Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kansas Upland 2011: Don't Bother

I've hunted the Midwest a lot of years.  I'm a prairie kid, and it's what I do.  Good years, bad years, they've all been more or less productive.  I've had a lot of dogs, and I relish hunting where you never quite know if you're going to jump a big squawking rooster or a covey of panicked quail.  If you've never been to Kansas, you really owe it to yourself to come sometime.

Just not this year.

You, like me, would be sorely disappointed.  I hunted opening weekend, followed by Thursday through Sunday of the following week, and the results were miserable.  Typically, you can find the mixed bag anywhere in the state.  This year though, the KDWP said the best concentration of birds would be in the northwestern quarter of the state.  That's where everyone went, in-state and out-of-state hunters, so there was more of the Orange Army than I'd ever seen.

And fewer birds.  Opening weekend, usually a shoe-in for a limit by noon, brought five hunters  just two -TWO- pheasants over the weekend.  I was undeterred, and had a buddy come up from Mississippi, who normally hunts quail (even more fried than Kansas this year) in Texas.  We had nine dogs who knew the drill, and we had four productive points in four days.  We didn't see a lot of hens, or birds flushing wild, or crafty grizzled birds giving our pointy dogs the slip.  Nope, we didn't see shit.

I have never had a less productive hunt.

KDWP's follow-up report is less rosy, but in a Department of Tourism sort of way (don't get me started).

And here I am, with two youngsters -- an eleven year old son looking to blast whatever flies -- and a young pointer who needs as many birds as possible to refine her.

Cold wet spring, add a hot dry summer, season it with bird-killing hail.  It all adds up to nothing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Life As A Turkey: You Must Watch This.

If you're a hunter, nature lover, or motion photography buff, do yourself a favor and watch the magnificent PBS documentary, "My Life As A Turkey."  It's some of the best TV I've seen in years.

Hell, come to think of it, if you're NOT a lover of nature, you owe it to yourself even more to watch this, so you can understand why the rest of us are obsessed with the natural world.

Disclosure.  I'm not a TV guy, and I had no idea this was on the tube.  I'm in a motel room in Hays, Kansas by myself, scouting birds for a buddy who's arriving tomorrow.  Sitting on the bed, eating Long John Silver's (don't judge), flipping through the boob tube.  And turkeys - wild turkeys - are on PBS.  Cool, I'll watch that for 30 seconds or so.

And for the next 40 minutes (I caught it late), I was mesmerized.  The storyline isn't new - man bonds with animals, learns much about them, learns more about himself and the human condition.  But holy hell was it well done.

It was interesting, beautiful, funny, and sad, often all at once.  The cinematography was extraordinary - so much so that I'm waiting for the inevitable follow-up "The Making of Turkey Man." 

Whatever.  It's must see TV for the outdoor set, and it'll certainly make me think about that rooster or bob that I'm fixing to draw a bead on tomorrow.  Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.

p.s. As I grabbed the link for the series, I see that the PBS site has crashed.  I'm guessing it's because of the interest in this program.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What I'm Listening To: Fall 2011

Looking for some new tunes on those road trips to nowhere this fall? Look no further. Here's my latest installment of Scampwalker-approved music.

The Damn Quails - Down The Hatch
I've been muttering this band's name longer than the band itself has existed, and I'll admit that it's their moniker that originally caught my eye. Fronted by the singer/songwriter duo of Gabriel Marshall and Byron White, The Damn Quails prove once again that Oklahoma is an epicenter of more than just earthquakes -- some of the genre's best music emanates from the Red Dirt State. Their debut album combines beautiful harmonies, rootsy melodies, and smart lyrics. In an era where record producers can either make or break a young band, it seems that Quails co-producer Mike McClure can do no wrong in turning out honest americana music, and help from Joe Hardy (ZZ Top, Steve Earle, and the Replacements) can't hurt either. Sadly, I have no idea if these cats are bird hunters.  Nevertheless, here's hoping The Damn Quails' covey rise continues.

Stoney LaRue - Velvet
If you're a longtime Stoney frat boy fan looking for songs that are a natural follow-up to "Oklahoma Breakdown," you're probably going to be disappointed. There aren't a lot of boot-stomping tunes on Velvet, LaRue's first studio album in six years, but that doesn't mean it isn't brilliant in its own right. Velvet is a compilation of warm, mystical, and gentle rhythms blended with what are easily LaRue's deepest, most thoughtful lyrics to date. I find myself queing up this album on a cool fall night with a fire in the hearth and a whiskey glass close by.

Jason Boland & The Stragglers - Rancho Alto
Yet another Oklahoman to make the list, Jason Boland is an unapologetic, hopelessly romantic country music purist. Since his Pearl Snaps debut in 2009, he's put out a string of reliable honky-tonk country, and Rancho Alto is no different. Adorned with wailing pedal steel and fiddle, it's chock full of songs about hard drinking, hard times, and hard luck. There's nothing particularly new or ground-breaking on the album, but maybe that's the point. In a world where "modern country" implies white country boy rappers and poseur cowboys that wear more eyeliner than my wife, a tall shot of Boland is just the ticket. And if you've never seen these boys live, drop everything and report to your nearest honky-tonk.

Reckless Kelly - Good Luck And True Love
Although it's probably coincidence, Good Luck and True Love is an apt name for RK's 9th album. For one, they've pretty much severed all ties with conventional record companies -- Good Luck! -- and they've doubled-down on their committment to producing and promoting their unique sound on their own -- and if that ain't True Love for their craft, then I don't know what is. The album is vintage RK, full of catchy hooks, solid harmonies, and skilled playing. While mostly mid-tempo tunes that are more country than rock, the crunchier RK makes an appearance on "She Likes Money, He Likes Love." And once again, Willy Braun proves that no one can write a road song like him, with "Hit The Ground Runnin'" closing out the album. It's a collection of songs that will easily work its way into your head.

Robert Earl Keen - Ready For Confetti
I want to love this album, I really do. And while it contains some enjoyable tracks, Ready for Confetti is not ready for prime time. The title track is as corny as it sounds, with a calypso-infused beat that comes across as inanely ersatz, as does the Buffett-like aping of "Waves on the Ocean." "The Road Goes On and On," a purported response to Toby Keith's ripping off of a Keen classic, feels petty and juvenile. And in "Top Down," Robert Earl sounds like a woozy, bleating, injured goat. Admittedly, Mr. Keen has never had a soothing voice, but his stories normally more than make up for his sonic deficiencies. Don't get me wrong, there are some great tracks on this album. "I Gotta Go" ranks among one of the finer tunes of his deep catalog, and his cover of Todd Snider's "Play a Train Song" sounds like it was written for him. Even so, I find myself skipping through the majority of tracks on this one. Here's hoping Robert Earl just hit a pothole in the road that hopefully extends long into the future.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Finding Lost Dogs: A Low-Tech Approach

First of all, don't freak out.  I don't have a lost dog.

The 21st century has blessed us with many high-tech ways to help reunite us with wayward dogs, from GPS tracking collars to implanted microchips to smartphones that allow us to receive calls from good samaritans who might've found a lost dog and pulled a number from a collar.

Recently, Chad Love over at Field & Stream's Man's Best Friend blog talked about the importance of putting the right information on an ID tag, in which he borrowed some sage advice from Steve Snell, owner of Gun Dog Supply.

It reminded me that I also have a rather 19th-century technique of finding a lost dog: a wanted poster.  After losing a dog two years ago in Montana, it struck me that we had no photos or other ways to quickly inform people that we had a dog missing.

I believe that the large majority of folks will keep an eye out for a missing dog if they know about one.  I also happen to think that the sooner you can get the word out to nearby gas stations, cafes, motels, and post offices, the more likely it is that someone's going to stumble across your missing hunting buddy. 

I've printed out these flyers for all three of my pups and have them (along with a thumbdrive carrying digital versions) stashed in my truck.  There's room to put specific information on the poster, and I've printed them in color, for more accurate identification.  I put my two phone numbers (anonymized in this online version, of course) as a tear-off along the bottom.  I figure a rancher might see my dog while driving along a country road, and they'll be more likely to at least report the sighting to me if they have my number close at hand.

God willing, I'll never have to use them, but I feel better knowing I've got them.

If you want to download the template in Word format for free, I've posted it here.

Friday, November 4, 2011