Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nil aon tintean!

The Irish have a saying: Nil aon tintean, mar do thintean fein. "There is no hearth like your own hearth." Fittingly enough, in honor of the great truth it represents, I have this motto hanging in a small frame over my own poor hearth.

We are back from a wonderful five-day sojourn at some good friends' ranch in another state. Matchless fellowship, excellent bird hunting, and groaning boards the whole stay. As memorable as the whole holiday was, it's good for me and my pupz to be back at our hermits' lair where all seems to have fared well in our absence.

Tired tonight, but will try to post tomorrow with some thoughts about "time behind the hounds." I hope everyone had a good holiday.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Even the easy stuff isn't easy!

Heading out tomorrow for a holiday plus a few days of hunting and good fellowship. But what a hassle!

Stop the mail. Vault all the guns. Gather and sort ammo. Pack clothes, boots, toiletries. Find dog vests. Set light timers. Box up gifts. Mail out final bills.  Clean and sack guns. Yadda-yaddo-doo.

Yowee. I'm tired already. And I'm not even taking my little travel trailer, illustrated above. I'd need an extra day of prep for that.

Oh, well. I'm going hunting, for pete's sake. And will have good company, good times, and good food for a few days. As my pub owner friend says "Kwitcher complainin'!"

Monday, November 24, 2008


I spent all day boning out my deer and packaging up the meat. It's always taken me longer to do that chore than anybody else I know, but it's done now and the freezer has about sixty pounds of nice, lean mule deer for the days ahead.

The dawgz have been delighted by the whole process and most attentive, too. Since Wednesday night they have been enjoying a stew made of tasty trimmings served over their dry food. Today they each got leg bones with plenty of meat remnants left on them. Mags was especially proud of hers and every time Emma got too close she gave her the evil eye and Emma backed off.

For Thanksgiving I am driving out of state to a good friend's ranch for the holiday and am taking the ribs and some meat-on-the-bone to be bbq'd. We'll also be hunting pheasant and quail. It's a guaranteed good time for all. Emma saw me clean the Citori yesterday and her eyes lit up like spotlights. She knows!

Nature's Bounty is indeed a wonderful gift to us poor forkéd beings. I don't think I'll ever take its generosity and grandeur for granted.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trees & Sky

Yesterday I helped a neighbor move his cattle from a leased pasture to the home range. It was an all-day job, even though it wasn't supposed to be. Seems like everything takes longer than it's supposed to, especially where critters are concerned.

We have a lot of sky here, but we don't have many trees. When you do see 'em you are probably looking at an old homestead or a defunct ranch headquarters. On my way home after a day in the corrals I saw this scene, against a nicely-developing sunset. It's an old homestead. Nothing still standing there, but remnants of an old barn and some old foundations. Even the trees are dying now. Cottonwoods are not what you'd call long-lived vegetables.

Whenever I see a place like this I think of the lives that were lived out there; the hopes that blossomed, and sometimes died; the children who learned about life there and then, probably, went somewhere else to try out what they had learned.

The Lakota and Cheyenne who lived here before we came onto the land had a saying: "Only earth and sky last forever." Change is relentless and pitiless, as we have learned from our recent election. But change isn't always good or admirable or to be desired. I'm not a Luddite, or even a fogey (I don't think!), but when I pass an old homestead I can almost hear the joyous cries of children as they share rides on the pony, or chase or are chased happily by the family dog. If you listen closely you can almost hear Mom calling them in to supper, or see the lights come on in the windows as the sun goes to sleep for the day and the cold wind rises out of the northwest.

A New Arrival

Well, I said I wasn't going to be buying any guns for a while and I am as good as my word. But I did just buy a Kimber .22 Conversion Kit for my CDP .45. It arrived yesterday from Midway.

Of course, even though it was getting dark when I opened the package I had to go out and try it out. I was expecting to have to sort out some ammo problems (especially with Federal HPs as I had been told), but the first five magazines through it functioned flawlessly. As an added bonus the adjusties were almost dead on. Within the first two mags I could tell that it was going to be an accurate piece.

Today I shot it a little more. Adjusted the sights a bit, too. I haven't done any systematic testing yet, but did unload a mag on the 7" diameter end of a piece of firewood in the woodpile. Surprised myself with a 3" six shot group two-handed at a paced 32 yards. Three of them could be covered with a dime. I can live with that. Looks like the thing might be even more accurate than my Ruger Gov't Model.

It's a straight blowback action, in an aluminum slide, which makes the whole loaded rig weigh 25-ounces, quite a bit less than the CDP with the .45 slide and barrel. The lighter weight encourages sloppy holding and today I got the first FTFs as a result of a light hold. Now I know better. Changing over from one slide to another is an easy 15-second job.

I had originally thought I would get one of the 4" Ruger 22/45s with adjustable sights as a 1911 practice gun. But then I handled one and didn't like it. It didn't feel like a 1911 to me, and the one I handled also had a poor trigger. My Kimber lets off at 3.6# (with a Wilson Bulletproof sear spring) and I figured why compromise. Besides, I got out cheaper with the Kit than I would have with the 22/45.

I didn't get it for this purpose, but what a great trail-gun it would make, with one slide on the frame and the other in your backpack.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Gift

Nice gift today from the Great Spirit, for which I am grateful.

It's been a while since I've done a belly-crawl stalk, but this one seemed to work. I'm also pleased that it was an excellent, clean kill. He was lying on a south-facing hillside and when the bullet struck he simply dropped his head and then rolled onto his side. Nine points and about 170 field dressed. Not a trophy like the other guys got, but I've never been a trophy hunter. This one has given me the gift of good meat for some time to come and I am grateful to him.

This is very rough country hunting. I had taken the UTV today and am sure glad I did. I was able to run it up the hill to a point just below him and then just tug him aboard. Otherwise I might have had to go for help. There's no way I would have been able to drag him the three miles back to the truck.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three + Four

For the past four days I have had three hunters camping on my place. They are heading back to their home country tomorrow with three huge bucks and four nice doe. These are good guys and excellent hunters and I don't in any way begrudge them their deer as "outsiders." We've had a lot of fun together.

Six of the seven deer come from the federal wilderness area I can see from my front porch. No vehicular access allowed, so unless you bring a horse you are hoofing it. Fortunately there are many transit areas not too far from my place.

The deer on the left is a 17-point a-typical. The largest buck was the one in the middle. Only 10-points, but his dressed weight was 235 pounds.

I'm still hunting, not being quite as dedicated as these guys are anymore. I'm also hunting several local ranches and having a great time. Taking home game has never been the main criterion in judging the quality of a hunt for me. I do, however, appreciate the meat. The guys gave me a huge pile of backstraps that will hold me for quite a while even if I strike out on my own deer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

First Day

Today is the first day of rifle deer season here.

For the past couple of weeks I have been knee-deep in deer. Mostly mulies, but with a surprising population of nice bucks. And I'm not talking about the deer just "being around"— I mean they are up close and personal. The inner compound of my place is a two acre homestead plot that contains the house, my shop building, the garden (no access to that for deer!), my close-range shooting areas (out to 100-yards), the storm shelter, and several goodly brush and wood piles. This is where they have been hanging out. There was a 10+ point big-boy, a smaller but still really nice 10-point, and a rangy young 6-point. Sometimes I would wake up and they would be right outside the bedroom window as if trying to look in. They drove the Shorthair nuts, but considering she's a GSP it isn't that lengthy a trip.

I liked having them around, despite the little (and some not-so-little) piles of prairie raisins all over the place. But this morning? Gone. Nary a one in sight. The bucks, and the does, and the littl'uns have all taken a powder. And there hasn't been a shot fired so far as I can tell, at least none heard by me or the dogs. I don't know how they know, but they sure seem to.

Late yesterday afternoon I went up to the annual harvest dinner at a local church. Well, it's forty miles away, but that qualifies for local here. On the first twenty-five miles I saw well over a hundred deer, with easily a dozen nice bucks of 4+ points. At one turn in the little road I saw overhead a huge flock of grouse, easily a hundred, flying directly over the truck. Knowing what that probably meant I slowed way down and sure enough two very large mulie bucks plunged over the fence off my starboard beam, crossed the road, and did it again on the port side. Then they stopped and just stared me down as I eased on up the road.

I have no doubt that all up through the valley they have all gone to ground and will be hard to spot for the next week or so. I'm a hunter and have been for many years, but I wish them well.

This just in, several hours after the above: I thought they were gone, but as dusk approached I noticed the eight-point pussy-footing around behind my shooting butt, and then a little later the six-point appeared. There is an old blow-down just outside my wire and evidently they were holed up there all day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You can't count on me any longer!

That's my message to the two major political parties of our great nation. I'm finished forever with being a statistic in the column marked "sure thing."

The Democrats lost my allegiance when the moon-bat brigade took over the helm and it became the party of negativity and self-absorbed whining. The Republicans have now lost my support since they took an election it was theirs to lose and did exactly that. Their days of arrogance and intransigence are over, as is my place on their fund-raising lists.

I am now, officially, what I've actually been all along: an independent— or perhaps Independent better expresses the way I feel. And I'm glad to be part of a movement, if it can be called that, that will break the back of the control that the so-called two-party "system" has had on the country's political life.

I don't think we need a European-style panoply of political parties in this country— fifteen to twenty parties and an ever-shifting array of fragile and short-lived coalitions. But we do need to tell the existing parties, loud and clear, Earn it! 

Show me why I should vote for what you claim to stand for. I won't respond to screaming mobs of "fans." I will respond to reason, logic, courage, and honesty. It would also be nice if you showed genuine respect for, and allegiance to, the Constitution. It's a good document and if you want to run this country I'm going to ask that you support it with more than lip service.

I'm through being a name on a list that's taken for granted. And make no mistake: I am not alone. There are millions like me. We're tired, we're frustrated, and we won't be treated like reliable sheep or useful idiots any longer. We just may be the beginnings of the largest political "party" in the United States.

I don't think that would be a bad thing at all.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Resident Buck

Yesterday I took the UTV and a chainsaw and went to the woodpile behind my shop building to cut some firewood. This fellow was very interested in what I was doing and stayed around for a while to satisfy his curiosity. He's a 4x4 (maybe a 4x5), and stayed on the place most of the day alternating between the shooting range out front and the cedars behind the shop. 

Earlier that same morning a very large buck with his harem had been grazing in the yard around the shooting butts, but I hadn't been able to get good pics because it was too early. Later in the afternoon I took the UTV and found him and his harem less than a mile out on the prairie. I never could get a really good look at his rack because I hadn't brought the binocs, but he's at least a 5x5 and nicely broad-beamed to boot. No doubt this is the guy that made the 4x4 a solitary.

You may have to enbiggify that lower picture to see his rack.

Addendum, 11/10— That smaller buck, who turns out to be a ten-point (5x5) has found himself a girlfriend and has been following her around the place, all pie-faced all day. As I write he is grazing in the front yard about forty yards from the office window.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


A brief red moment of reckoning
laying open
the muscle and sinew
of the day.

Like flesh
before the surgeon's blade
the meat of the day
falls away.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Moment of Panic

This post may be a little over-titled, but it does capture somewhat the initial reaction I had to something that happened just the other day. Back in July I posted about "The Pocketknife," a Camillus Stockman-pattern knife I have carried since I was a young teenager. Well, the other day I lost it, after more than fifty years of daily carry.

These days my "moments of panic" are few and far between. I've learned that they accomplish little or nothing and only cloud clear, action-oriented thinking. Still, the thought of losing such an old friend was bracing and very unpleasant. 

Of course, it wasn't the first time I had lost or misplaced a treasured item. Over the years I have learned that the best thing to do is backtrack step by step and try to re-create the last time you had knowledge of its whereabouts. But despite the cool, calculated approach to solving the mystery I went through the usual ritual of searching the same places several times. Don't we all do that: Rummage through the same drawer or jacket pocket four or five times just in case we "missed it" the first few times? Surely it must be a kind of low-grade OCD.

No joy. It was nowhere. I began to think of outside. Did I drop it out of my pocket when I took the dog for her prairie run in the UTV? When I was chain-sawing some logs out front? I solaced myself with the knowledge that I have never dropped a knife out of a holeless pants pocket before and didn't see why I would start now. Finally, I decided to just chill out, in the almost certain knowledge that the knife would turn up, in its own time, when I would be able to say "Of course!" In the interests of sanity, I would just put it out of my mind.

I had a similar situation last winter when a leather pocket notebook I have carried for many years turned up missing. As in this most recent case, I finally relaxed and put it in the hands of the gods. Sure enough, the notebook turned up and the joy of reunion was pleasant. Things. We're not supposed to value them to such an extent, but the flesh is weak.

I had just finished doing a little shooting at my pistol range yesterday when a blue-whistler of a thought struck me like a falling limb. The day before discovery of The Great Loss I had received some mil-surp clothing in the mail. I had opened the package with my knife, tried on a pair of the trousers, and noticed that it had a paper tag stitched to the pocket. I used the knife to carefully cut the threads and remove the tags. Then I hung the pants in the closet.

In the certainty of knowing exactly what I would feel, I went to the closet and reached into the left front pocket of the new trousers. There she was. Eureka. It was a good feeling. I immediately took the temporary replacement knife back to the drawer it came from and dropped my old chum into its accustomed place. 

All's well that ends well...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The River of Air

Very high winds here all night and all day today. So far they have amounted to a constant 30-40 mph, with sustained gusts to 60 or so. This is supposed to go on until early evening.

The cliché descriptive simile for high winds is "like a freight train," but there is nothing mechanical or artificial about the High Plains wind. It is more like I live on the banks of a wild, cascading river: a river of air.

The wind is a constant presence on the plains; something you are aware of even in its occasional absence. It pokes and probes at the joints of your house and looks for weak spots in your clothing, using dust or snow or merely the nimble fingers of the wind itself to search for weakness. In the winter it is a constant reminder of the puniness of man in the face of a great, unrelenting force.

But even in the face of this display of nature's pre-eminence I can offer an array of artificial aids: a warm fireplace, a pile of split and ready firewood, an R-39 insulated home, satellite radio, the internet. All good, so long as the wind leaves the electric umbilical in place. And if it comes down, as it often does, the fireplace still works and there is always the genny in the shop waiting to be called to duty.

Jolly Oulde Blighty

This is from my clip-file. It perhaps offer a view of what we have to look forward to. It seems very relevant, considering the president-elect's oft-expressed vows to disarm us. (I apologize for the line breaks. This is posted from an on-line copy. Still worth reading, despite the slight annoyance.)

The Wall Street Journal 

"Mad Dogs and Englishmen"

June 17, 2006; Page A11 

With Great Britain now the world's most violent developed country, the 
British government has hit upon a way to reduce the number of cases 
before the courts: Police have been instructed to let off with a 
caution, burglars and those who admit responsibility for some 60 other 
crimes ranging from assault and arson, to sex with an underage girl. 

That is, no jail time, no fine, no community service, no court 
appearance. It's cheap, quick, saves time and money, and best of all the 
offenders won't tax an already overcrowded jail system. 

Not everyone will be treated so leniently. A new surveillance system 
promises to hunt down anyone exceeding the speed limit. Using excessive 
force against a burglar or mugger will earn you a conviction for assault 
or, if you seriously harm him, a long sentence. Tony Martin, the 
Norfolk farmer jailed for killing one burglar and wounding another 
during the seventh break-in at his rural home, was denied parole because 
he posed a threat to burglars. The career burglar whom Mr. Martin 
wounded got out early. 

Using a cap pistol, as an elderly woman did to scare off a gang of 
youths, will bring you to court for putting someone in fear. Recently, 
police tried to stop David Collinson from entering his burning home to 
rescue his asthmatic wife. He refused to obey and, brandishing a toy 
pistol, dashed into the blaze. Minutes later he returned with his wife 
and dog and apologized to the police. Not good enough. In April Mr. 
Collinson was sentenced to a year in prison for being aggressive towards 
the officers and brandishing the toy pistol. Still, at least he won't 
be sharing his cell with an arsonist or thief. 

How did things come to a pass where law-abiding citizens are treated as 
criminals and criminals as victims? A giant step was the 1953 Prevention 
of Crime Act, making it illegal to carry any article for an offensive 
purpose; any item carried for self-defence was automatically an 
offensive weapon and the carrier is guilty until proven innocent. At 
the time a parliamentarian protested that, /"The object of a weapon was 
to assist weakness to cope with strength and it is this ability 
that the bill was framed to destroy."The government countered that 
the public should be discouraged "from going about with offensive 
weapons in their pockets; it is the duty of society to protect them." 

The trouble is that society cannot and does not protect them. Yet 
successive governments have insisted protection be left to the 
professionals, meanwhile banning all sorts of weapons, from firearms to 
chemical sprays. They hope to add toy or replica guns to the list along 
with kitchen knives with points. Other legislation has limited 
self-defence to what seems reasonable to a court much later. 

Although British governments insist upon sole responsibility for 
protecting individuals, for ideological and economic reasons they have 
adopted a lenient approach toward offenders. Because prisons are 
expensive and don't reform their residents, fewer offenders are 
incarcerated. Those who are get sharply reduced sentences, and serve 
just half of these. 

Still, with crime rates rising, prisons are overcrowded and additional 
jail space will not be available anytime soon. The public learned in 
April that among convicts released early to ease overcrowding were 
violent or sex offenders serving mandatory life sentences who were freed 
after as little as 15 months. 

The government's duty to protect the public has been compromised by 
other economies. Police forces are smaller than those of America and 
Europe and have been consolidated, leaving 70% of English villages 
without a police presence. Police are so hard-pressed that the 
Humberside force announced in March they no longer investigate less 
serious crimes unless they are racist or homophobic. Among crimes not 
being investigated: theft, criminal damage, common assault, harassment 
and non-domestic burglary. 

As for more serious crime, the unarmed police are wary of responding to 
an emergency where the offender is armed. The Thames Valley Police 
waited nearly seven hours to enter Julia Pemberton's home after she 
telephoned from the closet where she was hiding from her estranged and 
armed husband. 

They entered once the danger to them had passed, but after those who had 
pleaded for their help were past all help. 

To be fair, under the Blair government a host of actions have been 
initiated to bring about more convictions. At the end of its 2003 
session Parliament repealed the 800-year-old guarantee against double 
jeopardy. Now anyone acquitted of a serious crime can be retried if 
"new and compelling evidence" is brought forward. Parliament tinkered 
with the definition of "new" to make that burden easier to meet. The 
test for "new" in these criminal cases, Lord Neill pointed out, will be 
lower than "is used habitually in civil cases. In a civil case, one 
would have to show that the new evidence was not reasonably available on 
the previous occasion. There is no such requirement here." 
Parliament was so excited by the benefits of chucking the ancient 
prohibition that it extended the repeal of double jeopardy from murder 
to cases of rape, manslaughter, kidnapping, drug-trafficking and some 20 
other serious crimes. For good measure it made the new act retroactive. 
Henceforth, no one who has been, or will be, tried and acquitted of a 
serious crime can feel confident he will not be tried again, and again. 

To make the prosecutor's task still easier, he is now permitted to use 
hearsay evidence -- goodbye to confronting witnesses -- to introduce a 
defendant's prior record, and the number of jury trials is to be 
reduced. Still, the government has helped the homeowner by sponsoring a 
law "to prevent homeowners being sued by intruders who injure themselves 
while breaking in." 

It may be crass to point out that the British people, stripped of their 
ability to protect themselves and of other ancient rights and left to 
the mercy of criminals, have gotten the worst of both worlds. Still, as 
one citizen, referring to the new policy of letting criminals off with a 
caution, suggested: "Perhaps it would be easier and safer for the 
honest citizens of the U.K. to move into the prisons and the criminals 
to be let out."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Exercising the Franchise

My polling place is about forty miles south of my place. I got there at just after four. There were three poll workers manning the tables and that was it. No other voters. We use paper ballots and soft lead pencils. It was a long, two-sided ballot and took me a while. When I finished I was still the only voter in the place.

Now it's all over but the shouting. And there's sure to be some weeping and wailing from somebody.

May the Great Spirit hold us in his hands for the next four years, whoever wins this entertainment lottery.

Tu gosh i na, o shi mi na yo.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trench Warfare

We have a critter called a pocket gopher out here. He spends about 99% of his time underground, burrowing along, eating the roots of every plant he comes in contact with. He only comes to the surface to clean out his tunnel and give himself room to work. He makes a hole to the surface and then pushes the accumulated loose dirt out of the hole. It makes a little earthwork around the hole and only rare occasions that you actually see him is when he is doing this excavation project. It's really the only window of opportunity for potting the destructive little bastid. (They make an awful mess wherever they go.)

But it's very much sniper work a la the trenches of WWI. His head will appear only briefly, and then only partially. You will have only a half-second or a second to get off a shot at a target barely an inch square. Only by guessing where he will appear behind his earthwork will give you any chance at all of making a hit on one of them. Plus the fact that their appearances are so infrequent and so unpredictable that you could stake out a spot for a whole day and never see one. This is an exercise in futility in which I do not indulge.

They have been very active lately as the season changes, and my office window looks out on a swath of my laughingly called "yard" where they have been at work. When I see one throwing dirt around his parapet I will go out with my Ruger M77/22 and see what work there is to be done. I've got one of those ranging BSA Sweet 22 scopes on mine and it does a good job of accounting for elevation at different ranges. Shots are normally between 30 and 75 yards. 

Success rate? Very low. They are wary, and you usually only get one shot before they go to ground for a long, long time. But it does give me a break from desk work. So far there has been no return fire, although I could swear that the one yesterday was wearing a little helmet.

The photograph is not mine. I found it on the 'net, where it had no attribution. My little friends don't trust me enough to let me make portraits. Very smart of them, too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Eternal HIlls

The endless velvet drapery of the High Plains. As if a well-worn, flowered coverlet had been dropped from a great height onto the dunes and then settled around them like a new skin. From the top of one of these hills you can see miles and miles of the same thing: hill after hill marching off to the far horizon. Sometimes you can make out a smudge of greenery that would be the trees of an abandoned ranchstead. For every one that is still occupied, there are twenty that are slowly sinking back into the earth as they are reclaimed by the flora and fauna that have always been here. It took them almost a hundred years to do it, but the Big Ranchers have finally won. Well, almost. There are still a few holdouts. In my sometimes flawed optimism I think there will always be a few holdouts.

But when even the Big Ranchers are gone, the hills will still be here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Well, to me it is. I have simple tastes I guess, but I think a stack of firewood is True Power. Fireplace wood makes you warm thrice: once when you cut it, then when you split it, and finally when you burn it. There is also the intangible, beyond BTUs, that it makes me and the dogs happy to sit in front of the fireplace on a cool evening and just veg-out. Reading in front of a gentle fire of well-cured wood is one of the great pleasures in life. Throw in a cut-crystal glass of single malt, or a nice glass of red, and life, for the moment, is complete.

And please don't tell Al Gore about my big, sloppy carbon footprint. I couldn't bear it if Al didn't like me any more. Or worse, made me register my splitting wedge.