By Mark Reese
As most of you who read my columns know, I am an upland bird hunter, most notably quail and grouse. The season is now in full swing with quail season ending in January and the grouse closing at the end of February. Hopefully, for a short time before fishing begins again, I will get some of the never ending projects for the house and farm finished.
Lambing season will begin about the end of December; weather has made it possible to keep the sheep grazing, and it looks like I won’t need to begin feeding until about Christmas time. When this starts the late night trips to the barn after a hard day’s hunt begins to wear on this old fellow. As they get close to lambing it is imperative to put them in the barn for the night to help keep predators at bay.
Thus far, the scarcity of the upland birds I hunt has been a cause for concern. I have written before about possible causes, but outside of a loss of cover and habitat, no one seems to know the answer. Sometimes it gets tough trudging up and down fields, hills, and mountains following bird dogs that are much faster and more agile than I am. Most times we cover eight to twelve miles per outing. It is a good way to keep your body in shape and many in this world need more of this type of exercise. But I sometimes ask myself what keeps me going and draws me again and again to these remote spaces.
But the only thing that is enough for me is the freedom that wild places, high places, places with running waters bring. I don’t know where it comes from, as I may be the only one in my family that seems drawn to this insatiable wildness. To hear the wind whisper down the mountain, to hear the beating wings of a flushing bird, to wonder who lived in this remote cabin, and to ponder who is sleeping in this solitary gravesite forever is what my soul craves.
Hunting this past week brought one of those bonus high feelings. Rayna is my new young English setter, and we have been working on teaching her what being afield means. Coming down a steep mountain following Lucky, another one of my hunting companions produced her first productive point as she solidly backed Lucky on a grouse point. My shot was true and in that instant a young bird dog figured out her destiny.
I almost missed part of it as I scrambled down the mountain, my feet took a tumble and my face hit the barrel of my gun after about a 140-degree fall. Needless to say blood was everywhere from the bridge of my nose to that coming from my nostrils. Still I was able to get up (thankfully) and complete the cycle with the dogs and bird.
As I age instances such as this are bound to happen. Should I take to the woods with only my dogs as companions? Probably not, but as much as I enjoy the homestead and company of my wife I will go again, because being out there completes my life. It is hard for me to understand myself. Perhaps it is the genes of some Native American blood in my background. But I can’t stop going any more than the clouds could desert the sky.