Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in S. Tx

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas. Ours was spent with my Aunt, Uncle, and cousins down in South Texas. A little quail shooting, a little duck hunting and lots of time with family. In keeping with the major theme of this blog, some outdoor scenes follow.

Shelby the English Lab getting her boots on:


Later, a tired girl:


and no wonder, she had a busy day with lots of retrieves on both water and land:
video

Bull Nilgai skull:


and an example of the whole animal:


As you can see, there is a lot of water down there right now, which is how we came to be duck hunting. Wading out into flooded brush:



Black bellied whistling duck:


and a brush country sunset:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Leaky Waders

Anyone who has spent much time fishing or hunting in waders probably has a few leaky wader stories. Heck, John Gierach even got a book title out of the subject, one which lets you know the joy of the experience.

For a long time I didn't really use waders. No waterfowling and fishing meant either a boat or wet-wading small streams. Once you get into the creek, your feet go numb and you can't really tell all the violence being done to your toes by bashing around the rocks in the stream bottom (old tennis shoes are the preferred footwear for this) and to your shins by sharp rocks and sticks. Older if not wiser, and also fishing some larger streams more often, I've now worked my way through a few pair of waders and hip boots.

Sometimes it is a little hard to determine whether you have a leak for the first bit of time. With older style rubber waders you might be too cold to tell for sure that you were getting wet, at least until you could feel the water sloshing around in one of the boots. Nowadays, neoprene waders breathe so little and allow so little air exchange that condensation is always a factor. If the weather is warm at all or if you do any work out of the water but in your waders, you'll be well dampened with sweat. Sometimes it's bad enough that you wonder whether you're getting any water-proofness at all from the waders or just insulation. Sniff a sock to determine whether you're dealing with sweat or river water.

The first pair of neoprenes I had, I ran a hole through the leg on one of the evil little willow pungi sticks beavers tend to leave stream side. The darned rodents tend to bite off pencil to fishing rod diameter willows in one or two cuts, on the bias, at six to fourteen inches off the ground. The flexible, sharpened stake that results is one of my least favorite things about beavers. The vertical holes they sometimes dig in riverbanks is another less favorite thing, but that's another subject. In any event, those neoprenes were a lot more fragile and I was pretty surprised when the stob slid right into them. Worse, I was winter fishing in the Rio Grande Gorge and got the hole on the far side of the river from my truck. Wading across twenty yards of icy river is a lot harder when you KNOW you're going to have a cold wet foot by the time you reach the far bank. In any event, once patched those waders gave good service and demonstrated to me the value of neoprene for winter fishing and hunting.

Hip boots seem less likely to spring leaks, but get you wet by inspiring untoward optimism. No matter how small the stream, I always seem to find a hole or crossing that is just an inch deeper than my hip boots are tall. A corollary is that ducks on stock ponds always fall dead just a little deeper than your hip boots. In an experience contrary to the latter observation, a few years ago I was visiting Texas for Christmas and hunting ducks in flooded brush. I borrowed a pair of hip boots from my dad ("No, really, son, I've got a spare and there's no need for you to lug all that down here") and we had a great time, apart from the fact that the rubber was disintegrating on the hippers I was wearing and, by the end of the day, they were mostly useful for holding water in as you tried to wade out. Fortunately, the water and air temps were fairly warm. Two days later, for Christmas, I got a new pair of hip boots. Dad figured letting me hunt wet was worth not spoiling the surprise.

This year marks the first season for a new pair of 5mm neoprene waders, just the thing for chilly duck hunting mornings and winter fishing. It's only recently that I've started to use them, as it hasn't been that cold most of this season. Despite being new, the first bit of deeper water I went across led to that creeping, chilly feeling.

I hate leaky waders:



it's going to be a bugger trying to patch that leak.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pheasants



This was our second year hunting pheasant up on the Texas Panhandle. Bird numbers were down some from last year, but we had a good hunt and a good time in the family venture.

My sister:


Although new to pheasant hunting, with only four days of it (and guided at that) under my belt, I can see why it is so popular. Not only are the birds large and beautiful (and tasty) but they can be very wary, flushing wild and flying hard. The rush and rattle of a pheasant rise isn't quite the same as a big covey of quail getting up around your feet, but it is pretty exciting.

Our hunt was complicated on both days by a brisk wind, hardly a surprise up there, but which added a lot of speed to the birds' flight once they got up and got going. We mostly hunted relatively small corners of CRP and playa bottoms surrounded by large fields of cotton, milo stubble, or winter wheat.



Guide Dane Swinburn and Hans the wirehair pointer getting an elevated perspective:




Back to ducks and the river, another plains trip ended.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

off

Off to see what sort of year the pheasants had on the Tx Panhandle. With any luck there'll be plenty of birds and we'll even get a few.

Have a good weekend!


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

numbers

Over at The Thinking Hunter, Galen Greer writes "Recently I was in a discussion with a non-hunter (as opposed to anti-hunter) and this simple question was put to me: 'if hunting is not necessary to obtain food then why is hunting allowed?' My answer was that 'hunting has, for many people, a psychological value that is important to their well-being. Also, the protection of the right to hunt, more specifically the choice about whether to participate in hunting or not to participate, is often equally important to the non-hunter as a guarantee of the recognition of fundamental rights which therefore provides them with a sense of well-being.'"
That sounds like a pretty good answer to me. I'll offer (unsolicited) another one and expand a bit upon a contention from my last post about this sort of thing.

In a world where "sustainable" seems to be a powerful buzz-word, the sport hunting of game and fish is a useful means of preserving habitat and ecosystems. Unlike other use classified as consumptive, sport hunting generally has little impact on land or wildlife populations, besides generating funds and advocacy for their preservation and maintenance.

"Why allow hunting?" is a corollary to "Why is hunting dying?". After all, why indulge the whims of a shrinking, aging minority engaged in an arcane practice? We hunters are concerned about numbers because we worry about our opportunity to hunt in the future and seek allies, hoping to be seen as a "vibrant subculture" rather than marginalized throwbacks to an (allegedly) less enlightened time. In looking for allies, the "environmental" ("environmentalist", "radical environmentalist", "conservationist" all loaded terms) movement at large hasn't been a likely source of allies(here's a view from the other side) and the "shooting community" (scare quotes because I'm not certain of the extent to which it is a community) certainly isn't necessarily congruent with hunter's interests. After all, "hunting" doesn't necessarily equate with "guns". Accordingly, our best bet, perhaps, is to convince the vast non-hunting majority that our sport is also good work.

Economic arguments have been a powerful political tool for sportsman. One of the most compelling examples I can think of was the CCA (then the GCCA) campaign to stop the commercial fishing of redfish in Texas. The heart of their argument were economic analyses showing that while a fish caught commercially by net or trot-line resulted in only a few dollars brought to the state and local economies, that same fish was worth several times that if caught by a sport fisherman. With a limited and public resource, the highest, best, use of that resource was the one that brought the most dollars, argued the conservationists. The argument, while far from applicable to every situation, worked and similar arguments can make our case for us many times.

But see Aldo Leopold-
"When one considers the prodigious achievements of the profit motive in wrecking land, one hesitates to reject it as a vehicle for restoring land. I incline to believe we have overestimated the scope of the profit motive. Is it profitable for the individual to build a beautiful home? To give his children a higher education? No, it is seldom profitable, yet we do both. These are, in fact, ethical and aesthetic premises which underlie the economic system. Once accepted, economic forces tend to align the smaller details of social organization into harmony with them.
No such ethical and aesthetic premise yet exists for the condition of the land these children must live in. Our children are our signature to the roster of history; our land is merely the place our money was made. There is as yet no social stigma in the possession of a gullied farm, a wrecked forest, or a polluted stream, provided the dividends suffice to send the youngsters to college. Whatever ails the land, the government will fix it." Round River, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993, pp. 156-157.

Which gets us back to why hunting is important and should be allowed. Unfortunately, to the extent that there is an ethical or aesthetic premise for the condition of the land, it seems to be frequently based upon bad information and it isn't applied broadly enough. "Pretty" and "healthy ecosystem" aren't always the same thing. However, hunting can be a valuable means of developing that practical and aesthetic ideal for land of which Leopold wrote. Hunters require good prey populations and enough room to pursue that prey. In other words, decent and plentiful habitat. Much as I appreciate the contributions of time, money and voice by "non-consumptive" users of land and wildlife, I fear that for many of them any little remnant is adequate. They can be content to travel to Matagorda Island to see the whooping cranes, or to see a bit of preserved native prairie and the birds it hosts. If there are some parks, a suburban hiking trail or three that will accommodate mountain bikes and hikers that offers a pleasant view and nothing charismatic going extinct at the moment they're pretty happy, it seems to me. However, to hunt we require more. More space. Healthy populations of game- which themselves require diverse and healthy ecosystems to exist for any length of time. Token patches of habitat, or a few parks, don't meet our (or animals', or ecosystems') needs.

Noted by Reid Farmer on Querencia, here is an excerpt from an Annie Proulx interview illustrating a bit of what I'm talking about: "Proulx liked the people she worked with, but she is not a fan of what she calls "sanctimonious environmentalists." She seems angry at their failure to save this place. 'We never, on all our trips to the Red Desert,' she says, 'ran into any of those people out there. How come the rest of us didn't know what was happening? There's a lot of talk and very little action. I don't like all the speeches and the glossy pamphlets.'"

I firmly believe (and generally find nonhunters somewhat surprised to discover) that hunting is important because it changes the way you look at things. You become invested in a piece of country as you hunt it. You appreciate it more. It is one thing to say "Gee, this area is really beautiful, it's my favorite hike/bike/ski trail" but if that spot is posted or subdivided, folks will just move on. They may mourn it, but it lacks the immediacy of loss that you feel when you have spent time learning how land is used by its other occupants, plant and animal, and see the change. Absent hunting to inspire the focus on land, most people just move through it without really seeing all that much.

As you hunt an area year after year you notice the changes for better and worse. Those changes are more noticeable because of your history with the place, the memories tying you to spots. This is the sort of thing that results in real ties and passionate advocacy for land. As the number of hunters shrink, so, too, will the number of people who really appreciate any given stretch of woods, prairie, or desert. For that matter, hunters are more likely to be in the ranks of those advocating for preservation of "useless" land like river bottom swamp, sagebrush flats, or desert.

So, anyway, there's another long-winded answer about "why allow hunting".

P.S. Lots of dividing going on in this post, what with references "hunters" "shooting community" "non-consumptive users" "environmentalists". Of course, in the real world most of us fall into many or all of those categories to different degrees at different times. The most promising group of hunting friendly (non hunting) folks I perceive right now are the cooks and chefs focusing on the source of their food, folks who read and talk about Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma". Bob del Grosso has been working on a farm this last year and, with fall and slaughter, doing a lot of thinking and writing about the consequences of eating meat. Pieces like this strike me as the writing of a person who groks how important hunting and the myriad connections it promotes can be. No surprise how often the subject of Michael Pollan and his books come up in various posts by the folks I read and have on my blogroll.

Monday, December 01, 2008

In which Luck plays a large part

So, this last weekend was a second chance at an elk hunt. The plan for this one was significantly dependent upon snow. The proclamation from the Game and Fish Department notes with respect to the hunting unit I had a tag for something to the effect of "Unit X features small and scattered populations of elk". In other words, don't just expect to find them anywhere. However, past experience has shown that a good snow or three will push elk off a big chunk of (legally) inaccessible property to the heads of some big canyons and a couple of large burns and to places where a fellow can get to them.

Unfortunately, our fall has turned out warm and dry, with only one snow on the mountains in question and that falling in the last week. Nonetheless, you have to get out there to get to them, so I set out early on Saturday morning. I met up with an Atomic Nerd (who'd also drawn a tag) and we embarked upon the A plan for the day, which involved heading up a shallow draw before the morning thermals started in order to glass a big canyon. No tracks in the snow, apart from a coyote or two, a deer, and a few rabbits. Most the way up, we met a couple of guys coming down. A brief conversation imparted that they had been to the top, hadn't seen any elk, and that there wasn't enough snow. One of the other hunters volunteered that a couple of years ago he'd been up at the top of the canyon and seen a whole bunch of elk, but there was about a foot more snow on the ground then. Well, hell. Me, too, buddy. Thwarted, and with one of us suffering from a bit of food poisoning ("a bit of food poisoning" is probably akin to "a bit pregnant" from the prospect of the sufferer) we headed down the hill to figure something else out.

Driving a loop along a couple of ridges revealed a few elk tracks, but not a whole lot of encouragement. Given the short time to hunt, I headed out on my own the afternoon to try to figure something else out. I ended up walking a fence line, looking for tracks and generally trying to get to a quiet place an elk might bed. I found a bit of sign, mostly from the day before. Finding where four elk had taken a walk that morning, I followed:



They wandered about a ridge top a bit, then headed back into private property and out of reach.



Well, crud.

I began to find a finger off the ridge to head down to a nearby road, hoping to find an elk or two bedded in the spruce along the spine of the slope. Before I had gone far, though, I heard a cow chirp off over the edge of the ridge, in a little bowl below a meadow (in the private stuff). I paused and listened, soon hearing another call. I headed back up to the ridge and the fenceline, then down that line into the edge of a bowl. Soon I could hear the elk moving below me, the amount of calling and commotion in the quiet cold mountain air indicating a decent-sized bunch. Although it was now late afternoon, the wind was fair for my purposes, blowing up the slope and keeping my scent above the elk. The rapid cooling as the sun headed down would change that, though, and I waited and hoped the elk would come down into legal territory before they winded me. A chilly bit later, I saw a couple of cows pass through a gap in the trees at the bottom of the draw below the bowl. Soon, I had five cows on a slope across from me and, very shortly after that, one was down and this winter's meat was assured, if not yet quite in hand.

Better still, by the time I got to her I discovered that, rather than being a half mile above the road as I thought, the curve of the ridgetop had brought me (and the elk) back within sight of it. A brisk forty minute walk brought me to my truck and a phone call garnered some welcome help. I drove back up to near the cow and filled and fired up a lantern, got on my headlamp and proceeded with field dressing. About the time the insides were out the cavalry arrived and skinning and all the rest went quickly. Meat now in hand and Sunday was spent turning it into little white packages.

I don't mind hard hunts and the odds weren't looking to good for this one, but I'll never look a gift elk in the mouth.




Update: a much more amusing account of the hunt in which Stingray channels Pat McManus can be found here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Micky

Reasonable minds might disagree, but I will venture that while puppies are always cute; bird dog puppies are more cute; vizsla puppies, with their loose skin and abundance of brow wrinkles for conveying expression are more cute still; while wirehair vizsla puppies, having all that plus an abundance of fuzz, might well be the cutest of all.

My sister's new pup, Micky, at 3 months:





Approximately 20% of his body mass appears to be feet:



Sheesh! He'll grow into them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

MRGV

Down on the middle Rio Grande, you can start off looking for ducks



most recently with little success, but some bag



and end up chasing quail (which can be tough to find) in your shirtsleeves.



Hard life.




Just beware the river ghost:



He'll charge by, splashing freezing water and mud in the dark.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

around the web again

Some of these are a little old.

Benefit of going to high school in France- you might get to eat really well.

Better than most accounts in the print magazines- a Dall sheep hunt in Alaska.

They might be "Best", but the first pair are just tacky. Apparently Slow Hand likes a single trigger. Via Dave Petzal's Field & Stream blog.

Also from Field & Stream, this time a link on the "Field Notes" blog leads to one of the best "close encounter" videos I have ever seen.

In the dwindling Sacramento River salmon run, a big one got away and managed to contribute its genes to another generation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hunting in a Digital Age

As mentioned in their Field Notes blog, Field & Stream has made available on-line an article about "Why Johnny Won't Hunt", which looks at the continued decline in the number of hunters and the aging of the hunting population. This is one of those perennial discussions amongst hunters, at least as far as I can recall (over three decades of hunting, now- looks like I'm one of that aging demographic). Another evergreen subject is "gadgets are ruining the sport and people are relying more on equipment than knowledge or skill", something Aldo Leopold was concerned about in 1941, long before ATV's, 4-wheel-drive trucks, optical sights, range finders, compound bows, or camouflage were common or even available. A third such subject is "why hunt?".

The F&S article is a good one that takes a look at the competition for peoples' time and money as well as increasing urbanization, rather than just blaming video games or "kids today". As an aside, here's an interesting discussion of video games and kids today. On point, NorCalCazadora has looked at the declining number of hunters (she spends a lot of time examining hunter/public issues) and over at Querencia, Matt Mullenix has brought up and discussed the issue and also shows some of his own efforts to maintain the tradition.

While hunters are in competition for what feels like a fairly scarce resource, that is to say- places to hunt, and fewer hunters on "my" river or elk mountain feels like a good thing we can't really afford to become too unusual. As our numbers decline hunting will become an increasingly marginalized activity and hunters' ability to gain the ear of resource managers will go away. Even worse, as fewer resource managers and politicians even know anyone who hunts or what all is involved, they won't even have any idea how to address our needs or take advantage of the resources we can contribute. For that matter, no other advocacy group can match hunters' record when it comes to preserving habitat and wildlife. If we apex predators disappear, there will still be whitetails, coyotes, squirrels, raccoons, and other wildlife, but I'm not so sure about mule deer, bighorns, prairie chickens, or a host of other species.

I certainly don't have any answers or thoughts beyond those offered at the links above, other than to say that habitat loss and increasing population are surely the largest causes of our woes. I've only introduced a couple of people, both my own age, to hunting. I suppose more is required. As a general rule it seems inadequate to want to be left alone, rather, you have to advocate for anything you enjoy or else someone is going to come along and take it away or mess it up.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Season in Progress

Duck season has been open for a couple of weeks now and we've been out for it a few times. At the open, the trees were still in nearly full color:



but this last weekend it was finally cold enough for frost to form on the vegetation and on the Chessie:





Nonetheless, and as usual for our southwest duck hunts, bluebird weather has been the rule.





Lots of debris in the river keeps wiping out decoys and requiring that they be re-set.



Wait, what's missing from all this?

That's right: ducks!
Few birds seem to be down our way so far and hunting has been very slow. The first couple of weekends also suffered from lots of other hunters being on the river. Some of those other hunters set up unfortunately close to us, an inevitable complication on public land and a real annoyance. That's just the price of free access.
I haven't come up with the killer set so far, but then so few ducks have looked at my attempts that it has been pretty hard to tweak the spread. Consequently, Booker has only had a few retrieves. Last weekend, a single bunch of teal tolled in and he got a chance to retrieve the drake I knocked down.



Despite the lack of shooting it has been an interesting season so far and I'm optimistic that we'll start getting into birds as more make their way south and we refine our game. I hope everyone else's fall is going as well.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Pickles

Recently we had our first freeze. Pretty late this year and following on a warm fall. A had scads of tomatoes coming off, particularly cherry tomatoes, so in addition to picking the green tomatoes to ripen in newspaper we decided to try something new and use some of the green cherries for pickles.





We added pearl onions and a couple of strips of yellow hot pepper to a basic dilled tomato pickle recipe. Here's the mis en place of the spices and onions to go in each jar:



Canner coming to a boil:



No pictures of the actual canning process, we were way too busy stuffing jars, pouring the hot pickling liquid over the fruit and then getting the jars closed and into the canner to take any photos. It was an interesting process and, with any luck, a tasty result and a good way to take advantage of some garden excess.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Award

Thanks to Chas over at Southern Rockies Nature Blog for nominating SFA for a "Superior Scribbler Award", which is one of those meme-ish sorts of things where one names five other blogs you think worthy. While I'm confident there are more than five other worthy blogs, this meme has been over at the Atomic Nerds, who tagged the Querencia crew, who named Chas and other good bloggers. So, I'm not going to tag anyone. I will say, check the blog roll over there on the right side. If I'm going on-line, I'll check SRNB and Querencia first thing, cruising their blog rolls for amusement. I really admire Fat of the Land, Hunter Angler Gardner Cook, and Trout Caviar for their commitment to using natural ingredients that they've hunted up themselves in creative and respectful ways and writing about it in a compelling fashion, in addition to their posting of good recipes. For that matter, I like dog blogs and it's pretty hard to beat the red dog adventures over at Regal Visla or the falcon and Brittany duck hunts at Operation Desert Dove. If I were going to nominate folks, those would be the ones and they're welcome to consider themselves nominated if they choose.

Friday, October 24, 2008

In which I am a bad hunting partner

So, a Friday or so ago I was sitting at my desk at work when I got a call from a buddy in Denver. "Hey", he says, "Chris is on the mountain and he can't find you guys." I respond "Well, that's because the season doesn't start until next week." After a little discussion, I checked the proclamation to discover, to my dismay, that our elk season started in about sixteen hours rather than in a week. I'm not certain how or when I mis-calendared the hunt, but it was months ago and I was caught a bit flat-footed. I've never done anything like that before and hope never to make such a mistake again. As soon as I got home I threw things together in preparation for the hunt.

Booker makes his bid to pack his toy and have the dog go, too:


Despite staking out the duffel with the hunting clothes and staying right with it, he was unsuccessful in that request. Early the next morning, I headed north and west.
Driving up:



and over the mountains:



I got to Grand Junction, where my father flew in. Unfortunately, his duffel (with boots, sleeping bag, and other necessities) didn't make the flight and he had to make the four hour trip to retrieve it the next day. In the meantime, racing fading daylight, we headed up into the hunt area.

Up the canyon, where we saw bighorn sheep:



We haven't seen the sheep in there before. I'm not sure if they're recently transplanted or we just got lucky. I'll have to see if the DOW has anything on its web site. We also saw a covey of chukar down in the private lands in the canyon, but they were a bit too fast to get any photos of them. Such pretty birds, and large, too.
In any event, we got on up into hunting country:



and met up with our hunting companion and got set up. The next morning, we headed out into bluebird weather to hunt. It's big country up there, miles of oakbrush, aspen, pinyon and even spruce:



Even with lots of hunters, they kind of disappear into the space. Look in the center for the little orange dot:


Here's a little spring that was dug out probably forty years ago. The track leading up to it had trees five inches thick growing in it:



The water lies right up behind where we camp and the draw next to it nearly always has bear scat and turkey sign in it. That was true this year, which appears to be a very good one for acorns and pinyon nuts, which ought to help all the wildlife carry through the winter well.

I say a small bunch of cow elk at a bit over 500 yards, but they headed another direction and I wasn't able to get closer to them. Apart from close encounters with a couple of mule deer bucks, that was about it for game for me. My father picked up some grouse and our buddy had one great evening where he saw several elk including a couple of nice bulls. No elk were harmed on this hunt, though. The grouse had crops full of acorns and rose hips, which ought to make for some very tasty birds.

Glad I have a back-up elk hunt in NM next month. Now I just need to check the dates on that again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An exercise in exercise

This past weekend Booker and I headed up to the very northern part of the state to take a last crack at grouse. We got an early start, finding a warm, breezy, and humid morning as we loaded into the truck. As we went north the clouds lowered and gathered; hardly prospective for bird hunting. By the time we got to where I intended to hunt, we couldn't see the top of the ridge for the dark clouds scudding through the sky and rain showers were marching up from the south and west. Weather up there nearly always comes out of the west and if the trend is from the southwest, it is nearly always wet. After three hours on the road, we were faced with the decision whether to head up into likely rain and poor hunting or to turn around and go home without putting boots on the ground. We chose to go up and, before we'd made it across the mile and a half to the foot of the ridge, I had to pull on rain gear in the face of a chilly, sideways drizzle.

In a lifetime of hunting and fishing less than optimum conditions are bound to come up. You drive out to the water only to be confronted with chocolate-colored waves that are too rough to fish well and too off-color to hold many fish, or you get to the river to find that a sudden warm spell has dumped a bunch of cold, muddy snowmelt into it, turning off the fish and stopping any hatches, or get to the lake to be confronted by a forty-mile-an-hour wind that renders fly-casting problematic and dangerous, that same wind can blow for an entire weekend if you're turkey hunting and silence the birds while killing your chances of calling one in, or you go out for grouse and find yourself in wet weather that puts the birds up cozy in nice thick spruce trees, rather than down on the ground where the dog can find them. In most instances I end up going ahead and trying anyway. After all, you're there and you've set the time aside; you might see something or have some success despite the poor conditions. Every so often, it works out. Most the time, you do about as well as one would expect given the look of things.

In any event, as Booker and I started up a finger ridge we got out of the wind and the rain (mixed with pea-sized hail now) let off. I was able to pull of the rain jacket and entertain the optimistic thought that the dampness would improve scenting conditions for the dog. This particular spot requires a good hard hour's worth of walking to get to the top where we generally find the birds. Nearly there, we spooked a small bull elk lying on a point in some aspens. I didn't get a good look, mostly a big tan body, blonde butt, and flash of antlers through the trees. As we topped out, I slowed down and immediately got cold and had to pull clothes back on as the mist and clouds began to precipitate a fine penetrating drizzle. Booker flushed a grouse off the ground some twenty yards out and the uncooperative bird lofted high and off the edge of the ridge, disappearing into the mist. No chance of following him up, but at least we are able to say we found game. We hunted around that area carefully, checking all the spruce nearby for birds huddling in their shelter and walking around the little openings but finding nothing, apparently he was a single.

As we pushed along the edges of the trees and through the little meadows it would rain more and then let off, not great weather but huntable. Then it began to darken precipitously and the rain set in much harder as the temperature dropped fifteen degrees. Despite pulling on a pair of light gloves, I was starting to lose feeling in the tips of my fingers and my cheeks were numb. The dog found it invigorating, much more to his liking than the warm sunny weather I had been hoping for. Nonetheless, I decided that we weren't going to do any good and headed down the mountain. Just as we started down a ridge leading toward the truck, thunder started rumbling and we began to see flashes of lightning. Up high you can really feel that stuff and some of the strikes were too close for comfort, causing even Booker to tuck his tail and glance over his shoulder, so we started seriously bailing down the hill, moving as quickly as loose rock and frequent blowdowns would permit. We made it back to the truck dripping wet after three and a half hours of walking for an hour's worth of hunting. At least we got out there, though. Heck, we even saw something.




p.s.- Can't recommend these Rocky waterproof birdshooters. Only four years old, they have leaked like sieves the last two seasons and I blew that top seam the other day. Comfortable and light, but not durable at all.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Passing by

The first fall season, that for doves, closed on September 30. Booker and I stole a bit of time on recent Sunday afternoon and got the heck out of town on a last minute hunt. It was really more of a scout than a hunt, as we went out to check a little corner of public land which looked like it might work for doves on paper, but which I'd never visited. Getting a late start, we left the house at four and were out of the truck a bit after five, ready for the evening shoot.

There was water, some trees for roosting, and about a hundred acres of pigweed, sunflowers, and other assorted dove foods in the area. Most of the sunflowers and such were chest high, though, which isn't a favorite for doves. After a bit, I saw a dove wing along next to a tall cottonwood, soon to be followed by five more in a loose bunch. We made our way down there and, sure enough, it turned out to be something of a flyway. There weren't very many birds and we were late, but we managed to scratch out a couple. We spent some time walking out in the sunflowers to see if we'd put any up and came across a big covey of blue quail. I'm not sure the dog had ever seen a quail flush before, as when they started buzzing up in his face he stopped, looking around in apparent surprise that birds would act that way and could be so loud. At least, that's what I projected from his behavior and my own recollection of my response to my first covey rise. Nonetheless, Booker's reaction resulted in a perfect reaction to a flush and I praised him heavily, hoping to encourage more such behavior.



Walking back to the truck we encountered another covey of blues. I saw them cross the road so, when we got to the right spot I sent the dog in and he flushed again in good form. I broke open my gun, not having seen a dove in a while, and thereby managed to miss the dusk flight of a couple of dozen birds. It's been a long time since I went out for doves and I had forgotten a few things.

Overall, it was about a perfect last minute try at a new place. Next year I'll probably head over there again- there weren't many people, birds should be around, and it's close enough to home to make a quick afternoon hunt viable.



Grouse season still has a couple of weeks to go and soon it will be time for big game and ducks. Looking around, it's pretty clear that fall is getting into full swing.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Pig Roast

Once again, we roasted a whole pig and had a few friends by. This last Saturday featured cool, cloudy weather and, later on, the first rain we've had in nearly a month. Plan a party....

In addition to the usual cast of friends and family, this year also featured a significant number of in-the-flesh appearances by a number of NM bloggers of things outdoor and ecclectic. It was awfully nice of all those folks to travel up and down state to socialize a bit. Though more-or-less local, Querencia country and the city of the Atomic Nerds are a good bit over a hundred miles away. No big deal on your way to a party, much less fun on the way home.

Here are directions for the method. This is the roaster, constructed out of stacked-up cinder blocks lined with foil for the first two courses. A sheet of metal, also covered with foil, goes in the bottom and you build a fire in each end, then rake the coals into the corners. Every forty minutes or so, you add more charcoal by removing a cinder block and dropping or tossing the charcoal onto the fire. Here's the roaster set up with the fire getting started:



My rack is built out of non-galvanized hog-wire, fenceposts, and lengths of rebar all wired together. Here's the pig after 24 hours in marinade, laid out and about to be wired into the rack:


Once the pig was securely fastened to the rack, we put it on the roaster and covered the whole thing with foil to keep the heat in. Booker kept watch over the pig:


Once the pig was off the fire, Booker also spent a fair amount of time under the carving station. At the end of the evening, I went to scratch his ears and noticed something stiff in his normally soft hair. It was fat that had run off the pig while we were carving and landed on his head as he scouted under the table for lost bits. While it didn't burn him, it was pretty disgusting and made him smell like barbecue instead of dog. The large-dog method of bathing was in order fairly promptly the next morning.

As it cooked, we occasionally wiped down the pig with a mojo of sour orange, garlic, black pepper, salt, and oregano:



Flipping the pig. The smallest pig I could get this year was 100 pounds which made this a bit of a chore and lengthened the cooking time quite a bit:






Testing- looks about done:



Cutting crispy skin for those who'd like a bite:




Getting into the meat of things:



Next year, a smaller pig and another hour or two on the fire. I want that meat falling off the bone. In the meantime, I have about twenty pounds of boneless roasted pork in the freezer. Now that the weather has turned cool, perhaps some red chile is in order.