Siren Song of the Southwest

AN ARCTIC WIND carried the first snowstorm of January across the North Country this week, the temperature dropped to six below zero, and our long, steep driveway is a bobsled run of packed snow and ice. Last night, listening to the shriek of the bitter wind in the eaves, I could hear three Sirens sing to me – a lilting, melodious, enticing song: “Come to us, be with us, stay with us…”

They promised me an escape from harsh winter to gentle lands of warmth, excitement, splendor, comfort, and pleasure. They whispered to me their names: Arizona, Utah, Nevada.

Photo image from the website emaze,

In Greek mythology, the Sirens are beautiful but dangerous sea creatures that play enchanting music and sing sensuous songs to lure sailors to shipwreck and death on the rocky coasts of their islands. Artworks from the classical age of the Greco-Roman world depict Sirens as seductive creatures, half woman and half bird, whose exquisite faces and bodies add to their alluring voices and beguiling music to make them irresistible.

Once a Siren song reaches your ear, you are doomed.

Continue reading

Posted in Winter, Winter Adventure | Tagged | 2 Comments

There’s a point (of impact) to all this

Certain that the old Lefever 16 gauge must be shooting low (I missed two shot at pheasants one cold December morning) I spent this overcast January afternoon doing a point-of-impact test to prove the inaccurate shooting was the fault of the gun, not I. The patterning sheets did not vindicate me, however.

My most trusted and most used double gun, a Browning BSS Sporter in 20 gauge, has been reliable this fall, taking most of the roosters Abbey has found and pointed. So it was the “baseline” gun for yesterday’s pattern test. If I could determine where it was placing its charge of shot on a pattern sheet, I could compare that result with the point-of-impact pattern of the Lefever and then adjust the Lefever’s stock dimensions to correct its errant ways.

I hung two pattern sheets on the side of the old corn crib foundation, one for the test of the BSS and one for the test of the Lefever. I backed off about 20 yards, slightly downhill, and using the same step-mount-fire sequence I would use to shoot at a flushing pheasant I fired three rounds from the right barrel of each gun at the center dot of its designated pattern sheet.

The truth was immediately apparent, but I took the pattern sheets into the workshop where I could use a felt tip marker to outline the respective patterns to confirm what I already knew – and eat humble pie. The 20-gauge BSS and the 16-gauge Lefever throw virtually identical patterns to virtually the same point of impact.

Yes, at 20 yards the 16-gauge gun’s pattern measures about 26 inches compared to the 20-gauge gun’s 24-inch pattern. And the center of the Lefever’s pattern is about two inches lower than the center of the BSS’s pattern. But both of those differences are insignificant when shooting at birds in the field.

This was discomfiting because:

1) I now know that any bird I miss when shooting the Lefever will be my own fault;

2) since the Lefever does not require any corrective work I do not have a “project gun” to tinker with this winter.

Maybe I’ll travel south in February and spend some time on sporting clays ranges. That’s probably the “corrective work” my bird shooting needs.


More essays and stories about bird dogs, bird hunting, bird guns, and life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays, available through at  Jerry Johnson Author Page


Posted in Bird Guns, Bird hunting, Lefever Shotguns, pheasant hunting, shotgun patterning, Shotguns | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice
By the end of the journey the wanderer is not the same,
Changed by burden and circumstance, fate and chance.
All paths go astray, and we fall weary by the wayside,
Unable to go on until one skin is shed, another grown.
The Winter Solstice is the right time to end a journey,
A time of rest and contemplation, life’s longest night.
Awakened and renewed by the rise of a rejuvenated Sun,
A new and different person, we begin another journey.



Posted in Winter Solstice | Tagged | 2 Comments

Balancing act

After a recent comedy of errors performed in the course of a mid-morning pheasant hunt in the North Country (read Seven shotshells), Abbey and I were due for a karmic balancing act, an opportunity to enjoy an exciting and uplifting day in the wild to offset that dismal showing. Thanks to the efforts of 30-year friend and hunting companion John Beard, our bird hunting universe is back in balance.

Pheasants are scare this year in our part of the upper Midwest, or as the Department of Natural Resources public relations people like to say, “populations are spotty.” One’s chances of finding a “spot” that has a good number of roosters is about the same as rolling three consecutive sevens with the dice, but Old Coot bird hunters are an optimistic lot who believe the next small piece of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grassland will yield a bounty not seen since the explosion of  Phasianus colchicus in the 1960s.

As we loaded squirming dogs into the travel boxes in the pickup at dawn’s first light, John’s Vizsla Bella and my French spaniel Abbey, John told me that he had done some calling the evening before and received permission for us to hunt some private land that could be the Shangri-La of which we dreamed.

Continue reading

Posted in Bird Dogs, Bird hunting, Hunting, Late season pheasants, pheasant hunting, Winter Bird Hunting | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Christmas gift books for Uncle Owun

Christmas day is speeding toward us like a truck on an icy highway in the dark of night, and in the panicked search for a gift for Uncle Owun we are a deer caught in the headlights.

We all have an OWUN — Old Weird Uncle Ned. A codger, a curmudgeon, a crusty character, a coot. But he’s part of the family and comes out of seclusion every Christmas to join the family around the dinner table, drink too much rum laced eggnog, sing carols in an off-key baritone, and complain about the government. Most problematic, he brings presents for everyone, at least for all the children. So you have an inescapable social obligation to give a present to him.

The looming question this year — and every year — is WHAT that present will be.  Uncle Owun does not need anything at this point of his life, and he detests knick-knack gifts. Since he loves the outdoors and is a hunter and fisherman, he especially dislikes those cheesy plastic hunter-with-rifle Christmas tree ornaments various family members have been giving him for twenty years.

You could give him his eleventh pocket knife or his seventeenth pair of red wool socks and watch him roll his eyes in gratitude.  But I take the liberty of suggesting a better choice:

A book or books written by a kindred spirit codger, curmudgeon, crusty character, and crazy old coot.

Assuming your Uncle Owun is a reader (and what else does he have to occupy his time these days?), he will appreciate your selection of literature that endorses — nigh adulates —   the Coot Life and all the grumpy, self-indulgent nostalgia the Coot Life engenders. Books that document the many ways in which the world used to be a better place and how it is now going to hell in a handbasket. Or at least in a rusty pickup truck.

To that end, here is my totally objective and unprejudiced recommendations for Owun gift books.

The Old Coot series, four anthologies of essays, short stories, and poetry:

Crazy Old Coot – A Curmudgeon’s Stories about Bird Hunting, Bird Dogs, and Life in the North Country

Old Coots Never Forget  – More of the Curmudgeon’s Stories about Hunting and Life in the North Country

Coot Stews  – A Curmudgeon’s Observations and Grumblings about the Situation in the North Country

A Limit of CootA Curmudgeon’s Final Observations about Life in the North Country

North Country books. I also recommend two other anthologies of essays, short stories and poems for the the less Cootish Owuns of your family.

North Country Tales

A View from the North Country


If your Owun has cronies that have shared his hunting and fishing shenanigans over the years, and if he enjoys a good murder mystery, give him this novel:

Hunting Birds – The Lives and Legends of the Pine County Rod, Gun, Dog and Social Club

Or he may have a lifelong secret yearning to go on an African hunting safari, if only he could be transported back in time 100 years. In that case, give him this historical novel:

Ivory and Gold – A Safari into the Sand Hills and across the Athi Plain

By this point of the Christmas season you yourself may feel that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, so I recommend you read about the dystopian future portrayed in this novel:

The Executioner’s Face

Click on the title of the book listed above that most interests you and the link will take you to the website where it is available for purchase. You can also (and I recommend this) visit your local independent book store and ask them to order any or all of these books for you.

Uncle Owun will be pleased.






















Posted in Books for Christmas, Christmas Gift Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Warm boots

Warning! Do not try this at home! These boots were microwaved by a trained professional.

Best thing about a boot dryer? Starting a sub-zero temperature day by pulling on warm boots. So I got this idea: Heat my hiking boots this morning in the microwave oven! For just 60 seconds, on half-power. These boots have no metal components, so they could not possibly burst into flame or melt down.

Based on this one-time experiment, however, my advice is DO NOT DO THIS!

(Wool gloves and socks are okay, though. Except for the odor.)


Posted in Hunting Boots | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Seven shotshells

Abbey must have thought we had died and gone to heaven. Six weeks into a sparse bird season we blundered into a pheasant paradise where she found, tracked, and pointed nine birds in less than two hours – six hens and three roosters. Three more flushed wild ahead of us when we first walked into the 200-acre tract of beautiful habitat. All told, that was more pheasants than we had seen since opening weekend.

No, I will not tell you exactly where this weedy patch of paradise is located. We drove seven or eight miles from our North Country farm to a part of the adjacent county that has never been known for producing good numbers of pheasants. I knew of a piece of hilly public land that is a half mile from the road, a hike most bird hunters are not willing to make for the slim chance of finding a bird or two on that marginal ground.

Continue reading

Posted in Bird Dogs, Bird hunting, Late season pheasants, pheasant hunting, Uncategorized, Winter Bird Hunting | Tagged , , | 3 Comments