passing time

one holiday rolled into the next. the snows came and reveled secrets all around. they also tucked the birds in tight and often my vest was heavy with success. then the snows melted and then froze and then every crunching step was like a warning siren. when we did find birds, i would miss. most days the only thing we carried home were the corn cobs i pick up for the squirrel feeder. i had changed chokes when the birds started to flush further and further out. it was a mistake and after a switch back things came  into focus again.

i don't ski and i don't like to shovel either, but i do look forward to snow storms for hunting birds. some mornings after a fresh dusting discloses all the comings and going we rarely get to see, tracking mice through corn fields with my kids is just as fun as anything else i can think of.

my dog has hunted hard each and every day. it's our 3rd year together and we still bicker over the little things. we spent more days plodding through fields then ever before and he's the one who took the brunt of it. he's blown pads on his feet, racked up a list of cuts that never got a chance to fully heal, got a face full of cactus, somehow managed to get a bruised and infected rib... and when that snow builds up on him and he's running around with chest balls, he won't even look me in the eye. he's the best hunting buddy i've ever had.

walking miles for birds has worked it's way into my being but there are times when it's better to sit and let them come to you. so we did from time to time and i spent those days with a guy who can sweet talk them into a bad situation like no other. it's fun to watch and duck poppers taste pretty good.

i know it's too early to act like winter is gone but as the temps reached into the 40's, the alarm was set for 3 am. tailwaters are as good a place as any to spend the day when winter eases it's grip. my first trout of the new year was healthy rainbow who eat a pheasant tail spun the night before from one of many regal tails gathered under the cold, dark skies of this season.

i'm not sure what this year will hold for us but i do know that one day rolls into the next, one year into another and the only thing worth doing is trying to fill them up with things that matter.

miles

i'm trying to embrace it this year. i'm trying to be present in the season.

nothing is permanent and i don't want to look back at the opportunity to chase these
wild birds with regret. there is too much to regret already.

but no matter how far i try to walk, it seems that those distant waters won't stop calling to me.

portrait of a bad hunter

don't be this guy.

the artic airmmass brought winter at us like a fastball to the ribs. there was no time for your blood to thicken. we all had to pile on the layers and get used to sleeping with cold feet.

"it'll bring the ducks." "it'll bring the pheasant into better cover" it'll do this and it'll do that.

i listen to the people around me because the spot i have chosen for my current employment is chock-fucking-full of experts on all things outdoors. and by that i mean there is a handful of knowledgeable folks and a shit pile of blowhards. unfortunately it's hard to tell at first because some people are particularly skilled at creating their own mythology.

since the opening of pheasant season, my dog and i have started to struggle again. mostly because i've come to the realization that i'm a shitty pheasant hunter.

so if it was true or not, we were going to find out if the freezing weather might help a shitty hunter like myself. at 5am with high hopes i pulled on a couple of jackets and drove to a spot i had scoped on the map.

the thermometer read 2º as we coasted to a stop...

...and then i made all the wrong choices. picked the wrong direction to walk so my dog was at a disadvantage. the gloves i had brought were too thin and the wind made them irrelevant. the first rooster that got up was maybe 15 yards away and my numb fingers and arms did not respond to the messages my slow brain was sending. then i whiffed on the next bird. then the dog was steady on a group of hens that beckoned him to follow. then a single rooster went up and i could only watch because i was frantically fucking with my glove for fear of losing my fingers all together and then my dog wanted to go one way and i didn't follow and then another rooster got up....

...so if there are any good pheasant hunters out there that want a good flusher to hunt with i'm not above pimping him out. he wants birds... god he wants birds. he'll listen to voice, whistle and hand signals for commands. he's kind of an asshole at heel because he'll whine the whole time but who can blame him, he's forgotten what it's like to have birds shot over him.

rest

we hunted hard for a couple days. out of the pair of us he hunted much harder. pheasant season opened and temps crept close to 80. after two sweaty days of wading through dry autumn fields we sat in the shade of the truck drinking water and both of us were content to call it good. back at headquarters i pulled burs from his fur and that's when I realized the pad on his left foot was blown. a tough start to the season. while he has been resting i've been filling blank pages and giving my pen a work out and hoping for some quick healing.

locals

on a warm fall sunday i'm feeling overworked and tired. i slip down across the border. the windows are down. the music is loud. it's been dry so the dirt road disappears in my wake. i pull into an empty lot and listen to a pheasant cackle in the marsh. i lose count within the first hour. all the fish eat the same fly. at times i'm shocked by how hard it is to pull my feet free from the sucking mud. the soft bottom wants me to stay. so i do.