Around Here

7I9A70617I9A7912 7I9A79077I9A7079 7I9A70837I9A70977I9A7203 7I9A7235 7I9A7286 7I9A72977I9A71787I9A7830 7I9A78627I9A8146 7I9A8148 7I9A8152 7I9A81577I9A80877I9A79397I9A6638 7I9A6680 7I9A6737 7I9A6759It’s difficult to believe that it’s only been winter for a couple of days (officially).  The times here are finally quiet with a sense of steadiness and lack of rushing, which is how I always think the end of the year should play out.

Quiet.  Introspective.  Cold.  Steady.  Restful.

Before all things begin anew.

 

 

The Frank Church

Most of you now know I spent ten days in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness of Idaho on my elk hunt this year.  I want to share the images from that trip with you in this space and if you’d like to read a bit about it, you can proceed to the Danner blog where an essay about the trip is currently published and I have some of my field notes and images in a secondary post over on the Western Rise blog.  Additionally, if you are following my Instagram account, I have posted portions of my field notes from the trip in conjunction with a few images from the trip in my feed.

I photographed this hunt in an official capacity for both Danner as well as Seek Outside and it was so much fun to blend work with play with the insanity of a backcountry high hunt.  I’m still very happy with my work from this trip (so are those companies) (yay!).

This is one of the most amazing trips Robert and I have ever taken together.  I hope you feel the wildness while you sift through these images.

Also, I am aware that many of you do not hunt and probably wonder things about hunting all the time!  I encourage you to ask any questions you might have in my comment space!  One of the reasons I photograph and share stories about hunting big game and upland is because it’s what I have always done here — lived my life with conviction and shared what I am learning.  Also, I feel we live in a political and social atmosphere that is anti-omnivore, anti-firearm and anti-hunting.  I share because I want people to know the truth — that there is a way to take life, so that you can live, that is full of beauty, respect, love and holiness.  I am interested in clearing up any confusion there may be on the matter by educating folks as best as I can.  I am interested in changing hearts and minds on the matter.  It will be my pleasure to answer your questions as best as I can as well as bust any myths you may have been fooled into believing.  Inform yourself and the make up your own mind on the matter!  In the meanwhile, let me answer any questions you may have on how hunting legally works, how to get tags, general rules and regulations…ask away!

As always, huge thanks and love to Robert, for doing such a great job of teaching me how to hunt and how to hunt well (and there’s still so much to learn).

Lastly, please note:

There are a few images of a dead animal in this blog post since I had a successful deer hunt instead of a successful elk hunt — I feel these are beautiful, truthful images which is why I have shared them here.  My goal is not to offend your senses.  We hunt to eat.  If you are intolerant of firearms, omnivores and the practice of harvesting wild, clean meat from wild, clean lands please do not leave me nasty, judgmental comments in my comment section in an attempt to publicly shame me for my life choices.  Instead, please feel free to send me a respectful, intelligent email regarding your concerns on the matter:

thenoisyplume@gmail.com  

Thank you kindly.

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Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music occupied my every moment. Cares I knew not, and cared naught about them.
[John James Audubon]

http://www.thenoisyplume.com/blog/2014/12/19/9447/

Ten Thousand Hours

Farley is locked up on a staunch point, frozen in place with his head turned back over his shoulder, his nostrils flaring, his eyes shining in the cold.  I line up his point by following the direction of his nose and eyes to the base of a scraggly brush; there, where the roots form an abstracted cage against the earth, I see a pheasant dressed in drab greys and browns.  I relax and step forward through the snow, shotgun idle in my right hand now turning numb with cold, I kick the bottom of the bush with my boot and call out to Robbie, “Hen!”  So he’ll know to not shoot.

The hen rises up out of the snow, twigs and grey of winter on broad, thumping wings.  I feel the wind of her flight on my face.  We watch her as she goes deeper into the night where it grows in the East.

Farley looks at me like I’ve betrayed him.  I tell him, “That’s a hen, big boy.  No bird.  Get on.”  He blinks at me once, turns on his heels, and heads off into the brush and thicket at a gentle but determined jog — a gait he has spent ten years developing, a pace he can hold for hours on end.  He heads out into a blaze of winter white blended with hay stubble that buzzes in an adamant breeze.  He heads out into the exotic scent of rooster on the wind, into the dream that every bird dog dreams; to run, to sniff, to catch scent, to point, to wait for the shot, to retrieve, to give the game to the master, to be thumped on the arse by the palm of a gloved hand and told, “Good boy.  Good work.

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We are on a ranch that belongs to our friends; every curve of the earth here speaks of legacy.  The land rises up in good natured swoops and is strung together by wisps of brush that serve to fortify the drainages cut into stone by mountain water.  Bunches of thorns and brambles give way to scrub aspen and sagebrush and it is in the broadness of these places that the pheasant can be found.  This is a thriving and wild population of birds, an even mixture of hen and rooster, tail feathers here grow long and graceful, and the birds are fat on wild forage.

It is snowy.  We track pheasant through the snow, their footprints are are easy to spot and almost Jurassic in nature compared to the other upland birds we hut.  We monitor the dogs as they work, breathe out our cold smoke into the warm gleam of the sunset and trudge, step by step, upwards, paying attention to the body language of the pups as they quarter the space before us.

Pheasant are runners, they will run to eternity and beyond; flying is a last resort.  The dogs catch scent, move cautiously, wait tentatively with their noses pointed into the wind, creep forward, relocate, and then break into an easy trot again.  We walk quickly, keeping up is vital, no working dog should work in vain.

IMG_6663 IMG_6713I can feel the wind gusts brushing my face rosy, I shift my gun back and forth in my hands as I try to keep feeling in my fingers.  It is a cold night to hunt, the sun has slipped away and the air is fading to blue, chilling itself further as it passes over snow and ice.  We have been walking for a while, my body feels warm but there is an insidious tingling in my toes no matter how fast I move or how much I stomp my feet.  I tuck my chin down into my coat layers, as I always do, squint, try to wet my stony eyeballs with warmth by blinking too many times, and feel my exhalation turn to fine crystal on the curves of my cheekbones.

I am working closely with Farley while Robert keeps tabs on Tater Tot.  I always feel lucky to be partnered with our white dog; Farley is an expert.  When I say expert, I mean a master hunter.  His bird repertoire is as extensive as the interior West allows and includes some waterfowl; he is a true utility gun dog and the envy of many of our friends.  He knows how to respectively work every species bird he hunts, how hard he can push them, what to expect of them behaviorally and what their preferred cover looks like.  Some people say pheasant cannot be properly hunted by a pointer but if they had the great pleasure of hunting behind Farley, they would be forced to adopt a different opinion on the mater.  Farley doesn’t believe in wasting time.  He is efficient, right down to the speed at which he carefully covers ground.  He is a patient teacher, I learn from him every time we work together.

Tater Tot, on the other hand, is a young dog.  Pheasant are hard on him.  He has been raised on chukar and Hungarian partridge in big, wide open country which is perfect for a dog that runs huge.  Any bird we hunt in thick brush results in him making some mistakes.  He’ll learn, he’ll get better, it’s a matter of him working on his ten thousand hours and perfecting his craft.  With that in mind, Tater Tot teaches me, too, every single time we go out.  I learn from his mistakes and his successes.

I watch our dogs develop their craft and I learn to be patient with myself when it comes to developing my own craft, when it comes to building my gifts and honing my talents.  I remember that developing a voice within the realm of creative work can take a lifetime of evolution.  I realize that learning about myself enough to be proficient at expressing myself is honest work I can afford to be tenacious about; it is work that is worth the work.

Having an incredible bird dog isn’t just about bloodlines (though, those do help), it’s about exposure and development of natural instinct, it’s about taking my pup out and getting him into big country where he can work his heart out, rise to his full potential and develop a sturdy foundation for his skill set.  From time to time, Tater is going to bust coveys, run over singles, approach birds from the wrong direction and suffer moments of impatience and occasionally he might lose all all self-control and gallop around like a buckaroo.

He will lock up on exquisite, unexpected points on tight holding birds and will look as majestic as anything; he will have moments wherein he is god of all the dogs.  He will have good luck.  He will have bad luck.  There will be days when he rules the world on his four fleet feet and his humans will fail to get him his bird.  But in all of that success and failure and learning, he’ll be working steadily on his craft until one day, we’ll cast him off into the sagebrush and rim rock to do his work and realize that he, too, has become a master of his craft.

I hope I can say the same of myself someday.  Until then, there are those wily old pheasants running fast through the snow, tails streaming behind them like comets, and our little brown pup going forth earnestly and courageously into the winter white.

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We Never Feast Alone

We camped within a quarter mile of where Robert shot and field dressed his antelope while we were in Wyoming the other week.  In our tent at night, after we had crawled into our sleeping bags, after our friends had done likewise, after the fire had grown cold, after the moon rose, I could feel them coming (a buzzing intuition in my bones), I knew they were following the scent of blood on the wind, noses pointing true with their bushy tails streaming behind them like wild arrows; the coyotes.  Nothing goes to waste in nature and what pieces we left behind of our antelope — the yawning curve of rib cages, sinuous neck attached to tidy head, the knobbed line of spine pressed into dirt, tufted hide — all of those remainders serve a purpose.

I lay there in the night, bundled in goose down beside my husband, and listened to a festival of coyotes under ancient starlight.  While I listened, I pondered the rites and rituals that hold hands with the act of hunting for food.  I thought about my five unsuccessful stalks that day.  I recalled my frustration after hard work led to failure.  I remembered the successful stalk I had in the evening, every painstaking moment of it.  I thought about how cleanly the bullet I shot from my rifle had pierced two lungs and how I had watched, through a scope, as the dust rose up from the sage, displaced into the wind by the impact of an animal that had died a good and instant death.  I thought about the warm light from a sinking sun on her magnificent face as I sat in the dirt beside her and held her head in my hands.  I thought about the coarse depth and scent of her fur, the softness of her white cheek.

I lay there in moon glow, listened to the chorus of feasting coyotes, and I thought about how wolves hunt.  I thought about how wild things tear each other limb from limb while hearts are still beating in broad chests, I thought about the ferocity of fangs and claws, the images I have seen of bison with torn hamstrings sinking down into crimson snow.  I pondered how elegant and kind a bullet can be.

I remembered my patient wait for a doe in profile.  I recalled why I never want my food to taste like fear.  I promised myself, in the dark of the night, under the sigh of wind on a nylon tent fly that I would always do my best to hunt in a way I can be proud of, and not in a prideful way, but in a manner that is free of regret and shame.  I want to move through nature like I belong in the forests and on the high plains (because I do belong in those spaces), pursue my prey with boldness, confidence and patience.  I want to work my prey like I watch Farley work a bird in the field, tirelessly, intuitively, gracefully, surely and instinctively.  I don’t want my animals to know I am coming.  I want them to fall without realizing they are falling.  I don’t want it to be easy, I want it to be a challenge I take up with an earnest tenacity and full heart.  This is the way I always want to hunt.

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I lay there in our tent, with my shoulder pressed against Rob’s shoulder, I listened to him breathe, I was aware of our aliveness.  I lay there in the night beneath the moon and I listened to the coyotes feeding on the tailings of the hunt.  I heard the coyotes yip between bites of rib and hock and I could see the cycle of life fling itself out before me like a beam of light into a night sky.  

Once the coyotes have bitten bones in two and licked free the last of the marrow cream, there will be a remainder, the spoils of another meal.  Once the foxes, mice and wind have done their nibbling, too, there will be a remainder, once more.  

The slow reduction of energy is stunning.  The interdependence of the feast is sublime.  The body of an antelope is a sacrifice.  My family and I feed.  What we leave behind is fodder for the masses until the antelope is reduced to particles and molecules that build the sagebrush and wildflowers; the cycle is sustained.

We whittle meat from the bones of the animals we take, but it is always on the edge of my mind that what is left behind continues to be utilized to the fullest degree by an entire ecosystem.  This is what I mean by caretake and cull; there is a divinely intended responsibility that comes with taking a wild life for the sake of the living.  Here, we feast, but we never feast alone.