Lessons learned (from building a PVC frame ground blind)

Building a low-budget ground blind for deer hunting provided an escape from the monotony of winter’s pandemic isolation, occupied my mind and hands with productive and interesting work, kept me out of the house and in the workshop for four days (an interlude in my grousing that was appreciated by my beautiful blonde wife), and taught me many things about construction projects using PVC pipes and fittings.

In general, the ground blind project was a success. The end product was a blind that should serve for a few years of bow and firearm deer hunting and wildlife observation on our North Country farm. But I could have built it better.

Now, there is no denying that I have a few obsessive-compulsive behavior characteristics and that I can, at times, be an annoying perfectionist. Ask any member of the Over the Hill Gang about my dog training regimen, equipment maintenance schedule, hunting trip preparations, footwear upkeep (I varnish my ash-and-rawhide snowshoes every spring), hunting and outdoor gear cleaning and repair (and those snowshoes are 40 years old and still in perfect condition!), and my attention to detail when hand-loading shotshells or rifle cartridges. They are likely to roll their eyes and silently think what only one of them (I won’t say who) has dared to state aloud: “Jeez, don’t get caught up in that tangled trap!”

It most certainly is not a tangled trap. It is a meticulously and painstakingly organized trap.

Be that as it may, there are some improvements that could be made to the prototype ground blind constructed last week. Not major flaws that need corrected, you understand, but some tweaks that would improve the end result. I intend to incorporate those modifications in the next ground blind project. Which will probably be next month, because what the heck else do I have on my agenda while we wait for our covid-19 vaccinations?

First on the list is size. The prototype ground blind is six feet in height and sets on a five-foot-by-five-foot base. The revised plan will be for a somewhat smaller blind.

The side panels will be four feet in length and about 24 inches in height. (The prototype side panels are five feet in length and about 30 inches in height.)

The arching PVC tubes that form the dome of the top cap will be eight feet in length. (Prototype: 10 feet.) I am contemplating a set of four arching frame pieces of PVC to support the dome rather than two. (I may regret this piece of over-engineering.)

My conjecture is that this reduction in size will create a more sturdy structure that is easier to set up and relocate. It will be somewhat less prone to wind damage and hopefully will better withstand snow accumulations. The smaller blind should fit in my pickup truck, too.

Next on the list of improvements is heating (hot to the touch) the 8-foot PVC arch frame pieces so that they become more pliable and will bend in a smooth and uniform arch. I did not properly heat them for the prototype, and they are less an “arch” than a “peak.” Not sure how I will do this without getting the local fire department involved.

The holes for the wire brace struts of the dome will be drilled at 10-inch intervals rather than 12-inch. That should help with attaching the fabric covering of the dome.

As I construct the second generation of ground blind, there will probably be a few “Aha!” moments when I discovered other design improvements. I will keep you posted.

A tip on wiring together the ground blind:

I failed to include these instructions in Step 17of my previous blog. The instructions are now edited to include this wire-lacing tip.

Step 17 – Set up the ground blind on-site

You are now ready to erect the ground blind on-site. Set the side panels upright on the long edge and wire the four of them firmly together to create a open-top box. Cross measure to make sure the box is square. Drive a tent peg into the ground at each corner and wire the frame to the pegs.

Set the cap on top of the box and securely wire it to the top bars of the side panel frames. To wire the cap and side panels together, secure the cap atop the side panels with C-clamps, then drill small vertical holes through the base frame pipe of the cap all the way through the top bar of the side panel. Drill these holes at 6 or 8-inch intervals through the superimposed pipes of the cap and side panels all the way around the blind. Insert a continuous wire down through the first set of holes, then up through the second set of holes, continuing until the cap is tightly wire-laced to the side panels. Pull the wire lacing very tight as you go. Use the same procedure to wire-lace the side panels together.  

________________________________________________

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

How to build a ground blind

The owner’s manual warned that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light would cause fading and deterioration of the Ameristep ground blind’s fabric covering, so I expected to get only two or three years of service from this blind. Way too optimistic.

The Ameristep ground blind would probably have weathered better if I had set it up inside the old hog house in the south woods of our farm.

I set it up in August. In December I pressed my hand against the fabric to adjust it. My fingers ripped through. By the end of this winter, no doubt, the fabric will be hanging in shredded strips from the framework.

Maybe if I had set it up inside the dilapidated old hog house, out of direct sunlight, it would have lasted longer, not exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but deer very seldom come into the hog house. In the partial shade of our red cedar shelterbelt this flimsy material rotted in less than five months. Exacerbating my dissatisfaction with this Ameristep blind, a support rib shattered when I set it up, and I had to splint it with a dowel rod, wire, and duct tape.   

Clearly not worth the $129.99 I paid for it, even with free shipping. Lesson learned: build my own blind with a PVC framework and tarp coverings. That is what I set out to do.  And I realized this was an opportunity to try something new.

For all the blogs I have written about outdoor sports projects (dog training, shotgun and rifle maintenance and repair, quail call-back pens, camo clothing dyes, livestock fencing, wooden box construction, dog door installation, shotshell and rifle cartridge reloading, firearm cleaning, shotgun patterning, rifle sighting…) I have never attempted a step-by-step “how-to” blog post with photos to illustrate the steps. This will be a first for me, and maybe a total disaster. But here goes.

How to Build a Ground Blind for Deer Hunting

Step 1 – Draw plans for the ground blind

To convince readers of this blog that I know what I’m doing, I put pen to paper and drew a more-or-less detailed plan of the ground blind frame that I intended to build. The drawings were not to scale and lacked specifics, but it has been my experience that unexpected glitches will beset every plan as the work goes forward, so it is best not to be overly concerned with details.

This is the self-evident starting point, but I seldom draw a project plan on paper, reasoning that my mental image of the finished product will serve as a blue print and schematic. This is often a mistake which can double the cost of the project and the time it takes to complete it.

This is how the drawings of the ground blind’s cap panel appear:

.

.

And this is how the drawing of the ground blind’s side panels appears:

.

.

.

.

.

But this is how my preliminary drawing of the entire project appears, and to be honest this is the only drawing I used for reference.

.

Time to get to work.

Step 2 – Compile a list of the materials required for the project

Make a comprehensive list of all the supplies required for this project:

12  10-foot lengths of ½-inch PVC pipe
12  ½-inch PVC ½-inch T coupling pieces
20  ½-inch PVC 90-degree coupling pieces
1  can PVC cement
1  roll of 14-gauge galvanized steel electric fencing wire
2  6×8 foot polyester tarps
2  10×12 foot polyester tarp
1  roll of duct tape
1  2 ½-inch bolt with nut

Step 3 – Prepare the pieces to assemble the cap section of the ground blind

Cut from the 10-foot sections of PVC pipe: 2 59-inch lengths of pipe, and 2 57-inch lengths of pipe. You will need the shorter sections of pipe for the “east” and “west” sides of the frame’s base because the T-couplings that are needed to attach the over-arching sections of PVC pipe will add two inches of overall length to the “east” and “west” sides of the base. Save these cut off scrap pieces; of PVC; you will need them in Step 4.

Step 4 – Make the arch juncture assemblies from PVC couplings

The four corners of the top cap’s base require a junction assembly to attach the over-arching lengths of PVC pipe. Use the cut off scrap pieces of PVC from Step 3 to cut four 1 ½- inch lengths of pipe. Insert one end of the 1 ½- inch length of pipe into a 90-degree PVC corner coupling, and insert the other end into a T-coupling.

The T-coupling must tilt upward at a 60-degree angle compared to the corner coupling; place the juncture assembly flat on the work bench to measure this angle. Tip: do no cement the three pieces of the juncture assembly until you are sure the T-coupling is at a 60-degree angle with the corner coupling and that it slopes in the correct direction (see photo).

Step 5 – Connect the arch junction assemblies to the 57-inch lengths of PVC pipe

Insert and cement the 57-inch lengths of PVC pipe into the T-coupling of the arch junction assemblies, one assembly at each end of the pipe. Be sure to maintain the T-couplings’ 60-degree inward slope. These 57-inch pipes with the assemblies attached will be the “east” and “west” sections of the ground blind cap’s base. Tip: use a rubber mallet to tap all PVC connections securely together.

.

Step 6 – Attach the 59-inch lengths of PVC pipe to the corner couplings

Insert and cement the two 59-inch lengths of PVC pipe into the corner couplings of the “east” and “west” base pieces. These lengths of pipe are now the “north” and “south” sides of the cap frame’s base, which should be a square of about 60 inches on each side.

Step 7 – Attach the over-arching 10-foot lengths of PVC pipe to the corner junctions

Insert and cement one end of one 10-foot length of PVC pipe into the “northeast” corner junction; bend the pipe and insert and cement the opposite end into the “southwest” corner junction. Insert and cement one end of another 10-foot PVC pipe into the “northwest” corner junction, and the opposite end into the “southeast” corner junction. The two 10-foot lengths of pipe should now cross to form a dome. Tip: heat the full length of the PVC pipe with a hair dryer or infrared lamp or other means so that the pipe can be more easily bent into a uniform curved arch.  

Step 8 – Join the over-arching PVC pipes at the midpoint of the arch

Mark the midpoint (at 60 inches) of each of the over-arching PVC pipes. Drill a vertical hole through the midpoint mark of each pipe and insert a 2 ½- inch bolt through the holes to align and connect the over-arching pipes.

Step 9 – Brace the arches with wire

From the midpoint bolt at the top-center of the arch, measure and mark each of the PVC arch pipes at 12-inch intervals: 12, 24, and 36 inches. Drill a small horizontal hole through the pipe at each of the marked intervals. Pass a continuous strand of wire through the top set of holes, putting just enough tension on the wire to keep it taunt and looping it around each PVC pipe to hold it secure. Do the same for the set of holes drilled at the 24-inch marks. Do the same for the set of holes drilled at the 36-inch marks. Tip: do not stretch the wire too tightly or you will pull the dome out of alignment or cause the PVC pipe to bow.

Step 10 – Cut lengths of PVC pipe to construct the side panels

To construct the side panels, cut the 10-foot lengths of ½-inch PVC pipe into 28 pieces that are each 29 inches in length.

Step 11 – Attach PVC couplings to pipe sections

Attach and cement a 90-degree corner coupling to one end of 16 of the 29-inch lengths of PVC pipe. Attach and cement a T-coupling to the other end of eight of these pieces. Be sure that all of the corner couplings and T couplings point in the same direction. Twelve of the 29-inch lengths of PVC pipe should have NO couplings attached.

Step 12 – Attach two pieces to form the top frame bar of a side panel

Inset and cement one of the pieces with a corner coupling ONLY into the T-coupling of a piece that has both a T-coupling and a corner coupling. The T-coupling is now the mid-point of the side panel top bar. Repeat for all four top bars for side panels.

completed set of four side panel frames

Step 13 – Attach two pieces to form the bottom frame bar of a side panel

Inset and cement one of the pieces with a corner coupling ONLY into the T-coupling of a piece that has both a T-coupling and a corner coupling. The T-coupling is now the mid-point of the side panel bottom bar. Repeat for all four bottom bars for side panels.

Step 14 – Attach PVC pipes as uprights to the top and bottom bars of the side panels

Connect a side panel top bar to a side panel bottom bar by inserting and cementing three of the 29-inch lengths of PVC pipe into the corner couplings at each end and the T-coupling at mid-point. Tip: Lay the side panel pieces flat on the workshop floor so there is no buckling or twisting. Repeat for the other three side panels.

Step 15 – Cover the side panels with tarps

Lay a side panel flat on the workshop floor atop a 6×8 polyester tarp. Fold the hem of the tarp over the top bar of the panel and tape it to the full length of the bar with duct tape. Pull the tarp fabric taunt underneath the side panel frame and cut it along the length of the panel’s bottom bar with a scissors, leaving a 2-inch hem. Fold the tarp’s newly cut hem over the bottom bar and tape it the full length of the bar. Do the same with the end bars of the panel. Repeat with two other panels.

The last panel should be covered with tarp material only to the center upright bar so that there is an entry portal into the ground blind.  

.

Step 16 – Cover the ground blind’s top cap with a 6×10 tarp

Tip: set the ground blind cap up on saw horses or the edge of a work table so that you can work from both inside and outside the cap.

From the “north” side of the ground blind’s cap frame, drape a tarp that measures 6×10 feet across the top of the dome and then center it (you may have to cut this 6×10 piece to size from a larger tarp). The tarp will not fit snuggly over the curved dome of the frame. Fold and tape tucks in the tarp material (as described below) on all four faces of the ground blind cap to make the fabric conform as closely as possible to the shape of the PVC frame.

Take two small tucks in the excess material to stretch it taunt on the “north” face, then tape the “north” hem of the tarp to the “north” bottom bar of the frame. Take two small tucks in the excess material to stretch it taunt on it “south” face, then tape the “south” hem of the tarp to the “south” bottom bar of the frame.

Take two larger tucks in the material on the “west” face of the cap to stretch it taunt; fold the tucks tightly and tape the full length of the tuck folds on the outside. Go inside the cap and tape the full length of the tuck folds on the inside. Repeat this tuck-and-tape procedure for the “east” face.

Return to the tuck folds on the “north” and “south” faces. Draw the fabric tight with these tucks and then tape the tuck folds full length on the outside. Go inside the cap and tape these “north” and “south” tuck folds full length.

From inside the cap, tape the tarp to the lowest brace wire strut of the frame. Tape the lowest strut wire against all four faces: north, west south, and east.

Two faces of the ground blind cap will now have arched window apertures above the base of the cap.

.

.

.

.

Step 17 – Set up the ground blind on-site

You are now ready to erect the ground blind on-site. Set the side panels upright on the long edge and wire the four of them firmly together to create a open-top box. Cross measure to make sure the box is square. Drive a tent peg into the ground at each corner and wire the frame to the pegs.

Set the cap on top of the box and securely wire it to the top bars of the side panel frames. To wire the cap and side panels together, secure the cap atop the side panels with C-clamps, then drill small vertical holes through the base frame pipe of the cap all the way through the top bar of the side panel. Drill these holes at 6 or 8-inch intervals through the superimposed pipes of the cap and side panels all the way around the blind. Insert a continuous wire down through the first set of holes, then up through the second set of holes, continuing until the cap is tightly wire-laced to the side panels. Pull the wire lacing very tight as you go. Use the same procedure to wire-lace the side panels together.  

Step 18 – Acclimate and personalize the blind  

Taking a folding camp stool, crawl into the ground blind through the entry portal. Set up the stool. Sit on it. Look out through the window apertures. Light a cigar. Smoke it. Drink a can of warm beer. You’ve earned it.

Note: The materials and supplies for this ground blind cost about $100, but I already had a roll of electric fence wire, a roll of duct tape, the top bolt, a can of PVC cement, one 6×8 tarp, and all the required tools. Plus the workshop.

_________________________________________________________________

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Orange insurrection

Stunned and unsettled by the insurrection against the United States government January 6 by right-wing extremists, I have been wordless, unable to write and post a blog essay while I try to comprehend this horrendous, treasonous act of mob violence that has threatened the nation’s democratic foundations. I can only conclude that this mob was (and is) a cult of the country’s disaffected that were recruited, manipulated, rallied, and incited by a depraved charismatic leader, President Orange, who stoked its hatred and violence with an avalanche of misinformation, lies, self-serving deceit, and a con man’s fraudulence, dishonesty, and treachery.

The moral compass of the nation has gone haywire.

Perhaps the most appalling thing about the duplicitous pandering to and incitement of this cult is the collusion of many elected and appointed federal and state officials who are willing to undermine the government of the United States to gain status, power, and wealth from the very people they have deceived. An astounding number of federal and state senators and representatives are more than willing to violate their oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and have madly rushed to kowtow at the feet of President Orange and chant his populist, nihilistic mantras.  

The greatest and most inflammatory of the thousands of lies to spew out of the mouth of President Orange was that the 2020 election was “rigged.” Of the 23 “election fraud” cases that were filed in state and federal courts by Orange and his cronies, every single one of them was dismissed as “without merit,” but this pathologically narcissistic president continued to rage, threatening election officials and elected representatives with retribution if they refused to violate the Constitution and illegally award him enough votes to win re-election. All praise to those officials, many of whom received death threats from the orange cult’s most mentally unbalanced followers, for standing up for the rule of law in this country, refusing to submit to the rants and threats of an unhinged autocrat.

The protesters, the peaceful ones, have some reason to cry “unfair”: no, the 2020 election was not “rigged,” but the economic system has become “rigged.” The orange cult, however, has no clue how to ur-rig it. Among the solutions are a national health care program, a $15 minimum wage, child care tax breaks or credits for working parents, maternity and paternity leave, free post-high school education, drug and alcohol abuse programs, and a dozen other benefits for those who have been marginalized in America’s economic system. Instead of foam-at-the-mouth rants about the “elite” stacking the deck, the American people should organize and demand that the “elites” fund these initiatives.

President Orange never even considered a single one of these programs; he is the most elite of the elites, and he intends to keep it that way. He gave a trillion-dollar tax break to the wealthiest people in the nation, himself included, that exacerbated economic inequality in this country. The rich got much richer, and the poor got poorer. It is a bizarre paradox that a so-called populist leader has no hint of a populist agenda. As autocratic rulers often do, he chose instead to use people’s legitimate frustrations to inflame hatreds: race, religion, nationality, immigration. And he has no actual belief in any of these twisted malevolencies; they were only his incitements of his base, his siren’s song that lured his sycophantic supporters to shipwreck so that he could plunder their misfortune.

That does not excuse the insurrectionists. They were fools to fall for his lies. They now live in an alternate reality that Orange created with misinformation and falsehoods. Social media companies bear much of the blame for perpetrating this fraud, but of course their motive was money, not the welfare of the nation, and they made a lot of money spreading the unvetted lies and hatred of the mob.

I am not sure America will recover from the political and social devastation of the Orange presidency. In truth, this worst-ever president was not the malignancy, the maladies of racial and religious and misogynistic animus that poison American society. He was only the orange pus suppurating from the diseased psyche of a subset of America’s most gullible, poorly informed, and misled people, infected by those cancers of racism, misogyny, white supremacy, white privilege, evangelistic dogma, and fear and hatred of any other vaguely defined “other” that seems to be a threat.

The moral compass of the nation has gone haywire. There is no true north. For many, there is no truth at all. Truth is whatever President Orange proclaims it to be, and he is a pathological liar.

Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope. Every elected and appointed government official now hastens to condemn (for many of them,  years too late) the insurrectionist attack on Congress. That will not sway the orange cult’s most avid believers, but we can hope that Orange’s own betrayal of them may possibly open their eyes.

Because after his insurrection failed, Orange, that disreputable and amoral Judas, denounced his disciples and tossed them onto the garbage pile like the broken toys that they were. Of all that crazed mob of extremists, of all of those insurrectionists arrested and charged and now facing prison sentences, of all those who were part of that violent mob that stormed the Capitol and murdered a police officer, of all of those traitorous insurgents whose lives will be ruined by the criminal acts that President Orange incited them to commit, of all those who believed his thousands of lies and were seduced to become part of the mad populist cult, of all of them whom he rallied to his call to overthrow the government and whom he told “we love you” – President Orange did not pardon or commute the sentence of a single one of you. Although Orange pardoned and commuted the sentences of some 200 other people, mostly his lackies and cohorts in various frauds and other crimes.

But you insurrectionists? When you had done his bidding and his insurgency failed, he denied you and dropped you into the trash bin, as he has done with every other Orange loyalist who became inconvenient for him. How could you not see it coming?

But maybe you will now see him for what he is.

_______________________________________________________________

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hoarfrost – One of the hundred reasons I love the North Country in winter

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Auld Lang Syne

By Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Scotland, on January 25, 1759. He was the author of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786) and Tam O’ Shanter (1795). In addition to Auld Lang Syne, his best known poems include  Scots Wha Hae which has long been the unofficial national anthem of Scotland, A Man’s a Man for A’ That, and Ae Fond Kiss.

Auld Lang Syne

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Winter’s first (serious) snowstorm

The first snowstorm of the winter of 2020-21 will arrive in the North Country sometime in the course of this day, ending the mild weather that has graced our fall and early winter.

The first serious snowstorm, I should say, since we have had a few previous snow flurries, but with almost no snow accumulations.

Now we must get ready for real winter.

Yes, we have had a few sub-zero temperature nights and some weird early winter wind storms with 35-40 mile-per-hour gusts that toppled dead trees and brought down branches. But snow is the true harbinger of the season in the North Country, so we do not really consider it to be wintertime until a good, thick blanket covers the ground.

About 2-3 inches of snow fell during the past week, snow that has comfortably settled in with the cold to stay until spring, but that is just a precursor, and today a serious storm is on its way with forecasts of 5-7 inches of snowfall.

With more than 40 years of experience living with winters in the North Country of the upper Midwest, we have come to doubt storm weather forecasts. We expect at least 10 inches of snowfall, maybe 12.

This first serious snowstorm will not mean a lockdown and isolation on the farm for us; this year of deadly and horrific pandemic has already done that. In truth we have needed only a few last-minute preparations for winter’s onset:
Taking the snow shovels down from the hooks in the garage,
Filling the bird feeder and setting out new suet blocks,
Stacking firewood on the deck,
Mounting the snowblower head and tire chains on the DR mower’s power unit,

Setting the mukluks beside the door,
Unpacking mittens and other layers of winter clothing,
Placing the “Icy Driveway!” sign at the bottom of the lane.

We are brewing an extra pot of coffee, “high octane” Norwegian coffee, because a raging winter snowstorm is an awesome and beautiful thing to watch from behind a picture window, sitting inside a warm kitchen, with a hot cup of coffee, the last of the Christmas cookies, plus a couple rounds of lefse.

We have also laid in a stock of good beers because the aftermath of a winter storm is a miserable thing to deal with when outside in sub-zero temperatures, wind blasting, slipping on the ice, snow packing your beard as you run the snowblower – without a beer to look forward to. Maybe a couple of beers to look forward to.

But that is all two days away, after the storm moves through. Today I am a bear in hibernation, snuggled deep in the cave of my easy chair, warm and well-fed and dozing off to dream of spring. Right after I put one more big chunk of walnut into the woodstove.

Do your worst, winter snowstorms! Throw a foot of snow on us. Two feet, if you want.

We’re ready.   

________________________________________

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

_________________________________________________________________

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

                              

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

____________________________________________________________________

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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.

  ___________________________________________________________

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments