot a wood duck since starting the blog, so humor me...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

First live bird contact

The other day I rigged up a half-assed bastard version of Scampwalker's pigeon pole from whatever scrap materials I could scrounge from around the house and planted it (with quail attached) in the vacant lot across from our house.

Obviously my pole is much shorter than his (don't worry, I'm used to it) and I cut the string length to about twelve feet, but it seemed to work reasonably well.

After setting two of them out I snapped Jenny into a check cord and brought her in downwind of them.

A nice solid point, and I'm pretty sure she was at least attempting to use her nose, as the quail had buried itself into the weeds about eight feet or so on the other side of the pole. But now I know why Scampwalker uses a ten-foot pole and a forty-foot lead attached to the bird, because when I walked in to flush the bird, it flew up 12 feet and then promptly bounced right back down on top of us. A few moments of sheer pandemonium ensued.

So lesson learned: give the bird enough altitude to at least give the illusion of escape.

So we then worked into the second pole. Another solid point. Another flush. More pandemonium. Much fun. Quail season starts in nine days. She has no idea what she's supposed to be doing. I have no idea how to effectively teach her what she's supposed to be doing, but I think we're going to have a lot of fun being clueless together.

Tis the season indeed...

Yesterday I received the first (of many, I'm sure) Black Friday e-mail ad of the season. This morning, while perusing Boingboing I spilled coffee all over myself laughing when I came across this Black Friday "coupon."

Think I'm going to try to redeem it at the nearest Cabela's. Hey man, half-off is half-off and I don't care who you gotta worship to get it...For someone in my income bracket, "half-price" is like the singing of the angels, or Pan, or whatever spectral vision, idol, flying spaghetti monster or cloven-hooved deity you may follow.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2010 Duck Hunt #2: At least we got wet...

No smashed vehicles greet me Sunday morning. No ducks greet me, either. No wind. No clouds. No fronts. No rain.No water. No cold. No ducks.

 Lifeless, still, unconvincing decoy spread further hampered by overeager, unconvincing calling.  A few small flights of gadwall buzz the pond. One straggler, a bit lower than the others, stays behind. A smart but simple retrieve brought quickly to hand. Just one, but it beats hell out of sitting in the truck all morning. It's a start, and if you can't be happy with that then I'd say you've got issues...

In honor of election day...

The two most useless machines in existence battle for supremacy. Take from this whatever metaphorical imagery you care to. These two particular world's most useless machines are (apparently) sparring over California's Prop 19, but I think the basic message is interchangeable with, oh, pretty much everything...

Monday, November 1, 2010

2010 Duck Hunt 1: Over before it started.

I noticed the car horn as I was tossing the decoy bag in the back of the truck. Three honks, a pause, three honks, a pause, three honks, a pause, from somewhere toward the road. Damned car alarms.

It was still honking as Tess and I pulled out of the driveway, and when I got down to the intersection I saw why. There was a truck with a very crumpled front end sitting in the middle of the road, hazard lights flashing, horn wailing. Inside the truck was a very upset lady who had swerved to avoid a deer (always a bad idea) and then smacked into one of the large native stone escarpements that adorn the entrance to the state park.

She was a bit shaken up, but unhurt. Her truck, however, was not. I managed to pop the hood and disconnect the lead to the horn, then called the sheriff's office. I had been on a pretty tight schedule to begin with, and now as the eastern sky started glowing a faint pink, I (reluctantly, but only on the inside) told her I'd stay with her until the state trooper got there. Who said chivalry (even reluctant, damn-there-goes-my-hunt chivalry) is dead?

So when the trooper got there twenty five minutes later, I said my goodbyes, waited until the trooper's car was out of sight, and then hit the gas. The primary destination was out. The back-up destination was closer, but with Oklahoma's Zone 2 opener still a week away, chances are the local lake would be covered up with metro area hunters.

Yep, it was. So this is how we spent our first duck hunt of the 2010 season...

Pure, unadulterated canine depression...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rule of Thumb #2...

There's a very fine line between provocative and stupid. Walk it at your peril...

*** And, I should probably add, I myself have fallen on the wrong side of that line more often than I care to admit...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last chance hunts...

A fellow bird hunter and I were recently discussing the ethics of hunting upland gamebirds that - despite being threatened with practical if not literal extinction - still have legal seasons in some states.

We were specifically discussing lesser prairie chickens, a bird that in the space of a little over one hundred years has gone from being the most iconic and populous prairie gamebird species on the southern plains to one that has disappeared from all but a tiny fraction of its historic range. There are, however, still huntable populations of lessers in southwest Kansas, and the question was, should we plan a "Last Chance" trip to hunt lessers before they're (inevitably) listed under the ESA?

Now that topic is a weighty one, and will be the subject of a future blog post, but I mention it today as a segue to something I found that sort of ties into the question. Lessers, it seems, aren't the only gamebirds on the brink.

Bird Hunted To Near Extinction Due To Infuriating 'Fuck You' Call

Now I must confess I've never hunted the Montana Merkle, but I'm wondering how many former merkle hunters there are out there who wrestled with the same question I now face with the lesser prairie chicken, and how many are still haunted by the memory of the merkle's plaintive, profane call echoing across the prairie (or wherever it lives...) fuuuuck youuuu, fuuuuck youuuu...

Kinda makes you tear up just a bit, doesn't it?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Follow The Bouncing Tail...

Apologies for the dearth of activity the past few days. I've been in Texas (by choice, even) chasing bird dogs for an upcoming web story/photo gallery for F&S. Had a good time, met some good folks, drank some good scotch (good in the fact that not only was it a fine single-malt Islay beginning with the letter "L", but good in the fact that someone else paid for it, thus saving this month's mortgage payment). As such, I downed as much as my liver would allow. I am only an occasional but shamelessly opportunistic drunk...

I took Jenny along for the trip, and as you can tell from the photograph, she had a lot of fun trying to keep up with older, faster, stronger and bigger-running dogs. She didn't stumble across any wild birds, but on the way back I picked up a few quail from a game farm. We'll see how that goes this week.

The downside was I missed the waterfowl opener and Tessie the chessie is a bit put out with me. I tried explaining to her that we have no water on the private land and since the deerslayer muzzleloader season also opened on Saturday there was no way we were hunting the lake, but she's still a bit grumpy. If I can find some water I'll make it up to her this weekend.

More posts to follow once I catch up with responsibilities and other drudgeries...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chamber music

It looks like a fuzzy portal to the afterlife, but in reality it's the world's worst photograph of a lengthened forcing cone. Had I not been so lazy and used my regular SLR instead of the point-n-shoot, you'd be viewing the world's second-worst photograph of a lengthened forcing cone.

But I was (so lazy), so you get the worst. Lucky you. And please forgive the grime. I just got the barrel back and I haven't yet run a patch through it.

In the ongoing project to extend the duck-killing days of my old 870 (of which you can read, if you'd like, how I acquired it and subsequently what I'm doing to it ) I sent the barrel off to shotgun specialist Mike Orlen to have it threaded for choke tubes and cut back to the first rib post, as well as have the forcing cone lengthened.

So what started out life as a 30-inch full-choke barrel that patterned really well with one steel load but not so much with everything else was returned to me as a svelte, lively tube that I hope will pattern well with just about anything, or at least a few more loads than it did before.

And while the jury is still out among some as to the effectiveness of lengthened forcing cones on both patterns and recoil, I'm hoping it helps a little with both. I guess we'll see.

Remington, in apparently mistaking me for someone who mattered, recently sent me a few boxes of their new Hypersonic steel loads to try out. I'll shoot a few at the pattern board next week and see how they (and the barrel) does.

In the meantime, remember, don't walk toward the light...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Viva La Resistance!

I'm pretty sure I've posted this or a similar photo here before, but my memory is failing so maybe I haven't. At any rate, in light of the ongoing tumult in France I thought I'd post it again. Or for the first time. I can't recall, so whichever applies...

Imagine a group of young, impressionable, innocent, wide-eyed rural high school kids from Dustbowl, USA sitting on the steps of the Paris Opera House eating lunch as this raucous scene unfolds before them. How cool would that be? That's the kind of populist cross-cultural education you just can't get at the Louvre. It was great fun...

Say what you will about the French (and personally, I can't help but love 'em) but they do know how to throw a good protest/strike/street demonstration.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Duck season's looking a little grim...

At least down at the old farm. How grim? Well, the spot where my truck is parked should be under about three feet of water this time of year. And there should be ducks, lots of ducks, all over it. Instead, you can just barely make out the lake (or what's left of it) way off in the distance.

 I'm taking this picture from one of my duck blinds. In fact, that firewood in the bed of the truck? Yeah, that used to be one of my duck blinds. No sense in letting all that good dead-standing wood go to waste, right? Gotta make hay when the sun shines. And obviously it's been shining quite a bit the past couple of years...

We're still in the grip of what the climatologists classify as a "moderate drought" but all I know is that virtually all of my early-season shallow-water hunting spots are simply gone, replaced by dusty little bowls of cracked and desiccated earth. Which means if I want to hunt I'm going to have to switch to main lakes and bigger, deeper bodies of water.

Anyone have a layout boat or sneak box they want to send my way? Looks like I'm going to need one...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This is not what I'm striving for this year...

Unless I happen to stumble across one as nice or nicer before I shoot the first legal buck I see during muzzleloader or rifle season. This year I'm hunting strictly for meat. Headgear will not make its way into the equation this season, nor will the kind of serious in-stand/blind time I've done in years past. Provided I have the opportunity to do so, the first two bucks and the first four does I see will be going in the freezer. No questions, no hesitation, no contemplation.

The question is, why? Why would a guy who fell in love with the bow and bowhunting the first time he picked one up as a teenager let the first two weeks of the Oklahoma archery season pass by without so much as an afternoon in the woods? Why would a guy who last year let any number of nice, eminently shootable bucks walk during rifle season suddenly decide this year to shoot whatever passes by first?

And the answer is, I really don't know. I can't put my finger on any one compelling reason. I certainly haven't lost my desire to hunt big game, but I do think maybe I've lost, or at least I'm losing, my desire to hunt according to what I see as the increasingly artificial, frenetic, misplaced and generally fucked up mores, ideals and attitudes of the American big-game hunting scene.

That is a fairly predictable and certainly un-original lament, so I see no reason to get pedantic or preachy about it.

 And while it may seem as such, it's not a judgement or a condemnation of others. That's simply how I see it for myself. Therein lies the beauty of hunting: it is, ultimately, whatever you want it to be, and it means whatever you want it to mean.

It just so happens that increasingly I'm finding that what it means to me is at odds with what it means to everyone else, so I must find my clarity in the simple, easy-to-understand act of killing large animals solely for the sake of one's food. Perhaps somewhere along the way I'll manage to find the rest of what I've apparently lost.

In the meantime, I will find my solace in dogs, birds, ducks and boys. And that's not a bad place to be.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Canine Tweener

Guess who turned six months old today?

And guess who still doesn't care? At all.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cheapskate Chronicles: Drill Baby Drill Edition.

There are - when winnowed down to the honest truth - two categories of outdoor writers: the first category encompasses writers who call up the PR or marketing rep for whatever company that makes whatever product the writer is interested in to ask for a review copy of said product, and is promptly sent said product.

The second category encompasses writers who call up the PR or marketing rep for whatever company that makes whatever product the writer is interested in to ask for a review copy of said product, and is promptly sent a brochure for said product and a map to the nearest retail store.

Go on, take a guess as to which category yours truly belongs?

So in my ongoing project to upgrade my aged 870 before the start of this year's waterfowl season, one of the things I wished to add was a sling, as my old arms are getting weak and tired. Problem is, my geriatric (or vintage, if you prefer) 870 did not come equipped with a swivel-studded magazine tube cap.

I didn't want to spend the whopping twenty bucks it would take to buy one, and I knew if I called up one of the companies that manufacture aftermarket swivel-studded magazine tube caps to request a writer's sample I would promptly be sent a brochure and directions to the nearest retail outlet.

So I did what anyone of my peasant lineage and correspondingly peasant income bracket would do: I made my own.

And you know what? I discovered that you can do a helluva lot with a drill, a spare sling swivel and the kind of innovation best stoked by the desperation of an empty wallet.

Behold! The mighty hand-crafted awesomeness of my zero-cost magazine tube cap. In a day and age seemingly engulfed in a rampant orgy of crass consumerism (and one in which I'd gladly engage if I had the filthy lucre to do so) it is my small paean to the spirit of do-it-yourself-cause-you-ain't-got-no-choiceism.

And please don't point out the obvious fact that if this doesn't work I'm out the twenty bucks for a replacement magazine tube cap anyway because I've destroyed the stock one. Just give me my fleeting victory. I'll let you know if it's a hollow one first time I throw the gun across my back...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A study in resilience

Here's a photograph of a doe that is about as near to death as I've ever seen. It was taken earlier this summer, and the photograph simply does not do justice to how horrible she looked. That right rear leg was so badly broken that it flopped back and forth as she limped along, and while you can't see it in the photograph, the other side was so swollen it looked like someone had planted a water balloon under her skin. She might have weighed 50 pounds, but I doubt it.

And how old were her fawns?

A week, maybe two weeks at most.

The situation presented me with quite a moral and philosophical dilemma. I felt there was absolutely no way this doe, which was one of our previous year's fawns, would make it another few days. But her fawns were clearly too young to survive on their own. What to do? Let her die? Shoot her? Try to keep the other does off her so she could eat a bit?

She couldn't run, she could barely walk, she could barely nurse. The other deer routinely beat her and ran her off not only the feed we placed out, but everything the deer grazed on around the house; grass, trees, shrubs, water. It was brutal, it was merciless and it was a stark but important lesson for the boys that no matter how much we'd like to sugercoat it, Nature is a harsh and unyielding bitch.

I called our county warden and discussed it with him. He said "If you think she's not going to survive I can come out, put her down and we can try to catch the fawns." I don't know why I hesitated, but I did. I told him I'd give it a day or two and call him back. I never did.

And thus began an entire summer of what I came to think of as "deer patrol." Every time I'd see her limp into the yard, looking around furtively to make sure no other does were near, I'd get up from what I was doing, grab a bucket of corn and a slingshot and go stand guard as she ate with that mangled, useless leg drawn up to her body.

I was still firmly convinced she wouldn't last the summer - there was really no question of that - but I knew there was no chance of catching her fawns and I figured if I could keep her alive long enough for the fawns to start eating, they'd at least have a fighting chance to make it into the fall. If mama doe could just hang on another couple weeks and get them off the milk, but that was a damn big "if"...

And here's a picture I snapped this morning...

Amazing, isn't it? The fawns are sleek and healthy and she's at a near-normal weight. Her leg will always be a little crooked and gimpy, and I still question how well she'll handle this winter, but she can walk and run pretty much normally, and more importantly, she can fight, rearing up on her hind legs to defend herself against other does. They no longer run her off like they used to. Just yesterday I watched as a little buck tried to bully her off  a patch of grass and got a quick hoof to the back for his troubles.

(and in case you're wondering, the warty-looking patches on her are a harmless skin condition called cutaneous fibromas. They're basically "deer warts" caused by biting flies. It's been a bad year for them and my theory as to why she has so many more than the other deer is that she has a compromised immune system from fighting off the infection in her leg.)

From an ethical standpoint should I have spent all summer doing what I did? I don't know. You could certainly make the case that I interfered, meddled in something I shouldn't have and artificially altered a situation I had no business in.

On the other hand, I've been deer hunting long enough to know I shouldn't make any negative assumptions about a deer's chances for survival. They are incredibly hardy animals, and there is no way of knowing if anything I did helped that doe's chances of  survival at all, and probably a bit egocentric to assume I did. She may very well have pulled through regardless.

So who knows? I guess, if you're inclined to see things one way I'm guilty of trifling with nature, anthropomorphizing the grand, cruel struggle for survival. And if you're inclined to see things another way I just did what comes natural to some humans who see an animal in distress, even those humans who hunt those same animals.

Me, I just do what feels right and natural. I never much saw the point in trying to analyze either logic or empathy. I just like watching those fawns dancing through the woods.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm famous! At least my fish is. Sort of. In Jersey.

Some time back Darren Dorris at the New Jersey Angler magazine asked me to write a first-person account of last year's New Jersey Fishing Trip, the one on which I somehow found myself attached to the 600-pound blue marlin you see below.

Just got my contributor copies in the mail, and I gotta admit, it really makes me want to go back. Jersey is - despite Snooki (see below) - a really cool place and if you love to fish it's just about perfection. Hopefully I'll be able to go back next year for stripers and tuna, and if I ever win the lottery I'm buying a boat and a beach house, hiring myself a film crew and doing my own damn version of Jersey Shore...

Redundancy in Science...

I recently read of the ethical conundrum scientists are facing over the possibility of cloning a Neanderthal.

Via BoingBoing

Should we clone a neanderthal? No, really, should we? Recently, Archaeology magazine considered the scientific, legal, and of course ethical challenges of doing just that. Researchers from Roche's 454 Life Sciences and genetics firm Illumina are collecting bits of Neanderthal DNA to sequence the genome of a 30,000-year-old Neanderthal woman from Croatia. Once the genome is complete, making a clone is no easy task. But as the article explains, it's within the relam of possibility. And what happens if there's success?

My question is: why do need to go through the trouble of cloning Neanderthals? See below.

Abandon all hope ye who live here

What a dumbshit culture we live in, what a willfully dumbshit people we are and what an age-old and ultimately useless (because we're all dumbshits, remember) lament that is, because this, folks, is who we are...

From the Chicago Tribune

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, star of the reality tv show "Jersey Shore" is writing a book set for release in early 2011. The novel, which will be titled "A Shore Thing," will include "big hair, dark tans and fights galore" according to the book's publisher, Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

Of her book the "Jersey Shore" star said in a written statement, "I'm pumped to announce to my fans a project that I've been working on for some time."

To be fair, this is not a surprise. "With the help of her managers, Snooki is trying to spin her image into Snooki-theme products and maybe a book..." Cathy Horn wrote in the New York Times in July of the reality star. Of Polizzi's literary inclinations, Horn also writes, "She simply isn’t capable of serious introspection. She told me she has read only two books in her life, 'Twilight' and 'Dear John.'"

Move along, folks, nothing to see here...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cop-out Thursday

I can't really think of anything to write today, so I'm dipping into the archive well, shallow though it may be...

I am, by both natural inclination and financial necessity a cheap and miserly bastard, although I prefer the condition’s less pejorative and currently trendy nom de plume of “frugal.”

That’s why I drive a truck that’s pushing 160,000 miles, that’s why the computer I’m typing these words on is so old it has a floppy drive (really, it does…), that’s why I hold my nose and haunt the local Wal-Mart after hunting season is over hoping to score a few marked-down boxes of AAs or steel waterfowl loads and that’s why my oldest son, who asked for an engineering set for Christmas, instead received a box full of twigs, toilet paper tubes, bits of copper wire and PVC pipe left over from the construction of our house and a big container of Elmer’s glue to “engineer” it all together.

There are, however, some things I have massive trouble resisting. Classic shotguns with two barrels and nice wood, gundog puppies that beseech you with those pleading blue eyes, high-end rods and reels, custom knives, custom bows, vintage maps and travel posters, German optics, scotch and above all, books.

I should probably be thankful for that, because as much as I like all that other stuff, I mostly can't afford it. Books, on the other hand, I can usually find the coin to buy. But not just any books. No Barnes & Noble-Borders-Hastings Pay-Full-Retail for me. Nope, I like used books. Old books. Done-been-read books. Out-of-print books. Obscure books.

I know that seems a little self-immolating, career-wise, for someone with aspirations of someday writing books he fervently hopes many, many people will pay full retail for, but I can't change who I am. When you grow up hardscrabble you have no choice but to go swimming for hung-up spinnerbaits, be picky with your shots come dove season and buy used books.

And although I do buy a fair number of new books at chain stores, it just seems such a soulless way of going about it, what with the clean, wide, well-lighted aisles, cheerful staff, the faux-coziness, the local beatnik tribute band setting up in the espresso bar, the college students earnestly (and inexplicably) reading the pixilated words on their laptops while ignoring the printed words that surround them. Give me dusty shelves, tattered pages and crazy old bastard bookshop owners any day.

The problem for me, however, is that I live in a town with exactly one real, in point-of-fact bookshop, and for the most part it's the kind of place patronized by housewives, hairdressers and grannies who come in once a month to exchange an old grocery bag full of tales of busty damsels and well-hung swashbucklers for a new grocery sack full of tales of busty damsels and well-hung swashbucklers.

So I have to get my used bookshop fix whenever I return to my hometown for a few days. And it was there in a used bookshop that the difference between independent bookshops and chain stores was once again driven home to me, but in a weird and unsettling way.

But first, a little backstory: The particular used bookshop is something of an institution in my hometown. I bought my first book there when I was eleven years old. When I was sixteen I tried applying for a job and the crazy old bastard (henceforth known as COB) who owned the shop informed me he only hired girls. I tried again when I was nineteen and the COB again informed me he only hired girls.

I figured that if a vagina was what it took to get the job I probably didn’t want to work there, anyway, so I stopped asking. But other than that the COB was a decent sort - if a little pervy - and he DID always seem to employ one of those quirky-hot 18th-Century French lit major-types sporting Lisa Loeb glasses and tight shirts, so I continued buying and selling books there until I married and moved to Purgatory some years later.

So I walked into this shop a few weeks ago and there's the COB, looking exactly the same as he did when I was eleven. I'm now 38. I know he's at least feeling older, however, because instead of Lisa Loeb he now employs Cloris Leachman, an unsmiling, marmish old lady just retired from a career spent performing penal institution body cavity searches.

Withering under her severe gaze, I retreated into the shelves, where to my delight I found a book, a nicely illustrated circa 1950 Random House collection of stories by the French short-story master Guy De Maupassant. The book contained a story that had been recommended to me by F&S writer Hal Herring on one of my Field Notes blogs a few months back. So I took the book up to the counter and the COB and I started talking books.

Somehow, though, the conversation turned to fishing and kayaks, and the COB says "Hey, I've got a good kayak story for you."

So I proceeded to learn - whether I wanted to or not - that the man who had repeatedly denied my adolescent dream of bookshop employment enlisted in the Army during WWII, but by the time his training was over so was the war. The COB therefore got stationed to a remote observation post somewhere along the coast of Greenland.

There apparently weren't many women on the coast of Greenland in 1946 so one day when a party of kayak-paddling Inuit seal hunters showed up the GIs asked them to please bring women. Any women would do. Bargaining ensued and the next day the Inuit hunters brought back several kayak loads of Inuit lasses. One thing led to another, and before long there was quite a party going on in the old igloo.

At this point all I wanted to do was grab my book and get the hell out of the store. My long-held suspicion that the COB was a dirty old man had just been bawdily confirmed. I wanted no more tales of Eskimo conquest but as I ran out the door the COB gave me one last charming anecdote...

"Those igloos can get pretty hot inside, and let me tell you, nothing kills the mood like a girl who smells of walrus."

Now that's the kind of personal service and attention you just can't get in the big-box stores any more…

Monday, September 27, 2010

Have you heard? This bird is a symbol of peace! (And quite dead, too...)


Here's one from the "Let's choose the most tired, over-used dove hunting cliché ever in the lead paragraph to this story on dove hunting because we can't write for shit" files...

From this story in the New York Times... the headline reads (I kid you not) "A Winged Symbol, but With More Than One Meaning."

Elsewhere, the mourning dove is a symbol of peace. But here in western Missouri, the sight of those familiar speckled wings against the September sky means something altogether different: hunting season has arrived. On a blustery afternoon last week filled with the promise of rain, three friends squatted patiently in a field of wilted sunflowers, each resting a camouflaged knee on the muddy earth. Jon Rogers, who had skipped work even though he already had a freezer full of dove meat, cupped his hands together to imitate the familiar call: coo-Hoo, coo-coo-Coo.

In Iowa, that is officially the call of a songbird, and the mourning dove is protected. In Michigan the hunting of mourning doves was banned, reinstated for a single season, then banned again after a statewide referendum. But hunters in 41 other states — including Wisconsin, where the bird is the officially designated symbol of peace — have made the mourning dove the most popular game bird in the United States.

Somewhere, high up on their craggy, increasingly lonely and forgotten mount, the gods of originality are weeping...

And in the New York Times, no less. How on earth did that lead make it past a copy editor? Or any editor not blind to breathless and overwrought prose? And what did the reporter think? That no one else in the history of the newspaper industry has ever had the brilliant stroke of genius to mention the dove as a "symbol of peace" in a newspaper story about dove hunting? You think we haven't seen that one before, over and over and over again? Damn, you'd think the reporter was, like, the publisher's son or something...

Wait, hold on a second...the reporter, A.G. Sulzberger, IS the publisher's son, and presumably the man who will someday inherit control of the New York Times.

With that lineage I'm assuming Mr. Sulzberger didn't get his job on merit alone, so here's a bit of unsolicited journalism advice from a dove hunter and former small-town newspaper reporter of absolutely no fame or consequence whatsoever: the juxtaposition of two diametrically-opposed ideals, symbols or images as a literary device generally only works (and here's the important part, the one your journalism profs obviously didn't test you on) IF IT HASN'T ALREADY BEEN DONE, ENDLESSLY.

And trust me, Mr. Sulzberger (jr.), that whole "dove as a symbol of peace AND a target for hunters" thing? We've seen it before. A lot. And like most literary chestnuts, it gets a little stale and tends to lose whatever questionable power it may have had after about version five thousand. So maybe you should think about trying something else next time.

I dunno, it's just a thought from an obscure nobody who will never have a byline in the NY Times so take it for what it's worth...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Copy editing is dead. Long live copy editing.

No one writes real good any more, says Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten...

Via the Washington Post

The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the "youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their "younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

The language's demise took few by surprise. Signs of its failing health had been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers, the flexible yet linguistically authoritative forums through which the day-to-day state of the language has traditionally been measured. Beset by the need to cut costs, and influenced by decreased public attention to grammar, punctuation and syntax in an era of unedited blogs and abbreviated instant communication, newspaper publishers have been cutting back on the use of copy editing, sometimes eliminating it entirely.

In the past year alone, as the language lay imperiled, the ironically clueless misspelling "pronounciation" has been seen in the Boston Globe, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Deseret Morning News, Washington Jewish Week and the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, where it appeared in a correction that apologized for a previous mispronunciation.

On Aug. 6, the very first word of an article in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal was "Alot," which the newspaper employed to estimate the number of Winston-Salemites who would be vacationing that month.

The Lewiston (Maine) Sun-Journal has written of "spading and neutering." The Miami Herald reported on someone who "eeks out a living" -- alas, not by running an amusement-park haunted house. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star described professional football as a "doggy dog world." The Vallejo (Calif.) Times-Herald and the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune were the two most recent papers, out of dozens, to report on the treatment of "prostrate cancer

Observers say, however, that no development contributed more dramatically to the death of the language than the sudden and startling ubiquity of the vomitous verbal construction "reach out to" as a synonym for "call on the phone," or "attempt to contact." A jargony phrase bloated with bogus compassion -- once the province only of 12-step programs and sensitivity training seminars -- "reach out to" is now commonplace in newspapers. In the last half-year, the New York Times alone has used it more than 20 times in a number of contextually indefensible ways, including to report that the Blagojevich jury had asked the judge a question.

It was not immediately clear to what degree the English language will be mourned, or if it will be mourned at all. In the United States, English has become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among young adults. Once the most popular major at the nation's leading colleges and universities, it now often trails more pragmatic disciplines, such as economics, politics, government, and, ironically, "communications," which increasingly involves learning to write mobile-device-friendly ads for products like Cheez Doodles.

Many people interviewed for this obituary appeared unmoved by the news, including Anthony Incognito of Crystal City, a typical man in the street. "Between you and I," he said, "I could care less."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The not-yet-ready puppy blues...

Maybe it's reading all the posts on Upland Journal  about the various bird seasons kicking off in seemingly every state but mine. Maybe it's reading about Norcal Cazadora's and Chas Clifton's North Dakota sharptail hunt. Maybe it's reading about Scampwalker's awesome Kansas prairie chicken opener and upcoming two-week Montana bird odyssey.

Maybe it's the realization that as much fun as Jenny is and as much promise as the future holds, she's only five months old and I can't expect much from her this first year. Maybe it's because I'm missing Lewey, who, for all his goofy shenanigans, was a helluva good flushing dog who could run all day. Whatever the reason, I'm feeling kinda down because it seems everyone else is out on the road hunting. Everyone but me. And the reason I'm not out hunting is simple: I don't have a dog that's ready.

Oh, I suppose I could take some weekend, load up Tess and Jenny and hit the road. But Tess is a marginal flushing dog at best, ducks are her game, and Jenny was only recently introduced to gunfire and has yet to point her first wild bird. It'd be the height of folly to pin any hopes or expectations on such a trip.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have looked around for an older started dog to go along with Jenny. But unless someone knocks on my front door with a nice finished (and free) gundog in the next month, that particular ponder is a moot point.

So we'll wait for the Oklahoma quail opener and start the journey there, close to home. We'll even make a few trips right up the road to Kansas. We'll concentrate on enjoying this year for what it is and save those great expectations and road-trip dreams for the future. We'll get there. It may feel sometimes like we're driving a Yugo, but we'll get there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vance Bourjaily

I discovered today - quite by accident - while perusing Scott Bowen's excellent Beaufinn  that the ranks of men who write or have written beautifully, intelligently and honestly about hunting (a category that was never large to begin with and continues to get smaller and smaller with each passing year) was recently reduced by one.

From the obituary in the Washington Post....

 Vance Bourjaily, 87, a professor of writing and a prolific novelist who explored the complex lives of contemporary Americans in reticently unadorned prose, died Aug. 31 in Greenbrae, Calif. He died of complications from a fall, said his wife, Yasmin Mogul. An enduring presence in American literature, Mr. Bourjaily was considered one of the eminent young novelists of the World War II generation. Critics put him in the same rank as postwar writers Norman Mailer and James Jones.

Mr. Bourjaily's first novel, "The End Of My Life" (1947), was influenced by his unsettling experiences as a soldier and ambulance driver in World War II. Literary critic John W. Aldridge wrote that "no book since [F. Scott Fitzgerald's] 'This Side of Paradise' has caught so well the flavor of youth in wartime, and no book since [Ernest Hemingway's] 'A Farewell to Arms' has contained so complete a record of the loss of that youth in war." Of the 1958 novel "The Violated," a critic noted that Mr. Bourjaily is "one of that select band of writers equipped with antenna-like perception enabling them to project the heart and pulse of their generation."

In his long and varied career, Mr. Bourjaily was a playwright, a long-form journalist and a Broadway critic for the Village Voice. In the early 1950s, he was the co-editor of Discovery, a literary journal that a critic called one of the "liveliest and most buoyantly pugnacious of all the little magazines." After teaching at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Mr. Bourjaily became the first director of Louisiana State University's post-graduate creative writing program in 1985. He retired in the late 1990s.

He was an avocational jazz trumpeter, fly fisherman and game hunter and was known to pluck details from his experiences that made their way into his writing. His book "of a Spent Youth" (1960) was an explicitly autobiographical account of his youthful sexual exploits and dabbling in excessive drinking and illicit drugs.

Another of his popular works, "The Man Who Knew Kennedy" (1967), takes place shortly after the president's assassination in Dallas in 1963 and focuses on the life of a man who had briefly met the future commander in chief while recuperating in a military hospital. Mr. Bourjaily's last novel, "Old Soldier" (1990), concerned an Army sergeant on a fishing trip with his homosexual brother who is dying of AIDS.

An entry in the Dictionary of Literary Biography said Mr. Bourjaily's "reputation rests on his ability to tell wonderful stories with vivid surprising details. . . . [His] novels depict the common man struggling -- often heroically, often paradoxically -- to live with the contradictions that define society."

...From 1957 to 1980, Mr. Bourjaily taught at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop alongside his friends Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut, whom he called among "the half dozen people I like best in the world." In Iowa, Mr. Bourjaily rolled his own cigarettes and roamed his property in a pickup truck to check on his sheep, horses and cattle. Students such as John Irving and T.C. Boyle attended pig roasts at Mr. Bourjaily's farm 10 miles outside Iowa City.

He hunted pheasant and wild duck with "Invisible Man" author Ralph Ellison, who borrowed Mr. Bourjaily's camouflage for the outings. Mr. Bourjaily once gave another of his hunting partners, Vonnegut, this sage advice: "The bigger the game, the more corrupted the soul of the hunter."

Now that's a scene I would have loved to see: Vance Bourjaily with Kurt Vonnegut (one of my all-time favorite authors but a man who despised firearms) smoking his ever-present Pall Malls while sitting in a duck blind or roaming the Iowa fields in search of pheasants. I'd love to hear those conversations...

It's not surprising that Bourjaily - whose son Phil is the shotguns editors at Field & Stream and a damn good writer himself - is best known for his novels. He was a fairly major literary figure back in the day when that meant something more than a bunch of semi-clever assholes tweeting their way to pop-schlock book deals.

But he was also a wonderful writer on hunting - bird hunting, mostly - and I think it's a shame the obit didn't mention his book on the subject, The Unnatural Enemy: Essays On Hunting. It was first published in 1963 (I think) and re-published in 1984 with a new forward by Edward Abbey. Yep, that Edward Abbey. Apparently good writers gravitate toward each other. He also edited and penned the forward to a wonderful anthology of essays entitled Seasons of the Hunter.

I discovered The Unnatural Enemy in college, during a time when I was obsessively seeking out such writing, and I've been a fan ever since. Although most, if not all of his books are (I think) out of print, if you get a chance they're worth digging around for.