“My permission slip is signed, pick me up at 3:00 am.” I whisper into the phone held tightly to my ear, not wanting Hazel to hear me in fear she might change her mind. Looking at my newborn in my other hand I think to myself, honestly, she has every right to.
“Done. Have coffee ready.” comes the reply.
Shaun can be a man of few words when appropriate, but more often, a man of many. He can sense my urgency to keep the call quick.
A couple of hours later lights shine through my front window. The Citori is thrown hastily into the car and Sage and Braker, my hunting pups, load up. They whimper with energy, annoying to others I’m sure, but to me, it might as well be Shakira serenading me.
“I love this time of morning” Shaun remarks. “The streets are as desolate as a showdown in an old western. All the drunk people already swerved their way home after last call and it’s a bit too early for the early shift workers to slide into their vehicles. The witching hour.”
All four of us ease in for the long drive ahead. To Sage this is old hat, Breaker however thinks every turn or stop is a cue for him to blast out the back of the car and lock into some birds. Oh youthful exuberance, how I envy him.
Shaun and I babble on the four hour drive like two kids guessing what they are going to get for Christmas. Oh middle age exuberance, how the dogs envy it.
I don’t have a ton of secret spots, but where we are headed is my Nirvana. Up until a couple of trips ago I would blindfolded any hunting partners, spun them in a circle ten times, load them onto a plane for three connecting flights and blast death metal into their ears (in case they could recognize the sound of this area’s particular gravel crunch) until they screamed for mercy. Then when they were properly broken of spirit and mind and promising to keep my secret, we would hunt.
This strategy proved to be a problem since Shaun was driving.
I look over to him for what must have been the fortieth time.
“I know, I know. No more pinky toes if I open my mouth.” Comes his response to my baseless threats.
The sun starts to peek out as we head up the mountain. We pass a “For Sale” sign or two as I awkwardly squirm in my seat. I can see Sage do his morning stretches in the back of the car as I make a plan to where I think the birds might be given the temps and time of year.
We pull into my first choice. We are greeted with a pack of Great Pyrenees rolling six deep that are just aching to show my pups their best Ronda Rousey impression. The herd of Q-tips behind them watch to see how the confrontation plays out.
“Uh yea, Braker is kinda a big baby and I like Sage to much to crush his ego. Flip a bitch.” I say.
Shaun’s already on it.
We hit my second choice. The area where “Point Covey” resides. These birds must have bred with turkeys at one time because they are nothing short of massive.
“Only flushing shots, right?” I throw in as a reminder.
“Wouldn’t want it any other way.” Shaun says as he walks in.
Fifteen steps in and Sage is nipping at the rear of a football sized dusky grouse. I am momentarily mesmerized by the roar of the wings, but my concentration comes back in time to send him cratering to the earth. Sage’s first for the year and he doesn’t skip a beat. The bird is back in my hand before I can reload.
Shaun looks over. “I can see why you’ve been hiding this place from me.”
“Why’s that?” I ask.
“Because with me being as good of a shot as I am, I would have cleared this place out long ago!” He throws back.
Just for that I keep Sage closer to me. Let’s see how he does without the dog master lobbing him in softballs.
I walk the woods with a smile on my face. Nothing but the moment. I am a rock climber, mountain biker and adventure athlete. Nothing has ever come close to the feeling I get when I’m in the woods chasing grouse. Maybe it’s the lack of intensity that is so saturated in every other aspect of my life. Maybe it’s just the clean air, my pups and a good friend.
But I think it is more than that. Maybe it’s just that this is me in my most raw form. The mission is simple and clear. Walk the woods and enjoy yourself. Breathe in that freeing gulp of air that so many others will never get to breathe in the same way.
It’s a special thing to hunt for your sustenance. A feeling that you can’t describe to people who haven’t done it. It’s a feeling of total self reliance, something that is extremely hard to come by in the age. We rely so heavily on technology and mass production that walking the woods to look for our food has become nearly extinct.
Ahhh, whatever. I’m preaching to the choir. You all wouldn’t have made it this far into the article if you didn’t feel the same way.
We hike through the morning working the dogs hard and bringing down a few more birds. I take a seat at a perfect little watering hole and let the dogs splash around.
My thoughts fade back inward as I look out over the valley. Up until this point in my life, I saw a hundred year block. This would be the maximum time (good God, if I was lucky!) allotment for me to wander this earth and squeeze everything I could out of it. Anything after that, well to hell with it, I was dead so it was irrelevant.
I can feel your eyes judging me as you read this. Hell, I’m judging me. But that all changed a month ago when my son was born.
I wonder if my son will get to experience what has moved my soul for so many years in it’s same raw form. The “For Sale” signs we passed at the bottom of the mountain make me think that maybe he won’t. I ponder the deeper meaning behind “for sale” for a bit but pull myself out of that rabbit hole before I got too deep.
Ahh human progress. The killer of all that is natural. But hey, people have to live somewhere I suppose.
We make our way back up the mountain, following cliff lines that would lead us back to the car. As we walk a few birds flush, but our guns remain on our shoulders.
I’m happy to see that Shaun isn’t using the state limit of birds to guide him on his take. We are more than content on what we have taken, two birds each, and let the rest go for another time.
The short trip is just what I needed to rejuvenate my soul. A quick reminder to keep fighting the good fight down in the city so I can have more days like this.
As we drive down the mountain I turn away from the “For Sale” signs. A problem for another day I suppose. Right now I want to enjoy the right now.
“Good shooting up there today.” I say to break the silence.
“You too man. Your pups were on fire today. And I’ve never seen so many birds!” He replies.
A smile always comes to my face when I hear a complement aimed towards my dogs.
“Just remember, no more pinky toes. Imagine how hard is it going to be to hike without pinky toes.” I say as I look over.
Shaun smiles and pins the pedal to the floor. Back to the chaos.