Duck season ends today. We went out a few times this week. The ducks are around but I don't have permission to hunt the places I used to. Henry is a handful. He's very alert, but his whining is hard to take. He's very vocal. But his enthusiasm is a good sign. Rocket is stoic; doesn't say a thing, just looks at the sky and waits for ducks to appear.
This time of year is hard on us. The shotguns are cleaned and put away. The duck season never really got off the ground. Rocket doesn't think much of ski towns. Henderson chases snow machines so snow-shoeing is out. Rocket breaks free from time to time to troll for scraps: English muffins, the rinds of long-gone pumpkins, eggshells people have tossed out for compost. Yesterday he was ensnared in a web of Christmas what-nots. He didn't struggle as much as I would have. I freed him and he trotted into the alleys where the wind had knocked over trash cans. I can't wait for Tax Season.
Winter arrived. Better to stay off the Wyoming roads and practice tai chi in your living room. Better to finally finish Look Homeward Angel because you know you never truly gave it the attention it deserves. Write a poem, make a list of enemies. There's nothing to do and too much to do at the same time.
The pheasants keep coming. Likely these are birds raised by the game and fish. The wild birds have left the public walk-in areas weeks ago. I have this agreement with the Wyoming Game and Fish:you keep releasing birds and I'll keep making coq au vin. Wild pheasants are about as common here as useful politicians. But I applaud the Game and Fish's efforts to stock the landscape with pheasants. I'd rather see the skies darkened with prairie chickens, but I hear I'm 100 years too late. Still, even a state sponsored pheasant is a remarkable bird. Just this week, while walking along with The Rodfather, talking about wild bird stock as opposed to the stuff people buy in the cans, a likely penned-raised bird burst from beneath my feet. Henry leaped in the air like a fox, snapping his jaws at the bird's wake. I was so shook up by the flush that I missed the bird bigly. Very bigly. SAD! This bird flew off the public lands and onto the private property ringed with no trespassing signs. He's wild now. Or at least until the red fox finds him. .
I have a new essay, "Hanging with My Chums", in the fall issue of the Backcountry Journal. They are a non-profit that promotes public lands and tries to keep creeps from selling it to loggers. You can read my piece here.
I turned 50 this week with an Italian over-and-under in my hands, my dogs spreading out in the sage and native grasses. The little postage stamp plots of state land and BLM acres that might or might not hold wild coveys of sharp tail grouse have saved the season. As it goes with bird hunting, I was stooped over, removing a cactus thorn from Rocket's foot when the covey exploded. They set their wings and sailed into the next draw. But when I went there they were nowhere to be found. Just a big mule deer buck and his seven does. An excellent birthday.
We are in the middle of a fine bird season. A few days ago Rocket pinned a covey of huns. But I snapped off two quick shots and didn't cut a feather. We've been hunting public land near Buffalo. I think I know where the huns went and we will be back soon. Meanwhile, I'm cooking pheasants on a daily basis. (I think they are best fresh and I hardly freeze any these days.) Below is my latest attempt.
I went to see Rouge Elements last night with a boisterous crowd of my fellow Casperites. The movie is about a group of young white people (Bradley, Lisa, Mick, Duff and JP) who go about the globe searching for "epic" conditions. None of them, apparently, have jobs. The word epic is used every thirty seconds. Bradley hooks up with Lisa, leaving Duff to turn his passion to helicopter skiing. There's lots of slow-mo of helicopters and steep peaks. There are scenes where the skiers use snow machines to climb to incredible heights, only to ski back down and talk about the "epicness" of it. There is drinking and never any conversation about money. Before the film began, our local ski shop owners tossed hats and face masks to the crowd. A trip to Jackson Hole was raffled. I didn't win. Not did I catch a t-shirt or neck warmer.
The problem with ski movies is that they are stuck in a genre that cannot move forward. They all seem the same to me. They are supposed to pump you up for the ski season. But who among us wants to drop off a rock cliff at 17,000 feet for mere epicosity? My skiing involves a penchant for the lodge, a skidding style from the 80s, an uncomfortable march to the can in ski boots. There is poor dinning in these towns. Long lines of unruly children with cell phones. Beer is served in plastic cups. There is a type of reggae that is only popular in white fraternity houses of the east coast and middle west.
The only scene in the movie that moved me was when JP is on a peak looking down an rocks that will tear him apart if he makes a mistake. In the far distance you can see the smog of a city. JP tells the camera that his father was a mechanic in Chicago who lost his arm in an industrial accident. Then JP drops off the side of the mountain, never to be heard of again. Epic.
Of course I didn't take this photo. My friend and colleague Chad Hanson did. Chad and his wife Lynn spend countless hours on the sage flats around Casper photographing bands of wild horses. I'm too daft to appreciate non-lethal pursuits in the same way, but who can argue with Chad and Lynn's photos? Chad also writes about the issues surrounding wild horses. Ranchers, or at least most of the ones I know, don't see the value of wild horses on our landscape. We are waiting for them to catch up. It took me a while, but after reading a few of Chad's essays, I can see that horses evolved in North America. They belong here more so than cattle and food trucks. You have to admit that they are more appealing than barbwire and asphalt. Maybe it's time for us to get to know them. Like most good things, they've been here all along.
The pheasant fishing was good to excellent over in Torrington this weekend. Bill and I got 6 each, though there is some disagreement on this subject. . Most of Bill's were head shot, a single pellet breaking through the brainbox of a flushing bird. Henderson is a great retriever. When a bird is hit, he sprints forth and tackles it. But his nose needs works. He doesn't "hog the thickest cover" like his father does. He doesn't seem to smell them the way Rocket does. Rocket knows they are there. Henderson is just trotting along. I'm hoping to "wake-up" his nose this season. Today we're going out with some wings to see if he can get the scent. The Yoder Woman's Club provided two dollar a slice pie, free coffee and a warm place to hang out after hunting. This group has been doing this for 60 years. It was refreshing to be around people who don't fool with their cell phones during conversation, people who still read the occasional romance novel.Below, Bill and I have limited out early, possibly the earliest limit in Goshen County. Note the empty seats behind us. Those are reserved for the severe dog handlers, the ones who believe gun dogs should be kept outside on a chain. Those types of guys take all day to get a few birds because the simple fact is that their dogs hate them. I come from the school of thought that allows your lab to sleep in your bed with you, the dog-in-the-bed school. In the dead of winter we're all dreaming of ducks and pheasants.