Saturday, January 11, 2020

Buffalo Lobster on the last New Moon

On the afternoon of December 27, secret Skipper took David and I out to the island of Romance for the last trip of the decade.  It had been raining hard for two days and there was a one percent moon, so atmospheric and celestial conditions were aligned.

     The ocean was still grumpy from the storms, but we hardnosed through the chop and figured it would be less crowded because of it.  We baited with salmon carcasses and sardines.  We made our initial set under the gaze of a bison that came grazing down the trail leading to a rocky overlook above us. It was really cool to see, even though this photo was taken in diminishing light.  He had no idea.

     We made our sets in three different bands of water, figuring that the bugs would be most active in the shallows in the aftermath of the runoff.  We put five shallow (under 100 feet); two medium (140 to 180) and three in deeper water beyond the 200 foot level, looking for structure and kelp at every location.  
      All the sets were made as the bison slowly meandered toward where we drifted close to shore, waiting for darkness to engulf us and get the critters crawling.   In the early twilight, a thin crescent moon eased up low in the southwest horizon and went back down before we even noticed it was gone.

     Our first pull in the deep set produced a great lobster that did not require measuring.  Getting started that way provided an optimistic vibe, for sure.  Most of the rest of the hoops produced bugs, some of which were shorts, while others easily made the grade.  We got 8 in the first set of ten and were really stoked.

     We moved a couple of the shallow hoops out into deeper water when we reset and then began a second run of collecting.  We had several pulls with more than one legal and threw back several that were right at the gauge line.  They seemed to be crawling almost everywhere but we had two hoops that were producing the majority of our biggest ones.  After the second pass we had 17 and reset to just go right back to pulling the first one again.  Three pulls in, we had limits of seven each and began to recover gear to break down, stack and head back to San Pedro.  Once again these bugs were everywhere and we threw back at least a limit just getting our equipment back on board for the ride home.

     We got the last shallow one over the rail and into the stack when our attention was drawn to a blinding searchlight sweeping the escarpment above us.  We turned around to see what it was, but we were sightless looking back into it.  We then saw the beam hover over a spot and our bison was completely lit up.  It was right at the edge of column of rock that plunged vertically into the sea, which is exactly what that bison did as we heard a deafening crack from the direction of the searchlight source.  The bison's left rear leg collapse and it began clopping the rock with its forelegs and turning to the left.  This movement caused it to cantilever over the edge and rebound from a barnacled boiler rock into the quiet water of the cove like a calving glacier.

      We heard a high-pitched outboard whine approaching us and then the light was on us.  Again, we were blinded.  Almost instantly, a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with three wardens was bumping up to our port side and throwing ropes over our cleats.
    The first warden hurdled onto our deck and announced their authority to inspect our licenses and the live bait tank full of big lobster.  Our California lobster cards, which are three feet long, were uncoiled like rolls of toilet paper for inspection of what we had recorded as our harvest.

     " I see that you have not used New Times Roman text in your inscription for your lobster harvest.  You need to be aware of that  your printing looks like Italics.  I could give you a ticket, or even confiscate your boat right now for that violation alone, so those bugs in your tank better be legal."

        As they peered into the tank with their headlamps, I could see that they were impressed by the size of the members of our limit.  I couldn't help myself and decided to speak.  "Hey officers, did  you just shoot a buffalo off that cliff with a rifle?"

       "Who are you, Dick Tracy?  We'll do the questioning around here.  Give your camera phones for now.  We will retun them to you if you check out."  Skipper, David and I exchanged confused glances.

     "Where did you get those lobsters?

     "Right out there, in deeper water."  Skipper pointed toward the lights of the mainland.

      "Are they still crawling?"

       "Well, yeah, I guess so.  In fact I've never seen them crawl so consistently", was Skippers careful response.

      We then heard the sound of a diesel engine as this weird barge pulled up from where the zodiac boat had come.  It was manned by three more wardens and had a hydraulic crane mounted in the center.

       "This is the Wildlife Therapy Float, or WTF, which is paid for not only by your fishing license fee, but also through a special lobster card fee duplication program we have to fine your for not turning in your lobster card, even if you actually turn it in and send us proof that you did."

     I exclaimed back "Hey, that is exactly what happened to me!  I got fined when I bought my new card this year for not reporting my harvest.  I sent  a copy of the the thank you email from DFW and the confirmation number for my timely reporting of last season's harvest, but they sent me an email saying that they were just keeping the money, because they had achieved possession of my payment and there is a specific Finders/Keepers provision in the code which makes it conclusively presumed to be DFW property."

The guy who seemed to be in command looked right at me and pointed his finger.  "That is exactly how this program is intended to work and our WTF vessel is part of that program."

     "I am  still not sure I understand how this program is supposed to work,"  I responded.

"Okay, I am about to show you.  First of all, Skipper, can you redeploy another set?"

Skipper answered "I guess so, but we already have our limit."

"My wardens don't, so here is what you are going to do.  I am going to take your two passengers hostage on our barge and you are going to take two of my wardens out for another set because we prefer not to have to eat this bison without lobster."


"Just do what I say and you will understand.  I am a sworn officer of the law and a protector of wildlife.  Do you guys have a couple of gaffs we could use to maneuver that buffalo  into the sling we have on the crane?"

Skipper said yes and David and I jumped onto the WTF with the gaffs. Skipper  motored way with the two wardens and began resetting our gear.  We had already discarded our bait, so the wardens replenished our bait cages with some chunks of bloody seal meat from a cooler they off loaded from the WTF barge.

David and I stood by with our gaffs as we idled up to the carcass, which was slowly drifting with the tide into deeper water.  We gaffed each end of it and the wardens guided it rather expertly into the sling.  The winch on the crane groaned a bit as this animal that must have weighed close to a ton was strapped into a spreader bar and inverted above the water immediately adjacent to the rail.

     As they were engaging in what seemed like a very practiced routine, I asked them what it was that they were doing.

    "This is part of a new program whereby Fish and Game wants to personally share the experience of its constituents by engaging with them."

"I mean with the bison."

He looked at me as he momentarily backed away from the spots in the hide he had been carefully notching with a Kukri knife.  "Oh, we are allowed to shoot one bison a week, to take measurements and stuff....but then we get to eat it and then mail our feces into the DFW lab where they document it."

"Document it for what?"

"For evidence of human feces of course."

     One of the wardens inserted the end of an air pressure hose into the notch which had been cut into the hide and then turned on the compressor, which fired up in a startling grind.  He inserted the nozzle into the notch in the hide and squeezed the lever.  The hide began inflating and separating from the carcass.  They pulled it completely off in a flurry of pneumatic tearing.   They spread the hide out on the deck and then pulled a heavy duty SAWZ-ALL from a coffin-sized tool chest. It had a 14 inch stainles steel reciprocating blade. The warden handling the saw put on goggles and a Grundig rubber overall-and-jacket combination.  He began butchering off slabs of prime bison meat that the other wardens helped peel off with the gaffs like the crew of the Pequod harvesting blubber under Ahab's watchful eye.  They worked with unbelievable precision and purpose.

Our attention was drawn to the leeward. Skipper and the two wardens tied up alongside with twenty more lobster and got off the boat.

The head warden then addressed me again.  "  I ran your GO ID on our DFW database.  Your story about the bogus fine checks out.  Because of our mistake in assessing a fine against you when you had done nothing to deserve it, we are awarding you guys thirty-five pounds of delicious buffalo steaks to take home with you.  In addition, I want to also say that the Skipper of this boat is, without a doubt, the finest lobster skipper I have ever met in 47 years of writing tickets and protecting wildlife for this remarkable state agency, as evidenced by his harvest of twenty lobster for my two men in just one set.  We will all get to celebrate the end of the year with locally caught surf and turf.  Now, please get away from here and speak to no one about this."  He handed back our cell phones.

We remained puzzled, but decided to do as we were instructed.  It had been both a confusing and educational experience.

We cleaned up in San Pedro and divided up our catch.  All of the bugs we caught were females.

 I invited a bunch of our pals to come over for a pre-New years eve get-together.

Tommy and David stood in for the obligatory "Lobster Life" documentation.  

After prepping all day, your narrator shook up and assisted in consuming a Liquidity of Manhattans.

I dared anyone to not eat all of the bison steak and lobster that they could possibly ram into their digestive systems.

The food all came out pretty well and our diehard Packer neighbors were able to celebrate their team's victory in style, rather than coming over and inflicting buzz kill.

This was the the most consistent crawl I have ever seen in decades of lobstering.  We met a bunch of righteous guys from the Department of Fish and Game who proved to us how much this agency cares about wildlife and legal justice.  Once again, we learned a lot more about the constant innovation the Department is injecting into its experimental programs to improve the experience of their license buying constituents.

  I realize that I was told not to talk about this program, but it is really too peculiar to  keep secret and nobody is really going to read this post anyway.  If you do, don't tell. 

 There, I think that counts as confidentiality.

Wishing all of you a great start to a New Year and a new set of experiences, or at least more of your favorite ones.

These Are the Days.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Winter Solstice

A couple of weeks ago I went over to our offshore spot with Secret Skipper to chase lobster.  It was raining on the front end of an approaching storm, so we had the island to ourselves.   We kept at it through the weather, nabbing limits evenly distributed between deep and shallow sets.

We played a lot of name that tune with the radio on, but I  could not get Skipper to stop singing his own version of Neil Sedaka's "Ooh, I Hear Lobster in the Rain."

We had our usual follow-up foody gathering at home, as well as the obligatory growth chart photo of the boys with this season's first bugs.  It was a good start and a hopeful harbinger for good rainfall this year.

On December 21, to celebrate the Winter Solstice, which is always a particularly meaningful waypoint in the seasonal calendar for me, I took our bastard barbarian pointer Tashtego and joined Robert and Todd at 4 am on a hunt near Mount  Palomar for the opening day of a week-long band tail pigeon season.  The altitude and uphill hiking in the darkness was a bit of a challenge for me, but Robert and Todd are experienced outdoorsmen and they showed the way. 

 The weather was windy and cold, with the advanced guard of the front that now has us all in its grip.  This type of pursuit involves full camo forest hunting in pines and oaks.  Hunters find a hidden spot in the trees with a decent field of fire, or put a stalk on birds that had settled in among nearby branches.  We were using #4 shot and full chokes.

The birds were pretty sparce where I was.  I never got a shot off, but Robert filled out his two bird limit and Tash was relentless in his retrieves, recovering both birds in the steep tangle.  Tash eventually decided to mostly follow Robert around instead of me. 

 Even though he is only eight months old, he has tremendous hunting drive and already knows how to sort out and associate himself with the most talented hunter in the group.  We also hit the area around Julian for some productive glassing for deer.  Both the hiking and driving featured beautiful scenery.  The trip was a great way to mark the shortest day of the year before this big weather drove us all inside toward the fire, the food and the fellowship that calls us home this time of year.

As we look back on another year, it is important to remember the opportunities we have made to celebrate
and to toast our blessings

The Solstice is that darkest of days which gives us pause to roll back through the year of memories and look forward to brighter days to come.

We added a couple of new family members
and caught a glimpse of adventures to come

We savored the occasions to walk together
and apart

Once again, the longest of nights has passed and we are in the realm of expanding light as we begin another round of chances to hang out and cash in our time with one another.

Neptune has issued the biggest tides of the year and Apollo has regained celestial primacy. May memory always allow me to celebrate this seasonal turning point with my favorite song from the Optimistic Land of OZ.

"We're out of the Woods,
We're out of the Dark,
We're out of the Night.
Step into the Sun,
Step into the light.

Winter's big weather is surely on the way, but we have once again rounded the horn on the battle between light and darkness.

May the advancing light of a newborn year show us a path to make more memories, a better world, and never let us forget that

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Thanksgiving Pheasants at Woodland's Hunt Club

    We had Thanksgiving week set aside from work and school, so we dialed up Mendel Woodland and set up a hunt for Tuesday of that week.  The hunting crowd would be light and the big rain was not set to hit until the next day.
     Our companions on this walkabout were Ryan Stewart and his son Alec.  We were joined by expert breeder/handler David Awbrey and his son Gabriel, who came out to help us with the dogs we got from David's Mudbone Kennels six months ago.
     Tommy, David and I got the dogs and gear into the car late Monday afternoon and pointed the truck toward El Centro around 4:45 pm, which is the wrong time to start a trip down that way.  We hit some traffic and decided to stop in the cool altitude of Alpine, where  we were seated at the dog friendly patio at the Alpine Tavern. 

 Our jackets came in handy and the burgers were really good.  We forgot our dog food, so we had to splurge on multiple grilled chicken breasts for Dersu and Tashtego.
       The delay allowed Alec and Ryan to catch up and arrive first at our overnight destination at the Quality Inn in El Centro. We purchased emergency dog food at the CVS across the street.
        We got up early and made it to the motel's captive Denny's for a big fat breakfast and then took the 20 minute drive to Mendel's place.  Mendel was waiting for us when we got there and we all headed out to the fields after Mendel awarded us cool hats.

          Dave joined us with his muscular Vizsla Vince, who relentlessly swept the field that held both rooster pheasant and chukar partridge.
           Our pups were both stoked to be out there, but Dersu soon let us know that he was more interested in getting back to our base camp of trucks and chairs.  We substituted Tashtego soon thereafter and Dersu passed on his second rotation when we tried to work him into the line up.  
 David added a headless bonus hen that flew right at and directly above him as he torched off a round.  Ryan and Alec also got in decap shots, which makes for a clean presentation at the dinner table and a spectacularly disturbing separation in the moment of impact.
     Vince was relentless in his pursuit, as he began pointing on birds as we worked Tash into the point on the end of a 30 foot lead, as Tash is not to be trusted to stay close in a field full of birds and bird scent.   
      Although we had a few get away from our gunfire and also the pursuit of the dogs, we hit most of our targets, including several multi-chukar flushes that startled out of the dense alfalfa in a panic of percussive wing bursts.   
      Everyone got in on the action  and made some really nice shots.   My phone battery died, so I did not get any photos in the field. 
     Just like last time, we were treated to a great military display from the nearby Naval Air Station.  We watched as helicopter gunships made strafing runs with rockets and cannons that produced flaming gunfire and staccato thumps of ground impact.
     Dave, Gabriel and their cool dogs had to leave us after we had done most of our damage, but Tash kept hunting the strays that escaped us earlier and we eventually tallied up 16 pheasant and 9 chukar for the day. Tash was not perfect and left a couple downed birds we could not find (without a dog) to chase after new prospects when we let  him off the leash, but he still got us four birds in a final pass from which perfect gundogmanship would have produced six. 

David, as usual, got in a few solo gunslinger photos as Tommy chased Tashtego into the horizon.  He totally ran off after a stray bird when we came back and started to set out the dead birds for the photo session that he avoided, along with Tommy, who came back for one last picture.

      Upon his return, Tash also availed himself of the opportunity to run loose through the camp and catch my mirror-finish 25 year-old Weatherby on his long lead before taking it on a gun-bashing sleigh ride through the gravel of an irrigation ditch.  The gun is likely to outlive both dog and master, so Tash has carved his own love note on a classic double gun that had survived scores of hunts without blemish.  

Ryan and Alec gather behind the Plank of Plenty.  Note the Weatherby's last place of rest in the photo of the two hunters, before Tashtego tore through camp in Tommy's fleeting grasp.
     Victor  and his boy came to the cleaning shack after our hunt to help us clean and bag our bounty, as we had seriously dawdled in the pursuit of our indefatigable Chocolate German. 
     With Tash escaping like Major Shears from the camp on the River Kwai, Dersu trolled Colonel Saito beneath a bridge of birds he could not build himself. 
      After we said our goodbyes to Victor, we headed back hungry for a dinner stop at Montana Jane's  in Alpine.  This  time, we left our dirty, exhausted dogs resting in their kennels inside the truck as we had a really great dinner beneath a moose antler chandelier in the perfect atmosphere of their dining room.  Alpine in the most logical and picturesque midway stop on this trip from southern Orange County.

    We managed to hit a bit of traffic, finding that taking the 15 north instead of the 805 west offered no secret Northwest passage away from lengthy stretches of brake lights.  Both dogs and humans submitted to a thorough bathing process upon our return.
     Once again, we found room for improvement in our own experience and what we can expect from our dogs.  At this stage of our team's hunting development, Dersu is chasing a more polite and ornamental identity. Tash needs restraint from his Ahab-like pursuit, up with which we cannot keep. 
      In recognizing our reality, the e-collars have been ordered, but both of these dogs are already smarter and more loyal to America than Devin Nunes will ever live to be.

     Ryan planned what sounded like a great Pheasant-featured Thanksgiving dinner.  We jumped the gun and had a bunch over for a pre-Thanksgiving game bird feast with many side dishes and sobriety-quenching beverages.  We slow-cooked the pheasant leg/thigh sections in a hoison/citrus vinegrette.  We roasted the chukars in little bags after marinating them in lemon-pepper-garlic dressing and rubbed and roasted the pheasant fore-sections in bacon jackets.

Utilizing these culinary variations, we were able to stretch out our stomachs in an exercise from the Book of Yoga for Gluttons, allowing us to digestively limber-up for the eat-to-win contest with our relatives the next day.
     Later, the carcasses were used for my traditional cauldron of pheasant soup that is a recipe straight out of MacBeth's Book of Primitive Hospitality.  We hope that you all enjoyed good company in whatever celebration you arranged as we roll into what sure looks like winter weather.  The longest tides of darkness are now upon us, but the fires are out, the mornings are crisper and

These Are The Days



Monday, October 21, 2019

Mexicali Redbirds

    Friday night, Tommy, David and our two pointing puppies Dersu and Tashtego hardnosed the highway with me for our first pheasant hunting trip together.  The boys had licensed up after completing their hunter's safety course at On Target in Mission Viejo.  The dogs had recently completed their first live bird training day with the Inland Empire and San Diego chapters of NAVHDA (North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association) at the Honey Springs facility in eastern San Diego county.  The local properties like Raahagues hunt club and Four Winds where I used to go with their older brother Isaac and our old pointer Victor to chase the redbirds are gone now.  The dedicated operators who used to scratch it out so we could still experience upland game action have been driven out of business by the ratchet-like forces in our state that doom such enterprises to shuttering their operations and never coming back.

      The latest onslaught of California laws regulating hunting, guns and ammo plagued our preparation  for this longer journey as well.  We are now required to use steel shot, but unless you have the new Real California ID, you cannot purchase it in California.   

 Fortunately, I had a few boxes left over from a couple of seasons ago, but I am not currently eligible to purchase ammunition in the State of California, where I have hunted for the past 45 years. We got it done, but this asinine obstacle to outdoor recreation is an example of why some folks think that California, a state I adore above all others, is stupid.  I have now applied to my home state of Ohio to get a certified copy of my birth certificate, so that I can commence the process of proving that I am a US citizen to the indoor wizards of bureaucracy who are imposing this stumbling block to outdoor activity.

      We headed down to El Centro to spend the night at the dog friendly and cattle-pungent grounds of the Quality Inn, so that we could arrive at Mendel Woodland's pheasant hunting property in Imperial at 7 am after getting a great six am breakfast at Denny's, an eatery which has always been synonymous with family road trips for me.

      When I booked our day earlier in the week, I explained to the owner, Mendel Woodland, that we had six month old pointers and two 14 year old boys who had never hunted live birds, but who were reasonably handy at hitting moving targets with shotguns from our standard family indoctrination into essential American marksmanship.  Mendel was helpful and encouraging.  He advised me to get a handler and an experienced dog to show our pups the way of the Jedi knights of the dog world, so that is what we did.

      We arrived at the site on the lucky view side of Mexicali Mountain in Mexico, after a 20 minute ride from El Centro, the last three miles of which was an agricultural dirt road that took us past the network of canals that provide sustenance to this thirsty farmland.  Fighter jets from the adjacent Naval  Air Facility provided us with some pretty cool distractions as they maneuvered about in the clear skies above.  We brought our binoculars to take in the free air show.

     The boys got the dogs out and we cruised the grounds as we awaited our escorts in the long shadows cast by temples of stacked hay.

     Mendel's ambassador Joanna arrived to greet us and explain what we would be doing.  She introduced us to Victor, our guide for the day, and his five year-old German Shorthair pointer Duchess.  This dog was very mellow and experienced.  She had just given birth to a litter four weeks earlier, but was ready for business.   Our dogs immediately bonded with her and followed her around, just as we had hoped.

     We took to the field after getting some safety reminders and a game plan from Victor, who spoke only Spanish.  This might have been more of an obstacle for me, but Tommy and Davey are both fluent in Spanish, so their translation of our conversations and Victor's suggestions made the day that much richer.

     We took our German Chocolate Tashtego out first, as he is the most bird obsessed of our two pups.  We kept him on a long lead at first, as he followed Duchess into some pretty thick cover.  The taller grass made the birds invisible, but kept them from being able to sprint away.  Duchess began scenting into the light wind and going on point. 

We flushed our first pheasant and Davey, who was using his sister Lizzy's 20 gauge side-by-side, knocked it down with his first shot. Duchess brought it back to hand before wheeling and going on point again.

  Another rooster flushed in front of Davey and he fired his second shot for his second bird.  Tash paid attention and began to stalk the birds that Duchess was locating, eventually taking over the retrieval duties like a user who just got handed the keys to the pharmacy. 

 Victor encouraged us to drop the long lead we had on Tashtego to prevent him from running off birds, as Victor correctly perceived that Tash was a quick learner and understood what was going on.  Victor began holding his dog back as we moved on birds and let Tash come in for the flush and retrieve.  The birds began flying Tommy's way and he started dropping them with a quick little Remington 20 gauge auto-loader.

     We got five in pretty short order and went back to change puppies.  Dersu came out and followed Duchess around, scenting the air and backing up his dog teacher, while Tash wailed back at the truck for his turn to come around again.  Dersu was less aggressive at wanting to usurp Duchess' role as primary dog and he was content to ride side car and bound like a deer through the field to celebrate the idea of being a hunting dog. 

 We were stoked that both of our dogs did not range far out into the field and came back to us whenever we called them in.

     Dersu was pretty psyched while he was in the field, but he started to lose focus as the sun beat down and we rotated Tash back into the lineup.  Our little harpooneer came off the bench like a player looking at free agency as he relentlessly bounded through the tall grass to gather red-eyed prey for his gunners.

 He began hogging all of the retrieves and was electrified by the experience.

     The sun got higher and we took more hydration breaks.  Tash was on fire when he was up, but Dersu started to head back toward shade where Tash was tied up when it was his turn to join Duchess in the field.  I think I heard Tash say to Dersu "What is wrong with you?" when Dersu left the field to join Tash near the truck.  Tash was more than happy to give up his shade to get back into action.

     I shot back-up for the boys, who were almost always on target, so that I just worked in a few shots on birds that looked like they might get away.  Three of them did, but we ended up with thirteen roosters and I think Tommy and Davey dropped ten of them, with the death from below being pretty evenly distributed.

     We had some fast pursuits across fields and canals.  Tommy managed to get his shoe sucked off by the mud in the bank of a canal he did not make his longest jump of the day to clear, but that was near the end of the hunt.

  Above,Tommy walking a levee road with Victor and a nice rooster Tommy dumped after  extracting himself  from the mud and retrieving his shoe.  Shortly after this photo was taken, Tommy handed his gun to Victor so that he could carry our exhausted Tash back to the diminishing shade near the truck, where a well-rested Dersu posed with us, as his rubbery buddy was now completely unwilling to voluntarily leave the shade to pose with our bounty.

Davey, like his Crockett namesake, did not waste a lot of ammo missing birds, so we took this shot while Tommy made another effort to drag Tash back into the sun for a group shot.

 At the end of the morning, when we had done our damage, Joanna drove out to us in her badass truck to bring us sodas and delicious burritos that we scarfed down back at the buildings at the the club HQ.  Woodland's has a cool bird cleaning facility and Victor showed my boys the best way to skin out and clean a pheasant.  The fact that it was Victor who was actually doing the wet work was probably a substantial factor in convincing my boys that his was a superior method.

     After Victor took our pictures and we got our birds packed away in the ice chest, we wheeled toward the Pacific and took Interstate 8 through the mountains and back to the coast.  We were home by 5 pm, which probably seemed like a short ride to the dogs and boys who all slept like Rip Van Winkle on the 3 1/2 hour ride home in our ancient Ford War Wagon.  I would have to say it was well worth the time and effort we put in to make this happen.
      We invited our friends and family over for a Sunday feast that featured a number of my different pheasant recipes, none of which rendered these birds inedible.

     I sure appreciate the day that Mendel's club and Victor's perfectly administered lesson plan was able to provide.  This was an extremely positive first experience for both the dogs and humans of our pack.

     As soon as I can get the documents from Youngstown, Ohio to prove my citizenship, I intend to buy more ammunition and get back out to Woodland's again. These dogs are going to get more skillful and willing to get into our photos without the application of force. The season is young, as is this new crop of hunting creatures whose training is just getting under way.  Crisper mornings for winter upland game weather are on the way, so we can dust off our jackets and dream of field time to come, knowing that

These are the Days.