I have to admit, I didn't put my time in this year. I lost my permission to a few duck places, and I didn't want to slog it out on the Platte River with the others. I've been spoiled by having access to great private land in the past. Those days are over. The thing about private land is that it changes hands, and people change their minds. Hunters think people are losing interest in the sport due to what kids are learning in the classroom, or they blame soccer and cell phones. But it's neither of those things. It's the lack of decent places to hunt that has made the sport dwindle. You can't build a duck marsh or an abandoned farm. Everytime you see and No Trespassing sign, view it as what it is, another kid lost to Facebook and e-cigs. Meanwhile, over in Nevada, Cliven Bundy has become a hero in his crusade against public land and public access. If it were up to him and his ilk, there would be no public lands at all. And then what would you do with your elk calls, your backpacks, your GPS? Pay attention to those extreme right-winders when they talk about Public Lands Transfer; they are serious. Below is a photo of your future.
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.