Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Summer can be a time of great anticipation for many outdoor sportsmen and women.  The fishing, at least here in Wisconsin, can enter the doldrums at times.  The dog days.  Sure, the smallmouth bass slash voraciously at my topwater flies late in the evening on a small, wadable river, and the cats bite well all through the humid days and nights, abuzz with cicada and mosquito.

Still, I find myself dreaming of the days to come.  And most of my year is like that.  A "grass is greener" thing.  Not that I fail to fish or hunt or be in the moment (OK, busted.  I do that all the time), but on those pleasantly dark drives back to the shack after a long day afield, my mind constantly wanders to the adventures to come.  The hits and misses, the easy walks and trudging marches, the time we will spend around the tables and campfires celebrating our successes and pondering our shortcomings.  Neuroscience sometimes calls the act of planning simply a "memory of the future," and my future memory is outstanding.

I'm wading a small river in Wisconsin's Driftless Area. The late afternoon sun, still full of August bluster and swagger, beats through the overhanging brush, tatting lacework shadows on the surface of the quick water as I swing my fly through the undercut bank.  I've stumbled into my share of fish for the day, and my subconscious may already be heading for the cold beverage back at the truck, so thoughts begin to wander...

... to birds.  The next undertaking of the year.  It will start with doves.  Dove hunting, still controversial in some circles here, only became legal a few years ago in Wisconsin.  Last year brought our first dovey endeavor, and man, did we have a hoot.  As usual, I was flailing around the countryside with my longtime friend Brian and his trusty English Cocker, Buddy.  We scouted a little, if you can can call noticing doves on power lines scouting, but mostly it was a seat-of-the pants operation.  Up early in the mist, we took our positions along a small creek where we knew the birds to be roosting.  As legal shooting loomed, the birds began to move.  And then the melee began- little slate rockets in the pale morning light.  We hit a few that first day, and a few the following evenings, but mostly we missed and laughed.  Laughed at each other, laughed at ourselves, and laughed at the joy of being out there. 

 Buddy, dove hunting in the present.  I envy his concentration.

Driving back home after my first ever dove hunt, I could not wait for grouse and woodcock to open, though they were a month away.  Never satisfied, my thoughts began to wander...

... Up North.  There's a broad term for you.  For me, Up North refers to a couple small cabins that belong to friends in extreme northeastern Wisconsin, right along the border of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  And the grouse hunting can be fine.  Fighting through popple thickets and stands of balsam so you thick you are sometimes forced to crawl, you can spend an entire day immersed in the vibrant colors, deep earthy smells, and clean crisp air of autumn.  Not to mention the famously heart-stopping flush of the ruffed grouse that will, on occasion, lead to everything from a dumbfounded stare to questionable language to an actual shot.  But, when that shot connects, angels sing and you are dancing at the feet of your Lord.  Last year, in a rush to get to a downed bird, I attempted to crawl under a big old popple that had broken off about 7 feet up the trunk, folded over into a messy A-frame.  Somehow, I managed to stand up too soon, and crack the exact crown of my head on a severed branch protruding from the down-angled trunk.  The resultant torrent of blood blinded me as it ran down my face.  The foot stomping, head clutching, stumble hopping dance I performed did little to solidify my position as an intrepid, stoic outdoorsman.  My partner for the day, the notoriously reticent Primo, calmly retrieved my bird from his young dog, then quietly asked, "You need a hanky or something?"  And a brandy old fashioned.  Stat.

The oddest looking of all our game birds, so bulbous and spindly at the same time it sometimes looks like God's happy little accident, is also nearest to my heart.  Of all the daydreams during the year, the most detailed and filled with yearning are for the beloved little American Woodcock.  Slogging from muddy creek bottom to alder thicket, taking slappy dogwood off the face, clawing through cover so thick I curse not having taken up golf, somehow brings me the greatest joy.  I love the effort required, I love the commitment to long walks "in the shit," I even love the clothes and gear.  But mostly, I love that unpredictable flush, corckscrewing up through the mesh of branches, only to dart off in any given direction.  Get on them fast and shoot.  Don't wait for "the shot" because there often won't be one.  The woodcock is one of those birds, for me at least, for which there is no shame in slapping the trigger with the gun mounted slapdash on your chest or your cheek after having doinked the barrel off a sapling or two.  And the meals they bring --  roasted whole and served on toast with a fine reduction, or ground up into pate' on a rye crisp with a porter in hand.  Recipes good enough for Industrial Age barons must be at least passable.  Right?  But still, hiking back to the turn-off with spruce needles down my back and wet feet, my mind wanders further still into the fall calendar...

... to ducks and deer camp, coyotes and rabbits, and beyond into winter ice fishing and the first paddle trips of spring.  But it's late, and it's August, so I'll retire to dream of Mourning Doves.  The next big thing on the calendar.

1 comment:

  1. you see, Poop...the thing about tomorrow is it's TOMORROW!


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