Hunting Report for fall, 2009
First of all, allow me to wish you a Happy New Year as we start another decade. So far, so good. The bird hunting season will last a while longer. That is for the best, since local fishing has mostly been rather lame.
November 18 – Bob and I joined Mike and his son Patrick for some fine upland game hunting at the Hunter’s Creek Club north of Detroit, Michigan. In a case of Déjà vu, we experienced a repeat of our damp weather of last year, as we sauntered and shot with the same guide (Jamie) and his now nine year old Brittany named Hoss.
We got a bit of a late start, which we compounded by eating primate chili in the clubhouse and then going out to shoot a few rounds of practice at the trap range. We had burned most of our daylight when we got out to our fields to begin our armed march. We let a few leak out, but mostly knocked down everything that flushed. Hoss, as always, found every bird that went down, no matter how heavy the cover. We took some time to find all of our shot birds, which meant that we left a few unmolested, as a subtle gray-light sunset chased us on our purposeful walk.
The four of us shot more than twenty birds – most of them were rooster pheasants, but there were some chukar in our program as well. The most interesting bird we encountered, and which I had never seen before, were what Jamie referred to as black pheasants. The belly and neck were navy blue, almost black, giving way to emerald highlights near the wings and the usual camouflage pattern on the back and wing tops. The head and collar pattern were traditional white-banded red. There is one in the picture, but the features are not on display.
We shot until it was too dark to safely shoot, even though it is kind of fun to get the 12 gauges to barf up some sparky flame in the dim light. Patrick shot very well with a pump 20 gauge and was good company. This was not his first time out. We had to leave in kind of a hurry because someone said that the owners of the property next door thought I looked a lot like the guy who shot their trespassing monkeys last year.
Afterwards, Bob and I met up with Mike and his wife Kara for some great food and wine before we headed back to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham and our early flight back to California.
December 19 – I went on a hunt for what proved to be very elusive quail below Mount Palomar in San Diego County. I went with Robert, his Brittany Sasha, and Robert’s friend Kurt. They both met my dog Victor and I in San Juan before carpooling the rest of the way to San Felipe - not the Mexican San Felipe, but the one near Lake Henshaw, which is not much more than a mud hole now. We spent some time hiking at dawn through some rough terrain that featured virtually every species of closely packed cactus the southwest has to offer. I plucked many spines out of my dog and myself. I had just had eye surgery a week earlier and was anxious to test out my ability to acquire moving targets. This hunt proved to be more of what I refer to as hiking with a gun. I did manage to squeeze off one largely symbolic shot at a quail that flushed too far out and flew directly into the rising sun. The rest of the covey was unshootable, as it flushed at a greater distance and with a crueler angle of departure. We saw a few more small coveys, but they were mostly out of range and flying quickly through flora that left my jeans in shreds.
We moved up the mountain toward Palomar to hunt in the coolness of altitude above 5,000 feet. At the dirt lot at the base of the mountain trail head, we noticed a dusty Jeep Cherokee with Korean martial arts stickers on it. We looked inside and observed several ice chests, disposable surgical clothes and gloves. After we worked our way further up the trail, the forest thickened up and we encountered some Asian guy and his two teenage daughters, who appeared to be around 14 and 15 years old. They were noticeably taller than he was. The father was dressed in designer sweats. He approached us rapidly from where a wheelbarrow was stashed near some tangled bushes. He kept the wheelbarrow behind him as he closed the distance between us. He spoke to us, with a friendly tone, in pidgeon English, which he might have been faking. He introduced his daughters proudly as we greeted one another. They just nodded without speaking and smiled in a knowing manner. They didn’t really seem shy, but rather appeared… interrupted. The girls were dressed in silk floral pattern pajamas and tennis shoes. They each had Remington 1100 youth-model shotguns with military slings, Hello Kitty knapsacks that matched their pajamas, and bandoliers filled with shotgun shells like those worn by cinematic Mexican banditos. The shells in the bandoliers ranged from #6 birdshot all the way to 00 buckshot and slugs. They were very polite, but would not tell us what they were hunting. All three of them lit up Lucky Strike no-filters with metal Zippo flop-top lighters as we tried to chat them up. The girls watched the smoke come out of their mouths as they blew plumes up into the splintered sunlight of the forest. The smaller one powered a smoke ring through a little smoke cloud that had stalled above her and then squinted as it dissipated. They seemed to be waiting for us to move on, so we leashed up our dogs and got the hell out of there.
We had an excellent lunch at the Lake Henshaw “Biker Friendly” café where they jar their own most excellent spicy pickles. We polished off the day with a few beers at the Swallows in San Juan.
December 31- Isaac, Victor and I headed out to Rahaagues pheasant club in Norco at 5:30 am. We had to wait a while for a thick ground fog to lift before we let Victor out for a sniff while we walked behind him with our cool Italian shotguns. It did not take long before Victor went onto a point that would have put him on the cover of Field and Stream. We dropped a chukar that didn’t flush from Victor’s frozen pose until we were assembled like a firing squad. Victor proceeded to quarter his way across the field like a champion and would suddenly lock onto beautiful points that he held without ever breaking. Isaac got several gorgeous birds with the Berretta Auto 302 he has sort of staked out, now that he has grown out of the youth sized Remington 1100 that is the starter gun for the Schmitt kids. I spanked a few with my new Benelli Super Sport. I just had to buy that one because there was no denying Isaac horning in on my Berretta, as he has grown like a weed this year. We flushed a total of 10 birds – six pheasant and 4 chukar. Two of the chukars were driven off by gunfire to fight another day, but all of the pheasant and two of the four chukar were able to make it to dinner. One of the nice things about Rahaague’s club is that they have a bird plucker, so if you don’t shoot the birds that hard, they clean them up with the skin on so that they look better than any whole chicken in the butcher shop. I generally prefer them skin on, but if I clean them myself, I am always too lazy to refrain from skinning, instead of plucking them.
We brined all 8 birds in my homemade marinade and smoked the five most pristine ones on New Years Day. We gave one pheasant away to a worthy person and put the last two in the crock pot. I made a painstaking reduction sauce, some wild rice casserole, and a salad. We served it all up for New Year’s dinner with our friends. I made a soup with the carcasses the next day and will be eating pheasant soup all week.
Wendy Jo has been trying to get me to go for a more vegetarian diet to get healthy this year. In her honor, as well as for the New Year, I had decided to eat only meat that I had personally killed until I lost the weight I had gained exercising my rights as a consumer during the Holidays. Although I froze some of the soup as a reserve against future deprivation, this resolution is harder than I thought it would be. I have come to realize that I require a serving of meat with almost every meal, even dessert. I suppose that is because humans are omnivorous and meat is in each of the five major food groups.
Tonight I got home late from the golf course. I had to spend almost three hours in a Ghillie suit near the water hazard on hole seven, waiting for the course marshal to make sure everyone was off the links at dusk. I am glad that we have this recreational resource in our community. It was cold and dark before I was able to leave with a pair of drake mallards I bagged with a pellet gun, which I have equipped with a home-made silencer. It consists of a duct-taped Red Bull can filled with tampons packed in a tight circle around a plastic straw. Thank God for the Boy Scout manual.
I was fortunate to get two ducks this evening, because I have little desire to go back out there for a the next few nights, especially with the rain we have in the forecast. I don’t want to seem paranoid, but I am a little afraid of getting caught. I think that this heightened sense of vigilance will assist me in my portion control and my appreciation for the opportunities I have been blessed with as an American. Plus, I think suburban poached duck just tastes better – you know, like how the same song just sounds better on a guitar you stole yourself, instead of one that your mom bought for you at a music store where they sell clarinets and trombones.
These are the days.