Thursday, October 30, 2014

Refried Mallard: A Series of Lovely Paintings

Quail season is nigh, and although I need to fill a couple muzzleloader deer tags before then to put some meat in our woefully empty freezer, I'd be lying if I said that birds and dogs are not occupying my thoughts these days. So a quote from the late, great Gene Hill, one of my favorites, from an old blog post a few years back...

I felt strange and somewhat rude as I walked in behind the point and honor - I was a man walking into what was so much like a famous painting that I almost had to laugh. But, if you're lucky, that's what a lot of quail hunting is - a series of lovely paintings that we walk into and out of all day long."

                                                                           Gene Hill, from My Respects to Mr. Bob...

...Which is the second story in the book you see above, a mint, limited-edition, slipcased copy of Lamar Underwood's "The Bobwhite Quail Book." This particular edition was published in 1981 by the Amwell Press to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Grand National Quail Hunt in Enid, Oklahoma.

I found it while perusing a thrift store recently. I paid a dollar for it. Sometimes even I get lucky.

This particular copy is number 61 of 500 and signed by Underwood and several other grand poobahs of the Grand National, one of those celebrity-driven, self-aggrandizing events that, quite frankly, I've never much cared for (probably because I have never been neither well-heeled nor important enough to ever be a part of it...)

But the book itself is wonderful. Lamar Underwood was the longtime editor of Sports Afield and a die-hard bird hunter. And "The Bobwhite Quail Book", first published in 1980, is one of the best collections of quail hunting sporting literature ever put together. I think it's still in print today, but early editions are pretty damn rare.

And it's also something of an artifact in that it represents something that is -  for the most part -  long gone. You couldn't publish a new book like this today because A: no one would buy it because it has words, thoughful words, and everyone knows thoughtful words are so, like, 20th century, and B: it's a collection of bird-hunting stories drawn mainly from the pages of Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life, back when such stories made up a good chunk of their feature wells. Have you noticed how many bird-hunting and gundog stories are being published in those magazines these days? That would be a mighty slim book...

So those of us enchanted with such things must seek our literary solace in the past and in what stories we can find among our online kindred. But reading through the book last night, that passage from Gene Hill's story struck me as a perfect description of what it is we seek in this obsession with gundogs: those moments of utter perfection and ethereal beauty that flash-burn themselves into our consciousness and leave softly ghosting images that stay with us long after the moment - and the dogs themselves - are gone. 

And a picture of my old pointer, D.P., sweetest, most gentle dog I ever owned. A little bit Elhew, a little bit Fiddler, and all bird dog. She made some lovely paintings for me in her day.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chad's Intergenerational American Male Incompetency Gradient

A couple knives built by my father, who is not a knifemaker but a consummate tinkerer, one of that generation who truly could (and still can) build, repair, or do just about anything with their hands, a generational trait that is, in most areas save perhaps advanced smart phone operation, sadly falling out of favor these days. In fact, some time ago, while trying to gauge exactly how much more capable in all manly things my father is than I, I actually formulated a theorem to that effect, called "Chad's Intergenerational American Male Incompetency Gradient," which states,  "Each succeeding generation of American male is, on average, 25 percent less competent in the manly arts than its immediate predecessor."

Then I realized that, if I'm being honest, I am much more than 25 percent less competent than my father, so I had to revise the gradient to reflect the rapidly accelerating rate of incompetence that began with my generation, and which, judging by the kids I see these days, has now reached Warp Speed.

But I digress. The knives: The one in the foreground was, in a former life, a blade made by the German firm Klaas. My father simply fitted the blade to his own shed antler crown handle, complete with handmade bolsters, spacers, and pommel. The finished product is, hands-down, the most comfortable and attractive handle of all the knives I own. I have large hands and it fits them like a glove. The knife itself does not see much use, not only because it's pretty, but because I simply don't use large blades that much. Neither does my dad, to be honest. He just got bored one day in his shop and made it for the hell of it. But is sure does look pretty sitting on top of my bookcase on a piece of walnut burl in front of a skull-mount buck I shot a couple years back.

The other knife was, in its former life, an old planer blade that my dad shaped into a very thin, very plain, but beautiful recurved trailing-point design, again with an antler crown handle and homemade bolsters and pins. I don't know what kind of tool steel that old planer blade was made of (01, maybe?), but like most tool steels actually used in tools, it's extremely hard, probably extremely brittle, takes an absolutely wicked edge (he convexed it) and holds that edge like a miser holds a nickel. Too thin and brittle for general use, but I do actually use this one to help cut up deer.

These are the first two attempts at knifebuilding my father ever tried. Like most men of his age and generation and social class (working) my dad is always making or fabricating or building something. I, on the other hand, have trouble opening a box of cereal. Oh, I can usually figure out how to do most things, but like the cereal box I sometimes make a damn mess doing it.

Could I do anything like this myself? Probably not. Because I am, according to Chad's Intergenerational American Male Incompetency Gradient, approximately 50 percent less competent than my father, a man who once, on a trip to Seattle, refused to enter the Space Needle. Why? Because my dad, a retired pipefitter and lifelong welder, had been inspecting the base of the Space Needle as we waited in line to enter, which is always a bad sign. Inspection complete, he then declared, "I'm not going up in that thing."

"Why, dad?" I asked wearily, knowing full well that my perfectionist father had probably found some alleged deficiency somewhere. I was, of course, used to it, because finding deficiencies, in both things and people, occurs quite frequently with my father.

"Because those are some of the shittiest welds I've ever seen," he replied, pointing out a weld that didn't pass muster. "Just look at that. Who'd the hell they get to build this thing, the local vo-tech class?" Eventually he was persuaded to - reluctantly - enter the Space Needle, but not without griping, endlessly, about the shameful decline of the American work ethic. You know, typical father stuff.

Luckily for him, since he lives in Montana and I live in Oklahoma, my father doesn't often get the opportunity to see his oldest son's sometimes, uhh...questionable  handyman handiwork. But one of these days, just for fun, I'm going to get him in my truck, get out on the highway, and as the speedometer creeps up to about 75 or so, I'll say, "Dad, you're gonna be proud of me! I just changed the brakes in this truck all by myself! I learned how to do it on YouTube!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Okie Lifehacks...

 How to temporarily repair a broken exhaust pipe weld using two beers*, two hose clamps, a tube of JB Weld, and The Big Lebowski.

Step One: Press and form JB Weld into the cracked exhaust pipe weld.

Step Two: Go inside, watch The Big Lebowski while drinking the two beers as you wait for the JB Weld to cure. Do not resume repairs until the movie is over and the beer cans are empty. This is a crucial step.

Step Three: Take the two empty beer cans into the garage, cut off their tops and bottoms, and slit lengthwise.

Step Four: Slide one can over the top of the weld joint, one can over the bottom of the weld joint, and place both cans to where they overlap the joint.

Step Five: Place the two hose clamps on either end of the overlapping cans and tighten as much as possible.

Step Six: Step back and observe your handiwork. Become very pleased with yourself. Go back inside and watch Fargo.

Step Seven: When you do eventually get around to taking the car to a muffler shop to have it repaired correctly, make sure your wife does it so they can't make fun of the idiot who thought this was a good idea.

*No, I don't usually drink Michelob Ultra, but my wife does, and those slightly longer-than-normal, skinny little cans were perfect for the repair. So don't judge.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


It's what's for dinner. Whaddya' expect? Halloween's just a couple weeks away... A little October creepiness, courtesy of an excerpt from a story I wrote a couple years back for Living Ready magazine...

"Night has fallen. And there’s nothin’ we can do about it."
                                                                                James Dickey, from “Deliverance”

"Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos," read the bumper sticker on the truck in front of me. I was stuck in traffic on a sweltering summer day, just another trapped suburban lemming, one of the untold millions doing the routine shuffle from my relatively safe and domesticated workplace to my relatively safe and domesticated suburban home.

But I knew instantly what it meant. And I also knew that the humor in the bumper sticker’s allusion to the infamous “Dueling Banjos” song of the equally infamous movie “Deliverance” (which, of course, was based on the brilliant James Dickey novel) masked an uncomfortable yet fundamental truth of human existence:  It’s not the bump in the night that scares us. Or even necessarily what made the bump in the night. What scares the hell out of us is thinking about what might have made the bump in the night.

There are multitudes of fears. The world is awash in them. In fact, the human condition itself can be defined by how we have evolved in response to fear: Fear of being eaten by larger, more fearsome predators, fear of death by starvation, thirst or exposure, the fear of being captured by a rival tribe or clan, and above all else, the fear of the unknown, at a time when the unknown often meant quick (or slow) grisly death. These days, of course, we have many fears, but our daily fears tend to be more abstract, less primal: Fear of losing the house, fear of getting passed over for a promotion, fear of our spouse leaving us for a more successful partner. Modern fears. Bloodless fears. Knowable fears.

To most of us, the old fears, the evolutionary fears, have been relegated to the status of scary bedtime story; cautionary tales meant to teach a lesson. The rise of society, culture, rules, and laws have beaten back such old fears. Rare these days is the coppery, electric taste of true terror, of being alone, helpless and at the mercy of something monstrous and unknown. The artificial construct of our societal safety nets envelop us, protect us, lull us into a stupor of complacency.

But those old fears will not go so gentle into that good night. The monsters are still with us, will always be with us. They never left us, of course, because they are us, dwelling in the long-forgotten vestigial DNA of a million huddling, terrified ancestors. They are the firelight shadows dancing on the wall of the cave. They are the snapping branch, the creaking staircase, the rustling in the closet, the monster that sits hungrily, silently, just beyond the feeble light of our vision like some half-remembered nightmare, waiting patiently for those moments when we foolishly wander outside the dim circle of the campfire.

And when that happens, when we do find ourselves outside the safety nets of society, culture, and laws, we also find out, sometimes to our horror, that the monsters of our fears are often not nearly as terrifying as the monsters of our realities…

It was a fun little story to write, with the added bonus that doing the research for it terrified me enough to insure I will never again leave home without packing heat for mortal monsters, and my official Van Helsing Paranormal Foe Defense Kit for the immortal variety. It makes for some awkward public moments, what with the multiple firearms and wooden stakes and vials of holy water and rosaries and books of incantations and such, but hey, no one ever said preparedness was easy or convenient or mainstream, right? Besides, Oklahoma's an open carry state, so trust me, I've seen much weirder... 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lively Game Guns and Stupidity

Nothing about shotgunning makes any damn sense at all, when you think about it. I mean, hitting an object with a shotgun is not voodoo, nor is it some mysterious alchemy. It should be a simple matter of physics, right? Right? So why the hell isn't it?

This is an Edwards recoil reducer. They've been made since the mid-Sixties, and are still fairly popular among shooters. This particular specimen was pulled out of the buttstock of my 1968-vintage Beretta BL-5 last year. Why? Because I'm an idiot, that's why. You can read about it here. 

And now this ugly slug of metal is messing with my head.

Here's the background: that 12-bore BL-5 was (past tense) my "lucky" gun. I shot it well, really well, and I don't shoot much of anything well. But it was a tad heavy in the butt, and didn't conform to my notions (or more accurately, the notions of others that I've read and then adopted as my own, because I'm a lemming) of how a game gun should feel. It wasn't what I considered "lively" (Lively? Now there's an overused gun writer's term. What the hell am I supposed to do with a "lively" gun? Dance with it?).

So toward the end of the 2013 quail season, after I had been shooting the gun really well, I took off the recoil pad and extracted that recoil reducer. Suddenly my gun was 12 ounces lighter, and (finally!) "lively." My plan was to tear the gun down, refinish the stock myself, get a set of 28-inch barrels I had bought on Gunbroker fitted to the action, and put it all back together. But the gun felt so good in the hand without that added weight, and swung so well (at least in the garage), that I just had to close out the season with it.

For the next seven days until the end of the season I went quail hunting almost every day, and missed virtually every quail I shot at. Almost every single one. That's not an exaggeration. But boy did it feel good in the hand, like a wand, really,you know..."lively."

I was frustrated. So much so that I put the gun away, afraid to follow through with any of my grand restoration plans. And I kept that recoil reducer, just in case. I didn't shoot the gun much at all last year, nor any clays with it this summer, but last month I drug it out and shot it on one dove hunt, and shot it well. But dove are not quail, and all the while there was a nagging little voice in my head telling me I'd screwed up, that I'd tinkered with something I shouldn't have tinkered with, and that I needed to make it right before quail season started.

I was warned. Both Uplandish and Phillip said I shouldn't do it, that mojo is a sensitive thing. Pshaw! I thought. Mojo? Shotgunning is a science, not some superstition-larded dark art.

Well, guess what I'm doing this weekend? It involves sticking a piece of metal back in its rightful place. Call it superstition, mojo, or the rational, empirically-based theory that perhaps the added weight helps smooth out my swing. Whatever. All I know is that from this fool there will be no more gibberish talk of lively game guns, and there will be no more screwing up of the mojo.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Old Dog Pics

September is the promise whispered on a cooling wind, but for me the first true day of fall has always been the first of October, regardless of what the calendar says. It is a curious month, my traditional month for pensive reflections on mortality, Deep Thoughts, and the passing of time. Mostly on the passing of time, the fading of what you once were, or hoped to be, and the reconciliation and acceptance of who you are. You know, the typical personal reflection and vague restlessness that most everyone, on some level, engages in when the seasonal change from the light of summer to the twilight of autumn triggers ancient, long-forgotten fears buried deep within our DNA.

I am no different, and in fact I am much worse than most. Which is why I'm sitting here on the first day of October, on a brilliant afternoon with a forecast high of 90 and not a hint of autumn anywhere, thinking about long-dead dogs, but mostly Lewey, my beloved male Chesapeake Bay retriever, who to me will always be four years old. He would have turned eight this January 20th. He was going to be my first field trial dog, then life got in the way and I had no choice but to set that dream aside for other things. Lewey and I never got the chance to at least try to fulfill his potential, and I've always felt a keen regret about that.

I have, however, followed from afar the progress of his littermate, a female named Judy that Lewey's breeder, Bill Burks, kept and has trialed. I even watched her run at a couple trials. I was recently browsing on the Team Chesapeake website (a forum for chessie enthusiasts that I lurk on sometimes) when I noticed a thread about Lewey's sister Judy winning the amateur at a recent field trial. That puts her, according to Bill, within 1 1/2 points of her AFC (Amateur Field Champion), which is a big, big deal in the field trial world, especially for chessies.

It's an incredibly impressive achievement, and I have no doubt that Judy and Bill will win that AFC. But I can't help but wonder - on this first day of a month devoted largely to wondering and musing about stuff - how Lewey might have turned out if things had worked out a little differently and I'd had the opportunity to devote to Lewey like I wanted to. Not to the level of Bill and Judy, of course, but to just participate in and enjoy the game, the scene, and maybe even be mildly competitive once in a while, when the marks fell our way. I would have liked to have experienced that. On the other hand, Lewey got a lot of love and picked up a lot of ducks in his four years, and was beloved by our entire family (I still call Ozzy Lewey on occasion). That counts for something, too, I guess. And who knows, maybe someday I'll find another like him, and see where it goes. That's all you can do, really, with anything; just try it and see where it goes.