Friday, August 29, 2014

More First Laws

A while back, I put forth Chad's First Law of American Wilderness. It went something like this:

No matter how far off the beaten path you think you've trod, no matter how deep into the wilderness you think you've ventured, no matter how bold or adventurous you think you are, no matter how isolated, lonely or rugged the country, and no matter how arduous or lengthy the journey may have been, there will always, always be someone who has been there before you. With a beer in their hand. Because that's the American Way.

Here are a few more Chad's First Laws. I call them Chad's First Laws of Unknown Creatures*...

Snakes seen around water are always "water moccasins."

Snakes seen anywhere else are always copperheads or rattlesnakes.

Snakes seen anywhere at any time are always poisonous, and should be killed.

Turtles seen around water are always "snapping turtles." (corollary to this law is that all snapping turtles are also "alligator snapping turtles.")

Turtles seen on land are always "snapping turtles." Or maybe terrapins.

All spiders everywhere, are "fiddlebacks." All of them.

All birds of prey everywhere are "chickenhawks." All of them.

All gar everywhere are "alligator" gar. All of them.

All songbirds, regardless of species, are always just, you know, "birds." All of them.

All ducks, regardless of species, are see above.

Any pronghorn seen in a national park is always "a deer."

Any deer seen in a national park is always "an elk."

Any elk seen in a national park is always "a moose."

Any moose seen in a national park is always "a moose."

Any buck seen off the side of the road as you rush by at 70mph, or caught in the headlights crossing the road in front of you in the dead of night, is, regardless of actual size, always a trophy, "easily a 150-class deer, man. Sumbitch was huge!"

Any unidentified mammal seen off the side of the road as you rush by at 70mph, or caught in the headlights crossing the road in front of you in the dead of night, or seen at the edge of the your backyard while you're sitting on your back porch drinking beer, is always "a goddamned mountain lion, man. I swear, that was a by-gawd mountion lion! Saw it clear as day!"

Any unidentified mammal seen off the side of the road as you rush by at 70mph, or caught in the headlights crossing the road in front of you in the dead of night, or seen at the edge of your back yard while you're sitting on your back porch drinking beer that is not positively identified as "a goddamned mountain lion!" is, of course, a black panther.

All other unidentified mammals are Bigfoot.

All unknown animal sounds heard in the dead of night are mountain lions, black panthers, or Bigfoot. All of them.

* I should be clear that these are not laws I follow, but laws generally followed by morons. 


Monday, August 25, 2014

Lonely Planets, Big Fish, and the Death of PBR

I've always enjoyed reading the Lonely Planet guidebooks, despite not having much cause (i.e. cash) to be able to use one as an actual, you know, guidebook. But in typical escapist fantasy fashion, I'd often check them out at the public library just to read about regions that interested me. They always seemed to be well-written, informative, and geared a bit more toward the cash-challenged adventure travelers rather than the more typical tourist, sort of a pre-Internet book version of the excellent GlobeTrekker show on PBS.

Like all print media it seems the Lonely Planet empire, battered by the Great Recession and the advent of all things digital, has seen better days. I was perusing the Outside website not long ago and came across this story about how the Kentucky billionaire who now owns the franchise is betting on the future.

From the story

Last year, a media-shy billionaire bought the flailing Lonely Planet travel-guide empire, then shocked observers by hiring an unknown 24-year-old former wedding photographer to save it. Charles Bethea straps in for a bizarre ride as a kid mogul tries to remake a legendary brand for the digital age.

It's a really interesting read, and gives hope to young, poverty-stricken visionaries everywhere that their grand dreams, visions. and ideas are just a single odd and reclusive billionaire away from being realized. I always thought there was a market for a Lonely Planets-type guidebook series for itinerant, cash-strapped anglers who wanted to experience the world's angling opportunities from somewhere other than a lodge they could never hope to afford, but I think the Internet has probably rendered that opportunity moot. Apps are where it's at now, I suppose.

But speaking of planetary fishing and exploration, here's a video I saw on Facebook and had to steal and share. If this doesn't make you want to quit your job, sell all the useless trappings of modern life that are currently enslaving you, hop a tramp freighter, and just travel the world catching the amazing variety of gamefish out there just waiting to be caught, then you're an automaton...

Pretty cool stuff. I'm now ready to leave it all behind and go explore the world, rod in hand. Of course, most of the fishing scenes depicted in the video require a high degree of affluence and/or lack of familial responsibility  to experience, so I guess I'll stick to YouTube videos and daydreams. Besides, if I sold everything I owned and set out into the world, rod in hand, I'd get about as far as, I dunno, Denver, before going completely broke, but not before spending my last six bucks or so for a six-pack of PBR with which to drown my sorrows. At least I'd look cool and destitute rather than simply drunk and destitute. Or maybe not...

Again, from Outside Online... Have we reached Peak PBR?

Last month, a curious thing happened: After a long day of work, my husband showed up on our doorstep with a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

“It was on sale,” he said, offering up the iconic red, white, and blue cans. “If the hipsters like it, how bad can it be?” (Spoiler alert: pretty bad.)

What you need to know about my husband is that, while I think he’s cool, he’s not, you know, hipster cool. Earlier this year, he asked me what Coachella was. And he’s been to Brooklyn exactly zero times.
As such, his buying PBR is the perfect example of what hipsters have been dreading—PBR has entered the mainstream, and it may be the beginning of the end for the brand.

Good god, let's hope so. What atrocious horse piss that stuff is. Everything has its moment, then that moment fades as the herd thunders on to the next great truth. I live in a part of the world where folks mainly drink beer to screw, fight, pass out, or some combination thereof, so like most trends I largely failed to notice the PBR craze. I guess there are some benefits to living in an unfashionable rural backwater. One wonders, however, if the decline of PBR among the PPRI (Perpetual Personal Re-Invention) crowd might signal a portend of things to come for other hot trends, like Adult-Onset hunting and gathering? Personally, I hope not. PBR is a bad thing, and should be given back to its rightful demographic: tastebud-less alcoholics, but hunting needs all the friends it can get, demographic-wise. But who knows, they're a fickle crowd, these hipsters.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Red in Tooth and Claw...

Or perhaps "in gills and fins" would be more appropriate. That's one bass fingerling who has been eating well, indeed. In a few weeks we'll return him to the water; fat, sassy and ready to become the voracious apex predator he (or she) is genetically programmed to be. But for now he goes back in the tank, to hone his predatory skills on the schools of baitfish that share his world, which happens to be on our back porch.

Every summer I drag an old 55-gallon aquarium onto the porch, fill it with water, and then we head to the local creek with nets and a five-gallon bucket. We catch mosquito fish, suckers, shiners, killifish, various sunfishes, crawfish, tadpoles, water sliders, whirligig beetles, leeches, snails, fairy shrimp, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, frogs, baby snapping turtles, baby red-eared sliders, baby bass, baby channel catfish, baby crappie, and whatever else we happen to dredge up out of the primordial ooze of the creek bottom.

We then dump the whole thing into the aquarium and spend all summer watching nature take its infinitely fascinating course. Personally, I think it beats the hell out of TV. We've been doing this since the boys were first old enough to walk along the creek, and while these days the oldest is more into basketball and his adolescent social scene than looking foolish with his old man, the youngest is, thankfully, still fully engaged in such things.

So once again we head off to the creek, just a couple of kids; one eight, one 43, to see what we can catch. There are usually other people there enjoying the park, too, though not like us. Other kids, swinging or climbing the jungle gym. Other parents, sitting at the picnic tables watching their children, talking to their spouses or friends, smoking cigarettes, or staring at their phones. I'm usually - no, always - the only parent to be found chasing minnows with a net. The other parents always stare at me, wondering what the hell that grown man is thinking, splashing in the water like a kid. Yes, yes, I am. Put a net in my hand, give me a pond or a stretch of creek, and I become a child again. And I'm thankful for it. Always will be.

Despite the parents' tacit disapproval of my childish, filthy, and suspect antics, their kids always seem to gravitate toward us, ask us what we're doing, ask what's in the bucket. There's an unsated curiosity in their eyes, that natural childhood curiosity we all once had, but invariably - perhaps inevitably - lose as we get older, or, in the case of modern children, killed early by the sirens of our modern, all-encompassing digital lifestyle.

So we show them tadpoles and minnows and crawdads, ribbon snakes and sliders and baby catfish, while their parents watch me - this dirty, wet old man in sneakers and torn shorts -  from afar with skeptical, suspicious eyes. Eventually their parents call the children away from us, load them into their cars and drive away, back to whatever world they inhabit and leaving us to this one.

We make a few more passes with the nets and decide to call it a day. We load up the bucket, heavy with water and wondrous critters, throw the nets in the back of the truck, and go home. It's been a good time, but I can't help but wonder how many more days like this I have allotted to me. My youngest will not always be so young, will not always want to do childish things. There's a time coming when I won't have anyone with which to splash around in a muddy creek, and with it no more reason for this 43-year-old man to act like a child. What, I wonder, will I do then?      

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bueller? Bueller?

Time for a confession: I generally don't much care for the magazines of most of the groups to which I belong, and in fact toss pretty much all of them soon after getting them. Why? Because reading them reminds me of sitting in this guy's class...

 But I was perusing Hatch magazine a few days ago when I came across this interesting review of Trout Unlimited's member magazine, Trout.  Specifically, Trout's recent editorial reboot...

From the review

During the past few years I've come to have a keener appreciation for the writers who are closer to the literary end of the spectrum than the "hook and bullet" end. The Drake, Flyfish Journal and Gray's Fly Fishing issue (though I feel it's aging out) are my new staples. Trout's in that class too though that's a fairly recent development. I first met Kirk Deeter in 2012 shortly after he was announced as editor of Trout Magazine. Kirk's vision for Trout, the in house magazine of Trout Unlimited, was to be of such high quality that folks would join TU just to get the magazine. That sounded awful ambitious.

I don't know Kirk Deeter personally. He and Tim Romano write the flyfishing blog for F&S, and because of this Kirk and I would exchange the occasional e-mail while I was at F&S.  I know Kirk likes to bird hunt, like I do, and he likes to bowhunt with traditional gear, like I do. Beyond that, however, we're strangers. I can't claim to know him.  But he's obviously a talented guy, and he's apparently done a good job with a genre (the member magazine) that, in my opinion, has traditionally been about as compelling a read as the fine print on your cell phone bill.

Maybe I'm too harsh, but apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so...

When you look back at the archives of Trout, you'll see a decidedly conservation bent to the subject matter in each issue. There's also lots of recognition for chapter and national efforts at conservation. It's expected and natural that TU's magazine would have this editorial priority but it made the magazine a bit dry.

Uh, yes. A thousand times yes. Dullness is the Achilles heel of virtually every member magazine I've ever read. To be perfectly blunt, they're boring. Really boring. Five-minutes-on-the-can-then-straight-to-the-trash boring. This sounds harsh, and I guess it is, but as a reader I don't give a damn about slogging through 500 words on how the Greater Tuna Chapter of Sparrows United raised $63 at a cake sale to fund habitat projects on their local sparrow-shooting grounds. That's great and all, but I just don't care, and I'd be willing to bet that the other members of Sparrows United (other than the members of the Greater Tuna chapter) don't care, either.  Not one bit.

But beyond dullness and dryness, I think the other big weakness of member magazines is (familiar refrain warning!) lack of different voices, styles, and a fear of taking chances. It's human nature to stick with what's familiar, and the end result often ends up being predictable, rote, well-trodden, and just... meh. Don't get me wrong, I'm big on the conservation bent, really big. It is, after all, the reason for the very existence of the group. However, I believe - and I've alluded to this before... - that when you're trying to get people to even notice (much less care), how you say it is often as important as what you're saying. And when how you say something is reminiscent of Ferris Bueller's economics teacher, people start suffering from MEGO disease*.

I've never understood why member magazines don't invest more in their magazines and the quality and scope of of the writing that goes in them. I mean, these are the very groups that should own the topic, right? They've got every resource, every expert, every contact. They're right there on the tip of the spear. They could be producing some incredible, compelling journalism and stories, and yet, the majority of the stories and/or reporting I see in member magazines reads like it was written by a staff biologist or some local chapter member dude whose day job is running a Chevy dealership. And there's nothing wrong with that, i suppose, if you're satisfied with it, but if you really want to expand and improve your product you've got to change.

 And that's exactly what Kirk Deeter did.

From the review...

You're not going to learn the latest knot, the best new fly pattern or even the where the biggest trout/salmon/golden dorado can be caught within the pages of Trout. What you will find are some of the finest essays on the sport generated by a generation of writers you'll be reading for years to come: Christopher Camuto, Tom Reed, Bruce Smithhammer, Erin Block, Chris Santella, Monte Burke and more than a handful of other fine pens. The writing is familiar and powerful.

I can take or leave a few of the others, but they had me at Reed and Smithhammer. I'm a big fan of guys who are just a little...different, and write that way.

So here I am sitting on the dessicated, troutless plains of western Oklahoma, about as far removed from wild, free-swimming salmonids as a guy can get, and I'm planning to go join TU; not to get the sticker, not to get the free flies, or to learn the details of how the Boulder, Colorado Pale Morning Tokers chapter of TU are improving streamside trails, but for the writing and photography of the magazine. So I guess the strategy works. At least on guys like me, which is admittedly a rather small and weird demographic. But I'm betting that if other groups took a cue from TU, they'd start getting members because of their magazines, not despite them.**

*My Eyes Glaze Over

** And I'd like to make clear this is not a criticism of any specific magazine or group. They all do good and incredibly necessary work. These are just a few personal opinions on the overall state of the genre, opinions that are worth exactly what they cost, which is nuthin'...    

Ridge Creek Cody

 If you're a setter guy and follow (even loosely, as I do) the field trial world, you may have heard of Ridge Creek Cody, a multiple champion who was one of the more successful setters competing on that scene. I've never seen him in person and, regrettably missed a chance to see him run at a local trial in my area a couple years ago, but I've always admired him from afar, and had hoped to perhaps get a Cody pup some time in the next year or so if I could find a breeding not already reserved, find the space, and (most unlikely), find the money.

My Ozzy (a Berg Bros. dog) was sired by a younger brother to Ridge Creek Cody's dam, a fantastic dog (now dead) named Houston's Belle. I'm not a trialer, but since getting Ozzy I've become a fan of the numerous dogs going back to Houston's Belle that are competing on the various trial circuits, and I loosely follow their progress on the field trial forums and bulletin boards.

At six, Cody was a fairly young dog so I always thought (assuming the three criteria above) that if I really wanted a Cody pup (which I do) that I'd have a little time to try to make it happen. Apparently, however, I don't. Yesterday I saw (via a friend's FB post) a link to this blog post at Northwoods Bird Dogs

Jerry and I received horrific, heart-breaking news from North Dakota. During the morning of Saturday, August 9, Ridge Creek Cody and several other dogs drowned while on a conditioning run from a four-wheeler. Cody was owned by Larry Brutger of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and trained and handled by Shawn Kinkelaar on the horseback shooting dog circuit.

Other dogs that perished include 2X-CH Royal Rocks Mr. Thumper and Handsome Harry Hardcash.
Ridge Creek Cody was whelped in 2008 out of two grouse champions, Can’t Go Wrong x Houston’s Belle. Paul Hauge, Belle’s owner, and Jerry were the brains behind the breeding. Jerry had competed against Can’t Go Wrong on the grouse trial circuit and was extremely impressed with his fluid gait and extraordinary ability to find and point ruffed grouse. Too, Jerry campaigned Belle to all of her championships and knew her strengths.

We both remember the day Larry picked up Cody as an eight-week-old puppy. As little Cody romped around the kennel office, Larry talked of his plans for training and competition. That first year, Jerry took Cody to our camp in North Dakota and worked him on the vast prairies. Matt Eder further developed Cody but it was Shawn Kinkelaar who took on Cody and fully realized the dog’s potential.

Cody was a 3X champion and one-time runner-up champion.
2014:  Midwest Open Shooting Dog Championship
2012:  National Amateur Pheasant Shooting Dog Championship
2011:  Idaho Open Shooting Dog Championship
2011:  All American Open Shooting Dog Championship (Runner-up)

In addition, Cody was the Bill Conlin Setter Shooting Dog Derby Award Winner (2009-2010) and placed third in the United States Quail Shooting Dog Futurity, a rare accomplishment for a setter.
Among trainers, handlers, judges and fellow competitors, all agreed that Cody had supreme athleticism—a skill level on par with Michael Jordan or LeBron James.

From what I could gather on the gundog forums, it happened at a rain-swollen river crossing during a roading session. Whatever the cause or circumstances, a tragic way to die, and a huge loss not only for those dogs' owners, but, in the case of Cody, a big loss for the setter world, too.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Refried Mallard: Guns I Shoulda Bought

My unfortunate Goodwill auction experience mentioned below, dredged up this old snapshot of college-age-working-at-Goodwill-era angst. The memory is still painful...

It was a thing of beauty leaning there in the gun rack among the ass-ugly plastic fantastics and worn-out department-store pumpguns. Two triggers, two barrels, solid rib, with a stock of swirled chocolate.

It was a widower's gun, on consignment for an elderly lady whose husband had had good taste in firearms and a penchant for Brownings. In addition to the super there was a sweet sixteen and two light twelves, all pristine post-war guns.

But I only had eyes for that old 30's-vintage super. I'd come into the gun shop, press my face to the glass of the circle rack and slowly turn the carousel until it was level with my face, then I'd ask to look at it, again. The asshole clerk would sigh, hand me the gun and glower impatiently while I fondled it.

I'd swing the gun on a few imaginary birds, break it open yet again, look down the bores, trace my fingers over that beautifully-figured stock and then reluctantly hand it back to dickface, who would put it on the rack with a smirk and then go back to ignoring me. The hangtag said $600. Hell, they were practically giving it away.

Didn't matter, of course. It may as well have been $60,000. I was a sophomore in college. I was working as a donation clerk at the local Goodwill store. I shared a dumpy one-bedroom apartment with a girlfriend who made even less than I did. I was driving a Schwinn at the time. I could afford Milwaukee's Best. I could afford Hamburger Helper. I couldn't afford a Browning Superposed no matter how much of a screaming deal it was.

And then, of course, one day it was gone from its place in the rack. The eared phallus smiled broadly as he told me that some guy from Tulsa here on business had walked in, just killing some time, picked up the super and bought it on the spot. "Helluva deal on that gun, too bad you couldn't get it."

Yep, too bad...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Random Bookage and Artage

Bob White is an artist and flyfishing guide whose work has appeared, well, pretty much everywhere. He also illustrated the digital cover to the Mouthful of Feathers e-book (What? You mean you haven't bought your copy yet?). I don't know him personally and have never met the guy, but damn, I love his work. I'll never be able to afford any original artwork, from anyone, but if I could I believe I'd take this little beauty, The Grouse of North America. That's nice...

I was in a used bookshop not long ago and picked up (for a fiver!) a copy of an old coffee-table book entitled The Great American Shooting Prints, published by Alfred A. Knopf back in 1972, when I was still in diapers. "The Hunting Life in America as portrayed in paintings and lithographs from the 1820s to the present" is how it's described, and that's pretty much what it is. Most of the usual suspects (up to '72, anyway) are represented, and it's a nice book, with nice prints by some of my favorites (Lynn Bogue Hunt, Carl Rungius, Bob Kuhn, Richard Bishop, etc, etc...) but I always find myself in something of a quandary about such books that are nice but not worth much: do I keep them intact on the bookshelf, or do I cut out a few of my favorite prints and frame them?

I have another book, a nice, leather-bound first edition of Robert Bishop's Bishop's Wildfowl  (think it was self-published back in the 40s) that's printed on really nice paper and has some very frame-able etchings in it that would look great on the wall, but the book (which isn't really worth a whole lot) is so nice that I hesitate to do so. It'd be so damn convenient to be wealthy so I could just go out and buy the originals, but hell, I can't even afford prints. Recently on one of the auction sites I was outbid on a vintage set of Lynn Bogue Hunt prints that Field & Stream published back in the 40s, entitled Fishing in America and Game Birds of America. I had high hopes, hopes that were ultimately dashed when the bidding went way beyond my limit (which was about the price of a tank of gas...for a Prius). Maybe I will cut up those books...

On that same trip picked up a good-condition first printing of Kurt Vonnegut's Deadeye Dick, which again, isn't worth much but was a nice find of one of Vonnegut's lesser works.

Also recently bought a wee slip (95 pages) of a John Graves book with the charmingly un-PC, don't-give-a-damn-whether-this-sells-or-not title of My Dogs and Guns. I actually had a long personal history with this book before I bought it. I first saw it in the Norman, Oklahoma Hastings store way back in 2008 when I was home visiting family. At the time it was marked full price, $19.95, and I thought, "I love John Graves, but there's no way in hell I'm paying twenty bucks for a couple of glorified magazine articles." So I put it back on the shelf, and there it stayed, literally, for the next six years. I would periodically check on it when I was back home, just to see if it'd been marked down. It never was. It also obviously never sold (which tells you a bit about the general state of John Graves under-appreciation) and remarkably, never got remaindered. It just sat there, forgotten and overlooked. After Graves died, I decided the next time I was in Norman I'd just buy the damn book suspecting that most of Graves' lesser-known works would be going out of print and becoming hard to find. And of course, the next time I was in town, the book was gone. I chalked it up to stupidity on my part and let it go. Another year passed. A couple weeks ago I was in that same Hastings, browsing, when I'll be damned but there was My Dogs and Guns, sitting on a cart of clearance books, waiting for a home. Where it had spent the past year I have no idea. Of course I bought it. Kismet. Or maybe dumb luck. It's a wonderful read. Graves is one of those authors for whom the the world is a poorer place by his not having published more than he did.

Also, blog reader, FB friend and fellow reptile enthusiast Todd Schaffer, who works in a Florida library and has graciously sent me a number of cool outdoor-themed books from the discard pile there (I really need to be working in a library...), recently sent me another one...

In gratitude, I told him I'd save a turtle or snake crossing the road in his honor.

And lastly, on that same auction where I was outbid on the Lynn Bogue Hunt prints, there's currently a bidding war going on for a first edition, first printing (with dustjacket) copy of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

 Currently over five hundred bucks. Why can't I ever find anything like that in a thrift store? Probably because even the thrift stores are putting the good stuff (and even the bad) up for auction now. That auction site with the book and the Hunt prints? Yep, it's Goodwill, the same place where I worked in college, and passed up god-knows-how-many great books. I used to love thrift stores and pawn shops. Everyone (including me) likes to bitch about how the Internet has ruined reading (may or may not be true) but damn it, no one bitches about how it's ruined bargain-basement scavenging...


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Something Old, Something New

To be honest, with the heat of summer currently bearing down on ye olde plains, and with dove season just around the corner, (and early teal, deer, duck and (finally!) quail season on the horizon) I've not done much fishing lately. However, that hasn't kept me from playing with a few fishing toys... 

A well-used, seventies-vintage Ambassadeur 2500C, found in an Oklahoma City pawn shop for twenty bucks, paired up with a brand-new, just-redesigned G. Loomis IMX 844C MBR, which cost, uh...considerably more than twenty bucks, but was a birthday present to myself. In fact, this is the first baitcasting rod I've bought new in probably, hell, ten years or so. Lately all of my energies (and monies) have been going to flyfishing pursuits, so I decided I needed a good, stout, all-around bass rod to balance out my increasingly feverish trout-fueled, fu-fu fairy wand escapist fantasy. And the 844C is about as good an all-around bass stick as you can get.

The reel, on the other hand, needs some work. It'll be getting new spool bearings, a new drag, new handle, a ball bearing levelwind, a ball bearing cog wheel, a ceramic pawl, and whatever else I can stuff inside there. When I'm finished it'll be as smooth as a modern reel, but twice as tough, three times as simple, and four times as classy. Amazing things, those old Ambassadeurs. My last modern, low-profile baitcaster went to that great reel parts bin in the sky earlier this year, victim of an accidental dropping on to my garage floor that shattered the sideplate, broke the reel seat and generally destroyed its innards (goodbye, $160, I hardly knew ye...) but every Ambassadeur I've had since childhood is still happily cranking away, despite a helluva lot of hard - sometimes negligent - use. They truly are the Kalishnikovs of the fishing world.