Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When a sure thing isn't

It happened and I'm finally at a point where I can bear to talk about it.  Laws of nature and physics and statistics dictate that it wouldn't go on forever, the last fifteen or more years notwithstanding.  What I'm referring to is the annual Saturday before Thanksgiving dove hunt.  You see, for whatever reason or reasons this particular hunt has always been the closest thing to a done deal in terms of being a barnburner.  I've walked out of the field in twenty minutes with a limit.  Most years it takes between thirty and forty five, but still...

Almost always a cold morning, the dew frozen on the grass so that your feet don't get wet walking in but might on the way out.  Watching your breath slip from your face it's like duck hunting, waiting for legal shooting time as the light replaces the dark, except you aren't standing in cold water up to your waist.  The birds have had more than a month of rest and peaceful dinners since the first season closed and they're drifting in to what they think is a sure thing.  And they drift in and cruise in and dart in and rocket in and keep coming in like bargain hunters overrunning a Wal-Mart on Black Friday.  At one point last year I shot a bird, shot another on the way to pick the first one up, shot another while I was still looking for the first one, and shot a fourth before I finally got to the first one.

Word started catching on a few years ago that this hunt was a hot one.  The day of the twenty minute limit only four of us cared enough to get out of bed.  By the time we finished we were giddy, punch drunk on success and good fortune and laughing just as hard at the suckers who stayed home.  Lately more and more guys have been showing up cloaked in anticipation.

This year the birds just weren't there.  High man in the field might have killed eight when the few that were around quit flying.  My bag was loaded down with exactly one bird.  I don't know why I felt so dejected.  Beyond mere disappointment, I actually felt let down, and with no legitimate reason.  It's not like I'd been offered a guarantee somewhere along the way.  There's only one explanation: somewhere along the way I'd been.......spoiled.

I suppose some UCLA basketball fans were disappointed in 1974 when they didn't win the NCAA championship.  Too much good fortune and you start to expect it and then it's only a matter of time until good fortune becomes entitlement.  And entitlements are rarely appreciated.  Shame on me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks

With the exception of the occasional Monday most of us don't have to look too hard to find a few things to be thankful for.  The challenge is keeping the frustrations and inconveniences of everyday life in perspective so that all the good can rise to the top.  While membership in the Forbes 400 continues to elude me (and likely will until the Sun burns out), on a globally relative basis I am wealthy beyond belief.  I have food on the table and a roof over my head and a job that pays.  I have what I need even though sometimes I have to remind myself of it.  Truth be told I have more than I need...

...a couple of great kids, one of whom is showing promise as a hunting partner.  Few things make a bad day disappear more quickly.

...a wife who is generally gracious about indulging my outdoor obsessions (during hunting season anyway).  For any of you never-been-married guys out there trust me, this one alone is something of value.  I've seen the other side and it ain't pretty.

...a bird dog who has filled the hole left by my last one, right down to being a constant, devoted companion.  You're never alone with one of these.

...places to hunt that fit my frugal nature.  When I think of the people in other countries who come up short on this end, I realize how fortunate we are in this great land, government aside. And while we're on the subject, I'm extremely grateful my business card doesn't say 'Senator' anywhere on it.

...the good health and physical capacity to get outside and walk, and the inclination to do so.  If I have a nagging fear it's that I'll someday lose the desire or ability to pursue my diversions.

No one, not even those in the Forbes 400, is guaranteed an endless string of perfect days.  We all have good days and better days and now and then a downright crappy day.  The latter usually pass pretty quickly when a shade of perspective intervenes.  Honestly, every day should be an occasion to give thanks.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I'll take Amazing Things for $200, Alex

There are some things you just don't say no to.  Like when the boss asks if you'd like to come down to his lease in south Texas and go bird hunting.  Oh twist my arm.

It's a hardscrabble place to eke out an existence, especially if you're a bobwhite.  Especially in a dry year.  Yet for some reason, possibly proximity to the coast, the birds were there.  Thirty three coveys in three days and every one a bundle of dynamite waiting for you to get a bit too close.

Nature can be a mother at times, harsh, stingy, or hateful.  For whatever reason, though, she gives these locals what they need to survive in the place they are born.  And sometimes in the face of all odds they even seem to thrive.

A hot, dry, faded landscape where everything wants to bite you or sting you, predators waiting behind the next bush or looking down from above, waiting for a tiny little tasty meal to wander out in the open.  I've always had a healthy respect for these birds, one that bordered on reverence.  Lately it's grown.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What do you 'spose Freud would say about this?

Last night or early this morning, sometime between the second and fifth trip my son made into our bedroom, I dreamed that my bird dog could no longer smell quail.  Ran right through coveys just as happy as could be.  Pointed grouse, woodcock, chukar, pheasant, field mice and even children, but never once slowed down for a quail.  For me dreams of thirty bird coveys are not uncommon.  Dreams of them flying up all around me as the dog trots through them are.

What's a guy to make of this?  If dreams reveal unconscious desires has something gone very, very wrong in my kitchen?

Is this avocation I've been so passionate about for years just a sham?   Would I rather be pruning daisies or needlepointing pillows?

Or is it a harbinger of things to come?  A few years ago I had a dream about an old friend I hadn't seen since high school, very vivid and there was a man in it named Crumb.  Out of the blue the friend emailed me the next day.  We got to talking, I told him about the dream and he said his daughter's bus driver was named Crumb.  Kinda spooky.  Worse still is the chance that my dream last night might be a look into the season ahead.

I've read in various places that dreams are just a dumping ground for your brain, a place where the mass of thoughts that accumulate during the day are purged to avoid overload.  In the process they're combined in seemingly random patterns on their way down the chute.  Given the choice I'd take this option over the others and discount the whole episode.  Maybe I should stop by Sister Rosario's and have my palm read this afternoon...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gettin' ready

Bird season (the kind you hunt with pointing dogs) opens in just about three weeks.  Hard to believe it's been eight months since that unusually warm February day when we closed the book on last season.  Well, actually, there were a few days when it seemed it would never get here but we'll leave the past in the past.

I've been taking Wyatt out to run at a public dove field near my house to get us both conditioned and, truthfully, because pretending is the next best thing when you can't really hunt.  We're in between dove seasons so we have zero company - just the way I like it - and the convenience outweighs the reality that there is little chance of finding something to point.  It's not an ideal situation, bird contact being the best preparation for bird contact, but there's this obstacle to getting a dog on wild birds this time of year called the white-tailed deer. You see, there are LOTS of deer hunters in the south.  It vies with college football for most popular sport in the fall.  It vies with beer for biggest contributor to the state's revenues.  And it vies with me for use of public hunting grounds.

Don't get me wrong.  I enjoy sitting in a deer stand from time to time.  I take about one deer a year, never a trophy buck, usually a doe, and have everything but the tenderloin ground since that's the way my family will eat it.  It's just that those Realtree warriors are everywhere.  It's not like this is South Dakota or Montana or some other spot with a surplus of public land.  And very few whitetails.  Good wild bird land is at a premium here, and those boys with bows are Bogarting it.  The public land harboring wild birds is overrun with guys in treestands, a good many of whom wouldn't think twice about shooting a dog that runs through "their" food plot.

Our state hasn't yet placed a good bird dog's life on par with a human's, although I could make a case for the former being worth multiples of the latter in quite a few cases.  Still, I'm not so obsessed with right vs wrong that I'll risk my dog to prove a point.

Once the bird season opens the schedule allows us equal time with the bow boys.  In the meantime we get out and stretch our legs in a spot without the risk of fatality, plenty of room to run, plenty of space to work on things like patterning and handling and I don't have to drive an hour to get to it.  There's a nature trail not much further down the road that weaves along a river bottom, a perfect spot for woodcock and we'll be there once the flights arrive.  Looking at the weather in the northeast it may be sooner than usual.  No hunting allowed, but a fine place to give a nose a workout.  The hell with those deer hunters - I'll  get my pre-season work in one way or another.  Anyone who says pre-season doesn't count probably never had a winning season.