Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chukar Country

It was chukar season in the rimrock of Montana.

We were miles from any road it seemed, but chukar habitat in North America is generally not near agricultural land. So we did some serious driving in with the help of a sturdy four wheel drive to where we could hike in. Not for photos or fun, but stalking what was becoming, to me, as elusive as a steelhead trout. For we weren't hunting the "raised to be hunted" chukar, who can't run, can't fly and has all the cunning of of parakeet, lounging on it's shrubbery couch on a "preserve", somewhere flat. We were after the wild chukar.
The bird is known as chukar partridge, red-legged partridge, rock partridge, Indian hill partridge, kau-ka, keklik and, for people without spell check, chukka, chukkar, chukker, chuker, or chukor. The full scientific name of our subject is Aves Galliformes Phasianidae Alectoris Chukar.

The name comes from the sound they make, though like most game birds, the vocalizations are divided into the categories of alarm, courtship and social contact. The chuck, chuck, chuck is the most common call from both sexes that over time sounds more like a chukar-chukar, and can be heard from a surprisingly long distance.

Chukar were first introduced into North America in 1893 by W.O. Blaisdell from Illinois who imported five pairs from India. Alectoris chukar was introduced en masse during the 1930's and have established populations in all of the western states and into Canada. I was hunting in Carbon County, in Montana, where my family is from.

I've pheasant hunted in Iowa and I can't remember walking in so hard and so far to chase a little bird that, size wise, would be simply a snack to the average lumberjack. With pheasants you can hunt where it's flat, places good for aging knees and a hiker with an extra 20 pounds. Chukar? These boys like to live up near a ridge line that a goat would get altitude sickness at.

Chukar hunting is not for those that don't like to hike uphill.
This bird likes slope grades over 7 percent with a rise of at least 200 feet. It's also not for the hunter who is not prepared for a small bird that, when spooked, reacts like a pilot of a high performance aircraft, turning altitude into speed as he flies downhill faster than you can get your bead on him. There he is! Where'd he go? The chukar is not a shy little schooboy like the bobwhite. He's a elusive little guerrilla fighter. That's part of what makes a chukar hunt worth the cramping muscles, the blister and the dangers of high, crumbling elevations.

Our eyes searched back and forth, looking for sign. Chuker droppings naturally, or an area of possible roosts. Chukars roost on the ground, usually under an outcrop, or lacking that, some brush, the nests being little more than simple scrapes, sometimes lined with their own feathers or grasses. Spotting one of these will be like spotting a hint of sense in a legislative bill. Doesn't mean you don't try though. If there are nests, they will be within 2 miles of water and water was nearby.

From up above, the siren call, chuck chuck chuck, not laughing at me as some hunters say about the call, but rather bring it on, bring it on. Not a mock but a challenge, telling me come on up and join me, pit your forces against my world. A challenge I can't resist.
In Indian mythology, the Chukar sometimes symbolizes intense, and often unrequited, love, the chukar allegedly in love with the moon, sending out it's call to it's desire. It's a call I can not ignore.

I was hunting with friends from work, walking 40 yards apart or so, the dog forming a small four legged shadow to me, panting, eager. The tail began the wag. A sign that she smelled that extra treat in my pocket or there were birds in the area. A few loners, or a covey? A covey is formed of adults and their offspring, meeting up with other small groups around a common water source. You could easily see a hundred birds in a group like that. But this area had recently had a spring rain. With the rainfall, the birds would have likely scattered like leaves and those small groups remaining together would be the smaller and tightly knit family groups.

We knew well enough about the rain, we'd been caught in it. I don't care how hardy you are, there's nothing worse than a cold soaking rain when you're out in the wild, not expecting it. There's just NO getting warm. Movement is treacherous, the ground is a food sucking mess, alternating with slippery rock that would just as soon fling you down the mountainside, then give you a firm footing. The rain washes the scent from the air til even your dog starts getting cbored and cranky. It can be miserable. It can be mind numbing. The sensible thing to do would be to pack it in and go home and watch "Mythbusters". But when you look at the terrain of Chukar Country the word "sensible" just doesn't come to mind.

Today, though was cold but dry, so we continued until that moment came. It was the one I'd waited for, the dog going into point, the screech and a whistle of a bird too frantic to stay, exploding from an outcropping, diving down slope, green eyes looking up, looking down, and the burst from a 12 gauge echoing down the canyon. There was nothing left in the air but the shadow of motion and speed , the bird plunging to the ground 75 yards downhill. No one spoke. I stood, and there was only the snow, and the frigid air and the smell of gunpowder in the air.

The bird is small, hardly enough to feed the three of us, but that's not why we are here really. As a dense, gray feathered rocket bursts forth from the last hiding spot, I realize, it's not about the bird, it's seizing that last brace of freedom for both predator and prey.

From 40 yards to my 3 o'clock position comes an artillery of birds from a group of low shrubs. Guns raised, I simply wait, giving them their shot. Sharing with my friends that brief, unsubstantiated moment of glory that can not last, but will. Moments remembered in those quiet times when flesh hesitates to speak, but memory remains. Memories of the high country, a fierce little bird with many names. Chasing it down the draws that led me deeper into the wilderness of my heart.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One If By Land, Two If By Sea

My favorite gun range was flooded this month in the incredible rains that Indiana had. Atlanta Conservation Club. I've always felt welcome there, as a guest or a member. They regularly have open houses that are very family oriented and worth taking the time to go, to try your hand at the shooting events which are regularly a part of Club life.
Dang, I forgot the Mausers.
Our table was a little under the weather there in the photo but it should be up and dry now. (picture from 45shooter at webshots)
If range conditions permit and we don't have significant rain, the club will host their regular club IDPA match at ACC on Saturday, July 3rd. Check the website for further updates.

Someone did mention in one of the gun blog comments that the tactical guys shouldn't let a little water stop them. Swim fins? Check! But what about collecting the brass? We could get some Cormorants which the Japanese train to use for fishing and. . . . . . .
Hope to see everyone out there real soon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

.38 Things I Learned From Shooting

(1) Don't buy a new type of gun until you've had a chance to fire one of them.

 (2) Never try to keep more than 200 separate thoughts in your head during that first shot.

 (3) The less skilled the shooter, the more likely he is to come up to you at the range and criticize your grip.
 (4) No matter how bad that first target is, it's possible to be worse.

(5) The inevitable result of reading about how to improve your shooting is the instantaneous annihilation of that one critical unconscious movement that actually made you hit the paper in the first place.

(6) A steel plate shoot is a test of your skill against everyone else's luck.

 (7) Nonchalant shots count the same as chalant shots.

 (8) The shortest distance between you and that 12 point buck is the straight line that passes directly through the center of a big tree.

 (9) It's been said that bad shots come in groups of three. That fourth shot however, will be the beginning of that next group of three.

 (10) The first time you make a bulls eye you must subsequently make two shots not even close to the target in order to avoid altering the fabric of the universe.

(11) If you wish to shoot like a pro, it'll happen when no one is looking.

 (12) There is one important thing you can learn by stopping your shot before the trigger is pulled and checking the position of your hands on the grip. How many hands you have.

 (13) It's easier to get up at 6 am to go to the range, then it is to clean your gutters.

 (14) The most skilled shooter at the range is usually not the talkative person with the fancy gear, $200 range bag and tactical clothing. It's that quiet guy or gal in the T-shirt with the ammo cans. Watch them and learn.

(15) In hunting shots - trees attract, animals repel.

 (16) If you think it's hard to meet new people, try picking up someone else's brass.

 (17) If there's a storm rolling in, you're at the outdoor range.

(18) Sticks and stones may break your bones, but a .45 will kill you.

 (19) Shooting is not life or death. But one day it may be.

 (20) Ammo is like eggs. Unless you're a farmer with chickens that reload. It comes in small boxes and you need to buy fresh boxes each week.

(21) A shooter who hates to vacuum, dust or pick up their clothes will spend an hour carefully cleaning, oiling and packing their weapon.

(22) It takes more years to buy all the guns you want than it takes to be a doctor. But then again, try warding off a home invasion with a stethoscope and some Zyrtec and see how well you come out.

 (23) Just as a $30,000 bike and 300 miles doesn't make you a biker, a $1200 firearm and camo pants doesn't make you a shooter.

 (24) That new gun at the incredibly low price will come with the only magazine of its kind in existence.

 (25) Quail often wear little Kevlar vests under their feathers.

(26) Criminals obey gun laws as much as politicians obey their oaths of office.

 (27) Anyone who is mistaken for a bull moose and shot, probably shouldn't be in the woods anyway

 (28) Bullets don't multiply but they do migrate. (How did this stripper clip end up in my sock drawer).

 (29) Fast won't help you if you can't hit center mass.

 (30) If your gun collection includes a pair of nice .38's, refrain from discussing them in earshot of your minister.

 (31) I can say "Stop" in five languages. My .357 says it without a word.

 (32) Range cleavage attracts more hot projectile brass than male attention.

 (33) Paper is fun but metal makes that resounding plink of freedom.

 (34) Don't ever put your gun down to give a Grizzly a hug.

 (35) Coyote and fox instinctively know the absolute range of your firearm and will stand 6 inches past it.

 (36) The only equal rights amendment I need is the Second one. (37) Take all the time in the world to shoot, as long as you shoot first.


 (38) The zombies won't just shoot themselves you know.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A little bend in the road

Some days, no matter how beautiful the beginning, just go downhill. When left the house the other morning I was really tired and had a bit of a cough. I stopped by Speedway for my "bucket o brain freeze" bucket of brain and the Speedy Freeze machine was broken. Not good.

I had a day off after working last weekend, so after doing on some chores around my house, I noticed the AC was pumping out warm air. Not good. I'll call someone but I just didn't feel good. I felt like, in precise medical terminology. . . . Cat Poop. I stopped by to drop something off at one of the IND blog folks house to hear "Wow you're really hot" But not in a good way. I was burning up with fever and it showed.  I got some aspirin and went off home to see about getting some sleep, afraid I was getting a cold and not wishing to hang out til I gave it to someone.

The AC was still toast and I was coughing pretty badly so I went to a hotel nearby to sleep. Nice hotel with kitchen, $64 at Priceline. Thank you Captain Kirk. The fever went up during the night and I woke up coughing up blood. Off to the hospital. It's pneumonia. I didn't have a cold that turned into bronchitis that turned into this. From gee my throat is scratchy to lung x rays was less than 48 hours. My mom was hospitalized with it just a couple weeks ago, before she passed, it's not something to ignore.

However, once I got to the hospital place, I had my usual fun with the female doctor, an older lively sort, as I had no intentions of getting all worried and serious on everybody.

Doc S. - Brigid - what medications are you on?
Me - I had a vitamin shaped like a little race car yesterday.

Doc S. (sigh). What method of birth control are you using?
Me - Nudity and back to back episodes of Sex and the City seem to work.

Doc S (laughing) - You're quite ill and you're making me laugh, now STOP that.
Me - Watch that you don't trip over my purse there, it's full of Tribbles destined for Sick Bay.

She put up with me long enough to she got me squared away with something to let me breathe a little better, my tests showed I was down to Al Gore levels of required oxygen saturation, and after x rays they had me cough up some nasty stuff for the bacterial tests (they gave me a cup and a liberal magazine and put me in a little room to give my sample). After that I got some giant Biaxin tablets which I get to take a couple times a day for two weeks, an inhaler when I need it. No hospital stay after the first visit, just rest and sleeps and meds.
The Biaxin has a warnings for side effects such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shaking, difficulty sleeping, hallucinations, etc, etc, But the note says "the doctor has judged that the benefit outweighs the risk of side effects" Sounds like Health Care Reform in a tablet.

But, I know that for what I have, this is the right drug, and so far the only side effect I have is the one that says you may experience a bad taste in the mouth. I'm liking it to Haggis stuffed with lutefisk or lutefisk stuffed with haggis, but seeing as no one's going to be kissing me in the immediate future I guess I'm OK.

However, the AC is still out and won't be fixed for a couple of days. So I'll be a hotel for a bit while Barkley stays with friends who I don't want to infect, but welcome an extra dog around the house to play with the kids.
A hotel for a few days is not ideal. I'd as soon have a cabana boy bringing me a 7-up and fluffing my, er. . pillows, but I need to take it easy and not cough on anyone.My friends are checking on me and I will be just fine. My best friend even offered to come over in a nurse's outfit with the eye patch (as in Kill Bill). I can still laugh, that's a good sign. A couple weeks of horse pills, rest and fluid and I might even make it out to the range to try out my new Zombie Targets.
She sort of looks like I feel. Zombie Targets are from Bill's Guns up in MSP.

Monday, June 21, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different.

The photo brought up the words. Don't read any more into it than necessary :-) In actuality, I'm in Moose slippers waching Mythbusters.

The summer sky is scheming
as ravening thunder rumbles
your face distant in the mist
obscure as dark, rolling clouds
your voice in my ear, resonating
making me need

Lightning flashes, strikes
piercing my defenses
hard shafts of light
torching my earth
drops of rain
striking the earth like bullets
piercing my defenses

I long for your hand on
my damp skin
the wind coming in
hot breath on my neck
a gasp
then hard honeyed raindrops
impellent wetness
to soak the needy ground

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Letting Go- a Tale of Fiction and Truth

It was a blue shirt. Old, weathered, but not worn or laundered since it first took up residence in my closet. Worn on a Fall evening long ago.

Overhead, a sound passing by, the somnolent engine, the gnashing crunch of tires meeting gravel, the sound moving away, dying away, not to return. From somewhere close, a deep sigh, myself, or the wind in the trees, shivering stalks against the sky. Today will be tears, then tomorrow. But tears will eventually slow to a quiet seeping of dreams against a pillow in the night, muffled resignation that you hope no one sees traces of in the day. Days that grew round and monotonous, life slowing to one of quiet acceptance.

When someone leaves, you go through the motions of life. You endure your days, fueled by habit, filling up the hours and hope they're busy enough for you to fall asleep at night and not dream of the warm body that hasn't lain next to you for so long. It often doesn't work.Those are the nights when the loneliness clamps down hard, with sharp weasel teeth, when all you want to do is pick up the phone, or shout to the heavens, and speak to that person who become a part of you, then moved suddenly away, taking with them small bits of flesh, exposing nerve endings to the frigid night air. But you don't.

Sometimes you can't.

Life goes on watch, and you listen for that crunch of gravel that is only the delivery man, as the vines creep against the house, growing wild, overflowing to your heart, constricting it.

But there's chores to do, they do not wait, the smell of oak, smoked fire already burning, the instructions that someone once gave me, how to penetrate the honeyed wood, its core as hard as iron, the axe aimed down, straight to the heart of the knot. The axe strikes and the wood falls to pieces and the things you can not ignore burn into you.

Finally, one day, after a dark and introspective night, you'll wake to the sound of warm rain beating against the eaves, flush with dreams, your body alive in a tangle of sheet. Not quite remembering the particulars of that night dream but just the feeling it imprinted on you, as you breathe in wakefulness, bringing back memories of that long forgotten. Dreams of longing, memories of love, of desire, fleeting things, reflections in a river, seen for just a second of quick glance, then swept away in the solitary stream that is your life now. For it seems you can hardly remember what it was like when you felt that way. When you loved, with urgency, with pressing need. Then something, just a simple smell, touches the place where that feeling was, a touch as slight and quick as fabric against your skin, as soft and fleeting as a birds wings against your face. And you'll quicken to the memory. And hope takes wing.
The shirt was found unexpectedly while cleaning out in preparation for a move, and in the suddenness of its discovery, it trickles trough my hands like tears, puddling to the ground as the memory awakes.

That evening so long ago, was much like any other Autumn evening, with the air crisp with cold, brushed with the scent of kindling alight. You too, have had an evening like that, where anticipation waits like an embrace, ticklish like a stray hair brushing against the back of your neck. An evening, perhaps recently, perhaps long ago, where you were swept away for only a moment on a late night, a moment that's repeated itself, minute by minute in your memory, wrong man, wrong moment. One of those times that you wish you could turn back on itself, as if you had never been there at all.

I'd heard he was in town on business. How long had it been since I'd made that decision, the one to end things. I was wrapped up in my new career as much as anything, chasing dreams, and somehow the whole lifelong commitment thing loomed into the horizon, I knew I had to make a decision. So I made the call that was one of the hardest I had ever made. I called him to say I couldn't see him any more. He sounded hurt, he sounded relieved. He sounded unbearably tired. But mostly relieved. I wasn't ready for anything serious, not like he wanted. After all the changes in my life, a new career, family to tend to, I wasn't ready to give what he wanted. Yet. So I cut the tether and let him go.

Renovating an old house became my sanctuary, the power of saw and sweat the tithing of my soul. My mind was desperate to sort out the past before I made a decision about the future, decisions that could change not just my life, but anothers. Sometimes creating something with hard work and wood helped. I tried not to think of the last months since we said goodbye on the phone. Impersonal, distanced, spoken through a cold receiver, the dial tone as he hung up echoing in the empty room. The conversation that made me want to just get in the old farm truck and drive until the horizon filled my whole world. Why is escape so difficult? Finding peace. Why can I sometimes only find that in in in the power of a hammer, the scent of black powder, the feel of a yoke or steering wheel under my hand? Forces that, for an instant I can control. But I knew that I did the right thing, for to promise to something, to someone who cared so deeply, when I was not ready to give it, was the cruelest of good intentions.

So I went back to the life of fire and wood. As I swung the axe into another small log, I thought of his last words " I will come back, you know", the words as a hand against my back, a feeling lingering across my shoulders, down my arms that whisper their own aching promise But months passed, and when I realized I was finally ready for what he was asking, the phone lay silent.

I was finishing a second coat of paint when finally, the phone rang. "I'm in the neighborhood, can I see you? There's something I need to tell you". He sounded wistful, he sounded happy, and my heart unexpectedly missed on two cylinders as I suddenly smiled. Truly smiled, for the first time in months. I placed the piece of drying work aside, racing around trying to compose my thoughts, my regrets, the decision that I should have made when it was there for me to make. Trying to ready a dog hair filled house in just a few minutes. I needed to make us some supper. How long had it been since I'd had someone over? Soon the kitchen would be warm with spice, the ripe juice of something fresh picked bursting on my lips.

Before you know it, before I'm showered and changed, he's waiting on my doorstep. That blue shirt. The way he stood, inviting smile and eyes the color of an evening sky, body relaxed in a pair of khakis. He was smiling a boyish hesitant grin. The sight of him dries old tears and turns my empty heart to longing. Was that you I said goodbye to?

I pull back, feeling a knot of nerves tie in my stomach, the fear a noose around my heart. I step back as I look into his smile, struggling to see his motives, searching his eyes to define my own. "Can I just touch you, will that help me let go of my angst?" I say to myself. For there is so much unsaid there, so many questions, his questions, mine. My fear. His? These are the intangible walls that distance us, the walls of heartache, made of concrete laced with steel, impenetrable. Walls that protect. Walls that distance.

Let me just touch you, I say silently. Tear down that wall, rip the concrete from it's foundation. Words only heard in my soul.

But as if reading my thoughts, he pulls me towards him in the familiar hug of a best friend, I hear my heart pounding as he opens his arms to envelop me. He finds a dab of of thick yellow paint tattooed to my cheek, just underneath my eye. A kiss lands nearby. My lips silently call to him as his clean, masculine scent makes me want to just blurt it out. But I don't. I have to stay in control, I tell myself.

I draw him inside, into a house that now feels like home. "I just wanted to see you in person" he says. "I wanted to hear your voice". I can't keep the words inside much longer. I was an idiot. I love you. I want it all. I'm ready. I want to just get it out. But I keep quiet, afraid to interrupt.

"I wanted to be the one to tell you in person", as he takes off his outer blue shirt, with the precision of movement and form that made me weak in the knees. Setting it on the chair, he stands before me, looking happy and hopeful in his work worn pants and T-shirt. The words hang in the air, dense with longing, waiting to be breathed in deep.

When you're young no one tells you the full story about love, that there is seldom a fairy tale ending like at the movies. You had rehearsed your love story over and over in your head, speaking the words you had scripted so carefully, waiting for what you know he will say back. Then, braced with the chill fall air, I open my mouth to speak, to finally say the words. He speaks first and the words are not what played in my head.

"I'm getting married."

My eyes follow his voice as it drifts out the window and fades. All I can see are dying leaves, windswept trees, barren fields, barren plans. I pretend to concentrate on a plant I'd set inside after last night's frost, too late, touching the skeletal frozen buds, making the ensuing silence that much sadder.

I step step away from the warmth of the room, so he doesn't see the beginning of tears and face the yard, as a tree outside explodes into flight as hundreds of birds are startled into escape. There I stand, that spot of paint on my face a dam holding back the tears, drying next to the warmth of his kiss.

As the tree bursts forth, I watch hundreds of birds vanish into the evening, gone as if they never existed, as the tree stands empty, except for just one lone bird.

One left, like the shirt there now, forgotten in his departure. A shirt the clear blue of tears, trailing in the wake of his words of apology for not telling me sooner. "Are you OK, you look pale". "I knew you'd be happy for me". Words biting my skin like insects, drawing blood from veins that had little to spare. I couldn't wait to get the door closed behind him, attempting a smile, telling him I had to go, something had come up, but congratulations, honestly, really. Then collapsing into tears, as I waved him gaily out of sight.

Now, on another chill evening, with the sound of a guitar playing in the background, I hold the fabric close to me, breathing in the heat we might have made and the smell that still clings to that blue shirt of his that remained, hanging in my closet, a remembrance of scent and touch. The cloth is faded and fragile, like all dreams. Then, finally, I put it away, deep in a drawer and find that finally, its touch is but dim memory on my fingers.

I look out into the skies, to birds returning to the trees.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Day in Pictures (Calorie count not included, it's for your own good, folks).

You know the drill, click photos to enlarge.
Have napkin handy.
I passed on going to day two of the gun show, but invited several of my friends over for lunch after. I kept busy until they arrived cleaning and puttering around the homestead.
Time to tidy up the family room and get out a couple extra TV trays so we can eat out here. I"m staying with friends while the house shows, helping with home renovationsa and children, in exchange for a futon in the family room, and a place for Barkley while the Realtor does her thing. They'll be here soon. Time to put on some tunes.
Mr. B. and Midwest Chick showed up first, bearing all kinds of goodies, including a 10 year old cheddar (what do you mean there's none left for a photo?) and some incredible homemade brownie cookies that were nibbled on as we perused through the latest in toys in the house. (Yes, those ARE all primers). Barkley got pats as usual.

Og and his buddy M. and M's little brother Rich were able to make it. Check out Rich's great new blog, Rich's Garage , a must for classic car buffs.

We added some adult beverages (Yingling, you shouldn't have!) for those not driving and gathered round to catch up. Conversations ranged from cars to practical jokes we've played to Monty Python. It IS true, if you get a room full of geeks and even if they are all different sorts, gun geeks, sci fi geeks, car geeks, computer geeks, or gaming geeks, someone is eventually going to say, with the best of British accents, "Ni!". At that point, as Og pointed out, someone will begin to prance around on an imaginary horse, a couple of folks will be doing the Parrot sketch and I, without being able to control it, will be yelling "bring out your dead". It's inevitable.

Today wasn't much different.The conversation was great, but I'm afraid that since I enlightened Midwest Chick on the merits of finely honed Samurai Swords as zombie back up she is going to be wanting one.

The meal was simple, and with the bread (and dessert) being baked yesterday when it was cooler, I was able to fix it without heating the house up too much.

The appetizer (where did it go???) was flatbread drizzled with some olive oil, mushrooms and fresh Parmesan and then baked. It didn't last long enough for a photo, but hey, we still had those great cookies!

For the main course. Homemade Sourdough Rosemary Bread
And Gun Show Meat Sauce (of course it has BACON). With venison, red wine, not so secret herbs and spices, wild honey, tomatoes, caramelized onion, roasted garlic, spicy pork sausage and BACON, how can you go wrong.
Did anyone save room for Chocolate Guinness Cake
Soon, there was nothing left but a gathering of good friends and empty dishes. (And one little red dog hoping for leftovers).
It was good to finally have a weekend back in IND. It was great to be with some people that are as close to family as I will have in these parts. I am too full to move, so I will just sit a spell, listen to Mr. Cash and watch the sun go down. There are some days you just don't want to end.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Don't Take a Bear to a Gun Fight

This week HOTR Pure Lead Balls Award goes to the man who shot and killed a charging Grizzly with a .45 handgun in an Alaskan national park when it attacked his wife. He is being investigated however, for HAVING a gun in a park is legal, discharging it is not. The authorities saying "we have to make sure there was a valid reason for the shooting". If 800 pounds of angry teeth rushing at your loved one isn't valid, I don't know what is. ("Honest Mr. Ranger, I thought he was some hairy guy from Acorn ".

My first trip to Alaska was in the mid 80's, taking a break from college and working, I spent my first real "vacation" up there, renting a little plane and visiting a friend.

My family being from Montana, I felt pretty prepared for the trip, but I forgot about the bears. Where I visited was a small village, accessible only by air. When I arrived, I asked where a good place was to go for a walk, to stretch my legs . I was told, "don't go on any side streets unless you are armed". "Oh", I said, "Sort of like Detroit !"
Bears are as much a part of the wild, as wild is part of the bear. The ancient legends of a giant beast that would sweep down on a village and carry off a person, are gone, maulings, though quite media worthy, are rare. The bear serves no function to obvious eye, but occupies a big corner of my soul, with strength and blatant humility, reminding me as I step into his world, of my place in the food chain.

I would respect the bear, not purposely hunt him, but I am prepared to defend myself should I encroach on what he considers his domain and garner his fury for it.

I had suitable firearms for the trip, but some told me to leave the sidearm behind and carry bear spray instead. That might work on the black bear, but I think most Browns would consider that stuff foreplay. Despite their sometimes cute and cuddly appearance, bears are tough, they're mean, and even the not so big ones can kill you.

The skull? It's like armor plate. Another issue with a head shot is is the extremely narrow brain pan when viewed from the front.
Anything past the inner edge of the eyes is outside the brain pan. Knowing the skull is important. You may only have a few seconds and one shot. There will be nothing more than a roar of darkness that banishes the sun; your insides will stick. Your eyes will be blind and your mouth will be open and a clap of wind will hit you in the face as death rushes at you with a speed you never would have believed.

It's a bad dream, one of those in which you think if you can just touch something in that nightmare vision, something unalterable, solid and real, you can wake yourself up. You hand is already on your firearm. Please let me wake up. The anatomy of the skull can help you understand where to shoot at it better. Side shots to the head should be between the eye and base of the ear, depending of course on exact angle. You won't have a second chance on shot placement.

On the plus side, a bear will normally avoid contact with we humans.
But don't invite him to dinner by leaving food out, don't cook where you sleep, and make a lot of noise as you move around and he'll likely do his part to steer clear of you. What you can count on is (1) They will be bigger up close than you thought. They can be meaner than any of your ex's, except for the cubs, but if you run into those you have an even bigger problem. (2) A bear is more intelligent than you think and can be completely unpredictable, acting out in unexpected ways without warning. They are masters at the not so subtle art of intimidation by tooth and claw, yet sometimes they'll run at the sight of you. Experienced outdoors people have seen both, and you must prepare for both.
Bears may also behave differently by species and subspecies. Just as there are those that swear brunettes and redheads are two different animals, black and brown bear (by species, the grizzly being a subspecies of the brown), may vary in behavior when confronted. When the smaller black bear charges at you, he comes to kill. Rolling into a ball and pretending to play possum will just make you a more portable snack. You must fight. A brown bear USUALLY only wants to stop the threat you represent. Playing dead may work with him. But I wouldn't bet my life on it.I know there are people that will disagree with the notion of bear as killing beast, offering guided tours of fuzzy grizzly bears up close. But bears aren't just like us, furry creatures with human attributes living in quiet society; anthropomorphizing them can only get you killed in my opinion. I wish those people good fortune, but I'll carry mine as the leaded variety.

There are many differing opinions on what makes a good bear load. The actual caliber selection is only one thought. Most bears, especially Grizzly, have an amazing knack of absorbing large amounts of lead with no apparent loss of power or mobility. Think that .22 round in your plinking gun is going to work on a mugger on PCP? It's the same concept with bear defense ammo. There have been cases in which a mortally wounded bear killed its victim after numerous hits in a vital area with a "stopping" caliber rifle. A bear, even hit in the "vitals" may not know it's dead until you've been sufficient disassembled. Encounter a pissed off Grizz and the PCP addled mugger will seem like child's play.

The sound alone of a full power magnum touched off may send him running away as well, but if he's charging, the only "stopping" shot for big bear is a brain or spine shot. I've seen how far my deer went after a perfect heart shot. I don't want to give the bear the same closure of space. A brain shot will do it. Snipers call the shot the “apricot shot”, and when hit, the target will drop. The problem is that the apricot is moving up and down and left and right, and did I mention the apricot is also, really small and coming at you at 30 mph?

The .357 caliber and higher definitely has enough penetration to get past the armor plate that a bear uses for a cranium without bounding off like pistol ball rounds, soft points, or hollow points which can catch a bone and dig in. Get good ammo. The rest boils down to marksmanship, luck and a couple gallons of adrenaline. A shoulder shot with an adequate round/bullet can turn or stop them, at least long enough to get a killing shot in. Traditional "hunting" shots are not generally stoppers, particularly with bears that are aware of your presence.

Think you can outrun him? Can you run 30 mph? Think you can shoot him in the eye because you can do 1/2 groupings at the range while the birds chirp and all is well in your world? Think again.
For a main carry, opinion is divided between those favoring the use of a high-powered rifle and those advocating 12 gauge slugs (and I assume those folks would want a pump action with a reasonably short barrel with foster style slugs). A 12 gauge Express Magnum loaded with slugs would be something I might carry. Bears are dangerous, but they are not as bulletproof as legend has, if you have the right load, a decent shot and always, a cool head. The Brenneke slugs seem to penetrate better than the Foster type. Fosters are basically a deer slug, and most are designed to expand, which is counterproductive on bears.

If I've got the .45 Colt Ruger I might use 21.5 grs H-110/325 gr Keith or LBT bullet recipe when I go up in the mountains. That is a gun my friend Malamute Bill uses, one that is a comfort in the high, wild and silent places. In the thick stuff, an 1886 carbine sometimes goes along for the walk.

All a 9mm/7.62*39/.357/.45ACP/etc. may do for you is just annoy it. (Though 9mm has rather good penetration in fmj loads, but not much shock.) You need something that will stop, and quickly. Bears have been killed with a wide variety of weaponry and ammo by skilled shooters. The Alaskan guide Phil Shoemaker used a Smith .357 for a while, and reported it killed bears fine with heavy solid bullet loads in head shots, though he passed it on to his daughter, a guide, and went back to a .44. Another Alaskan guide used, among other heavy caliber lever guns, a Browning 45-70 1886 carbine with heavy loads, and reported that it killed bears with head shots when necessary. A few locals tried taking down a big brown with .223. Not a good idea from what I heard of the outcome.

As for those little baby guns that are marketed as pocket bear medicine? Small bore handguns? God better be on your side that day. There is a reason many of those don't have front sights on them. That makes it less painful when the bear takes it and stuffs it up your behind.

Semi auto? I'd just as soon take the reliable old Savage in
30.-06 than something new and semi auto that might jam. Forget the scope this time for a self defense situation, unless you have just the right one and are expert in instant sight picture. Placement is everything in a bear, and open sights are much faster and at close range you are going to need it. Use a scope up close and all you might see is blurry hair before your world goes red.

Backup. You'll want some backup.

Many years ago, the African hunters established that you should carry a double rifle when dealing with serious life threatening wildlife. Their reasoning is simple and basic. If your main firearm fails to function properly, there is NO time for a failure drill. You need an immediate second weapon to fight for your life. On a trip to Africa, (I read too many Robert Ruark novels NOT to go to Africa), I spoke with a field guide who considered the double rifle as that chance. If a firing pin broke on one side, he'd have another with a double rifle or shotgun. Anything else, pump, automatic and you're left with a 10 lb. club, was his opinion. Although I had a double action shotgun on hand (if everything else has failed and Mr. Grizzly is trying to french kiss you, stick it in his mouth and give it both barrels) the majority of the time I kept a large revolver as a back up. Frankly, an 8-9 lb. long gun is not a terribly convenient thing to tote around under any circumstance, and it could be a nuisance enough in others that you set it down. Settled in and around a campsite, fishing or just docking that float plane your long gun might be laid down "somewhere handy" which is NOT going to be handy enough when Mr. Bear decided he wants to eat your salmon, your airplane, or you. There are other times outdoors, it's not handy either.

So, a sidearm is called for. In my case, it was the Ruger Blackhawk. But what about ammo? You might wish to avoid ammo designed specifically for personal defense, which feature fast-expanding, often lightweight, hollow point bullets. On a bear charging straight at you, there is no such thing as “enough” penetration with a handgun cartridge. You want heavy, hard bullets driven at the highest velocity attainable. 

Next time I think I'll carry a .44 Magnum or a .45 Colt (in Ruger persuasion for hot loads) both stoked with heavy (240-300 gr) hard-cast lead Keith-style bullets. Another option, the LBT series of bullets, such as the 325gr LBT WFN over 21.5gr of H110 for the .45 Colt bruiser that might be waiting in the "safety of the jeep with Marlin". Whatever you carry, you're looking for hard cast, heavy for caliber bullets. Handgun bullets thus constructed generally have better penetration than most high power rifle bullets, as the expansion tends to slow penetration to a great degree. High velocity in heavy pistol bullets doesn't help much after a certain point apparently.The gains tend to fade somewhat after the 1200 fps threshold, and some higher velocity loads actually penetrate less. This is more than tribal knowledge of some heavy caliber sixgun users, but has been born out in tests such as those done by John Linebaugh at his Seminars in Cody. Small pieces of information to tuck away, as one day it may come in handy.
But on those first trips, I was glad to have my backup bear gun. With the gun, came freedom of movement. With it I was able to walk with a more sure step, though always alert, head up and paying attention, not listening to music or talking on my phone. With it I went to places and met more people, like a woman, an older widow, who lived in a large and beautiful, but isolated cabin style home on a lake 50 miles from the nearest settlement. A city woman, she'd fallen in love with a local, married him as a young girl and stayed, even after his death. I landed there, dropping off some supplies for her as a favor. In return, she offered me a meal and coffee and I ended up staying for two days, sharing stories of life in the wild, and learning just how deep love will lead you into the wilderness of your heart.Could we live without the bear? Some say we can live without love, yet I know, if we did, something within our soul would wander aimlessly, always seeking something untamed. The lure of the wild is its own anchor, keeping us tethered to that which is real.

On my dresser is a small carving of a bear, in a box next to it, a sprig of pine from a forest far away. I pull it out, that single, small piece fills the room, the dusk, the very day, with an odor I can smell, above my own perfume, above my own fear. The smell of the wilderness, that of the forest and the heart, calling me back.

Journeys taken, with eyes and heart wide open, and weapon always near.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Take me to the Water

My dad bought me out on a fishing boat when I was barely big enough to hold on to my little fishing pole, watching with loving patience to make sure I didn't fall in. Finding my old Cherry rod as I cleaned up the garage, brought back a lot of memory of sitting in that boat, facing each other as of waiting for a bugle to call charge. Holding that dusty rod in my hand I can still picture my red haired Dad sitting across from me, head turned just so, as if his mind had gone someplace quiet, yet with every muscle poised and at ready, in case the bobber called with a twitch.

I think of the last time I fished, simply throwing a rod out into the big pond back behind the house. The sun was setting, leaving wisps of lavender ribbons across the sky; clouds moving up from the Plains, wispy strands through which I could see that which was the last phase of a full moon. There it was, the call, the bobber moved slightly, a fish, or the wind? Earlier there had been a huge fin slicing the water; a giant carp or Nessie, but there were a lot of other, smaller fish in there. I was tempted to jerk the line, to see what I had, but I waited. This is what patience is all about, being wholeheartedly engaged in the process that's unfolding, rather than yank up the line to see what's at the other end. It's about choosing your battle and sticking with it, for one of those things that Dad passed on in that little boat was that it was the side of the war you were on that made you the person you were.

Not everyone gets that. I've met women, who have never held a fishing pole ask me, "don't you just get, well, BORED?"
I've fished both saltwater and freshwater salmon, the freshwater moving in from the oceans of their lifetime into the rivers to spawn. There's nothing like it, that fixed spot in space when you think maybe you've snagged a rock on the bottom and suddenly the whole bottom begins to move and shake and you've got a freight train on your line. While your vision is clouded with bacon wrapped salmon and the hickory smell of the smoker firing up, your muscle memory is having a boxing tournament with a fish as big as a 3 year old, jumping out of the water, dancing on his tail like a washed out celebrity, then diving back into the water. The male salmon is, as they say, all show and no roe, cocky and overambitious, The female, though, not inclined to bite, when she does will lay in with a heavy and placid stubbornness that begs you to start something. Like arguing with any female of strength and persuasion you had either be prepared for a long drawn out test of will, or simply get out the scissors, cut the line and admit THAT was a mistake

Bored? Never.

But that last fishing time I was simply out back of my own property, enjoying some quiet time after a hectic week. There is something about fish, and the men and women that seek them, despite variances in gender, age or upbringing. We are people who just cannot thrive between clustered walls, walking asphalted trails to small offices, breathing in the fumes of yearning, working and dying earthbound, with nary a thought of the sky or the clouds or the sea. To stake us to a plot of earth, however shaded, safe and watered, is to watch us wither and die. So we go out to the woods, to the water.

You see us in our trucks, pulling a boat, or sitting in a WalMart lawn chair on the side of a lake. There's bass stickers on our trucks, tackle boxes with more shiny stuff than a Hollywood starlet's jewelry case, and maybe even a custom license plate. I remember one truck, with a little Bass Pro sticker in the window and the plate, "BIG ROD". My Mom looked up, shyly giggled and said "well, I hope he's a fisherman".

So that last time that I fished, the call of a loon brought me back into the moment and I thought about all the things I needed to do at home. Iron clothes in prep for what can always be a week or two on the road, bills to pay, a yard to mow. And I stopped. "Can you hear that?" I whispered to Barkley, sitting by my side, tail wagging, poised to strike in case I reeled in a side of bacon. "That" being the sound of a small bass jumping on a small span of water on a planet spinning through space.

This is what fishing is all about, not catching anything, not putting a meal on the table, simply a time with nature to be savored when the whole body is one sense with the water and delight imbibes through every pore with the transparent cast of a line. I really don't care if I catch anything, frankly, I just enjoyed the communion of elemental waters.
The crickets began their chorus to usher in the night, and the note of the sparrow is borne on the wind from over the water. And from the waters edge, a salamander crawled out, that traveler of both the water and the land, equally at home in both. We're all born of water, as we emerge from the watery landscape of the womb, we discover we can breathe, and we leave behind the fluid comfort of our mother's form, to become searchers of the land.

What caused that first being to emerge from the womb, from the water? The call of nature, or something primordial? There was a Disney movie of a redheaded mermaid, half human, half fish, who gave up the freedom of her watery home for the love of a man. What is that primal urge that drives us out and up, away from our comfortable origins to a land , dry and stark and often barren. Perhaps we just left the water on a quest for love.

As the last of the daylight seeped back into the sky, I thought back to what has been troubling me, but only briefly, for my mind now, like the lake, is rippled but not ruffled. These small ripples of water raised by the evening's wind are only a hint of turmoil in a slowly calming stream. As the day pulled out of the sky taking the wind with it, I cast back out into the now still center of the pond, the moment causing me to hold in my breath.. There it was. Utter and complete stillness, when even inhaling and exhaling was like a cacophony. The trees were quiet, the animals of day hunkering down for rest, and the night creatures not yet stirring. There was no breeze, no recognition of air even; it was the sound of nothing and everything, as if present, future and beyond were contained in one space, and I was not just casting into it, I was part of it. A heavenly spot of time.
Poets talk about such places, but its only been outdoors where I've experienced eternity compressed into a moment. A moment where in an instant you can see your whole life and a choice is made. No one can even explain to you what this "spot of time" is until your whole horizon is a fish and then the fish has vanished like a puff of silver smoke.

I thought of one fish off the coast of Oregon. A salmon that will still bring a smile to my face when I'm an old lady. When I brought him up, the sun flashed off the platinum scales of his 30 pound back, blinding with the diamond brilliance of light on form. I was so enamored of him that my breath stopped in ragged gasp and my hands loosened their grip. In that instant before he was gone, breaking the line with his power, time stopped. In that moment I sensed why it was that man's life was so long compared to the fish. I had a sunlit glimpse of why we seek in water and in the Book, those reasons for which man, above all, was chosen amongst His belabored and sometimes blind offspring, to be guardians of the land and the waters.

I thought back to fly fishing in Gunnison, visiting family, watching the fly fisherman standing, rod in hand, in the rushing water making the most beautiful movements, a ballet of line and wind and hook. A ritual of the chase, the cast like a tease to the unsuspecting trout, placid in their world, until he pulled them into his. As the trout took the bait, the man would smile, that quick knowing smile, and pull. A flicker of fingers, a light stroke of hand, fingers on a keyboard, a caress that's hello and goodbye. Then, when his goal was within his hands, he gently pulled the hook from the mouth, gently cradling the fish in his hand as a way of saying goodbye for good. Without a sound he released her back downstream.

Catch and Release. Sometimes you have to.
With my house fading into shadow, darkness falling, I decided to head back. I didn't catch anything, my true catch was as intangible and indescribable as the twilight playing on the water. I think of what Thoreau said "many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after". When we fish, we linger, we wait for something that lies deep within. Wait at quiet pools, warm lips, cool water, as we reach for that gossamer kiss. We willingly bite the secret barb, as we're pulled in, breathless, gasping up into somewhere unknown, searching upward to catch a glimpse of who it was that wanted us.

Tonight I need to pull the hook of that fly out of my lips and swim away into a quiet pool, contemplating some things best let go.