Skulldoggery

elk

One of the lessons I’ve learned as an extremely mediocre fly fisherman is to be willing to work areas that others don’t.  Because if you put my ordinary skills on a virgin pool with naive fish, I’m a really super good fisherman.

Out of orneriness or just not knowing any better, I’ve been taking the same approach to quail hunting.  Quail hunting is supposed to be a sport of gentlemen, casual strolls with pipes and brandy in tweed coats, expensive antique guns with wood burl stocks, led by a salt-of-the-earth guide on someone’s private spread, but I just don’t have the patience (or taxable income).

What I want to do is find wild birds in a wild land.  That’s what I find most enjoyable.  I want to see critters doing their own thing on their own terms, and if I can get birds (or deer, or elk, or pronghorn, or javelina…) on those terms then I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and gotten closer to earning their sacrifice and protein.  A form of penance, perhaps.

It is usually easiest to find these wildeor (self-willed beasts) in places that people don’t visit.  Sometimes it is a matter of mileage.  Sometimes it is a matter of thinking, “Geez, I wonder what’s on the other side of that hill, off the trail, that no one ever seems to go.”

I am no mountain man or commando, but I am curious, and that curiosity will kick my feet uphill.  Sometimes it pays off.

A lot of preamble.  Short of it this past weekend I followed an elk trail 1,000 feet up over a ridge and found a high bowl, with water, forage, and cover.  There were many birds and the pup and I spent some time chasing them.  I don’t think anyone had been up there for months, as the full bull elk skeleton with antlers I stumbled upon suggested.  Nobody would leave that there.

In terms of the pup, he continued his Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde routine– finding birds in a passion, but then wilting after a couple shots are fired.  I’m a fool, I know, I need to back off and start back at zero with the gun.  But it’s so hard to leave him behind.  Again, patience is not a strength of mine.

So I got some birds.  I got this bull skull rack.  And the wildeors indulged my presence for a little while, and I got to pretend I was breathing the same air as them.  Which is enough to get me through another week until I can come back.

PS- while in the trailhead parking lot a young guy in a truck with federal plates rolled up.  We got talking, turns out he’s a BLM ranger for the area.  He was out there that Sunday morning cleaning public restrooms in his spare time as a volunteer— because they “don’t have the budget to hire people to do this full-time.”  The next occasion I hear someone bitching about public lands or federal employees, I’m going to think of this young ranger, and suggest the complainer grab a goddamn toilet brush and/or vote for someone who will appropriately fund the management of our nation’s great outdoors.

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