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.

Feathers are the most frequent finds of a pocketses search: fluorescent green-gold-red-bronze feathers from rooster pheasants, tawny buff feathers from sharptail grouse, blue-indigo fluff from the neck ring of a ruffed grouse, white-and-black tufts from the breast of prairie chickens, the clinging down of mourning doves, the mottled brown feathers of woodcock. If the gray-brown snowflake of a quail feather floats away, or a clump of oily back feathers from a mallard clings to the hem of a coat’s game bag, this must be a really old vest.

I always expect to find a few empty shotshell hulls. Whether my gun has ejectors or extractors, I am in the habit of removing (or catching mid-air) the spent shells as they come out of the chambers and putting them into my pockets — and forgetting them. This is partly a holdover from years of skeet, sporting clays, and trap shooting when I saved the hulls for reloading, but it has more to do with my aversion to seeing empty shells lying here and there in field and forest where hunters have fired shots at birds and left the litter of plastic hulls as their calling cards. Those who hunt with pump and semi-automatic guns must find it a nuisance to pick up their ejected hulls, but if they choose to hunt gamebirds with one of those tools of Satan they should be willing to accept the punishment for their transgressions and not leave the ugly evidence of sin behind them like empty beer cans thrown into roadside ditches.

Empty beer cans, by the way, are another nostalgic item that has been found in the pocket of a hunting vest. Also an empty Irish whiskey bottle and more than one cigar, still in its wrapper but too crushed and desiccated to consider smoking as an anthropological experiment. Most of the pocket treasures, however, have more to do with times spent in the field than in the hunting cabin.

Dog paraphernalia is a not uncommon find, mostly whistles and biscuits but occasionally a collar or lead that I thought long lost, a matted brush or comb, and once a four-ounce bottle of skunk odor-killer that I learned from unfortunate experience did not live up to the grandiose claims on its label. I’ve also rediscovered gifts my dogs brought to me in the course of a day’s hunt: a duck’s foot, an oak burl shaped like a sodden snipe, a moose turd, a huge walnut in its green (now black) husk, an unhatched robin’s egg, a rusted wristwatch, a leather shooting glove with the index finger cut off, a deer antler tine, a raccoon skull.

Food items are usually hiding in the inside pockets, crumbled granola bars in torn wrappers and packets of cheese crackers with peanut butter being the most common. I once found a mummified gray-green cheese sandwich, at least five years old and still tightly sealed in a zip-lock baggy. Tools and utensils sometimes reappear: a cheap knock-off of a Leatherman tool, a folding spoon from a mess kit, a corkscrew, a bottle opener, even a broken chopstick – but never a pocket knife. When I lose a knife, it stays lost for eternity.

The most curious item ever was a tiny, red plastic water pistol. There is probably a fascinating story connected to it, but I have no idea what it might be.

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. But the more mundane treasures that my hand has unexpectedly clutched deep in the pocket of a retired hunting vest have been Precious in their own enchanted way: they have rediscovered some bygone days afield that had gone invisible, and made them visible to me once again.


More stories about life in the North Country are published in four collections of essays and two novels, all available through Amazon.com Jerry Johnson Author Page


About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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