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 is 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