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 2ยบ 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.

give back

there were twelve of them altogether. we taught them about biology and habitat. we taught them how to reload their own shells. we taught them about dogs and the relationship we have with them as hunters.

an olympic shooter showed up and gave them tips and each and everyone of them broke more clays afterwards.

we walked with them at arms length through the fields. each one of them watching a dog work for the first time. we talked in calming tones to kids whose hands were shaking with anticipation, excitement and apprehension.

each time the dogs locked on point their confidence grew.

with vests heavy under the weight of success and cheeks marked lightly with blood of their first animal killed. the group that started off the morning painfully quiet, chattered and laughed and wildly exaggerated tales of what had just happened.

today i hope we started some of these kids on the path to becoming a hunter. whenever possible, give up some time and make sure you are passing on what you can.

disconnected

i had been looking at the sun, checking the time on my phone and thinking about the light we had left. i'd had the phone for a long time.

then the sun crested the ridge. it was hot both in temperature and quality. maybe some underwater shots. i put my phone in the pocket of my waders and crept through some tall grass along the bank to a pod of risers holding in a foot of water. eventually one ate a small parachute.

with the fish comfortably resting in the frame of an immense boat net we all shuffled to deeper water. i stood chest deep next to my coworker who was in a dry suit and holding thousands of dollars of gear. our feet resting among the long, waving greens growing from the stream bottom. the fish was beautiful. our angler somehow whispers the fish calm with her touch. we shoot and shoot. the fish slips away and we wade ashore. i say thank you to everyone for the hundredth time in 4 days.

i look at the sun and think about the next move. i reach into my chest pocket to check the time. it was full of water. my phone, a buff and a couple of pieces of old, tangled tippet all got a solid washing.

although there were two professionals capturing everything from sun up to sun down. i had been taking piles of snap shots for myself. i laid in the grass and realized that my simple oversight had to let those memories go.

after the work was done and i was just fishing for myself. i found that i held some trout just a little longer than usual. i was trying to burn their iridescent colors and shapes into my mind.

the brief disconnect worked out fine in the end. i returned home with only one frame from from the entire trip but with a head full of images.