Wingbeats and Heartbeats
Essays on Game Birds, Gun Dogs, and Days Afield
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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I suppose I was eight or nine when Dad and Uncle Hal gave in to my pleading and let me tag along on one of their Saturday ruffed grouse hunts. Of course, my dad and uncle didn’t call these birds “ruffed grouse,” nor did anyone else in the west- central...
Completing the Picture
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Brittanys and woodcock seem to belong together, perhaps because they knew each other back in France, the ancestral home of the little “poacher’s dog.” In France, where the woodcock is known as the becasse, he is still hunted with Brittanys,...
Humbled by Huns
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eased around the corner of the abandoned ranch house and squinted into the warm October sun. My gaze swept quickly over the rusting farm machinery and the dilapidated stable. Except for a light breeze rustling the golden leaves of a cottonwood,...
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Cocking a quizzical eyebrow over a squinched- down blue eye, the old rancher sputtered, “Sharp-tailed what?” “Sharp-tailed grouse, you know, the brown prairie birds with the pointed . . .” “Oh, you mean chickens !” he interrupted. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”...
Chukars Aren’t Easy
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We used to rest on the west side of the Salmon River near Grangeville, Idaho, look across at the vertical slopes rising from the narrow fringe of sandy beach on the east side, and shudder at the prospect of hunting there. The slopes...
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The Arizona desert can be a daunting place when the wind blows. Joe Elliott and I had driven south from Montana in January for a week of Gambel’s quail hunting, and had set up camp on public land about thirty miles north of the small town of...
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Remember that old Simon and Garfunkel tune, “The Sound of Silence”? If you’re using your ears to follow a Brittany’s bell through manzanita brush and live oaks along the Mexican border, silence is a wonderful sound. It means you may be...
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We got up before dawn to let the dogs out of their travel crates and greet the new day—the first morning of a long- awaited January quail hunt in southeastern Arizona. Steve McMorran and I had left the cold and snow of...
Hunting the Sagebrush Sasquatch
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Try to shoot a young one,” I said. “They’re the best eating.” Thus I advised my hunting partner, Joe Elliott, as we stood watching the sun creep over the horizon and paint the eastern Montana prairie in shades of gold. We’d driven from our...
Judge Owen Denny Day
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Last August Joe Elliott caught me off guard. “What are your plans for Judge Owen Denny Day?” he asked. He had that smug look he gets when he makes a long crossing shot on a rooster pheasant. The electrical impulses in my brain hiccupped a few times and...
An Ammunition Maker’s Best Friend
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First a downwind zinger raced by and I shot behind it. Then an upwind floater tooled past, and I had the impression it wasn’t moving at all. I shot behind that one, too. My gracious host, Kansan Bill Nye, grinned. “You have to get that gun barrel...
Don’t Forget the Bear Spray
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Several western states lump blue grouse, ruffed grouse, and spruce grouse in their hunting regulations as “mountain grouse.” These birds may all live in the mountains, but that’s where the similarities end. A mature male blue grouse can weigh...
A Lonely, Wild Bird
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There’s a little town called Rothsay in western Minnesota where I often stop on my cross- country travels. It’s on Interstate 94, not far from the North Dakota line. A truck stop just off the freeway serves up a mean country breakfast, but best...
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We rarely ran into bobwhite quail when I was a kid growing up in west- central Wisconsin. We must have been at the northern edge of the bobwhite’s range, because when we hunted counties south of Eau Claire we would...
Helpers in the Hunt
A Dog’s Life
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While packing for a duck hunting trip last fall, moving gear from the house to the truck, I carelessly left the kitchen door ajar. Preoccupied with my chores, I didn’t notice that my two- year-old black Lab, Bailey, had slipped out of the...
Dogs May Be Smarter than We Think
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Scientists don’t credit dogs with great reasoning power, but I’ve had things happen in forty years of following gun dogs that have given me pause for thought. I once had a young Brittany named Sally who didn’t care much for retrieving but had a burning...
Bird Dogs and Buzztails
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My Brittany, Chief, was on point, and I had walked past him, a little to one side, until I was ten yards in front. When no birds flushed, I turned to look back at him. He rolled his eyes up at me, then broke and rushed forward a few...
Strange Happenings Afield
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My black Lab Maggie and I were hunting along Box Elder Creek in eastern Montana when she charged into a wild rose thicket and nosed out a rooster pheasant. The bird dropped a leg when I shot but continued flying up the creek...
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There are a couple of truisms about old dogs and old duck hunters. One is that if you are a twelve- year-old Labrador retriever, the cold, dark water of late November looks a little less inviting than it once did. The other is that if you’re a hunter...
Rite of Passage
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While my veterinarian friend Steve Sekerak studied my thirteen- year-old Lab’s X- rays, I studied Steve’s face, looking for a sign of hope. I didn’t see one. When he finally spoke, his words hit me like a sledgehammer. “Jenny’s riddled...
People and Places
A Nose for Valley Quail
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I was jinxed, hoodooed, skunked, and snakebit. Over the years I had bagged bobwhite, scaled, Gambel’s, Mearns, and even mountain quail. But valley quail (also called California quail)...
Longtails and Liars
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I think enough time has passed that I can tell this story without fear of electronic surveillance or a full- press audit from the IRS. Some forms of gambling are illegal, but judging by the number of office pools in progress during the NCAA basketball...
Taking One for the Team
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The other day I was digging around in the desk drawer where I put things I can’t bring myself to throw away and I ran across an old birthday card from a couple with whom I bird hunted for many years. Printed in England, the card features a drawing of a scowling Englishman decked out in hat, shooting coat...
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I was looking out my office window in Helena, Montana, watching it snow when the phone rang. “Hello.” “Dave, it’s Joe. You aren’t gonna believe this.” “Believe what? Where are you?” “I’m on my cell phone. I’m sitting here looking at the Conservation...
Country Folks and City Slickers
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As a lifelong pheasant hunter I’ve knocked on a lot of doors to ask permission to hunt. Most of the time the response has been a polite yes or no, and maybe a short conversation about the weather. But once in awhile a knock on the door has introduced me to a memorable character, and sometimes it has marked...
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The Milk River originates in Glacier National Park and meanders eastward, partly in Canada and partly in north- ern Montana, about 700 miles to its confluence with the Missouri River north of Fort Peck Reservoir. On his way west with the Voyage of Discovery in 1805, Meriwether Lewis named the river...
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If I had to choose one hour of the day to hunt pheasants with a dog, I’d take the last hour. Birds are active then—filling their crops, picking grit, and moving toward roosting areas where they’ll settle in for the night. As the air cools, scenting conditions...
Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 10 drawings
Publication Year: 2014