Monday, August 30, 2010

The Ghost of Dogs Past, Part 1

For whatever reason - perhaps because we're on the cusp of a new season that whispers of promise -  for me, the pup and my now-old-enough-to-hunt son - but I'm feeling a bit nostalgic for dogs that live on only in my mind.

I suppose that's only natural for someone who's both excited about starting a new dog while still trying to get past the memory of one recently lost. That fact was driven home recently as I was digging around in some old photographs and came across a few snapshots of the earlier dogs I've owned, the ones before Jenny, Tess and Lewey.

As I've mentioned before, there wasn't any kind of bird or duck hunting tradition in my family, so I started hunting with dogs relatively late in my formative years (I didn't get my first retriever until my freshman year of college). As a result there really aren't that many dogs to recall: one lab, one chessie, one pointer and one eight-month experiment gone terribly wrong involving a German wire-haired pointer that was part termite, part monkey, part pit bull and all ugly.

But each one taught me something, even if I didn't realize it at the time, and each one reinforced, in their own way, my basic belief that a dogless life is one not much worth living.

Northern Kansas, circa 1991 or thereabouts, with Brandy, my first real hunting dog. Sort of. She was a lab. She was registered. She came from "champion bloodlines" (don't they all say that?) and her parents were allegedly great duck dogs. Hell, that was good enough for me. I brought her home, taught her to sit, and when I threw my (lone) training bumper for her she'd bring it back to me, most of the time. Thus was the extent of her "training." Mainly because that was the extent of my training knowledge.

But she was a good dog - if a bit lacking in the personality department -  and I shot quite a few ducks over her, a few pheasants, a few quail and I'll be damned if I can find another picture of her anywhere. I learned a lot about duck hunting in my time with her, and in many ways I've always carried around a bit of guilt for not giving Brandy as much credit as I should for stoking my interest in hunting dogs. A year or so after Brandy disappeared from our yard (I've always suspected she was stolen, as no one ever responded to my lost ads and she never showed up at the pound) I discovered chessies and fell wholly under that breed's spell, and I have an admitted tendency to think of my first chessie as my first real duck dog.

But that's not true. Sweet, dull and altogether ordinary Brandy was. She wasn't a fire-breather, she didn't inspire awe or turn any heads. She was just steady. And I guess that's not a bad way to start out.

Wigeon fishing

Bought my new 2010-2011 duck stamp a few days ago and when the clerk handed it to me I was pleasantly surprised to see that this year's stamp features an American wigeon (I know I could have found out what it was on the Internet prior to buying it, but where's the fun and surprise in that?).

I have a special fondness for the wigeon. Not only is it one of the most beautiful ducks out there (if I'm ever lucky enough to shoot a storm wigeon it's going straight on my wall and cost be damned) it was the very first duck I ever shot, way back in 1986. Or 1987. To be honest I can't remember off the top of my head. I do, however, remember a friend and me sneaking over the dam of a farm pond on a foggy December morning (Decoys? Calls? Dogs? Yeah, right...) with a load of number fours (lead, even!) stuffed into my 1100. There was a group of ducks on the pond just on the other side of the dam and we by gawd were gonna get ourselves a few of them. We had no idea what kind of ducks they were (uh, the quacking kind, right?) or how many points (it was a point system back then) they might be. But we did think to bring a fishing pole so we could collect our ducks, just like they didn't do it on TV...

 We burst over the top of the dam with a whoop and scattered the flock of ducks into the air, emptying both our guns in a thunderous volley. Silence fell. The ducks did not, and as our small flotilla of empty hulls bobbed in the wake of their sudden, urgent passing, we watched that little flock of ducks fly away. Every single one of them.

"What do we do now?"
"Hell if I know. Think they'll come back?"
"What else are we gonna do?"

So we sat there, one clueless moron hunkered in the grass on either end of the dam, and waited for those ducks, or any ducks, to show up. And five minutes later, they did, whooshing out of the fog like a flight of little jets, impossibly fast. I poked my gun into the sky, pointed it in the general direction of the flock, pulled the trigger and to my utter astonishment watched as a duck cartwheeled out of the sky and into the pond.

I hurriedly retrieved my rod and a few moments later unceremoniously reeled in the first duck I'd ever shot. I was hoping it would be a drake mallard, if for no other reason than that was the only duck I could identify.

"What kind of duck is that?"
"Hell if I know. Maybe it's a canvasback."
"You know what a canvasback looks like?"
"Think they'll come back?"
"What else are we gonna do?"

It wasn't, and they didn't. But I've had a soft spot for the "little poachers" ever since (once I figured out it wasn't, in point of fact, a canvasback...). Every time Tess drops one in my hand I go back to the dam of that pond, freezing my ass off with a rod and reel in my hand, fishing for my first duck.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Contemplation of One's Own Mortality, Grasshopper Edition.

Sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug. And sometimes, very rarely, you can walk that razor's edge between the two...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How To Beat The High Cost Of Flyfishing, Part 1, Or "This is What Happens When Your Mind Wanders, and Wonders."

Recently I've been getting much more interested in catching fish, any fish, on a fly rod. The problem is, that stuff 'aint cheap and these days I can't seem to afford much in the way of new gear. So what's a broke bloke to do? Improvise.

First, you rummage through all your junk rods and find an appropriate candidate for conversion. In this case it was an old six-foot Wright & McGill Green Hornet casting rod.

Next, you rummage through all your junk reels and find an appropriate candidate. In this case it was an old Martin 61 of indeterminate vintage spooled with an equally cheap and ancient line of indeterminate weight that at some point in the murky past was probably paired with a cheap twenty-dollar discount-store flyfishing combo. Perfect...

Next, you prepare the rod for conversion. Luckily, the blank on this old rod is attached to the handle by means of a threaded collet, so a hacksaw conversion wasn't necessary (and no, I wouldn't really have taken a hacksaw to that old rod. I've got Chinese rods for that...)

Next, you carefully attach the reel to the blank by means of bread bag twist-ties. Or baling wire, if you've got some handy.

Then, to add some additional holding power (and a touch of class) wrap the reel seat with enough electrical tape to keep it (somewhat) securely attached to the rod.

And there you go. The "finished" rod is a little over five feet in length and surprisingly, I can shoot out about thirty to thirty-five feet of line when I'm casting it on the lawn. The reel does tend to fall off the rod when I attempt a double-haul, but I fix that right up by wrapping more electrical tape around it, plus I suspect that actually learning how to double-haul correctly instead of yanking on the line while cursing will help with that as well.

In part two -  if there is a part two- I'll take it fishing and see how it holds up to the drag-burning, rod-busting brute power of various stunted sunfishes.

A little SEO experimentation...

I was perusing one of the journalism sites this morning when I came across an interesting blog post, wherein Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi felt compelled to make a reference to that little pubescent-looking kid who dances and sings.

Despite a somewhat concerted effort to fix things up in the past year or so, Rolling Stone's web presence is still fairly abysmal. The site is difficult to navigate and star political reporter Matt Taibbi's blog is impossible to find--it isn't even featured on the home page, it's buried below the fold in the politics section. Not surprisingly, Taibbi's RS blog posts aren't gathering nearly the attention or the comments his old True/Slant blog used to. And it looks like Taibbi is starting to get a bit desperate. In a post last week about former Reaganite David Stockman's elegant rejection of Reaganomics in the New York Times, Taibbi did the unthinkable and dropped a Justin Bieber reference.

(from Taibbi's blog)"...I know I'm late on this too, but I just caught my first Bieber video -- I must have been asleep for the last two years while the world lost its fucking mind. I don't want to say anything mean about a child, but I don't get it -- his videos look like soft-core kiddie porn set to elevator music."

Funny line, but it just seems a little out of place. Anyone who has ever been paid to blog knows what Bieber references mean--traffic bait. Taibbi has enough on his plate without having to worry about SEO tricks. Put the guy on the home page already Rolling Stone.

So it got me to thinking: I want to increase my blog traffic, so why don't I mention Justin Bieber? If I mentioned Justin Bieber my blog traffic should skyrocket, right? Who cares if the mindless zombies who find my blog through a search engine query on Justin Bieber aren't the kind of people who'd actually read the blog? It's all about the traffic, right? That is the driving force in most online publishing right now, the "screw quality, just throw some shit up there that'll get us hits" mentality.

Why fight it? So here goes...

Justin Bieber. Justin Bieber. I got Justin Bieber Fever. Or is that simply Bieber Fever? I have no clue, care not one wit, this Bieber blog is a piece of shit.

I'm now anxiously awaiting a HUGE jump in my blog traffic. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Just a wee bit of unrequited love...

Where unrequited*** love is concerned, I am for the most part, a shotgun guy. But I do have my rifle weaknesses. Mausers are most definitely one of them, and this delectable bit of centerfire porn comes to you courtesy of Champlin, one of the coolest high-end gunshops in the country and conveniently located a mere 90 miles away from my front door.

It's an interesting gun in that not only is it a full-on high-end custom built on an M96 action, which you don't see too many of,  but that it's also chambered for 7x57 rather than 6.5x55. Why would you choose to build a 7x57 on a 96 action rather than find a nice small-ring 98 action? Who knows? I woulda kept it a 6.5x55 myself, but the results are stunning.  

I'm never tempted to spend any money at Champlin because (Lucky for me. I guess.) even daydreaming can't begin to bridge the gap between my disposable income and Champlin's cheapest of offerings. But what a place to visit and spend a few hours drooling...

***My pick for the Best. Song line. Ever containing the word "unrequited" goes to Billy Bragg's "The Saturday Boy"

"In the end, it took me a dictionary to find out the meaning of unrequited, while she was giving herself for free, at a party to which I was never invited."

Yep, pretty much sums up how I feel about custom mausers I can never hope to afford...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Here's one from the "literacy is doomed" files...

Former True/Slant blogger and cultural critic Mark Dery has a pretty good final True/Slant column (the site was recently sold to Forbes and most of the blogs, including that of former Field & Stream editor and noted vampire combat expert Scott Bowen, were shut down) that speaks to the woeful state of publishing, writing, reading and original thought in modern culture.

It's a long read but a good one (and yes, I am aware of the irony, in a blog post decrying the decline of long-form writing, of calling a 2,000-or-so word article a "long read").

I stumbled across it while reading an interesting story on Salon about how "news stories" from content mills like Associated Content are now showing up as first-page results on Google News searches. Yay for content mills! Resistance is futile!

Like many writers, Dery laments the passing of actual writing. A few good passages...

The unspoken goal, in too much American journalism, is not to tell people what they don’t know, or never even imagined they might want to know, but to tell people what they already know, since it logically follows that anything they don’t know is too weird to survive in what we Americans, in our inimitably irony-free way, like to call the Marketplace of Ideas. It’s this failure of editorial nerve, driven by a cringing fear of scaring off advertisers, that has rendered largely extinct the sort of narrative nonfiction Weschler elsewhere describes as “pieces you might curl into, of an evening, having no prior notion that you could even become remotely interested in their subject, and through the sheer narrative energy of the writing, you’d find yourself becoming caught and then held, completely immersed, lost to the world for hours at a time…”

And one must tell people things they already know in language they already use—PowerPoint prose that is easily bullet-ized in the reader’s mind. Like William F. Buckley, I never scrupled at sending my reader to the OED if a sesquipedalian word was the best word for the job. Nor did I feel any obligation to smilingly submit to the intellectual straitjacket that constrains too much American journalism, namely, the presumption that a writer’s allusions and references should be bounded by the cultural literacy of Kim Kardashian.

"...But one thing is certain, and sad: the grim insistence that writers of every genre prioritize, above all else, the demands of chief product officers with one eye on the balance sheet and the other on the stock ticker guarantees that beguiling “pieces you might curl into, of an evening, having no prior notion that you could even become remotely interested in their subject” will be fewer and further between, and wonder in shorter supply. Just when we need it most, the act of thinking aloud in public will fall victim to cost-benefit analyses, condemned for the sublime uselessness that makes it so useful."

We will, of course, continue to have books and we will continue to have magazines. And online magazines. And news sites. And blogs. And maybe even a few newspapers. But the question is, will they be worth reading? And I guess the cynical, hopeless answer to that question is "of course they'll be worth reading, because we'll all be so friggin' stupid we won't know the difference."

And how do I know that? Simple. I'm married to a high school English teacher...

Look who wants to be a water dog...

And look who's getting pissed I'm throwing her bumpers for that yippy little rat...

And, well, I can't really argue the point, at least the physical description...

August is fast merging into September, and September means I better get busy with the training. What does introducing a setter pup to water retrieves have to do with having her ready for the opener of Oklahoma's quail season? Absolutely nothing, but it's a helluva lot of fun.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

This one's for you, 'Nuge...

Rule of Thumb #1

I'm introducing a couple new very occasional features to the blog. One is called "Cool Roads" and it's pretty self-evident what that's all about. I like lonely, seldom-travelled roads through lonely, seldom-visited country and I found a good one driving back from Colorado a few days ago. I'll post a few pics from it presently.

The other new occasional feature is one I call "Rule of Thumb" in which I give  my own personal little guidelines to life. Nothing profound, nothing rigidly doctrinaire, just little aphorisms (some original, some not) I try to follow.

So without further ado, here's Chad's Rule of Thumb #1

I don't generally trust a man who won't let a dog lick him in the face. However, if the dog has recently been observed to be licking his balls (or, if it's a female, her Lady Business) it is acceptable to wait five minutes or so.

 My first corollary to that rule of thumb is I don't generally trust any parent who freaks out when they see their child and a dog drinking from the same garden hose...

Something Wicked This Way know.

In perusing the web for interesting stuff for the Field Notes blog over at F&S, I make a conscious effort to try to mix it up a little. In addition to the regular meat-n-potatoes hook-and-bullet outdoor news I'm always on the lookout for offbeat items that can woven into the overall narrative, whether it's pop culture, music, literature, underground or indie stuff, whatever.

And as long as I can somehow tie it in to hunting, fishing, conservation, etc, the editors give me a certain amount of leeway in that regard, and surprisingly (or not surprisingly, for those of who know just how diverse a group we are) quite a few of the readers respond favorably to the "weird" stuff (although the post a year or so ago where I admitted my love for the Butthole Surfers did raise a few eyebrows...).

Anyway, as I was browsing BoingBoing this morning I stumbled across a video from the Upright Citizens Brigade entitled, well...Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury.

Obviously NSFW, and obviously even less safe (and completely irrelevant) for Field & Stream, but screamingly funny. I include it here under the "never-ending absurdity of life" category... but did I mention it's NSFW?

However if you're a Bradbury fan (and really, who isn't?) I think you'll appreciate the bawdy humor. And besides, it's not like Ray Bradbury's a prude or anything. Hell, he used to publish a ton of short fiction in Playboy (yes, damn it, I read it for the articles...) way back in the day (and might still, I don't know). By the way, did I mention it's NSFW?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time For The Dork Hat

I am - when parsed down to the elements that comprise my whole -  a simple redneck. "Hat" to me means a ballcap, preferably one I didn't pay for and which advertises a service or business I've never used. And like most male rednecks, I started wearing ballcaps in my larval stage, cabbaging on to whatever cap I could find, molding the brim to my preferred dimensions and then basically wearing it until it fell apart or developed appendages and crawled off under its own power.

I never felt comfortable in a cowboy hat, a fedora, a boonie hat or those straw old man-looking Panama Jack things, because, well, I always looked like a raging dork when I put one on. I tried. Really, I did. But every time I tried one on in a store and then looked in the mirror, all I'd see staring back at me was a big, Chad-sized penis with an unrolled condom perched on top of it.

So no matter how practical they were, I never did wear one. I dubbed them "Dork Hats" not because I thought they were dorky per se, but because that's what I looked like standing underneath one. I always went back to my old ballcaps, regardless of how fundamentally useless they are at actually protecting, shading or warming your head (of course  the argument could certainly be made that I look like a dick no matter what I'm wearing, but we won't delve into that here...).

But a funny thing happens as you get older: you stop giving a shit what you look like and start caring more about how comfortable you are. Such was the situation I recently found myself in as I was following the dork hat-wearing Greg McReynolds around southern Colorado.

That's Greg (and his dork hat) in the picture. I don't think he'll get mad for me calling his dork hat a dork hat. Hell, I even warned him I'd probably mention his dork hat and he didn't tell me to stop taking his picture or threaten to shove the camera up my ass, so I guess he's cool with it. If not, well, sorry Greg, and I guess this means no grouse hunting invite...

Sunny days at 9,000 feet are deceiving: the cool mountain breeze masks the fact that you're getting absolutely fried. Knowing this, I was constantly applying sunscreen to my face and neck as we fished, sunscreen that would immediately sweat off and drip into my eyeballs right as I was trying to watch my fly drift through a run. Every time I did this I'd curse, take off my sunglasses, rub my eyes, curse some more, look over at Greg's dork hat that was effectively shading his sunscreen-free eyes and think "why does some dude eight years younger than me have this shit figured out and I don't? Am I that stupid?"

And then, suddenly, an epiphany appeared in my poorly-shaded, over-heated, sweat-soaked head: I'm almost forty. I'm married. I have two kids. I'm fat, losing my hair, yell at the neighborhood children and I'm overdue for my first colonoscopy. I am, by definition, an...old man! And old men are allowed, nay, expected to look like a walking dildo.

So here I am, shopping for my first dork hat. I'm not giving up my ballcaps completely. What else would I wear to a fancy  you-don't-even-have-to-unwrap-the-food restaurant, right? But I think I'm sold on broad-brimmed hats for hot-weather fishing and hunting. Unless, of course, I wanted to go the ballcap-and-buffs route. And while I don't mind looking like I'm wearing a prophylactic, I probably would mind actually being wrapped up like one, so I think I'll stick with the dork hat.

Any suggestions? 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back home...again.

Just dragged in from a week of Colorado trout fishing with Mouthful of Feathers blogger (and Trout Unlimited rep, flyfishing guide, camp cook, dirty joke-teller, fellow shotgun-and gundog-nut and all around good dude) Greg McReynolds.

Had an absolute blast. I saw some spectacular country, notched my first-ever Rio Grande cutthroat while coming up just short of a four-species trout slam (Cutts, browns, brookies and rainbows. Screw you, rainbows), learned a helluva lot about trout fishing in general and the plight of the cutthroat in particular, solved many world problems while sitting around the campfire drinking (as the two are inextricably tied) and managed to not embed a fly in either Greg, myself or any innocent bystanding tourists and/or non-piscatorial wildlife.

I'd consider that one hell of an accomplishment. The not embedding a fly part. The rest of it was pretty cool, too. Blogs and pics to follow.

What with the trip to Montana and then a few days later this trip to Colorado, blog posts have been fairly scarce lately. There are, alas, no more trips on the horizon (at least until hunting season starts) so I guess I'm home to stay for a while...

Friday, August 6, 2010

I feel much more secure now...

The above picture was taken by Salon columnist Patrick Smith, a working airline pilot who writes that site's excellent Air Travel column. The rest of the column can be found here.

Having just flown back from Montana a few days ago, and in doing so having been subjected to one of the new full-body scans and subsequent, uh, rather intimate pat-downs by a TSA employee, the picture resonates with me. Or maybe it was the four-ounce jar of suspicious-looking huckleberry jam that a stern-faced (actually, hatchet-faced) TSA employee confiscated from my wife the last time we flew back from Montana that made me identify with the picture. I dunno.

All I know is thank god the TSA is looking out for our safety. Those snowglobes are freakin' dangerous...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Quick question for the technically competent

Ever since switching over to the new template I've been unable to get Sitemeter to work. Anyone have any ideas or suggestions on a good (i.e. free) traffic counter/tracker? Or maybe a suggestion on how to get Sitemeter working again?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Oklahoma Pre-wash Cycle

Special feature we paid extra for when we bought the dishwasher. No need to rinse anything off. Highly recommended...