Six-rooster opening weekend

Quimby 2017-4

Abbey, tuckered out after a three-rooster Saturday and a three-rooster Sunday in heavy cover. She gets all the credit: found the birds, worked them stop-and-go, tracked them through thick, six-foot-tall native grass, pointed then, relocated and pointed again, did not bump a single one, flushed them on my “go easy” command,  marked them down, retrieved them. All I did was shoot. It’s probably been 15 years since my last six-bird opening weekend. A great bird dog is a joy that surpasses all the other rewards of hunting.

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Sandhills report

Sandhills 2017 morning

Morning light on Merritt Reservoir southeast arm as seen from our campsite at Boardman Creek Campground September 2017

Sandhills report

Grouse numbers are down. Way down. Both prairie chickens and sharptail grouse. Nebraska’s Game & Parks official bird hunting forecast told us that a month before: beware, there would be far fewer grouse. But we had to find out for ourselves.

We found out. Not many prairie grouse in the Sandhills this fall.

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What has it got in its pocketses?

Hunting vest

The thing I have never found in my pocketses is the much desired One Ring with the power and sorcery to take me into the realm of great and transformative adventures – or at least grant me enough simple magic to become a better wing shooter and dog trainer.

What has it got in its pocketses?

No hunting vest or jacket is ever truly worn out.

Several that hang on the rack in my clubhouse are no longer functional as field apparel, it’s true, due to ripped game bags, tooth-gapped zippers, frayed holes where buttons cannot be sewn back on, elbows torn out, and collars ragged as mouse nests. The cuffs are tattered, but I don’t regard that as non-functional because they are mended, in a natural way, by clumps and tangles of burdock and beggars tick that serve as a leathery patch that prevents further unraveling.

None of these half-dozen canvas-duck hunting garments will ever see another day afield, but the memories (and artifacts) they hold from hunting days passed are as strong as the odor of marsh mud, dog hair, dried sweat, and mildew that clings to them. Throwing any one of them away requires a willpower I lack – until a green-black streak of mold appears to proclaim the time has come to go our separate ways.

This moment of agonizing separation is also the time that I wonder, as Gollum asked Bilbo Baggins in the dark caverns under the Misty Mountains, “What has it got in its pocketses?” The answer to that question is always fascinating and often curious.

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Dog dreams

Fleck and Suzie

Dog dreams

These cool nights of early autumn unwrap dream presents,
untying the ribbons of my first deep and restful sleep since
midsummer’s soggy wool blanket of hot and heavy air
smothered the North Country and tucked in for a stay.
Dew-wet dreams of morning bird hunts past and future
soak sodden my boots and pants cuffs, rag-mop my dogs,
make rusty-hinged joints scrape and ache on walks that could
be light and wingless flights if real would yield to fantasy.
Maudlin nights I dream about my dogs, the ones gone on,
and wonder if I will see them again; a vexing thought
that leads away from coverts and down toward swamps
some of the dogs would rather not hunt – with me, anyway.
Not all canine reunions are a pile of happy puppies.
Peg and Annie never liked me; best we go our own ways.
Zeke was the sad-eyed house guest that refuses to leave until
you call a cab, give him twenty bucks, and slam the door.
Pete, the all-star-talent on your team, breaks your heart,
blows your gasket: always a happy drunk on game day.
Put the rest of us together one night in bird camp, though,
and there’d be yipping and barking and hugs all around.
Fleck, Suzie, Molly, Herco, Jessie – we’d have us a time.
Real in dreams, these cool nights and, I hope, for the long sleep.

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Three seconds

24-hour clock

Our time on this Earth is a momentous gift. For each of us, deciding how we will use that gift is an enigma.

Three seconds

What will you do with your three seconds? How well will you fare with your fleeting speck of time in the procession of humankind’s pageant on Earth?

Three seconds. That is all the time we have, in a relative sense. Human beings appeared in a flash of evolution and dominated the Earth as fast as the minute hand could sweep the face of the anthropological clock. Our survival was something of a miracle for two million years, and then the miracle became a swarm. We became preeminent, populous and capable of altering the natural forces of this world. This power seemed a godsend for a time, and then it became a runaway engine. We have much to account for, and we each have our three seconds to try to balance our debts.

Homo habilis, the first creature that many anthropologists regard as human, sweated under the Sun and looked up in wonder at the Moon 2.4 million years ago. Compared to the age of the Earth – 4.5 billion years according to the best estimates of geologists, astronomers, and mineralogists – mankind’s story is not long.

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Back roads

Naiveté is the headwaters
of all rivers of adventure.

Back roads

The Nelson Place. That is where I should go, I’d been told.

I do not remember his first name; maybe Duane. But as promised on the directions hurriedly written on a bar napkin, the Nelson family name was roughly lettered on the bottom rung of a ladder-like stack of thin boards nailed to a sign post, each board painted with the name of a ranch that could be reached only from this two-track road meandering across the treeless Montana prairie.

Each name board included numerals – 3 or 5 ½ or 8 – to warn the unwary how many miles of unmaintained road their vehicle would have to traverse to reach the ranch house. The Nelson sign board displayed a faded red 16. Or maybe it was a wind-worn 18. Eighteen miles over dirt roads that had never been graveled, and were graded by a county maintainer only after two or more feet of snow accumulated in the depths of winter.

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Aye: A folktale of a dog and her master

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Aye: A folktale of a dog, and her master

The story comes from Scotland, a hundred years ago, and the dog is a border collie. The lesson, and the sentiment, however, go to the heart of every bird dog owner.

A hard-headed Highland Scots tenant farmer was known for his long line of good border collies, but the best of them all was a wee bitch he named Anna, and at two years of age she was his pride and his joy and his fame.

At the Highland Days sheep dog trials in County Argyll she ran away with every honor and every word of praise the judges could find to grant her in their rough manner. Kin pleaded with the old farmer to take her on to the Scottish National Sheep Dog Trials, and with misgivings he dug deep in his purse for entry fees and travel money.

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