Huntin’ dhem vild chicken rooster birds

Vell Ron I know you most like to choot dem little doodle birds, but I tink you vould maybe vant to hear about vhat happened dhis morning vhen Yohn and me Ole vent to hunt dhem birds dhat ve mostly like to choot, vhich is the big vild chicken rooster birds. It all come out okay, mostly, so you don’t have to vorry none about us or the dogs, vhich as you know is Abbey and Bella.

Yohn and Bella and Abbey vith dhose six vild rooster birds we got ourselves.

So here it goes, vhich some of it you may not believe but ve don’t care if you do or not because ve vas both dere and know it’s the truth and factual. Here it come Friday and ve both could go hunt rooster birds and for vintertime dhis day vas not too very bad, maybe 25 degrees and no snow or rain or eny ting, but the east vind vas blowin’ cold like the devil’s breath vhich made your eyes vater and your nose run out snot.

First ve go to dhis farm down east a vays of town and it was all the fields in little bluestem and svitch grass and also Indian grass higher den mine head is and so tick you couldn’t hardly walk trough it. Except for a food plot vhich vas maybe one acre corn and about six or seven vild chicken hens flew out but no roosters.

Dhen ve drive both of us to a farm near Ridgeway, the same place vhere ve last year choot ourselves six roosters in maybe two hours so ve tought it was maybe good. But don’t cha know, all dhat native grass dhere, dhey mowed it for to bale hay and dhey took dhemselves a bulldozer and pushed up mostly all the brush in dhem gullies and grassy vatervays, into piles vhich is no good for vild chickens and nothin’ else except maybe rabbits. So Yohn, he valked dhat little bit of native grass dhat vas left around the edges and he choot a vild rooster, but me and Abbey ve don’t find nothin’ but hens and vhat good is that I ask you?

Ve get back to the trucks and I drink myself some coffee and Yohn he says, “Do you vant to try one more place?” and I say, “I don’t tink so because my legs is tired and also some achey!” and he says, “Vell, dhere vas this place last veek vhere I saw maybe fifty roosters!” so I say, “Okay, but dhat vill be my last hunt today!”

So off we go to this farm vhere some CRP ground still is, and Yohn says, “You Ole hunt in from the east and I vill hunt in from the vest and ve will see if maybe dhose fifty roosters still is here if ve are lucky.” Abbey and me drive to the northeast corner and ve start to hunt along beside dhis cornfield in some brome grass and Abbey she goes on point and dhis rooster gets up but not close and I choot it and down it comes cause its ving is broke and I tink, “Dhis von’t be some easy-to-find rooster” and it vasn’t.

Me and Abbey, but mostly Abbey, hunt all over for dhis broke-ving rooster and she is on its scent and tracking good and goes on point and I tell her, “Pick it up!” and she yumps on it and it flops and flips and beats its vings and squawks and she yumps on it again and dhen, By Yimminy!, up into the sky flies a all different rooster dhen the broke-ving rooster!

Now I don’t know what to do because Abbey has in her mouth grabbed the broke-ving rooster but dhere is flying in the sky an easy-to-choot rooster and so probably you know vhat I did, don’t you? I choot it! Dhen Abbey drops the broke-ving rooster to chase after the other rooster, vhich is chot dead and don’t need no chasing. And off it runs, the broke-ving rooster.

So I put the chot-dead rooster in my game bag and off ve go to hunt for dhat broke-ving rooster again and dhere is vild chicken smell all over the place. Dhen I meet up with Yohn and he says he has done some good, too, and chot himself another couple roosters him. Ve make a loop trough the field and now ve are going vith the vind, vhich is not so very good for the dogs, and Abbey’s head snaps around and she locks herself on point and I stomp and kick the grass and nothing flies up into the sky and Abbey is staring down right in front of her own front feet so I know for sure dhis is the broke-ving rooster.

I reach my hand down to feel for it and grab it under the mashed down grass. Except it is not the broke-ving rooster! And dhis rooster it flies up into my own face and takes off vith the vind and I am so flusterated dhat I can’t hardly choot but I did choot anyway and the rooster he falls hard dead.

Dhen I see Yohn coming up the hill and he is yelling some ting I can’t hear and I yell, “Vhat did you say?” and he again yells, “Bella found your broke-ving bird!” vhich is pretty damn amazing tracking work because dhat rooster had been running vild-ass crazy for 30 minutes, maybe.

So dhat is how we choot six vild chicken roosters on dhis Friday. And here is a real picture dhat I took if you don’t believe it. Even if you don’t believe it ve don’t care because ve vas both dere and know it’s the truth and factual. And ve tink ve, Yohn and me Ole, vill hunt at dhat place again, maybe.

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The covenant

The introduction to my latest book, Coot Dogs – An Anthology of Dog Stories by a Crazy Old Coot, “The covenant” is my explication of the bond and the communion that bird hunters share with their dogs. It has been my good fortune in life to share this bond.

The Covenant

From the mists shrouding the dawn of mankind, the covenant emerged. This interspecies partnership was a symbiotic relationship: I will protect your clan, and you will protect mine. You will hunt and gather for me, and I will divide the bounty with you. You will aid me with your superior senses of scent and hearing and your savagery, and I will aid you with my superior reasoning and foresight and logic.

Man and dog. Dog and man. Did Homo sapiens initiate this partnership, enticing a camp-following young wolf with scraps of meat and bone to join in with the hunt and the community, the pack, of humans? Or was it the wolf, Canis lupis destined to become Canis familiaris, who enticed the human to follow him stealthily on the hunt and make the kill he could share in?

Illustration by Jasmyn Linn

Little matter. Somehow the bargain was struck between humans and dogs, a mutually beneficial arrangement that has lasted tens of thousands of years. Mankind (Homo sapiens) could not have evolved to become the creatures they are without the dog, and dogs (Canis familiaris) could not have evolved to become the creatures they are without mankind. Throughout the course of this mutual evolution the pact, the bond, has persevered. Humans have always needed their canine companions, and dogs have always needed their hominin cohorts, in myriad ways.

The first animal domesticated by mankind, the dog did not become a docile servant so much as an untamed partner in Sapiens progression from hunter-gatherer clans to nomadic tribes to settled agriculturists to industrial laborers. Humans radically changed their social behaviors, livelihoods, and day-to-day occupations through the advance of increasingly complex and structured civilizations that required specialized duties and functions. And so, too, did Canis, mankind’s similarly evolving companion, the dog.

Humans and dogs have been living together for perhaps 30,000 years, according to archeologists and anthropologists who have excavated Sapiens’ most ancient prehistoric sites and subsequently analyzed hundreds of artifacts and DNA samples taken from bones. This creature we call a human being today is vastly different from the man who walked the Earth some thirty millennia in the past, and so is this creature we call a dog. But one thing remains unchanged: the ancient bond of partnership, devotion and love between man and dog.

We do not depend on our dogs for the protection of our clan these days, or for our survival as hunter-gatherers. But we do depend on them for the comfort of the genetic memory of those prehistoric times. Our dogs in the household are a sort of security blanket that guards against our fears of monsters that lurk threateningly beyond the hearth and outside the rock shelter.

We also realize a primordial sense of mutual protection and wellbeing by reciprocally caring for our dogs, feeding them, grooming them, giving them shelter, keeping them safe and healthy, and providing medical care when needed. Most of all, we share the bond of affection between species, a bond that we cannot truly understand but that is nevertheless real and more powerful than the bond we have with any other animal. I know this is true because our hearts are broken when they die. I know this because in times of floods and earthquakes and wildfires and other natural disasters, people choose to die rather than abandon their dogs.

Illustration by Jasmyn Linn

For those of us who train and hunt bird dogs the bond is especially profound and devoted, it seems to me. Although the avocation of bird hunting is mostly symbolic in this Anthropocene era when wild places are wholly shaped by the workings of mankind, the visceral desire to hunt and the excitement of the hunt are deeply ingrained in both our hominin and canine genes, and the cooperative chase and capture of game releases some endorphin of pleasure and achievement that may be out of sync with this time and place but is fully in concord with the roots of our respective species.

In the same performance of hunting skills that brought us together 30,000 years ago, man and dog coordinate their free-form but carefully choreographed roles in pursuit of the bird. The dog contributes its superior sense of scent and its savagery, and the man contributes his superior reasoning and foresight to the joyful, intense, fanatical tasks of the hunt. Modern man may use a shotgun instead of a net, and the modern bird dog may hold its point longer and more staunchly, but the intimacy of their collaborative work bespeaks the same closeness and familiarity. We are a team. We have survived the trials of thousands of years of stifling civilization. We are hunters, together.

In the course of my life as a bird hunter I have owned a dozen bird dogs: pointing breeds, flushing breeds, retrieving breeds. Some of us struggled with the barriers of communication and understanding between species, but many of us reached a communion of mind and soul and spirit that surpasses the relationships I have had with most humans. To say that we were bonded falls short of describing the depth of the loyalty and affection and admiration we held for one another.

At the time of life when my bird hunting days are coming to a close, my greatest regret is not that of ending my days afield, the times spent in the few wild places that remain, the hours in hunting camps sitting by the fire, the dozens of friendships that were formed through the years, or the excitement and anticipation of a bird season’s opening day. No, the ultimate sacrifice for me will be relinquishing this bond, this communion, this fellowship, this covenant with the dogs that have shaped the course of my life, my personal evolution, as much as I have shaped theirs. I’m going to miss it so much.

Looking back, I want to share some of the stories about these bird dogs and the joys and occasional frustrations we have known. I offer this collection of stories, essays, and poems as a requiem to the days of laughter and tears and companionship they have granted me. If there is a greater wonder than this bond between hunter and dog I have yet to experience it. I am so fortunate, so very fortunate, that the covenant has been part of my life.

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Christmas gifts for my grandchildren

This Christmas essay was posted five years ago on the Dispatches from a Northern Town blog. As this year of 2020 comes to an end, a year of much trial and turmoil and suffering, Christmas gifts for my grandchildren seemed even more significant and meaningful, especially since the year brought us a new granddaughter.

I offer this essay again in the hopeful spirit of the season and the wish that the year ahead will be brighter and more cheerful. Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.
   ― Peg Bracken (1918-2007), American humor writer

I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month.
   ― Harlan Miller (b. 1964), British writer and artist

It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more.
   ― Dr. Seuss (1904-91), Theodor Seuss Geisel, American writer and illustrator of children’s books

Of course there is a Santa Claus. It’s just that no single somebody could do all he has to do. So the Lord has spread the task among us all. That’s why everybody is Santa Claus. I am. You are.”
   ― Truman Capote (1924-84), American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter

Christmas gifts for my grandchildren

Gift wrap, ribbons, and bows will not adorn the gifts I most want to give my grandchildren this Christmas season. The truly important gifts need no decoration or embellishment because they are not material things.

That does not mean they are not real. To the contrary, they are the most real and substantial and valuable possessions in my power to grant.

Technically, these are not Christmas gifts because they will not be opened under the ornament bedecked cedar tree in the big kitchen of our farmhouse Yuletide morning. These gifts will be unwrapped through the course of the coming years, on this day or that, in this place or another, with pomp and circumstance or with casual notice, some with joyful enthusiasm and some with somber contemplation. I may be there to witness some of the gift-sharing, but it is likely that the most valuable presents will come to light on a day of solitude.

Offering these gifts is easy for us codgers who have reached the time of life when we know the importance of sharing this stuff. Receiving them is the awkward part of the exchange because lacking the knowledge and insight we have gained from experiences, both good and bad, our grandchildren are usually bemused and often baffled by gifts that initially seem to have no practical use. They accept these strange gifts because they want to please Grandpa, and they do their best to seem grateful, but it may be a while before they come to regard them as something of great value.

Unlike the battery-powered toys that come out of brightly colored boxes and are playthings for a few weeks or months before they are dropped in a plastic tub and consigned to a storage locker, these gifts I want to give become more and more useful and functional over the years. They become more bright and shiny, they do not break or wear out, and their power never, ever runs down.

A grandparent can never know for sure, but we hope that someday these gifts, during grandchildren’s moments of recollection and reflection, will be remembered, understood, and cherished.

So what are these gifts exactly? Well, I would like to give each of my grandchildren a squirrel hunt on a brisk October afternoon to introduce them to the excitement and wonder and reality of hunting, of the blood sports. We live in a society where we are divorced from the natural world and its workings, the reciprocal relationship we all have with the Earth, the give-and-take, growth-and-harvest, birth-life-and-death cycle that involves all mortal beings. I want them to understand and respect that cycle so they will better understand all life is interconnected.

Toward the same end, I would like to give each of them:

– Days of tent camping in a primitive area where their sustenance and comfort depends on their energy, ingenuity, and mutual work.

– The opportunity to learn the woes and wonders of cooking over an open fire.

– An evening at a music concert and another at a live stage production, hopefully with a chance to meet the performers, so they can imagine their own powers of creativity and expression.

– A night on the prairie under the stars.

– A few lessons in how to train a puppy to behave as a considerate and respectful member of the family.

– A long afternoon of kite flying.

– Encouragement to memorize a favorite poem. (Limericks don’t count, although it is good to know several of those, too.)

– Lessons on recognizing different species of trees and shrubs – and prairie grasses and forbs.

– Bird-watching days with their grandmother to learn to identify different species of birds, especially the hawks and owls, which I do not claim to do well.

I also want to give them hands-on instruction in:

– How to throw a curve ball.

– How to hit a curve ball.

– How to hoe a garden.

– How to tie a variety of fisherman’s knots.

– How to use a ratchet wrench without splitting your knuckles.

– How to call ducks. How to call varmints.

– How to operate a chainsaw.

– How to use an ax and splitting maul.

– How to handle firearms.

– How to sharpen a knife, arrowhead, ax, and brush hook.

– How to paddle a canoe, from both the front and back seats.

– How to write a simple declarative sentence and punctuate it correctly.

– How to shoot a bird on the wing.

– How to turn the 6-4-3 double play.

– How to drive a car or pickup with a manual shift transmission.

There are several gifts I would like to give but must find ways to grant these boons without their mothers knowing about it. For example:

– How to blow your nose without a handkerchief.

– How to spit correctly.

– How to smoke a cigar.

– How to cut your own hair with a pet clipper.

– How to whittle.

– How and when to use the appropriate swear words.

– How to do self-surgery and stitches on minor injuries.

– How to drink four cans of beer from the six-pack without your fishing buddy being any the wiser.

Probably the greatest gift I can give my grandsons is mastering the skill that has been the most beneficial of my life:

– How to marry the most beautiful woman in the world.

These gifts will require several “Christmas Days,” of course, but if I can deliver them all before my role as Santa Claus is played out and done, I will be one jolly old elf. Or at least a contented curmudgeon.

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Blindsided

No doubt about it: this was clearly a crime of passion.

Did the buck run off with a panel of the ground blind entangled in his antlers? I never found it.

Fueled by a dangerous mix of testosterone and endorphins, and armed with a hefty set of antlers, the whitetail buck attacked and ripped apart one of my ground blinds. All’s fair in love and war, so it’s been said, and the buck’s lustful desire for love conflicted with my warlike intrusion onto his mating grounds and resulted in his destructive temper tantrum.

Maybe it was fortunate that I was not in the ground blind at the time of his assault, but on the other hand it would have been my best opportunity to bag him. Except that the vandalism probably occurred sometime during the dark of night, as best I can determine, so there is a real possibility that he may have bagged me.

The buck also shattered the PVC tripod I built to mount a trail camera alongside the blind. Unfortunately, I had removed the SD card from the trailcam a couple days before because a herd of Jersey dairy heifers and Devon beef steers was grazing the pasture, and I did not want the motion-activated camera to take another few hundred photos of bovines (see blog post 883 cow photos).

So I do not have any photographs of the perpetrator of what I am calling “the ground blind incident.”  I am blaming an eight-point buck that has walked a path near the ground blind frequently and has had his image captured several times on that trailcam. It may have been another buck, but my ego wants to credit a worthy adversary.

My ego wants to attribute the wrecked ground blind to a worthy opponent.

The trail camera itself was thrown far back into the red cedar trees of the shelter belt, and I won’t know for a day or two if it is still working. Never liked that trailcam much anyway.

I discovered the wrecked ground blind shortly after sunrise. Intending to sit concealed in it for a few hours and set an ambuscade  for the aforementioned eight-pointer, I was instead greeted by a tangle of broken spars and ripped nylon that would be useless until extensive repairs were made.

“Shucks!” I said. “Golly goshens and darn it to heck! Some silly buck has ripped apart my best ground blind.” Or words to that effect.

After hunting through the cedars for my antler-launched trail camera, I walked the perimeter of the hayfield to see if any other ground blinds had been similarly battered. None were. Apparently the buck resented this specific ground blind, probably because it was erected alongside his personal lover’s lane.

The ground blind incident was a not an uncommon corollary to the rut, that time of the fall when whitetail bucks exhibit behaviors that would be regarded as utter madness at any other time of the year. The male of the species, not unlike college frat boys or Navy pilots, goes berserk with hormone-induced mating and fighting instinct. Usually an unoffending tree or bush, serving as a stand-in for a rival buck, is the object of the whitetail’s antlered assault, but I have had two or three hunters relate similar ground-blind bashing attacks. Another of my ground blinds was battered five or six years ago, but the damage was not nearly as extensive.

The mad marauding bucks have no control over their behavior. Since the earliest days of autumn, when they shed the velvet sheathing from their newly grown antlers, their testosterone levels increase and they become slaves to the pheromones of any passing doe that has begun its estrus cycle – gone into heat. In that sense, the much discussed and little understood period of the “rut” is driven by does, not bucks.

What triggers the female whitetail’s onset of estrus? Biologists tell us the cause is photoperiodism, the response of an organism to seasonal changes in daylight hours. As days become shorter in the fall, the rut begins, with some variation among the doe population that depends on age, reproductive history, and the presence of available bucks. A well-grown, early maturing whitetail fawn born in the spring can come into estrus in the autumn of that same year, which explains in part the whitetail’s ability to maximize populations in a given habitat.

For a whitetail doe, the rut is intermittent, not constant. A doe’s estrus period is relatively short, about one or two days, but if the doe is not bred during that brief period she will resume her cycle in 28 days.

Depending on the location of your hunting grounds, the peak of the rut can be somewhat earlier or somewhat later than mid-November. Because some does are not successfully bred, and therefore resume their cycle, there is a lesser period of the rut in mid-December. One thing the hunter on familiar ground can count on: the rut peaks will be almost the same days as previous years. Campfire theories that the rut ebbs and flows with the phase of the moon, seasonal temperatures, or weather are fascinating but totally fanciful.  

Duct tape, a staple gun, patches of nylon, and dowel rod splints repaired the blind. Not pretty, but functional.

When the rut is at its peak, whitetail bucks throw all caution to the winds and become a little – or maybe a lot – mentally unbalanced. The biological urge to breed and fight overpowers all rational behaviors. This may explain why, although I would prefer a couple nice big does for my year’s stock of venison, I have as much success shooting bucks as does. The bucks and I, we probably relate. Crazy knows crazy.  

And I was crazy-busy through the course of a long afternoon repairing the buck-bashed ground blind with a roll of duct tape, a staple gun, patches of nylon cloth cut from the blind’s window closures, and splints fashioned from tree stakes and dowel rods. Not pretty, but functional. At least until the first heavy snowfall.

I will be waiting, waiting, patiently waiting for the vandal buck to return, but now that both the November and December peaks of the rut are history there is not much chance he will redux his insanely aggressive antics. But he will be just as crazy next year. Count on it.

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883 cow photos

Reminder to self: remove the SD cards from the trail cameras before the cattle are moved to the hilltop pasture!

A mixed herd of Jersey dairy heifers and Devon beef steers cell-grazed our hayfield – five-acre plots at a time – over a three-week period this fall. The family-owned, organic grass-fed farm operation took advantage of the mild weather to stretch its winter supply of hay by turning the cattle out on pasture into the month of December.

Although we have harvested hay from those hilltop fields for many years, this is the first time in more than 30 years that we have opened it up for grazing. The benefits to the land include direct application of grass-fed manure and some break-up of the top layer of entwined roots of grasses and forbs that will allow better peculation of water from winter’s snowmelt and spring rains, both of which will stimulate more vigorous growth.

There are also numerous benefits to be gained from consuming grass-fed dairy products and eating grass-fed beef, and since the farm family that owns the herd offered to pay us in beef we readily agreed to the grazing.

Plus, it was really cool to see the cattle on the hilltop every morning and to have the Jersey heifers follow us and nuzzle our shoulders on our walks around the farm. The Devon steers were more suspicious of us and less friendly, maybe because they knew that we humans would eventually eat them.

There was one complication. Our pasture is much like the top of my head: bald in the middle with a fringe of brushy woodland around the sides. The woodlands are where I do my deer hunting, and so the pasture is ringed with ground blinds, ladder stands, and of course trail cameras.

The trailcams are motion-activated, and somehow it slipped my mind that cattle would trigger them to take photographs, just the same as a deer passing by. Or a coyote, fox, raccoon, squirrel, turkey, pheasant, and in one odd photo this autumn, a goat.

I did not check the trailcams for about three days, and when I made the rounds to remove the SD cards and look at the photos on my laptop computer I was in for a rude surprise. Cumulatively, the trailcams had taken 883 photos. Probably all of cattle, but by the time I had scanned about a hundred photos I deleted all the images from all five cards, had a third cup of morning coffee, and knew I would have to redo my deer scouting after the cows were gone.

Fortunately, I did unintentionally save several of the phots which I post here as a tribute to my foolishness, and to the enjoyment of having cattle on pasture again. We plan to have them back next fall. And I will remember to turn off the trail cameras.

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Coot Dogs – An Anthology of Dog Stories by a Crazy Old Coot

A NEW BOOK!

Coot Dogs – An Anthology of Dog Stories by a Crazy Old Coot.

And just in time for Christmas. The latest of five books in the Old Coot series is available through Amazon at Coot Dogs.

Although my intention was to first offer the book through independent book stores, this year of pandemic presents enormous problems with that plan. As of December 14, Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, should have a small stock of the books available.

My inspiration for creating this anthology – I suppose it could best be called an “inspiration” – was a frequent reader of my blog, Dispatches from a Northern Town. That reader contacted me via email to say he always enjoyed my stories and essays about bird dogs. The rest of my writing, he said, was rather “meh…”

That got me to thinking: maybe this was a significant consumer sample. If many of my readers regarded my dog stories as good reading (and the rest of my writing as meh…) it would behoove me to assemble a collection strictly of those canine stories.

There are more than 40 written over the past 10 years, and I carefully (okay, loosely) organized them by categories: Days Afield, Days of Laughter, Days of Tears, Training Days, and Poems and Stories. Many of these stories have been published in the previous Coot books:  Crazy Old Coot, Old Coots Never Forget, Coot Stews, and A Limit of Coot

A few have been previous published in my two North Country books: North Country Tales, and A View from the North Country

Two are chapters from my novel Hunting Birds.

But readers will not have to suffer through the “meh” essays and stories to get to those of better quality. I hope you will enjoy them.

Wishing you a Coot Dogs merry Christmas from a Crazy Old Coot.

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How to read the solunar hunting-fishing calendar

Long years ago, a hunting companion confessed to me that he was a firm believer in those calendars that portend to list the best dates and times for hunting and fishing, based on “Solunar Forecasts and Predictions.”

He swore by them, having twice shot a limit of ducks on a Missouri River backwater on mornings the calendars had recommended as four-star hunting times.

In response to my skeptical questioning he admitted there were several “best-rated” days on those solunar calendars when he had not bagged a single duck, or even taken a shot at one, but that was due to extenuating circumstances, he insisted.

“What sort of ‘extenuating circumstances’?” I asked.

“Well, you know, those were bluebird days on the river, so the ducks were all rafted up in the main channel and there wasn’t any reason for them to flock into the backwaters.”

That was exactly my point about the reliability of the much touted Solunar Forecasts and Predictions. You are probably familiar with those calendars, now available online, that allow you to select the hunting and fishing dates that are likely to be the most productive in the specific area in which you hunt or fish. The calendar gives each date a rating of ★, ★★, ★★★,or ★★★★.

Forgive me for my disbelief, but I’m not sure what the phrase “solunar forecasts” even means. It hints at the mystical influence of the sun, moon, and stars on the behavior of wildlife, especially affecting the times during which they will be actively feeding. But the gremlin that throws sand in the gears of the greater cosmos is local conditions, and the solunar tables and calendars are woefully negligent regarding those.

The solunar calendars are compiled a full year ahead of time, and they do not take into account something as crucial as weather. My most recent experience with the solunar calendar was its prediction for a ★★★★ day in Nebraska in early November with major feeding times from 8-10 a.m. Unfortunately, there was a blizzard blasting across the northern part of the state and every deer was hunkered down in shelter and had no intention of wandering out to feed.

Advocates of the solunar calendar argue that it predicts general trends, and you have to take local conditions into account. That’s exactly my point; the solunar calendar completely ignores local weather conditions and crop patterns and seasonal fluctuations – which are vastly more important to wildlife behavior than the mysterious and mystic cosmos. As an extreme example, a tornado could pulverize the (fictional) Winnetoon County, Nebraska, and the calendar could still give a ★★★★ rating to hunting prospects there.

Every hunter is entitled to his own myths and superstitions, and I certainly have my own set of delusions and fantasies about the best days and times to hunt. So if you want to put your faith in a calendar of solunar forecasts and predictions, more power to you. Frankly, I think these fish and game calendars are a ridiculous but relatively harmless scam.

However, I am playing with the idea that with careful interpretation and application these solunar calendars may well be useful tools for believers in the pseudoscience of prognostication or the cult of those who put their faith in screwball soothsayers. There is potential, I think, for the solunar forecasts to be used for clairvoyance in:

How to play the stock market

How to place a wager on the Belmont Stakes horse race

How to win various casino games (blackjack, roulette, baccarat)

How to pick winners in the NCAA basketball tournament

How to beat the point spread in the NFL betting line

How to estimate taxes due the IRS

How to identify The Masked Singer

How to forecast earthquakes and tsunamis

How to guess the exact date an asteroid will strike the Earth

How to prophesy the Rapture

How to predict when Trump will concede he lost the election to Biden

Of course, none of this foreknowledge is nearly as important as knowing when pheasants will be moving from their feeding ground in picked cornfields to their mid-day loafing cover in the switchgrass, but as I point out the solunar tables are utterly worthless in that regard. Here’s my advice on hitting the best dates for hunting and fishing: Go hunting and fishing every day you possibly can. Some days will be better than others, but all your days in the field or on the stream will be pretty good.

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Looking away

The whitetail doe and her twin fawns served as a distraction, a decoy, that made me neglect the primary objective of my evening hunt. Apparently, as I get older, my focus on the task at hand is more easily diverted.

But then, I have never been known for my disciplined attention to my immediate surroundings and current conditions. My mind tends to wander. That is an understatement; my mind goes on lengthy road trips, sometimes to different continents.

Yesterday evening, for example, I was not sitting atop a ladder stand on the edge of a North Country woodland. I was in Scotland watching the roe deer emerge shadow-like from a copse of stunted trees on the moor to graze in the foggy gloamimg. That was my fanciful vision of the doe and her two grown fawns that came out of our woods to feed on the frost-bitten clover they seem to love. Roe deer in Scotland, whitetails in the North Country – whatever. All deer have such beauty and grace in their movement that I am entranced.

Distraction. Decoys. The three deer were a couple hundred yards to the south, the opposite way I should have been watching from my perch on the ladder stand. A light wind was blowing from the northwest, and I expected a deer would walk from that direction along a well-used trail beneath my stand in this last half-hour of daylight. Experienced and clever bow-hunter that I am, my expectation was spot-on.

Except I wasn’t watching the trail. I was looking away, watching the deer-in-the-hayfield scene.

When I heard the soft crunch of leaves on the woodland floor, I turned away from the Scottish moor to peer into the woods. The big doe, which I later dolefully named “Summer Sausage,” was strolling unconcernedly toward my stand. Until she saw me move.

I was busted. She froze. I froze. Predator and prey in a standoff. Three minutes, four minutes. She slowly took a step back. I slowly raised the bow. She took a few more steps in reverse, turned to put a buckthorn bush between us, trotted eastward along another trail, and that was that.

These daydreams have cost me more than one deer over the years. I woefully recall a huge-bodied,10-point buck that was RIGHT THERE beside my tree stand before I noticed him. I was eagle-watching and imaging what it would be like to sail along on the thermal updrafts of the river valley in a glider.

Huge bucks do not fantasize about soaring like eagles on the wind. At least I do not think they do. This particular one was focused on reality, attentive to the current situation. His antlers, alas, are not on my Clubhouse wall.

Despite my best intentions, this unforgiveable habit of daydreaming during my hunts has happened many, many times in the past and it is likely to happen many, many times in the future. I would like to claim that it is an essential component of the creative writer’s trade, these flights of escape to imagined worlds, but it’s probably not. It’s just woolgathering. Cloud chasing.

Tomorrow morning early, I am returning to that ladder stand on the edge of the woods, and I am going to stay focused. Totally focused. Until the squirrels start their circus act. I’m intrigued by their body language. There are at least a hundred bits of non-verbal communication that squirrels share among themselves and with other woodland species of wildlife and if you pay attention…

Ohmygod! Where did that buck come from?

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Aurora, goddess of the dawn

Let me explain how this works. It’s not at all complicated. Sometimes when you least expect it, there is a new beginning, a new hope for the future.

Late in life, I have discovered, comes a glow of dawn, a rising of the sun, a burst of daylight illuminating a dark landscape. Fittingly this end to the long night of a horrific year, this break of the day newborn, is a newborn: our youngest granddaughter named Aurora, the Latin word for dawn and the goddess of dawn in Roman mythology.

Although there is no hint of an ethereal mythos in her strident and demanding yowl; she insists on our recognition of her place in the world, and I for one am willing to grant her that renown.   

Because she is a tiny miracle, a goddess’s gift that has brought me renewal, healing, restoration, a glimmer of remembrance of my youth. Along with diapers to change and midnight feedings.

I was able to meet her, in person, for the first time this week. We call her Rory. Which is an apt and appropriate nickname because she roars. A lot. With my hearing aids shut off, that is not an issue. And, to me anyway, Aurora’s cry is a song of celebration of this new dawn in my life.

There is another song of that celebration: Richie Haven’s rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison of the Beatles.

I have been singing it. A lot. Every day when I wake in the morning. My aches and pains and anxiety and sense of foreboding all seem to vanish in Aurora’s light.

That’s how it works for me now. It’s not complicated.

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Baiting and road hunting

Frantically working 12 to 16 hours every day for a month to harvest corn in the hilly North Country, it was bound to happen: a corn spill on our dead-end road.

We sympathized with the truck driver. Our road is steep, narrow, curving, and more than a little rough, and the driveway entrance to our neighbor’s farm is cocked at a twisting uphill angle that no semi-trailer truck could manage. Even with a straight truck, the driver has to turn downhill out of that driveway, creep down to the end of our road, maneuver his truck around in a 50-foot cul-de-sac at the base of our driveway and go roaring back up the road in first gear with engine straining to haul a full load of corn.

Somewhere in the course of his eighth or ninth trip through this challenging circuit, the truck’s grain chute came open on the downhill run, and corn came streaming out. A lot of corn. Maybe a hundred bushels of corn.

On our morning drive to town, we were startled to discover at the bottom of our driveway the curved beginning of The Yellow Brick Road from L. Frank Baum’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” I mean, we are rather small people by today’s standards, but we never consider ourselves to be Munchkins.

Getting out of the car to inspect, we learned that this glistening yellow road was not gold, alas, but a four-foot-wide, three-inch-deep strip of corn kernels. Two days later it was clear that the spill was not salvageable by the harvester since it was hopelessly intermingled with the crushed rock and sand of the roadway. The hundred bushel corn spill has become feed for deer, squirrels, raccoons, pheasants, song birds, and other wildlife. From my point of view this is not a bad thing, although I am sorry for the harvester’s financial loss.

Someone’s loss becomes someone else’s gain.

The next evening I was sitting atop one of my deer hunting tree stands on a hillside that overlooks the county road far below. As daylight faded, I could see the shadowy forms of four or five deer emerging from the woods and strolling along the road, enjoying the buffet that this windfall of a corn spill provided.

My first thought was that the few acorns that had fallen to the ground in our oak and maple woods would be ignored by these deer for several weeks while they enjoyed the bounty of the corn spill, the feast on the road. My second thought was more unworthy: would it constitute “baiting” (a violation of the North Country’s deer hunting regulations) if someone (me, for example) were to build a ground blind in a roadside ditch and take advantage of the inadvertent corn spill to attract deer to within shooting range? And would this be a violation of the regulations that prohibit road hunting?

I did not spend much time pondering this devious plan to circumvent hunting laws and ethic, mostly because lurking in a ground blind in a road ditch did not square itself with my concept of hunting. Shameful. Ridiculous. And worst of all, I wouldn’t be able to brag about taking a deer that way.

But the tree stand on the south edge of our farm is probably worthless for the remainder of the bow season, although it is directly over a frequently traveled wildlife trail. All the deer are camped on the opposite side of the coulee, and they are making the short commute to the all-you-can eat corn bar on the county road.

My loss, their gain.

Guess I will abandon this stand on the south edge of our farm and move to the woods on the west side. Maybe the deer over there have not heard about the corn spill.

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