one degree farenheit
minus thirteen windchill
the dogs and I walk in the woods under the waning moon
huge Orion watches our frozen breath
ice crystals sparkle in the headlamp glow
fallen leaves crunch underfoot
shoulders hunched against the penetrating cold
we amble back to the cozy house
birch logs crackle in the flickering fireplace
the canines seem impervious to it all
I am not ready yet
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
In those golden olden days of the 1960's and 70's when I was a kid and then a young adult, I hunted mostly with my old man and uncles, who were about as avid as it gets. Those guys were rabid about killing ducks, hunting every weekend of the season - legendary for the amount of lead they ran out the ends of their shotguns. I had a couple of high school chums who liked the blood sports as much as I did, and we emulated those guys. We strove to be even greater killers than our fathers. Limits of ducks were expected and indeed the norm. Anything less was considered a failure, primarily related to poor shooting skills or that "the flight isn't really quite in yet".
There was considerable effort applied to getting out and after the ducks, of course. Boats, decoys, blinds, hundreds of rounds of handloads, and sundry gear were constantly in the flux of the packing and unpacking mode. But we didn't have dogs or camouflage clothing or specialized guns for three inch and longer shells or internet, up to the minute location/migration reports or spinning winged decoys or any of the myriad consumer/capitalist junk available to today's hunter.
I remember fondly sitting on the patio behind my parents house with Brother Fife one October afternoon, plucking, waxing, gutting, and wrapping 48 lesser scaup - a four man legal limit of bonus bluebills. We had brought my portable record player outside and were spinning "In-a-gadda-da-vida" over and over, breaking our cleaning chore for the drum solo each time it came around. Iron Butterfly - those were the days.
I think we probably took it for granted that if we went to a place of decent habitat during the open season we were going to blast a bunch of ducks. The only real issue was competition from a few other hunters for the best spots. But even the secondary spots produced good shooting - or the other guys would leave upon getting their limit, and then you could have the best spot!
In 2011 I killed one duck, last year six, and this year three. Zip.................Beep....................
It all started to go down the shitter in the 80's and there is much to consider about what happened and why. But of course I'm not inclined to think that much can be done to reverse course - I am nothing, if not a bleak curmudgeon. I stopped giving full effort to the game twenty years ago, after too many outings with nary a trigger pull. Deep inside though, I wasn't really into the killing. Rather, I loved watching the pitch and roll of the birds dropping from the heights, the tornado flocks of northern mallards, the jostling of big fast flocks of bluebills, trying to avoid bumping into each other as they buzzed the decoys - and the sky ripping rush of air that only northern ringnecks can create!
There used to be birds in the sky over northern Minnesota in the fall. To watch and to shoot.
Now rare, watching the flight is still magical.
But it's pretty damned hard to find!
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Monday, November 11, 2013
Sunday, November 10, 2013
I had intended to hunt the ridge above the lake on the opening morning of deer season. A line of scrapes had led me to think that there might be some action up high, where the view is good. The weather did not cooperate however, bringing hard and gusting winds from the northwest, exactly the wrong direction for any chance of concealment along that narrow spine of land. So I sat instead under a low hill about a mile east of the ridge, jack pine and aspen clunking and cracking in the cold morning wind. A doe and her fawn briefly showed on the trail, but soon disappeared before any chance for a shot was presented. The hunt was over for the day in less than two hours, the wind too fierce for much movement.
Sunday morning dawned calm, with a change in forcast wind direction - south east would do. The low hill again produced nothing , so at mid morning I took a hike up to the ridge above the lake. Halfway in, a yearling doe trotted up the hill about 75 yards ahead. Close behind was its twin.
The rifle shot did not seem loud, nor the recoil heavy, but the yearling doe dropped like a stone at the report. I walked forward. Both deer lay in the middle of the trail on the ridge above the lake. I watched as the life poured out of them. Red stains on the forest floor and steaming breath into the morning air. An ear twitch, the shake of a head, then a couple of rear leg kicks. Several minutes passed before the last movement stopped. I watched. Three or four very long minutes. Standing closely in the presence of death.
There was no laughter, no high five, no cheering nor congratulation, only the sound of the freshening wind in the birch tops and the hooting of the tundra swans as they pushed south through the pale November sky.