Tuesday, December 31, 2013

And One More Year-End Pic For the Pointy Dogs...

Just so they don't feel left out. Ozzy, locked up solid on a covey of bobs feeding in the broomweed earlier this week. Not shown is Jenny, to the left and backing as pretty as a picture. Well, it would have been pretty as a picture had I had a wider-angle lens to get both of them in frame. Instead of trying to relocate and getting both of them in the pic, I got worried that either the dogs or the birds would break, so I dropped camera, picked up gun, walked in to a picture-perfect covey rise, and even managed to shoot a double, on purpose even, my first of the year. Every now and then even I get lucky and have everything come together to make a special moment. And if that's not nice then I don't know what is, even though it took me about ten minutes to find the camera after I dropped it.

We've got six more weeks of quail season, but that moment will be pretty hard to top, and a good way for the setters to end 2013. Happy New Year's, everyone. Again.

Closing Out the Year, and Perhaps a Career

In a sometimes-vain attempt to avoid the plague of newly-minted Duck Commanders who have infested the places I used to share with no one but my thoughts, Tess and I have taken a different path this season, rejecting our normal spots and times and instead hunting oddball places at oddball times. Middle-of-the-day hunts, evening hunts over stock tanks, tiny creeks, puddles, even: overlooked places at overlooked times. It's a strategy that offers few chances at limits of glory and glamour ducks, but decent chances at limits of solitude, which is what I'm mostly gunning for these days. A duck or two at the end of the day, whether they be a pair of gadwall or a single drake mallard or a wigeon or even a shoveler, is merely a bonus.

A few hours spent over a few decoys, alone but for a dog who's served me well for ten years now, is a pretty damn good way to spend the waning days of 2013, regardless of what we end up with on our strap.

It remains to be seen whether Tess will be able to go another season and pose for another end-of-year picture over a pair of well-earned ducks to send out 2014. We'll just have to play that one by ear. But for now she's still kicking, albeit a little more slowly, and once the ball drops tonight we've still got two good weeks of duck season left before we need to start worrying about the future.

Happy New Year's, everyone.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mouthful of Feathers E-book Is Out. Hypno-Toad Says Buy...

Apologies for the complete lack of blog activity lately. It's been a hectic past few weeks, and probably will remain so for at least the remainder of 2013, so blog content might be a little scarce in the short-term future. Between familial obligations and a new self-pubbed writing project I've just started working on, I just haven't had much time to either write on my own blog or read and/or comment on anyone else's.

I did, however, want to let everyone know that the much-anticipated and most-excellent Mouthful of Feathers: Upland in the West e-book is now available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Kobo Books. I've read it, and it's good, really good, despite having a piker like myself in the TOC.

I think you'll enjoy it immensely, and it's cheap entertainment to boot. Look at it this way: You can spend $4.99 on a cup of coffee at Starbucks, a useless app for your smartphone that you don't need and will never use, a fifth of "Kentucky Wonder" whiskey (preferred by three out of four professional blood plasma-selling alcoholics), a traditional hook-and-bullet rag or eighty-odd pages of thoughtful, honest, ad-and-agenda-free prose. 

Which of those options vying for your fiver will stick with you the longest, be the best value? Let's review: The coffee is overpriced, tastes like burnt tires, makes you jittery, and you'll just piss it out within the hour, anyway. The app is just going to make it easier for the NSA-corporate-industrial complex to track your movements. The whiskey? Well, if I'm being completely honest the whiskey's not a bad way to spend five bucks, but you'll regret it when you wake up and find that you've gone colorblind. The hook-'n-boolit mag? Not gonna find writing like this there.

But spend five bucks on MOF, and you'll get...well, I can't really tell you what value you'll get out of it, can I? We're all different, of course, and you may not like what I wrote, or what some of the other contributors wrote. You may think it sucks, that it's boring or pretentious or shitty. That is the beauty of subjective taste.

But I can tell you what you won't get out of it: You won't get dishonesty. You won't get fraudulence. You won't get slick marketing copy or carefully orchestrated press events disguised as honest adventure. You won't get any "How-to" or "Where To" or even much "Why To" except maybe the kind of  intimate, personal "Why To" that speaks to the individual rather than that all that crappy, contrived, calculated, carefully rehearsed and utterly alike cornpone sentiment spouted by all those camo-swaddled talking head celebrity clones. You won't get one lick of SEO-optimized twaddle. You won't get one Listicle. Not one! You won't get one story pre-approved in some editorial budget meeting in accordance with the results of the latest market survey or focus group trend data. You won't get any "Special XX-Hunting Issue!" complete with advertising tie-ins, sponsored content and glowing reviews for products of value only to those who have been trained from birth to covet the means rather than the end.

Nope, there's none of that.  All there is, and all you're gonna get from this endeavor, is the end result of a few disparate, scattered people with something to say being asked to write a story they think might be worth reading. And that is, literally, the entire extent of MOF's editorial direction: story. Just story. And I think that's pretty damn cool. So go buy the damn thing, already. Purchase a copy now, because it's the right thing to do. Go ahead, buy it. Buy it now. You need to buy it. In fact, it's imperative that you buy it now. I insist you buy it now. Even Hypno-Toad says "Buy It Now" and it's not a good idea to resist Hypno-Toad, not a good idea at all...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Refried Mallard: Irony and Frostbite

I was scrolling back through the ancient blog archives last night, looking for stuff to cull when I came across this blog from January 2010. Truthfully, it's not a particularly good blog, but in looking at the date I realized that it was the last duck hunt I ever made with Lewey, my ultra-goofy, ultra-beloved and ultra-talented young male chessie, who died unexpectedly a few weeks later.

Ironically, the reason Lewey stayed home the last two weeks of the season following this hunt was because I  wanted to give Tess, my aging female, a few more hunts. She was getting old, you see, and who knows how much longer she'd be able to hunt? Well, Tess is still here and kicking, albeit slowly, and all that remains of Lewey are memories and a name scratched into a weathered hunk of gypsum that sits atop a grave on a bluff overlooking a pond.

Funny how things work out.

It's seven degrees outside, with a north wind at 15 gusting to 25. At least that's what the computer told me before I left the house. But the frozen snot on the end of my nose tells me the question of whether it's warmed up any since then is, semantically speaking, moot.

 We're making our way down the riverbank, Lewey and I, crunching through the frozen grass, when it happens. Ranging out thirty or so yards ahead of me he suddenly shifts out of his normal I'm-just-a-happy-go-lucky-goofball lope into "what's this smell" mode. Moments later the covey bursts out of the grass and flies across the river.

I don't shoot, because I'm standing here in a pair of waders, with a decoy bag over one shoulder, camera and gear bag over the other, and a trio of three-inch #2s in the 870.

And the reason I'm standing here in waders, holding a decoy bag and a shotgun full of steel is because several days earlier I had been standing along this same riverbank in brush pants and a vest, holding a 20 gauge full of #8s, and all I saw were ducks. Piles of them, all up and down the river.

Today, however, all I find is quail. Lewey flushes another small covey huddled along the ribbon of cottonwoods, eastern redcedars, tamarisks and sandsage that flank the river. I find no ducks, anywhere. All I find is an inch of ice covering the river and silence. I've long since dumped the decoy bag and resigned myself to sneaking along the ice, hoping there might be a mallard or two we can jump.

Finally, when Lewey flushes the third covey, I can stand it no longer. Screw it. Full choke and duck loads be damned. I pick out a bird, shoot and - predictably -  pulverize a completely innocent bystanding tamarisk branch.

The quail flies on. And predictably, my shot flushes a group of mallards loafing on the ice just around the next bend. Unpredictably, they decide to fly right over my head as they make their escape. Survival-wise, this is generally a pretty sound tactic when I'm shooting. This time, however, I manage to knock down a drake. Thinking double, I rush the third shot and hit only atmosphere.

Lewey tiptoes onto the ice. Halfway across it gives way with a loud crack and Lewey plunges into the icy water below. All six inches of it. Gotta love prairie rivers. He jumps out of the icy water, grabs the duck and gives that area a wide berth coming back.  As he gingerly crosses the ice and drops the duck in my hand I realize this is by far the best quail hunting day he's ever had...


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Plains, Desert, Perception

The writer and academic Dan Flores (who, interestingly, also used to do some hook-n-bullet, mostly bullet, freelancing back in the 1970s before apparently realizing what a creative wasteland it truly was) has long been one of my favorite environmental historians, not coincidentally because he tends to focus much of his considerable scholarly insight on the plains and the near southwest, a region generally devoid of advocates amongst the Greenie Weenie Save the Forest set. His books Horizontal Yellow, Caprock Canyonlands, and The Natural West are all uniformly excellent and required reading for anyone interested in the cultural and environmental history of the region. He's published a number of book, and even co-wrote an excellent little book on one of my favorite birds, the Mississippi Kite.

Anyway, recently I was re-reading his excellent essay from The Natural West entitled "A Long Love Affair With an Uncommon Country: Environmental History and the Future of the Great Plains", but reading it concurrently with some essays from Ed Abbey's classic Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside.  The juxtaposition of opportunity is striking. Abbey, as a lover of the largely public desert southwest, is free to amble over large chunks of threatened, yes, but still largely intact public land while ruminating and raging as only he could. It is not hyperbole, therefore, to say that that particular nexus of opportunity and voice gave rise to a national environmental awareness and appreciation for the desert southwest that continues to this day. Lucky for John Ford country, eh?

But not so much for us lowly plains dwellers. While Abbey's evocative words spawned generations of adoring acolytes whose devotion transformed our perception of the southwest, us flatlanders remain stuck with cows, crops, tractors, big hats, the Dust Bowl (and no, fellow Okies, it's not John Steinbeck's fault. Give it a freakin' rest), smaltzy pap like fucking Oklahoma! and other various and sundry false mythos that continue to make people both here at home and across the nation simply not give a shit about the region, on any level, really, but especially on an environmental level.

Why? Well, it all boils down to ownership. Specifically, a lack of it; an almost complete absence of public lands over which to traipse,discover, love, and then rhapsodize poetic and angry. It's damn hard to kickstart a national environmental movement and make people care for a region that is, at best, about three percent public lands. Flores recognizes this, and part of his essay explores the cultural and political reasons for why there are no large national parks or significant public lands in the great plains region, especially the southern plains.

"If the Great Plains as a whole remain pathetically underprotected ecologically, the central and southern plains are almost entirely so. Citizens of places like Texas and Kansas (and Oklahoma) are today among the most divorced of all Americans from any kind of connection with regional nature. With midheight grassland ecology represented by existing parks on the northern plains, however, the pressing need in the future is for large preserves in the shortgrass high plains and the tallgrass prairies."

Sadly, that is all too true. The Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is an exception, but if you are interested in seeing a true, unsullied, native, short or mixed-grass prairie biome on the southern plains, good luck. Maybe a leprechaun or a billionaire absentee landowner can show you where to look. I personally know equal numbers of both.

Which makes me wonder: would more people appreciate the plains today, and perhaps see the region as something more than just a giant agro-industrial wasteland, if more of the region had remained public and therefore given people more of a vested reason to fight for it? It's certainly not strictly an issue of mere aesthetics, because if you can just get past the feedlots and the packing plants and the center-pivots and the grubbed-out, worn-down, plowed-to-hell industrial-scale aglands, you will find breathtaking, heartbreaking scenes of  raw beauty out there on the plains, areas so staggeringly powerful in their sweep and grandeur that were someone to see them for the first time, they might very well have exactly the same kind of transformative moment that Abbey did upon his first view of the desert southwest.

Or are the plains simply too spare and ugly for most? Their charms too subtle, their warts too obvious, their attributes simply too much an aquired taste for most? Is there no voice powerful or riveting enough to make people care? I don't think that's it, either It's not like there aren't regional advocates, artists and writers out there trying to drum up some love for the region, many of them extremely talented and compelling.Again, it all goes back to communal space, or lack thereof. I won't go down the rabbit hole of discussing the Poppers' mostly misunderstood, wildly mischaracterized, and wholly dead Buffalo Commons concept, but the fact remains that more people would care about the region if more people had sense of ownership enough to care about the region. 

Of course, it's a moot point, really, a purely academic question, because so little of it now belongs to us to ever find out the answer to the question. All we have, and all we will ever have - at least until the next great man-induced natural catyclism scours us once again from the landscape - are tiny little islands scattered here and there upon a vast and rapidly disappearing sea that appears destined to remain unexplored, unknown and unloved. There will be no Shortgrass Ed to save us, no mass spiritual awakenings or pilgrimages of self-discovery into the dark, mysterious heart of the plains to follow in his righteous path, because, well, you'd get your ass shot for trespassing. And being a hippie.  

So I guess all us prairie rats and itinerant bird hunters and other lovers of silence and isolation will just have to make do with those small, scattered islands of communal property, hang on to them, and try our damndest to protect them as best we can. That, at least, is still be a winnable battle, if an increasingly difficult one. Even without a guru to follow or a place to follow him to. Purpose is where you find it, no matter how big or small, and on the plains we're forced to find it in ever-shrinking areas.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Quail Hunting With Voltaire Across the Dust Bowl of the Sahara While Squealing Like a Pig...

 ...Is, unfortunately, not the title of my forthcoming book. But if it were, I'd damn sure read it. Wouldn't you?

Actually, it's just a summation of a few finds from my most recent thriftshop book score, which include (but not limited to) a brand-new copy Timothy Egan's incomparably good "The Worst Hard Time" an old copy of Tom Huggler's classic "Quail Hunting in America", an anthology of my very favorite rapier-witted, gloriously freethinking and unmercilessly brilliant old French fart Voltaire, a hardback copy of William Langewiesche's "Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert" and a tragically! tragically! dustjacket-less first-printing, first-edition of  "Deliverance" by, of course, that most complex, contradictory poet-hellraiser Mr. James Dickey.

Total cost for these books, plus a sackful of others? Four bucks. Suck on that, Amazon and Barnes & Noble...

Egan's book is required reading for anyone interested in Dust Bowl and plains history, ranking right up there with historian Donald Worster's work. Huggler's book on quail hunting, while dated now (is there an updated edition?), remains by default the standard text on chasing the king of birds. I already had a copy, but this one's in better condition. For fifty cents, why not, right?

I'm both elated that I found a first edition of Dickey's first novel, and bummed that it didn't have the dust jacket. Oh, well. Even with dust jacket, it wasn't worth too much, anyway, and this nekkid copy will go on my first-edition shelf just fine. Dickey was certainly an interesting guy (I've got a copy of Henry Hart's massive Dickey biography, I just haven't read it yet) and perhaps no other author has had to endure to such a degree as Dickey the movie version of his work (and specifically, one scene) so utterly overshadowing and negatively co-opting the original. Talk about total pop culture distillation. To virtually everyone, "Deliverance" IS "squeal like a pig." Nothing more, which is a shame. It's a damn good book.

I've already started reading William Langewiesche's "Sahara Unveiled" (an old book, published back in '96 when he was still a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly) because Langewiesche is just a brilliant observer and writer.

There are a lot of big-name longform magazine writers out there who get fawned over by adoring fanboys, myopic New York editors and the ridiculously self-congratulatory journalism awards industry, and far be it from me - as a lowly reader - to criticize, but I just don't get what's so special about a lot of them. Derivative, formulaic and interchangeable are a few words that come to mind. I know there are editors out there who would emphatically disagree, but I'm of the opinion that if you gave any reasonably competent writer the budget and time necessary to produce a deeply-reported, ten or fifteen thousand-word magazine feature, they'd give you a reasonably competent final product. That does not mean they are the second coming of Gay Talese or George Plimpton. It's craft, people, not voodoo.

But Langewiesche? There's a touch of the voodoo to his writing, that intangible observational and descriptive quality to how he translates what he observes into what we read that separates truly great writers from the merely competent yeoman pikers of the world. I'm about fifty pages into "Sahara Unveiled" and so far it's fantastic. Total cost? Yep, fiddy cents, the seemingly universal thriftshop hardback book price.

One of these days, damn it, I'm going to stumble across the find of a lifetime (Poe's Tamerlane? Salinger's Rye?) and I'm quite sure that whatever priceless literary gem it turns out to be, it will have a big Day-Glo orange fifty-cent price tag sticker permanently attached to it.     

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

If the Definition of Insanity...

truly is - as that criminally over-used and almost certainly apocryphally-attributed-to-Einstein old saw goes - doing the same thing over and over and over again and somehow expecting a different result, then I must be batshit crazy. It's the eleventh day of my state's deer gun season, and I keep going out, day after day, and expecting to see something worth shooting.

And by something worth shooting, I don't mean a nice buck. I mean something, anything, other than the few small yearling bucks, does and fawns that seem to be the only ungulate lifeforms to occupy my little slice of the prairie this year.

I knew it was going to be tough this season. My deer-hunting spot is marginal in the best of years. No crops, not much mast, no feeders, no food plots. Just a series of rugged, cedar-choked canyons and draws that give a distinct topographical advantage to the few deer that move through the area. Some years, when there's an acorn crop, it'll be enough to draw off a few deer from the surrounding forest of corn feeders, tower blinds and MegaBuck food plots, and hold them in a non-transitory pattern.

But this year there was no acorn crop. That, combined that with a drought-induced drop in overall deer numbers the past two years, a loss of about 40 acres of movement and bedding cover due to some much-needed cedar removal (good for my quail, not so good for my deer. Quail, however, always trump deer...) and an increase in alternative food sources elsewhere, has pretty much dried up deer sightings, much less deer shootings, on ye olde in-law's homestead.

Every morning I park the truck atop the same windswept knoll, finish my coffee, then trudge into the darkness of the canyon below, alone and silent. Every evening, I trudge out of the darkness; alone, silent, and empty-handed.

But I've been treated to some beautiful sunrises and even more beautiful sunsets. I've watched prairie falcons and Cooper's hawks and harriers and innumerable ducks and geese winging overhead. I've watched a covey of bobs - who knows how many generations extant of the ones hunted by my wife's grandfather and great-grandfather on this same piece of ground - slowly make its way up the draw below me. Only nine. There will be no hunting of these quail this season. I spent the whole of Black Friday as it should be; in total silence, uttering not a word, hearing not another human voice, desiring not a thing beyond that which I had before me (gotta be honest, though; A fat, broadside doe would have been nice...). I sat one day freezing, with two inches of snow and sleet covering me, then sat in that same spot three days later in shirt sleeves and 70 degrees, watching honey bees drone in the air. And yes, I've watched deer, a few, anyway. None, I tell myself, are quite old or fat enough yet for my freezer. Or maybe I just enjoy pissing away time with my ass on the good earth beneath me and the winter sun on my face, being a part of this world rather than the one I must eventually return to. And maybe I just don't want to shatter that illusion with the sound of a rifle shot just yet. There are, after all, days left to worry about things like filling a freezer. So I sit, and watch, and think, and wonder. Many things come, many things go, and many things reveal themselves to those willing to look. Sit long enough, sit silently enough, and I'll be damned if you can't actually see the land itself breathe, live, be. And that's pretty damn cool. And rewarding, even if you can't eat it.

So overall, I guess it could be worse, eh? I could be one of those imbeciles who think deer season is all about shooting deer...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ron Swanson Wants Me to Have a Hammergun.

 Last night I had a dream (Really, no joke. I actually had this dream...) wherein Nick Offerman, in full-on "Parks & Rec" Ron Swanson mode, is showing me a sleek and gorgeous shotgun, a hammergun, of course, that he had made by hand. As he is pointing out all the details on the gun, Nick/Ron is beseeching me, in his deadpan Ron Swanson way, to either buy it, take it, or go find a hammergun of my own to hunt with (I can't quite remember which it was...) because real men of taste and dignity use such weapons.

It was, well, a little weird. Now I have this feeling that somehow, I must go find myself a nice, shootable hammergun, which is laughable, of course, because the only way I could afford an exposed-hammer double gun right now would be to buy two fifty-buck pawnshop H&R's and then weld them together.

Anyway, it was a strange dream, and to the best of my knowledge the first time I've ever dreamed of either exposed-hammer shotguns or Ron Swanson, even though I greatly admire both. Interpret it as you will. Interestingly enough, Nick Offerman, who is a screamingly funny guy, and also happens to be married to screamingly funny gal (and Oklahoman) Megan Mullally, is also a very talented woodworker, with his own LA woodshop.

Pretty cool stuff there, including a lot of projects involving beautiful slabbed timber, something I'd love to do myself if I could ever afford one of those small portable sawmills I've wanted for a while. So even though Nick Offerman probably couldn't build me a hammergun from scratch (Although I'm sure Ron Swanson could), I bet he could re-stock it.

Offerman also has a new book out entitled Paddle Your Own Canoe. Seems amusing. Haven't read it, but I'll keep my eyes open for it at the library. Can't buy it. I'm saving up for a hammergun...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Attention Unfulfilled Cubicle Commandos...

Here's an interesting help wanted ad I saw this morning via the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Facebook page. If you've ever dreamed of escaping the pointless drudgery of your Office Space existence and going to work for a group of people so delightfully archaic and out of touch with modern times that they believe our public lands should best be protected, and experienced using quads not built by Yamaha or Kawasaki, then throw out those TPS reports, tell Lumbergh to go pound sand and brush up the 'ol resume, because here's your chance to throw off the yoke of corporate serfdom and Do Some Good...

From the ad

We are seeking an individual with the talent, passion and desire to promote and grow the Nation’s leading public lands focused sportsmen’s conservation organization.  Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is growing with 13 state chapters, individual members in all 50 states, and a $650,000 annual budget. 

Job Description & Primary Responsibilities:
  • Serve as a liaison between BHA headquarters and the leadership of local state chapters.
  • Provide services and support to BHA chapters throughout the country. A primary focus of the duties will include increasing membership, event planning, fundraising, merchandise sales and working with state chapters to advance state and national conservation programs.
  • Work with and maintain regular communications with chapter leaders to keep our volunteers informed and motivated about the organization and its mission, activities, goals and fund-raising efforts. Work with the BHA team to build major gift, corporate, foundation, grant, and planned giving relationships to escalate our mission-related efforts
  • Develop new chapters and strengthen existing chapters to encourage strong volunteer leaders.
  • Plan and conduct meetings with chapters.
Minimum Qualifications: 
  • The team member we desire is innovative and a creative thinker with a proven success of following through with their ideas.
  • Demonstrated - results oriented organizational, leadership, and sales skills.
  • Bachelor’s degree in related field plus 2 years of practical experience.
  • Demonstrated ability to work with and interact with sportsmen and sportswomen and a general knowledge of public land conservation issues.
  • Innovative and resourceful self-starter that is able to work with minimal supervision.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills.
Starting Salary:  Depending on experience. This is a full time position with health and retirement benefits. 

Living in a state where the very notion of public land is viewed as a pseudo-Socialist plot designed to destroy the free market, BHA is one of those groups I greatly admire from afar, and really should join (and in fact, damn it, will join...). This sounds like a great job working for a group doing important, rewarding work, and were I either qualified and living in a western state with, you know, some public land to actually defend, or qualified and in a position to relocate to a western state with some public land to defend, I'd probably have my arms wrapped around the legs of their HR manager right now, crying like a wee girl and begging to be hired.

Instead, I'm passing it along as a public service announcement to any of you miserable Miltons out there who may be reading this surreptitiously from your cubicle while dreaming of someday escaping the hive to find Meaning.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Old Dogs Still Doing Old Tricks

Monday afternoon I decided it would behoove me to grab the decoys, the waders and the old lady (canine version) and be set up on the water when that massive, nationwide cold front/storm system was scheduled to blow through late Monday afternoon. I had visions of undulating waves of high movers riding the wind right into my decoys. Ahh, the giddiness of pre-failure...

I also briefly considered hunting - for the first time - out of the kayak, but wisely decided that 45mph gusts, a notoriously windswept lake, plunging windchills, and a tiny, narrow boat loaded with gear, decoy bags, a somewhat fat man and a somewhat fat dog would more than likely result in Watery Death and six inches below the fold in our local paper.

So instead I decided to hunt a small slough below the dam of the reservoir. Not an ideal location, as it presented some logistical issues of its own (long hike in, extremely limited area in which to hunt, extremely limited open water in which to drop ducks so your dog doesn't have to search for them in the acres of dense, flooded reeds that ring the pond, even more extremely limited area in which to set decoys without falling into deep water/sucking muck and the corresponding Watery Gelatinous Death that goes along with said misstep, etc.). It's basically a spot that allows zero flexibility in setting up according to conditions and wind direction. Like castor oil, you just have to take what's given and like it.

But when everything aligns just right, it can be a great spot. So that's where the dog and I found ourselves Monday afternoon. We survived the extended sand plum thicket crawl, I survived the setting of the decoys, and all we needed now was cold weather and mallards.

So we waited for the gust front and the clouds of ducks that were surely just over the northern horizon. And waited, and waited, perspiring in my waders as I watched clouds of insects fornicate under a brilliant azure sky. Where the hell was the cold front? Where the hell were the ducks?

Eventually, I started getting a few ducks winging by in the sunshine, almost all of them wigeon, a species of duck for which I have a particular fondness. The obvious fakery of my decoy spread was eclipsed only by the obvious fakery of my calling, but I did manage to drop the first pair of weary, astigmatic and tone-deaf wigeon that committed to the decoys. I sent Tess after the first one and then remembered that I had a video camera I never, ever remember to actually use. So I grabbed it to record a few seconds of sloppy dog handling, lackadaisical dog work (she is ten, after all), and overall low-production value entertainment of interest to absolutely no one but myself. But since this is my blog, I don't care...

She's never been a ball of fire like my other two chessies, and she's never been as crisp, either, but she's always been consistent, if a little plodding. I duck hunt almost exclusively alone, so the past few years as she's slowed down and settled into her golden years, I've let Tess slide on a lot of little things for which real dog men would frown upon and chastise me. But again, she's ten years old. She doesn't give a shit what real dog men think of her, and neither do I.

So we waited, enjoyed the sunshine, shot a couple more wigeon, which appeared sporadically and in small groups, and waited some more. All in all not a bad way to spend a late afternoon, even if the expected clouds of ducks never showed up. Right before I decided to pack it in and head for home, a lone drake mallard flew in, and instead of dropping him in open water, which is what would have happened had I shot him correctly, I winged him and he tumbled exactly where I didn't want him to go; into the jungle of reeds and deep, sucking muck across the slough to my right.

Since both the dog and I were in a makeshift blind on the back side of the dam, covered with reeds, all either of us could see was the mallard angling into the general area of the reeds. Neither of us could actually mark it down.

Well, shit. I had a downed but live duck out there in that nightmare of water, mud and cover, no clear idea where it was, and absolutely no way to reach it short of sprouting gills or webbed feet. Well, that's why you have a dog, right? All I could do was line her in the general direction of where I thought the duck went down, give her a "back" and hope like hell the fat old girl could bust her way through those reeds and use her nose to find that mallard. There would be no handling beyond the initial line, but she knew the game.

So I sent her, watched her hit the reeds and disappear, and then of course suddenly remembered (again, a bit late) that I had a video camera. What follows is, literally, about eight minutes of me filming a silent row of reeds, so I chopped it down to about a minute-and-a-half of me filming reeds, followed by some silly, overly effusive praise that Tess earned every bit of.

A few short years ago Tess would have eaten up a retrieve like that, but at ten, although she's still fairly active, I was a bit worried she'd tire out looking for that mallard and get hung up in the reeds,which really must be seen in person to understand just how dense they are and how difficult it is for a dog to negotiate. If she had gotten hung up, my only option would have been to walk back to the north around the entire slough, cross a creek, walk back in from the west and start bushwacking into the water, hoping like hell I wouldn't step off into a hole or bury myself in silt.

But she made it: all slow, pudgy, arthritic, crotchety, gray-muzzled, slowly-going-blind sixty pounds of her. It wasn't an especially long retrieve, sixty yards, maybe seventy. But a tough one for a seasoned citizen. It was a helluva lot of fun to witness, a great way to start what may well be her last season, and a perfect example of why I will never understand the appeal of hunting ducks and birds without dogs. I know a lot of people do, and that's cool if they like it, but for me hunting without a dog is kinda like eating a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips. Bleh.     

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Links 'O Gloom and Doom...

Abandon all hope, ye who read here...

First off is this heartwarming story in Time about the continued and mind-boggling - in both scope and naked greed - conversion of grasslands to crops.

Robert Malsam nearly went broke in the 1980s when corn was cheap. So now that prices are high and he can finally make a profit, he’s not about to apologize for ripping up prairieland to plant corn. Across the Dakotas and Nebraska, more than 1 million acres of the Great Plains are giving way to corn fields as farmers transform the wild expanse that once served as the backdrop for American pioneers.
This expansion of the Corn Belt is fueled in part by America’s green energy policy, which requires oil companies to blend billions of gallons of corn ethanol into their gasoline. In 2010, fuel became the No. 1 use for corn in America, a title it held in 2011 and 2012 and narrowly lost this year. That helps keep prices high. “It’s not hard to do the math there as to what’s profitable to have,” Malsam said. “I think an ethanol plant is a farmer’s friend.”

A few nut grafs to chew on...

More than 1.2 million acres of grassland have been lost since the federal government required that gasoline be blended with increasing amounts of ethanol, an Associated Press analysis of satellite data found. Plots that were wild grass or pastureland seven years ago are now corn and soybean fields. That’s in addition to the 5 million acres of farmland that had been aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — that have vanished since Obama took office.

"...In South Dakota, more than 370,000 acres of grassland have been uprooted and farmed from since 2006. In Edmunds County, a rural community about two hours north of the capital, Pierre, at least 42,000 acres of grassland have become cropland — one of the largest turnovers in the region."
"Malsam runs a 13-square-mile family farm there. He grows corn, soybeans and wheat, then rents out his grassland for grazing. Each year, the family converts another 160 acres from grass to cropland.
Chemicals kill the grass. Machines remove the rocks. Then tractors plow it three times to break up the sod and prepare it for planting."

And Mr. Malsam can do that pretty much risk-free, thanks to our federal crop insurance program. Socialize the risk, privatize the profit. It's just that simple. Here's a little story that gives a good synopsis of the problem. Well, it's a problem for taxpayers, hunters, anglers and pretty much everyone else besides farmers, ethanol producers and other members of the agro-industrial complex. For them it's the can't lose lottery...

From Bloomberg

Crop insurance, intended to protect growers from price and weather risk, has become the most expensive U.S. farm-aid program, costing taxpayers $14 billion in subsidies for farmers and payments to companies, including ACE Ltd. (ACE) and a unit of Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), after last year’s drought pushed payouts to a record, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. 

...Under the insurance program, the government subsidizes the majority of premiums paid by farmers, covers much of the administrative costs tallied by insurers to run the program, and guarantees that all losses are met. A series of stories by Bloomberg in September examined the debate over the program’s structure and costs.

More than a half-decade into a price boom expected to push farm profits to a record $120.6 billion this year, land in Midwest and Plains states has shifted toward crops, according to the USDA. This year’s corn acreage of 97.4 million acres was the highest since 1936. About 86 percent of U.S. acreage was covered by taxpayer-backed crop insurance last year, the agency said.

It's not gonna stop, folks. It's just not. At least not voluntarily, out of some suddenly-realized collective epiphany that perhaps this isn't a good or even remotely sustainable idea. Hmmm, I wonder what would stop it...

Have you ever held finely-tilled prairie soil in your hands? No? Don't live on the plains, you say? No problem, just give it a few years. And start putting together that Woody Guthrie playlist now...

Moving on, here's another Debbie-Downer piece, this time on NPR, on a study to determine how climate change is effecting native cutthroat populations...

From the story

In the mountain streams of the American West, the trout rules. People don't just catch this fish; they honor it. And spend lots of money pursuing it. But some western trout may be in trouble. Rivers and streams are getting warmer and there's often less water in them. Scientists suspect a changing climate is threatening this iconic fish. I joined two such scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey as they drove up a mountain road in Montana, in the northern Rockies, a place dense with stands of Douglas fir and aspen trees and braided with mountain streams...They're studying the trout's world, which is changing radically as the climate warms. The region has seen record droughts and declining winter snowpack, which means measly stream flow after the spring melt. The water is also warmer these days in the streams.

"...Understanding how this will all work out will take time. But already, changes have cropped up. For example, non-native fish that have been introduced in the West — like rainbow trout — normally live farther downstream where the water is warmer. Now they're moving up into higher streams. When they get there, they breed with the native cutthroat. Clint Muhlfeld says new research he's done suggests that making hybrids may not be a good thing. "What we found is that as you allow hybridization to progress in fish you actually see a rapid decrease in fitness," he says. "That's not a good thing for trout." Also, bass are moving into waters that were once too cold for them, the kind of water the trout prefer. The bass prey on the young trout." 

Well, sheeeit! Good news! Maybe now if I'm forced to move to Montana because of extreme drought and the disappearance of bobwhite quail on the southern plains, I won't have to trade in my bass tackle for fly gear, after all, because the bass will be fleeing there, too! Move over, you dry fly fairy wanders. Meet Mr. Jig 'n Pig!

The story continues...

There are many things that disturb trout, which are picky about how and where they live. But so far the state and the fishing community have been able to reconcile cattle grazing, development and mining with the needs of trout. But climate change raises a big new threat and it's hard to fathom how it might affect trout. Thus the effort now to look for the first signs of trouble, not only for the sake of the creature, but for all those people who regard it as the iconic fish of the American West.

Really? Cattle grazing, development and mining have all been reconciled? Well, sheeeit! Pack it up, TU, who needs you? Everything's been reconciled except, apparently, climate change, which as we all know is a leftist hoax, anyway. So my takeway from this story is, screw the cutthroat. With grazing, development and mining having been reconciled, and with climate change a demonstrable falsehood, that stupid, gullible little fish is golden.*

And finally, we have this story, which I picked up through the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative's  Facebook page.

From the story in the Houston Chronicle

Conversation among a group of scientists, wildlife managers, land managers, public policy experts, journalists and hunters gathered in a Texas town one evening this past week was animated and passionate and tinged with frustration, desperation and urgency. The topic was how unprecedented, man-caused changes in the natural landscape and a devil's brew of factors poised to accelerate those changes threaten the future of the continent's waterfowl and other avian wildlife that depend on healthy, abundant grassland/wetland habitats for survival.

"Are ducks the next quail?" one of the discussion's participants, a biologist with extensive experience in the field and knowledge of challenges facing waterfowl and other avian wildlife, somberly wondered aloud. Everyone understood the implications of his question.

Uh, yeah, I'd like to take a stab at answering that question, and the short answer would be, hell yes, they are. Anyone not a congenital half-wit or a TV personality can see that. Enjoy those record-setting fall flights, enjoy blasting those endless six-duck limits with all your shiny new branded gear, enjoy emulating a bunch of weird, hairy, proselytizing hillbillies from Louisiana. Because your new fad is over. It's dead. Still flying, but flying dead. Unless things change, and change damn quickly.

Ducks aren't magically produced somewhere off-camera. They're produced in the very same regions that are currently being greedscaped into oblivion. All you mud motor jockeys may not currently give two shits what happens to the quail, or what happens to the pheasants, or to prairie grouse or whatever else lives out there in the wastelands, but guess what? Those wastelands are to the ducks what your doublewide is to you!** That's where they all go to fornicate!

And when the skies are empty and you're forced to go back to something like the point system because of plummeting duck numbers, and you're rediscovering the joys of using your $1,500 plastic duck gun for some Xtreme rat shooting down at the town dump because "it's the dayumdest thing, there just 'aint no ducks no more!" then maybe you'll realize that instead of devoting all your time and energy to rockin' the beard, maybe you shoulda been paying a little more attention to Things That Really Matter.

But I digress, the story was actually about quail...

Bobwhite quail, arguably the most recognized and revered game bird in the nation, has seen its wild population free-fall over the past half-century or so. In some states within the birds' native range, which covers most of the United States from the Atlantic seaboard to the Great Plains, bobwhite numbers have declined by as much as 90 percent or more. That includes states such as Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina, where wild quail were so abundant they were a part of the region's cultural and social fabric. 

In some states where the birds were relatively abundant as recently as 30 years ago, bobwhites are considered "recreationally extinct," their numbers so low that hunting seasons have been either suspended or, if hunting is allowed, almost no wingshooters pursue the iconic game bird.
No region of the bobwhites' range has escaped the collapse, including Texas. The statewide bobwhite quail population has, by some estimates, declined 70 percent or more over the past 60 years. In parts of Texas, the birds have all but vanished; East Texas and the Post Oak Savanna, which held fairly healthy bobwhite populations into the 1960s, are almost wholly devoid of wild quail, and the Blackland Prairies and Edwards Plateau regions hold only scattered, isolated islands of quail.

The decline in Texas' bobwhite population has been mirrored by an off-a-cliff tumble in the number of Texans hunting quail. As recently as the early 1990s, as many as 225,000 Texans hunted quail each autumn and winter. This past season, according to the Texas wildlife agency's small game harvest survey, only about 20,800 people hunted quail in Texas. And that number includes those who shot pen-raised/released quail on shooting preserves.

Just plug in "Oklahoma" wherever the story says "Texas" and you'll get the idea. But as alluded to in the story, this is a national problem, and a woefully under-reported one, especially in any meaningful way in what passes for outdoor media these days. As an example, last year, in the wake of an excellent New York Times piece  written by James Card, I pitched a quail conservation feature story to the editor of a magazine that shall remain unnamed. It was timely, it was urgent, and it important for a helluva lot of people, including, dare I say, a helluva lot of readers of this particular magazine. I had all the contacts, I had the background, having written about quail quite a bit, I had a good hook, I had the timing, and I truly thought it had a chance to get a greenlight.

The editor's response was that while it sounded like a good story, this magazine had already done a recent quail-related conservation piece, so they'd have to pass. So what did said quail-related conservation piece consist of? Well, it was (and I am not making this up) a five-minute feel-good video highlighting a local Boy Scout project to restore "quail habitat" on a local put-and-take poultry shoot WMA...in New Jersey. Yes, New Jersey.

Sigh. It's easy to get discouraged and glum about all sorts of things, especially if you read this blog. But believe it or not, I am not nearly so skeptical as I sometimes seem. I'm a hopeful pessimist. The alternative is to be a hopeless pessimist, and truly, what's the point of that? I think there's hope for our grasslands, I think there's hope for the cutthroat, and I think there's hope for the bobwhite. I'm not quite ready to abandon hope just yet. And Ye shouldn't, either. There are a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good work. These stories? They're just reminders, albeit stark ones, of why that work is so important.

* I kid, I kid the cutthroat. In truth, I'm fascinated with the little buggers and I've applied (keep your fingers crossed) for a journalism fellowship with the cutthroat trout as my research subject. 

** Please, no angry comments about my disparaging of redneck duck hunters. I was born and raised in Oklahoma. I've actually lived in a doublewide trailer. I am a redneck duck hunter, and believe me, when I make fun of redneck duck hunters, I know from whence I speak...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dogs and Birds and Old Men and Such

A few observations from opening weekend of my personal obsession with a fast-fading tradition:

I think this is going to be Ozzy's breakout season where he starts putting things together. He's doing well, and I am pleased. Jenny, not so much thus far. She was a wild, poorly-behaved wench this weekend. My fault. We'll be working on that. She always seems to start out poorly and get better as the season goes along. I'm hoping that pattern holds.

Trying to keep up with dogs over rough terrain, not to mention mounting a gun, getting your head down on the stock and properly swinging through on a quail, all while suffering from an irritating and pernicious firewood cutting-related neck and hand injury (more on that in some future blog) that prevents you from doing pretty much all of those things, is an act of futility and pain. Think Frankenstein attempting to hunt quail, and that would be a good approximation of me this past weekend.

As suspected, we have more birds around than last year, which means that instead of walking twenty miles and seeing only heat shimmers, hallucinations and dust devils, this season you will walk twenty miles and not only see heat shimmers, hallucinations and dust devils, but your dogs may, just may, get a fleeting chance to catch a few tantalizing molecules of quail essence swirling in the eddies of the morning chill, and then remind you why you're so infatuated with them. The dogs and the quail.

But despite that, it's still bad, and nowhere near what it needs to be. Last year was apocalyptically grim. This year it's merely catastrophically grim. If we get one more summer like last, perhaps we can hope for an upgrade to disastrously grim next fall, and if we get really, really lucky and get two more normal summers, I believe the Oklahoma quail season of 2015-2016 will be merely grim.

At least that's what I and the 20,000-odd (down from well over 100,000 at one point) fools who still stubbornly chase these dreams into the wasteland each year are shooting for. The only question is, how many of them will still be around in a couple years to enjoy that wonderfully grim year of quail hunting?

It was not hard to find solitude this past Saturday on the public area I hunt every opening weekend. A few more than last year, including a couple out-of-state groups who chased their own dreams all the way from Georgia and Alabama. But even with the uptick in numbers, it was a shadow of what was, and most of those few remaining are old, wistful and pushing forward mostly on the pull of the past.

As I was sitting on my tailgate Saturday afternoon eating lunch, a truck with a dog trailer pulled up beside me. Two men inside. Old-time men. Dog men. Bird-hunting men, representatives of a sepia-tinged epoch now past, trying to find one last good and familiar thing in this one. We talked for over an hour. They were both in their late seventies, from back east, almost to Arkansas. Their dogs were old, their truck was old, their guns were old, and their tales were old. And fascinating. And terribly sad. And terribly familiar. Two aging men from a region once rife with quail and quail hunting tradition, now driving a bunch of aging dogs hundreds of miles, all for the chance to grasp memory. I suppose that's what we all do eventually.

We talked dogs and guns and quail and OU football and when it was time to leave I gave them my card, told them to call me next fall for a scouting report and wished them luck. Right before they drove off, one of them said "you know, you're the youngest quail hunter I've met in a while." It should be noted that I am 42, and while the concept of "young" changes with age, by no stretch of the imagination am I a rosy-cheeked cherub. But he was right. In fact, I was the youngest quail hunter I had seen all weekend.   

I thought of the legions of truly young kids, teenagers and twenty-somethings that I had run into (for better and worse. Usually worse) out duck hunting the past two seasons, all those "crews" with their wispy beards and their barrel stickers on their guns and their "Cut 'Em" stickers on their truck windows and their simple faith that the ducks will always be here because of course for them the ducks always have been here, just like the quail had always been here, and everyone, young and old, had always hunted them. Until, of course, they weren't.

As those two old men drove off in search of what pulled them here, I couldn't help but wonder if they'd be back next year, or maybe the year after, or if they'd just drive off into the past, never to return. It's a helluva thing to lose an entire tradition. And it's a helluva thing to be a young quail hunter at 42.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Waiting Patiently...

 For tomorrow to get here. Hurry up, tomorrow, I'm gettin' bored.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Daily Grind...

No, not that kind of grind...

After almost a year of inaction, obsessive online research and comparison shopping, it's time for me to bite the bullet and buy a good, commercial-grade meat grinder. I've narrowed it down to the 1/2 (or thereabouts) horsepower, #8 neck, stainless grinders from either Cabela's or LEM. However, my innate cheap-ass has raised its head, as it so often does, whispering, "Damn it, it's just a meat grinder! Buy This $99 knock-off  from Northern Tool and stuff that extra $200 in your sock."

I've had people whose opinion I trust tell me the Cabela's grinders truly are worth the money, and the online praise for them is damn-near universal. They're on sale right now, the half-horse model for $329, which is steep, but apparently good grinders- especially grinders that will be doing a lot of venison - are one of those "you get what you pay for, cry now or cry later" kind of products. But the nearest Cabela's to me is in Wichita, Kansas, so shipping a big, heavy grinder will cost.

The LEM is equally praised, and Bass Pro Shops-branded version is (not un-coincidentally) also on sale for $329. And although I generally dislike Bass Pro shops and make it a point to never step foot in the place, we do have one semi-locally. However, I'm also pretty sure that Academy sells the same grinder, and if it's like most everything else, it'll be cheaper at Academy, with the added bonus that you won't have some jerk-off accosting you as you're walking out the door trying to sell you lakeside condo timeshares in Missouri like they do at Ass Pro.

There is also a third option: I could try to win Hank Shaw's Book Promotion Contest and win the sweet 1/2 horsepower Weston grinder he's giving away (According to online rumor, Weston may or may not be the actual manufacturer of the Cabela's grinders). The only problem is that A. the kind of picture I had in mind probably wouldn't be in the best of taste, and B. (and I'm quite embarrassed to admit this, especially since I'm trying to get Hank to come out next spring and go paddlefish snagging with me) I actually haven't bought a copy of Duck, Duck, Goose yet to be able to take a picture.  In fact, I haven't even shot a Duck, Duck or Goose yet this season. Long story there. But I'm going to, Hank, honest. Shoot a duck this year, and buy your book...

So anyway, before pulling the trigger, I thought I'd ask for any last-minute suggestions, ideas or recommendations. Anybody have any personal experience with either the Cabela's or LEM grinders,or even that cheap Northern Tool meat grinder? Did I mention it's 99 bucks? It's also actually gotten not-bad reviews on a lot of the online forums. And it's 99 bucks. And there's a Northern Tool in OKC. And it's 99 bucks.

Or should I just lump it and buy quality the first time around? I've been butchering my own deer for years, and for years I've been messing around with a combination of junk grinders, other people's grinders, and other people's junk grinders. My brain says I should really be leaning toward quality...

But did I mention that Northern Tool grinder is only 99 bucks?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Growing Old Truisms: The Age/Camo Inversion

Truism: There is an inverse relationship between my age and the number of camouflage clothing items I own. As one keeps going inexorably up, the other keeps going steadily down.

Makes sense, I suppose. These days, I mostly bird and waterfowl hunt. Obviously I eschew any camo at all for my bird hunting, not only for the fact that it looks unbelievably silly, and tacky, but also because I have no desire to resemble a leafy, three-dimensional, color-changing, UV-blocking, ultra-wicking, holographic Ent as I chase the dogs across the landscape. 

I do wear camo waders and a camo parka while duck hunting (the pattern escapes me, Dickweed Maxx 4-D, or something like that), along with a facemask (no effing affected facepaint for me) and a hat, so there is that. I can't completely chunk all this overpriced, overhyped crap, because, well, it does help some with the duckies. I also wear a few old, faded camo (lineage unknown) t-shirts and earth-toned shorts for early dove. In addition, I have a few old, worn and and thoroughly unstylish camo shirts and pants I wear for spring turkey, along with gloves, mask and hat.

But that's about it for my camo-wearing these days, which is a far, far cry from my camo-festooned youth, during which - growing up in a state college town - camouflage was not only potent tribal identity (Me Manly Hunter Man!), but fashion, philosophical, and political statement as well. You know, all those terribly important statements that seem to stop mattering so much as you grow older.

These days, I pretty much ignore the merchants of redneck cool and instead have taken to wearing mostly earth-toned surplus wool pants and shirts for what little bowhunting I still do, and have even begun committing the unpardonable sin of wearing a pair of old jeans and a brown or dark gray flannel shirt on warm days during deer gun season. And it's the damndest thing: as long as I pay attention to the wind, sit up against something (like a cedar tree) that breaks up my outline, and don't fidget around, the deer don't seem to mind they're being shot by a simple-minded nebbish who is neither Hard-Core nor Xtreme enough to wear such duds as what's now available.

I can live with that. Hell, eventually I'd even like to get rid of all my camo, every bit of it, and just go back to  hunting like this guy.    

Monday, November 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, Zombie Will Rogers.

I know you and Wiley Post (tragically born Texan but raised Okie) died together way back in 1935, but damn it, you left us way too soon. Hard to imagine that the state of Oklahoma once produced adventurers like Post and thinkers like you. In fact, you and Woody Guthrie were the best thinkers the state of Oklahoma ever grew. Honest. Since you two left, it's been mostly front-end-of-the-Bell-Curve territory for us, public-figure-wise. Which is why I'd be damn curious to know what you and Woody would think of your state and your country these days.

Now I know you once famously said you never met a man you didn't like, but I must point out that, well, you did die rather young, and perhaps you just never got the opportunity, so I have an idea: Please, for the love of all that's holy, and decent, and good, come back. Just come back. Yes, as a zombie. The undead are not only socially acceptable these days, they're actually celebrated (there's a societal metaphor in there somewhere). Truly, it's a damn interesting epoch we're in, and I'm confident that without much effort you'll finally find someone you not only dislike, but loathe. Trust me, there are legion from which to choose.

Come on, Will, re-animate. We miss you, we need you, and there's a helluva lot of us stuck here in the temporal world who would gladly take even a zombie Will Rogers over the entire current crop of bloviating fuckwits polluting the airwaves and the ether these days. I guess you could say that we're just all zombies looking for some brains down here, Will, and not finding them anywhere. Could you come back and give us yours, again?  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Traditional Halloween Post...

The trick-or-treating is over, the kids have divided up the loot, and now it's time for me to relax, kick back with my traditional Halloween night scotch, enjoy my traditional Halloween night author, and recycle my traditional Halloween rant...

A few random observations - both impolite and wistful -  on Halloween and the month of October...
First, a bit of a post-Halloween screed...
Since when did trick-or-treating with your children become a strictly vehicle-based activity? One in which the parents - who apparently can’t be bothered with the tiresome act of removing their lardasses from their vehicles and physically walking down the street with their children and, you know, engaging with them – instead kick said children out of the vehicle and slowly cruise along the street ignoring their kids and other pedestrians, updating their Facebook status on their phone and creating huge traffic and safety hazards.
Thanks for that.

What the hell, people? Is this what we’ve come to? Can we not, for one night a year, just one friggin’ night out of 365, park our cars – just this once – and take a walk instead of willfully disassociating ourselves from the opportunity to have a real, tangible, organic experience with our children?
You horrible, self-indulgent, fat, lazy, no-good, stupid-ass mo-fos; you squawking, shit-for-brained, lemming-like creatures whose asses are apparently connected - Avatar-like - with the heated, air-conditioned Corinthian leather seats in your steel cocoons, here’s a hint: Not only do you ruin the experience for the rest of us who still use our lower extremities for something other than operating a gas pedal, you ruin it for your own children, too.

How? By teaching them to grow up to be just like you. And if there’s one thing the world doesn’t need right now, it’s another generation of self-absorbed dickheads.

And this is just my opinion, but I’m pretty sure that, deep down, most eight-year-old girls don’t really want to be tarted-up pixie streetwalkers for Halloween. That’s your fantasy, and if you've secretly always harbored some Penthouse Forum daydream about rockin’ the stripper pole, hey, that’s cool, but maybe you shouldn’t be living that dream vicariously through your child. Just sayin’…

Just had to vent a little. I'm good now...

Last night, after we got home from trick-or-treating and got the kids out of their costumes and into bed, I grabbed a wee nip and curled up in the reading chair with some Ray Bradbury.
October is a restless month. It has always made me - even as a child - wistful and pensive, with a touch of fear at the transition it represents, not just of season, but of mood, being and mind. It’s the one month in which even this hoary, jaded old adult still feels some residual tug of an ancient, pagan magic we all once believed in as children, but which gradually lost its grip as we grew into adulthood.

And I don’t think there’s ever been a writer that captures the essence of, and speaks so eloquently to, my (for lack of a better term) ‘Octoberism” than Ray Bradbury. Reading “Something Wicked This Way Comes” as an adult reminds me, just a bit, of what it was like to be a child who still possessed the capacity for wonder.

That and a stiff glass of scotch also makes a perfect balm for having to deal with assholes all evening...

Yeah, everything above still applies two years later. However,  I must say that Halloween, which has always been my favorite holiday, still holds a vestigial tug of wonder for this jaded old(er) man, even with all the assholes, which were back in force tonight. I'll leave you with a few of longtime Bradbury illustrator Joe Mugnaini's spookily awesome illustrations for Bradbury's classic "The October Country." Even though tonight it's "The Illustrated Man" for me.



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Bookful of Feathers and Awesomeness

Although this isn't strictly a bird-hunting blog, or even mostly a bird-hunting blog, I know quite a few of you few readers are, and that many of you also read the always ass-kicking Mouthful of Feathers blog. So without further ado...

From the blog...

"A project we’ve been kicking around for some time is finally happening, and frankly, we’re damn excited about it. In early December of 2013, Mouthful of Feathers: Upland Hunting in the West will be released, featuring a collection of original, full-length essays by:

Tosh Brown 
Reid Bryant 
Michael Gracie 
Chad Love 
Greg McReynolds 
Tom Reed 
Bruce Smithhammer 
Bob White 
Pat Wray

The book will be published by Pulp Fly, Ltd. and available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble for Kindle, Nook and iPad platforms.
More to come soon – please stay tuned. And if you haven’t done so already, the best way to stay tuned is by signing up as a follower of this blog, which you can do on the menu on the right side of this page, and by “liking” our Facebook page. Thanks."

I'm pretty damn excited to be a part of this project. It's a perfect example of how small, independent publishers with vision and moxie are identifying and exploiting important niches that big, ponderous, arrogant, floundering, clueless corporate media companies are simply too slow, too myopic, too stupid, too timid, too conventional and above all too least-common-denominator to even understand or recognize, much less try to explore themselves.

I think MOF has always been a great example of a specific vision realized, the kind of vision that traditional corporate media types just don't get. When I first started writing the gundogs blog for Field & Stream, I tried, mightily, to convince my editors to just let me run with it, to reject the conventional and stupefyingly boring, the formulaic, the homogenous, the carefully branded and SEO-driven. I didn't want to write bland, predictable, unappealing pap, because I knew there was an entire subculture out there, an entire demographic, that F&S had lost, and I sure as hell wasn't going to get it back for them with caption contests, forgettable and mostly useless how-to posts, and risk-free writing assiduously scrubbed of voice, opinion and edge.

In short, I wanted something loosely based on MOF, a hybrid, freeform, freewheeling, unpredictable, opinionated, edgy, but always entertaining and well-written blog that didn't look, sound, read and feel like just another carbon-copy branded product. Round hole, meet square peg. To their credit, the editors took a chance and sometimes allowed me a little room to riff, but what I wanted to do just didn't jibe with what they wanted to do, and for the most part, even I admit it was an unmitigated failure that was rightly shot down.

The fact is, there just isn't any room in the conventional hook-and-boolit world for what MOF is, what it represents. Not everyone gets it. Not everyone is supposed to get it. And that's a damn good thing. Who wants to be all things to all people? That's just weak sauce designed to maximize profit and minimize originality. But damn it, you'd better get it. Yes, you. Both "it" as in the vibe, and "it" as in the book. I'm confident, however, that you'll get it. Both "its". Why else would you be reading this weird-ass blog if you weren't already a little different, right? 

Now I'm not saying this is going to be better than anything else out there (but it is...) but it's damn sure going to be different than anything else. And I for one think there are a lot of people out there who are craving something different. They're tired of Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes. Maybe they want to try an interesting new curry. And that's what the MOF book is; a good curry, a spicier, more exotic alternative to that comfortable, boring-ass Salisbury steak.

All I'm saying is, you should try this curry. It's tasty.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Despite All My Rage...

 * with apologies to Smashing Pumpkins...

I am still just a...shrew in a cage?

If you asked me to which animal freelance writers are most similar, my delusional side would respond with one of the noble, independent big cats, perhaps a proud and aloof bird of prey, or some other dignified, solitary, non-pack animal of quiet dignity and regal bearing.

In truth, however, we're rodents. Squeaking, expendable little rodents living in the shadows. Specifically, we're shrews. Yes, shrews. Shrews are small, powerless, largely invisible, and must forage for work food literally every waking moment or they will die, until utterly exhausted and used up from the effort of finding assignments sustenance, they die, anyway. And if that's not the description of a typical freelancer then I don't know what is.

Most freelancers, if they've been freelancing for long - and especially if they have families not associated with a trust fund  - eventually start casting long, covetous looks toward the safety and predictability of regular, gainful employment. Steady paychecks, regular hours, and perhaps even the possibility of a few meager benefits start overshadowing the once-shiny allure of unpredictability, creative independence and freedom from routine, which are - un-coincidentally - the exact same qualities used by the neighbors of virtually all freelance writers to convince the neighborhood watch association we're drug dealers...

The point is, even semi-successful freelancers (which by my definition is any freelancer making enough money to afford at least one good weekend drunk per quarter) always keeps his or her eyes on the journalism and publishing job boards, just in case. I am no different, and lately I've noticed a number of interesting-sounding editorial positions opening up, including a few in the sporting mag world. I've even contemplated applying for a few of them.

The thing is, though, if I could pick the one industry in which I'd be most terrified to make a career decision that entails uprooting my family, selling my house, and moving halfway across the country for a new job, it'd be publishing. The print industry is in a bad way, and turnover, both voluntary and forced, is staggering. I know a few writers and editors, both magazine and newspaper, who have lost jobs recently, and the future doesn't look any better, even for those positions that sound so compelling in the job description (What? An opportunity for personal growth? Self-actualization? The chance to be a team player, part of something bigger than myself? Quick, sign me up!).

I suppose many, if not all of those open positions are being filled by young, unattached, and geographically mobile candidates, while many of us older, rooted fogies read the ad, think "that sounds like a pretty cool job, wonder how I'd be at that?" and then, knowing there's no way in hell we'll ever find out, go back to foraging for crumbs.

When I quit newspapers and started freelancing full-time some 13 years ago, I reasoned that I had two fallback positions should freelancing not work out. One, newspapers would always be here, I was a good reporter, and I could always go back to a beat. Yes, yes, I know. Please, all you fired, downsized, laid-off, let-go and permanently furloughed daily reporters and editors stop laughing, and crying. Two, telecommuting was obviously the future, and if I couldn't find a reporting job I could always find some sort of regular, full-time editorial position I could perform from home. Sure, it may be with a publication like Linoleum Flooring Weekly, but it'd be a job.

Well, newspapers are in even worse shape than the magazine industry, and the promise of a bright, shining, pajama-clad telecommute-based economy has, for the most part, never materialized. Most editorial positions remain firmly in the "asses in seats and on location" category, which tends to keep most of us mid-career shrews foraging in place for crumbs.

At first glance, it seems depressing as hell. And if you're simply hoping for a continuation of the status quo, I guess it truly is. But I honestly think the publishing industry as we know it is doomed anyway, forced to die or adapt into something completely new. All those interesting jobs you can't apply for because you're old, fat, slow, and rooted in place? In all likelihood they'll cease to exist in a few years, anyway. The traditional paradigm is toast, and so are a lot of publications that continue clinging to it.

And that, I believe, is a good thing. Or at least it has the potential to be a good thing. Who knows what opportunities for both good writing and the potential to make actual money from that writing will spring forth from this paradigm shift? Lots of shrews, including myself, are still trying to figure that one out.

So I guess all us mid-career shrews should just bide our time, keep our tiny little snouts to the prevailing winds and keep gathering what crumbs we can as we figure out how to navigate this brave new publishing world. And if it turns out that I can't figure it all out, I'm still convinced that this can be my new calling in life.

Even in the face of a changing world, people still love real books, apparently, which I'm pretty sure is more than you can say about most magazines these days.