Our friend Silvio Calabi gave us a heads up that the book he co-wrote called “Hemingway’s Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway” was about to be published. Having seen some of the chapters in advance, we were excited about the new information revealed from the in-depth research. Silvio gave us permission to run a chapter titled “The Winchester Model 21 Shotguns,” which appears following the introduction below.
Call me crazy, but when someone handed me the 12-gauge model of the new A-10 American sidelock for the first time, it evoked a $100,000 pigeon gun by the ultra-exclusive Italian firm of Tullio and Ivo Fabbri.
In the shadow of Capitol Hill, a forgotten patriot consigned to America’s trash heap of the unemployed has created a new national symbol that celebrates the values Sarah Palin holds true.
Written by Irwin Greenstein with the opinions of Stephen Biello, Debbie Clay, Barry Goff, Sr., Brad Landseadel, Elizabeth Lanier, Joe Notarfrancesco , Vero Ricci, Steve Toomey, Kent Witters, Carolinn Poucher Woody
I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a gun to work with me every day. Heck, I’ve always taken a gun with me everywhere I’ve gone for the past thirty years, just out of common sense. Good medicine in case I run into the sick.
But I’ve been taking another gun to the office with me lately, a BB gun…! That’s right, a BB gun. A little lever action Daisy that I got from my father when I was six years old. It measures 30” inches muzzle to butt. Dad bought it for me to teach me marksmanship, discipline, and safety in handling firearms. Best thing he ever did and I would recommend it highly, to all parents of sound mind and judgment.
I was the top fly shooter in my neighborhood, maybe even in the whole town. I was also the top bee shooter, but Dad discouraged bee shooting. Bees were beneficial, flies were not.
Dad started me out shooting flies on the side of an old, falling down building along the edge of our land. We’d sit on the little hill overlooking the building and gun flies for hours on sunny days as they landed on the shingles. Dad would shoot for a while, then I’d shoot. It might have been just a little competition in marksmanship between a young boy and his father, but it was a lot of fun!
Whenever a hornet came into view, my finger began to twitch and I wanted to smack it bad. I’d been stung many times in my six years, in the raspberry patch while picking berries. But Dad always whispered quietly when he saw me getting edgy, “Now, don’t shoot the hornet. Hornets are beneficial...” Dad liked hornets. I hated them. I did not like bumblebees, either, after getting stung on the arm while sitting innocently on the school bus one day. Man, did that hurt!
Well, time moved on and I moved up the ladder and got into hunting full-bore. I got into rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting, upland birds, deer, waterfowl, you name it. If it was huntable, I hunted it and ate it.
Years later, when my own kids starting getting into shooting, I still had the little Daisy BB gun Dad bought for me when I was six years old. Naturally, I used it to teach my own children about marksmanship, discipline, and safety in handling firearms. My son has become quite the fly shooter, and I’m guessing, he’s probably a pretty good bee shooter, too, but I wouldn’t know about that. Bees are beneficial – UNLESS they are in your office!
I was sitting at my desk the other day, minding my own business, when the biggest , meanest, loudest bumblebee I have ever seen in my life, barged through the door and threatened to harm me.
Always on the alert, I did not sit there and wait to see what was going to happen. I took the threat seriously and went into instant defense mode. STOP THE THREAT!!! I lunged at him, taking a swing with one hand while reaching for my gun with the other. The Daisy came up and snugged into my shoulder in lightning fast auto mode, as if it were a part of me. I worked the lever action in one smooth, quick stroke and had the offender in my sights in a split second. I gave commands loud and clear for all to hear: “STOP! DON’T MOVE! DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU!” The offender ignored my commands and came right at me – THWAK!!! He tumbled out of the air and fell to the floor. I cocked the gun and again shouted: “STOP! DON’T MOVE! DON’T MAKE ME SHOOT YOU!” But once again, the offender rose up and came at me with fire in his eyes – THWAK!!! He tumbled to the floor again, and I opened the door and flicked him outside. The threat was stopped, peace had been restored, and I returned to my desk. OOPS – did I just hear a fly???
call (781) 934-2838. You can also write him at P.O. Box 366 Duxbury, MA 02331.
The other day I was thinking about what has driven me to hunt. I see so many companies and services within our ranks that use words like “obsession” and “addiction.” Both these, and other terms like them, are certainly intense, but they are also harsh in some respects and I wondered at the thought that maybe they were overused, misused, much like “terrorism” has become an all-encompassing term for anything remotely horrific ever since 9-11. Use a word too much, apply it too liberally to too many things that are similar but lacking extremeness, and you run the risk of the word losing its impact. And so I wondered if we are danger of that with our hunting “obsessions” and “addictions.”
The middle Tennessee hills are a hidden treasure of superb quail hunting habitat.
In anticipation of the upcoming turkey season, I’m sure most of you have noticed that outdoor print media and television airwaves are filled with scene after scene of toms getting annihilated by 12-gauge and 10-gauge shotguns spewing magnum loads, and the advertisements in between the pages and during the commercial breaks are filled with supercallifragilistic, triple-Xtra, super-duper magnum this, that, and the other. Sheesh, you’d think a turkey had the armor plating of a rhinoceros, rather than a coat of feathers.
Part of the problem has been that the bigger-is-always-better approach has long defined the mindset of more than a few Americans. We’ve seen that philosophy exacerbated in more than a few areas. Take, for instance, the ever-increasing size of our SUVs and trucks. Remember when a Toyota Tundra was the size the
I hate to say it, but the gun industry has followed suit. Think of all the Super Short Magnums that have come on the market in the last decade or so. There was a resurgence of the 10-gauge in recent years, too. Even the archery side of things has its extremes. When I was working at the NRA, we never talked about someone in print claiming to make a clean kill shot on game at more than 40 yards. Yet today, there’s more than a few hardcore archers who know their equipment and have solid skills and will tell you they regularly kill at up to 80 yards (I don’t know, maybe the braggings gotten bigger, too). Still, one of the segments that pushes excess the hardest are the purveyors of guns and ammunition designed particularly for killing turkeys.
I get it, it’s marketing. Kill it further out! Kill it faster! Kill it deader than dead! Now, I’m all for a fast kill, and I have seen where advancing ammunition technology really does result in a faster kill. I remember when some of Federal’s first tungsten shotshells came out, for instance. I took those loads goose hunting, and without question saw a better quality, faster kill than I did with steel shot (airborne geese hit with those loads responded like a bug hitting your car windshield as you cruise down the highway—they never knew what hit them). But I haven’t seen the same results with turkeys. The push for 3 ½-inch 12- and 10-gauge shells that can reach out and tag a tom at 50 or 60 yards is fine in and of itself, but in my opinion it’s unnecessary. I’ll tell you why.
Ask yourself this: are turkeys harder to kill now than they were 20 years ago? No. Do you need to kill a turkey at 60 yards? No. Do you need the recoil of a long-shelled 12- or a 10-gauge bruising your shoulder and cheek? Still nope.
Let me break those questions down for you a little better. The first one is simple enough.
How about the need to kill a turkey at 50 or 60 yards? “Need” being a relative term, I’d say that, if you find yourself shooting toms as distances much farther out than you ever used to, you need to practice your calling and decoying skills. Yes, turkeys hang up. No, sometimes they can’t be worked closer. Live hens compete with your fakery for a tom’s attention and love and often wins. Crows distract and confuse. That is the romance that is hunting – hunting – this game bird. You have six weeks and one or two tags. I’d rather spend several beautiful spring mornings watching the sun come up and call a gobbler in the right way and close enough for an instant-death, one-shot kill, than plunk a tom down way in the distance on opening day (or any day, for that matter) just because the shot string from my gun reached that far. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Finally, recoil is absolutely an issue with 12- and 10-gauge shotguns loaded with 3½-inch shells. I know some of you are thinking “Heck, it’s just one, maybe two shots.” But it’s not. You have time on the bench with different chokes and dozens of shells shucked through your gun, if you’re responsible about patterning a shotgun you intend to kill live game with – and if you intend to kill a thickly feathered 20-pound or better bird at 60 yards, you damn well better perfect your gun on paper before you head for the field.
But if you spend the time on the bench that you should, the chances are you’re going to start to flinch, especially if you conventionally and regularly shoot shotguns with less strength. I don’t care how tough you are, how much testosterone courses through you, and how big your truck is, this is physics, and hard-recoiling guns, most often those shot infrequently, do things to you mentally and physically.
Even worse than a flinch, though, is your shot-to-shot recovery. Remember you were thinking “one, maybe two” shots? If you’re going to shoot at distance, the faster a suddenly necessary secondary shot comes the better, and speed in getting the bead or scope back on target following the muzzle rise from the first shot is compromised when you increase the load.
Need one more reason? I’m going back to the how-tough-you-are argument. Plain and simple, there isn’t anything pleasurable about the recoil from these guns. If you say there is, okay for you, but I think that qualifies you as a masochist, and that’s not an attractive trait no matter how you slice it.
If you’re still not convinced, I’d tell you to go back to watching all the turkey hunting shows on TV. Notice the abundance of youth hunts filmed? Take a look at what all those kids are shooting. It’s the 20-gauge. That’s right, the no-notoriety, lil’ ol’ yellow-hulled 20-gauge. Notice anything else? These kids and their small shotguns kill turkeys just fine, especially when an adult with calling skills and hunting skills has called one in close enough. (Get it? Called. In. Close. Enough.) So if the lowly 20-gauge is good enough for your kids to kill a gobbler with, why do you need to buy into the magnum hype?
I say don’t. Personally, I often carry a 12-gauge auto, an older Browning Gold I’ve owned for some time. It’s super easy on recoil, even with a stiff turkey load, but when I go after gobblers I load it with either 2¾- or 3-inch loads, not the 3½. I don’t need the bigger shell. Maybe more often than I take out the Browning, though, I have a little Beretta White Onyx over/under in 20-gauge that’s my favored tool for turkeys. It’s more maneuverable, fast to reload, accurate as any other shotgun when patterned correctly, and easy to carry if I have to do some hiking for a tom. And it kills just fine.
Try it, try something smaller, like the 20-gauge your kids are hunting with. Resist the temptation to up the distance at which you kill. Resist the marketing hype that bigger is better just because it’s bigger and work on what really should be better, and that is your scouting, calling, and setup techniques. It’s okay to be a magnum hunter, just do it without the magnum gun.
Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
"We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!" I said to Steve Lamboy as we left the small home that serves as the clubhouse for the Arzaga Drugulo hunting club. Steve and I were guests of Paolo Zoli and his father, Giuseppe Zoli, owners of the preeminent gunmaker Antonio Zoli located in the center of Italy's historic arms producing region, Gardone Val Trompia.
It was one of Montana’s best-kept secrets nestled away in the hill country along the Madison River. The ranch opened to the public back in 2007, but it didn’t hold its grand opening until early 2008 when all the finishing touches were completed. The ranch is a 5000 acre deeded property with about an additional 2000 acres in leased land. Some of the land, only about 1,500 acres, is farmed but the majority of it is in a natural state for wildlife.
I wasn’t doing much of anything with my life, when I met Mark. I was working on the back end of the construction trade, first as a secretary for a plumbing supply wholesaler, then doing customer service for a cabinet supplier. The Washington metro area had been in one of its housing booms, but, in what is now an eerie specter of the housing bust (though certainly for different reasons then), the market collapsed. The cabinet company I was working for fired me—I knew where all the skeletons were—then bounced my final paycheck and filed for bankruptcy the next day.
I was out of a job, but I was in my mid-twenties, had a boyfriend I was kind of sharing most of my days and nights with, and I quickly found a part-time gig. My small number of bills were mostly paid, and I figured something would come along, so I didn’t even worry about the whole out-of-work thing that much. It was actually kind of a relief after the stress of watching the company I’d work for tank underneath me.
Mark had owned and sold a company, and he was doing some consulting work on the side, so we had a lot of time to just knock around. Weekends, though, were reserved for gun shows.
Northern Virginia has a rotating circuit of gun shows, or at least it did at the time. There was one in Leesburg one weekend, followed by another in Hume, one down past
There were always dealers with really, really, nice guns at that show, and I, having at least part of the personality of the crow and liking bright shiny things, appreciated the collections of Browning Hi-Powers laid out on red velvet, or a grouping of pearl-handled Colt Single Action Army’s under a glass case. My personal interests were really leaning toward rifles and shotguns though, and there were two dealers in particular who had my number dialed in.
The first had this unbelievable collection of Colt sporting rifles. Manufactured in a joint effort with Sauer for just a dozen years (1973 to 1985, to be exact), they all had gorgeous wood and a raised cheek piece that I loved to press against my face. In fact, they looked a lot like (no surprise here) the Weatherbys my grandfather Evans kept in his gun rack above his desk in
But it was the bluing on the Colt Sauer rifles that always got to me. No other rifle then or now, at least in my eyes, has ever possessed a bluing job like those guns did. It was deep and colorfull, truly blue, but also black-blue, and blue-purple, and black-green, a melding of all the colors of oil floating on water. To this day the depth of that bluing sticks in my head like a photo, and I’ve never seen another gun, long or short, that carried a bluing job anywhere near as beautiful as those Colt Sauers did. I coveted those rifles, but the dealer had tags on all of them that said $1,200 or $1,500. They were well out of my price range.
(Photo courtesy of Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co.)
The second dealer I gravitated toward was an elderly gentleman who specialized in Belgian Browning shotguns. He had quite a few, never less than ten or a dozen at any show, and all were in pristine condition. I admired all of the Browning’s that man brokered, had done a little reading on Browning’s history, and so when the dealer had an A-5 at one show, it caught my attention.
That gun was as unmarred as one could hope. Not a scratch dinged the gun’s lovely rectangular receiver or its light scroll engraving, no wear showed at the pull-back bolt or thumb button or trigger tang or trigger guard. Not even the muzzle had any dulling –
clearly, this gun had been handled with care and laid in a case, not shoved in and out of a slip. The butt pad, too, was original and was still soft and pliable; not a bit of dry rot had begun. The grip of mellow, softly yellow wood was squared at the bottom and fit perfectly in my right hand. The fore-arm, sculpted a bit where it rounded in to meet and grip the barrel, seemed to have been designed to lay my thumb against it on one side and grip lightly on the other with my finger tips. That it was a little long in the stock didn’t bother me at all (though I don’t think I knew enough at the time to realize it didn’t really fit at all). I could look straight down its low-profile vented rib to c
I went home with that 32-inch-barreled, fixed full choke, Belgian Browning A-5.
I shot that gun often the first year I had it. I knew what it was intended for, with that long, tight barrel, and that was waterfowling. Or it least that was what it was designed for before steel shot forced out the use of lead. But I found an alternate use for it. Trap seemed to be that gun’s second calling. Oh, I had a little trouble with the rings and light loads sometimes, but once I had the right combination figured out, I mastered that clay bird game quickly. The 32-inch barrel seemed barely to move, as I pushed the muzzle in front of those going-away birds, and the straight line I had over that famed hump-backed receiver and down the rib to the bead was trap shooters who spend a lot of money customizing a gun yearn for. I was good for strong runs of targets way back in the handicap lines some nights.
The Browning was more or less retired after I owned it for the first year. I’d moved on to skeet, having grown bored with trap, and for this new clay sport, the long, full-choked barrel was sorely disadvantaged. And so it sat in my gun closet, cleaned and polished, for several years. I missed it, for like anything you’ve loved but lost your way with, it had that distinctive and piquant blend of fresh experience and nostalgia. But the truth was, I’d outgrown it.
I took that sweet Browning out one day, looked at its still gleaming metal and wood, took a breath of the Hoppe’s that still remained somewhere in its parts—and then I slipped it back in its case and took it to the local gun store to sell it. I didn’t “need” the gun, hadn’t used it in a long while. I reasoned that cash was better than a gun taking up space in a closet. It wasn’t. I’ve sold a small fraction of the guns I’ve ever owned. That Browning was the first I parted ways with, and the one I regret the most. First loves are like that.Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
Georgia Pellegrini stands at the crossroads of the Upper East Side in Manhattan and the Lazy Triple Creek Ranch in the Big Hole Mountains of Idaho.
A Harvard and Wellesley alum, she takes to the fields with a 20-gauge shotgun ready to bag any game bird, as part of her quest to fuse hunting with haute cuisine.
One prong of her culinary mission is to upend the metropolitan revulsion of fresh-killed ingredients taken by thine own hand. Grass-fed buffalo from New York’s Ottomanelli’s Butcher Shoppe is splendid, but if you really want to sit down to some real, honest meat Georgia suggests you start with buying a shotgun and a box of shells.
Of the 13 million American women with the ability to show off a freezer full of elk and venison that they personally harvested, it’s Georgia’s contradictions that make her unique in the tribe of female hunters.
A former cubicle dweller with Lehman Brothers, which was vilified for sparking the mortgage meltdown, Georgia now devotes her life to the little guy – the mavericks who live off the grid hand-crafting artisanal foods.
While strangers expect to find her strutting the runway in Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo, you’re more likely to find her shooting over dogs in Filson and Le Chameau.
And her role of chef-as-hunter forges a new media spectrum currently neglected by the likes of The Food Network, the Outdoor Channel and the Today Show.
From her unique cultural junction, we can expect Georgia to rally the next wave in the locavore movement here in the U.S. Started in Europe, the strict interpretation of locavore cuisine demands food culled within earshot of the village church bell. In countries such as Italy and France, the audible perimeter virtually ensures food untouched by the maws of industrial farming and slaughterhouse assembly lines.
You can savor locavore dining today in white-table-cloth restaurants devoted to the daily, backdoor delivery of regional ingredients. Georgia, meanwhile, is adding pride of the pursuit into the locavore movement by hunting the meat herself – and advocating the same sense of duty by fellow carnivores. For hunters who spend half the year in camo, there are no surprises here. But the sudden revelation of this Ivy League stunner slitting the throat of a fresh Tom can render a Jean-Paul Gaultier fashionista wickedly speechless.
Armed with her trusty CZ 20-gauge, Georgia has taken her fair share of quail, dove and turkey in a quest for the freshest fare. Give her a rifle and she’ll track down a hog for a savory repast reminiscent of Sunday suppers at grandma’s.
“So many chefs are focused on food pyrotechnics and the food often suffers as a result,” she said. “Keep it simple and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
Georgia’s affirmation of simple, flavorful cooking complements the barbequed pheasant hunters proudly serve with a sly grin that dares you identify their secret ingredient. In her own twist on the preparation, Georgia substitutes the slathering of Oscar Mayer bacon strips bought at the supermarket with her recipe for homemade bacon from dry-cured pork belly, sugar and kosher salt.
The bacon recipe was inspired by a boar roast she attended. As she wrote on her blog on ESPNOutdoors.com:
The first time I saw a wild boar smoking slowly under the soot-blackened eaves of a dome-shaped grill I was mesmerized. I was standing 100 yards from the banks of the Mississippi, deep in the beating heart of the Arkansas Delta.
The body of the pig was cloaked in thick slabs of bacon which were coated in thick layers of molasses and the whole thing oozed and dripped onto a tray of cut green apples.
The mere sight of the animal left a permanent imprint on my brain, and the taste set into motion my quest to relive that culinary experience as many more times as I could in one lifetime.
“The reason I started hunting was to use every part of the animal” including the offal such as liver, heart and brains, which she described as “delicious,” during an online radio interview on ESPNOutdoors.com.
When we caught up with Georgia via phone she was in the very non-offal city of Berkeley, California – home to Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse – the birthplace of the American locavore sensibility. Berkeley is the third point in her constellation of residences that includes Manhattan and the family farm where she was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley.
From Berkeley it’s a quick drive across the Carquinez Bridge to the finest wine terroirs in the country: Napa, Sonoma and Cry Creek. And America’s most highly acclaimed restaurant is also there, The French Laundry – along with other not-too-shabby eateries including Bistro Jeanty, Dry Creek Kitchen, Tra Vigne and Mustards Grill.
Berkeley was Georgia’s West Coast base of operations for the research on her second project called The Girl Hunter. The agent-brokered package of book and TV show teams Georgia with seasoned hunters in locales where she cooks their quarry hauled back to the lodge kitchen. The Girl Hunter follows on the heels of her first book titled Food Heroes: Tales of 16 Artisans Preserving Tradition slated for publication in the fall of 2010 by H.N. Abrams.
If you haven’t heard of Georgia Pellegrini yet, the trajectory of her rising star seems destined to make her a household name in the kitchens of every American hunter and (hopefully) subway rider.
The gig at ESPNOutdoors, her own award-winning blog, the books and possible TV show, an appearance on Fox TV, all serve as outlets for her message.
“The success of any food culture lies in preserving its artisan foods. These artisan foods are the foundation of a food culture, and upholding them are the small-scale culinary artisans who choose to make their products the traditional way, the slower way, and perhaps the less economical way, because they are passionate about their craft.”
Call it artisanal or simply homemade, her gastronomical journey started as a kid. In a local creek, she caught fresh trout for breakfast. Her great-aunt was an expert gardener. Her father raised honeybees and quince trees. There were always chickens running about. Her mother instilled the importance of healthy food on young growing bodies. And when it comes to her grandmother, Georgia’s blog pays homage with an entry…
She took care of me when I was young. She would pick me up from nursery school and bring me to her house and sit me at the end of her long wooden table so I could watch her cook. She cooked every day. She still does. And every day after nursery school she made me one of two things: pastina with butter, or broccoli with cheese. I can still taste them. The memory still nourishes my soul.
Georgia’s call to food ultimately proved as inescapable as her own DNA. After Lehman Brothers, she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City – graduating at the top of her class. She worked in two highly acclaimed restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. In fact, it was in the back of La Chassagnette that she slit the throat of her first live kill – a turkey – and then butchered it.
“I realized this is what it’s about to be a meat eater,” she told us.
Georgia is the first to admit that she came to hunting late in life. But at the end of the day, does it really matter?
As she writes on her ESPNOutdoors.com blog:
In life, you need few things. Everyone has their list. Mine includes a shotgun, good whiskey or a smooth Cabernet, a butcher and an open flame.
Here is Georgia’s recipe for Braised Pheasant…
|2 cups, diced|
|1/2 cup, chopped|
|1/2 cup, chopped|
|1/4 cup, chopped|
Bacon, cut into 1” cubes
1. Heat the white wine and sauternes and cool.
2. Marinate the pheasant parts in wine and vegetables overnight.
3. In a hot pan, brown the pheasant. Then remove the meat from the pan and add vegetables and bacon.
4. Separately, heat marinade to a boil with chicken stock.
5. Deglaze the pan of vegetables with verjus, return the meat to the pan and cover with the heated braising liquid. Bring to a simmer.
6. Let simmer for 60 - 90 minutes, until meat is tender. Reduce some of the braising liquid by half and serve as a sauce.
Most fantasies are better than the actual experience. Occasionally the opposite is true, a well known fact of hunters around Maryland.
The owner wouldn’t let us reveal his name, but shared with us everything else he knew about the rare Krieghoff Tiflis pigeon gun.
In a way, the Tiflis belies the popular notion of a shotgun classic. Although it is a side-by-side sidelock, it doesn’t date back to the 18th or 19th centuries. It was built in 1986 – but only 20 specimens were produced, all of them in 12 gauge, catapulting the Tiflis into the rarified world of limited-production Krieghoffs.
As with many celebrated turning points in the world of fine shotguns, it all started with a bottle of fine port.
In late September 2000, Mr. Nigel Beaumont, Chairman of English gunmaker, James Purdey & Sons, crossed the Atlantic to attend the Vintage Cup World Side-by-Side Championships at the Orvis Sandanona Shooting Grounds in Millbrook, New York.
Well, here we are on the cusp of March. Another rabbit hunt or two, maybe one more try at bass and perch through the ice, and then it’s on to Spring turkey season – while dreaming of summertime stripers, blues and football tuna!
Every year I say I am going to go load up on Spring flounder in the bay while watching the waterfowl migrate north, and every year something else comes up – like brush burning season. Now there is something a man can really enjoy while mulling over the past and thinking about the future!
Burning brush with my father, an old Yankee of 92 years, is when he has given me some of his most sage advice. On dating: “There are a lot of fish in the sea.” On trusting in God: “Your body dies, but your soul lives on forever.” On the past: “I’m the last one living from my graduating class – the others are all dead. Sometimes, I wonder why I’m still here…” On the work ethic: “Always stay busy, even when you’re not.” And: “Whatever you do, big or small, it’s got to be done a hundred percent.” Dad, I hope you can join me burning brush again this season, and tell me some more of the old-time stories of growing up on a rural, Duxbury, Massachusetts farm…
A few other joys in March include seeing the woodcock return to the swamps and fields to perform their mating dance in the skies at dusk. I know this may sound a little silly, but this is one of the events of Spring that makes my heart soar (other than burning brush with Dad). There’s another: hearing the Spring peepers starting up their chorus in the swamps. Throw in the first bats to start flying and now you really got something. The greatest of the greatest? Sitting out and seeing and hearing all three on the same night while watching the coals burn down after a day of burning brush with Dad.
There’s so much more to March. The howling of the coyotes, the barking of the fox. The crows flying overhead carrying special sticks to special trees, to build a nest to start a new family. The redwing blackbirds arrive in huge numbers in March and it is such a pleasure to see their bright, red-wing patches and hear them singing in the tops of the trees. The mute swans will be nesting, the first great white egrets will arrive, and the woodchucks will be looking over my garden and doing a little dreaming of their own. The herring will start to come in from the ocean and run up the rivers to spawn and the sweet, damp smell of spring will fill our senses with overwhelming delight.
March may be just another month to some, but to me its winter’s dying grip and Spring’s gentle kiss on my cheek. Farewell winter, we’ll see you next year.
I’m often asked how, as a woman, I got involved in hunting and not just as a pastime, but as a career. I myself am not exactly sure how I got started, but I remember when, or at least the first time it came to me that it was, very specifically, something I wanted to do.
I was going through those sometimes typical “finding myself” years. I’d ingloriously flunked out of college in my senior year – I’d never really liked it, and was actually a little surprised I’d hung on as long as I had – and had come back home to Northern Virginia to ride hunters and jumpers for several local stables. I waited tables at the local pub, too, its brass rail and bar stools bearing most of the local horse people at any given time. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I was happy enough to be riding other people’s expensive steeds without paying the bills for them, and I’d found a little tenant house on a thoroughbred farm in Middleburg, smack in the middle of fox-hunting country. The cottage was a whopping $300 a month, utilities included, and a total bargain, given the symphony that rang out every time rain came down upon the cottage’s tall, tin hip roof. In all, life was easy, charmed, and flush with just enough cash for a thin, pretty, still horse-crazy, 20-nothing girl.
One early fall morning, after I’d lived in my little horse-heaven world a couple years, I woke up and decided I wanted to hunt. To this day I have absolutely no, and I mean no, idea where the impetus came from. Maybe it was one of the barn hands talking about dove hunting. Maybe it was a flight of mallards I’d seen. Could have been something on TV. Or maybe it was nothing at all. I truly don’t know. All I do know is that the idea seemed to just come to me, like some people “get” religion as they’re putting gas in their car one day.
How else could it have been? I did have a grandfather who hunted. Maybe that, at least, could be where the idea got planted. Hard to tell what impressions made on a scrawny, braided-pigtail little girl will take root, but in looking back, I’d not feel right disavowing that at least the exposure then might have been it, might have been what started the swamp peat to smoldering.
My mother’s father and mother were Hereford farmers, when I knew them. They’d always been agricultural and small-town, she a school nurse and the church organist, he an arborist, orchardist, and bee keeper of some renown in
We saw my grandparents, due to the six-hour drive between us and them, mostly on holidays and, when I was a little older, maybe eight or nine, for a glorious whole two weeks in the summer. I never wanted to leave when I was there, prayed for a storm to snow us in at Christmas, cried when the two weeks were up in July. It was an idyllic place for a child who wanted to be outdoors and didn’t know it yet. Then again, we were of that last generation whose parents were always admonishing them, “Go outside and play, it’s too nice to be inside,” even when there was two feet of snow on the ground or a rainstorm had just ended.
When you’re a child in your grandparents’ care on a cattle farm in Pennsylvania’s northwest corner, just shy of the New York State line, there were just four times during the day you were inside. The first three were for meals at the Formica kitchen table, the fourth for watching the evening news through the snow of the one channel that managed to wend its way through the mountainsides to the small black-and-white television that perched on the farm house’s front porch near the front door that was never used as such. Aside from those few hours and regardless the season, we were outside.
There was a pond a hundred yards from the house, kind of good for swimming, but better for mud fights with my brother and cousins. The pond’s bottom had a unique combination of silky smoothness and slight grit that created a perfect ooze factor. The tiny snails in each handful were just a bonus, when the slinging was in full force.
Vacated barns, their angel-winged swallows darting in and out in greeting, called to us, too. We’d been told to stay out, of course. “There are holes in those old barn floors,” grandfather told us. “You’ll plummet to your deaths.” So we were careful, but explored anyhow, loving the memory smell of hay and animals long gone, the discovery of ropes and pulleys and rusty farm implements always oddly medieval. Games and adventure skits were made up on the spot. Our imaginations had free reign.
Maybe the biggest lure of the farm itself, the thing that drew us kids to it every day, was the quick little stream that flowed behind the farm house to the pond. In that stream lived fat, pink-bellied, silver-backed trout. If you didn’t let your shadow cross the deep hole on the left side of the sodded-over culvert that permitted a tractor to cross over the stream to the pasture behind it.
I remember my grandmother and grandfather, spotting, one day, through the living room window that faced that creek, a mink. A mink! I remember thinking to myself, as the glossy creature yanked a trout from the cool waters. And then I immediately thought how lucky I was to have seen such a thing.
The mink wasn’t the only successful angler. My cousins, brother, and I always caught something, usually the small ones, but my cousin Tommy, oh, did he have the touch. A freckle-faced, red-headed firecracker of a boy—a year older than me, we looked like we should have been fraternal twins—he was wicked smart and sure of himself even then, and he was best at catching the big ones on a corn kernel-laden hook he somehow had lowered into that trophy trout hole without scattering a one of them downstream. He’d yank the fish out of the hole when it swallowed the hook, remove the offending metal, and with a distinctive kersplunk, let it slip from his gentle grasp to land in the bucket of water where the rest of our prizes swam, dying slowly.
We’d fillet our catches in the afternoon on a stump in the yard, Tommy leading the way for all of us and saving his big one for last. With the stump now sticky with fish blood and fish guts and shiny with bits of trout skin, Tommy would stick the point of the sharp pocket knife he used into the wood, then reach down into the bucket with two hands to ease the last, barely breathing trout out into the pure air and lay it on the log. We were, as a group of children, singularly quiet, our breaths held waiting for a magician to perform his final trick.
But the magic never came. Inevitably, Tommy’s big fish would be a pregnant female. He’d do something with the knife behind her gill or head to still the big fish, then slit the belly. Always, eggs would pour forth. Then Tommy would curse, softly. We did not swear as children, and so it was shocking for a boy of 10 or 11 in the early 1970s to say something as simple as “Damn,” especially so that his cousins a year or two behind him could hear.
The look of anger and sadness that mixed on his face was unforgettable. It was like he’d been presented with a puzzle that he should have been able to figure out but instead had to have someone older and wiser finish. Then disgust would take over, and he’d discard the fish, unable to look at it any longer. I asked, the first time this happened, for it seemed to happen every summer, why he was so upset, and he looked at me in pain and said, “I didn’t know she was pregnant. I shouldn’t have caught her. Do you know how many fish I just killed?” And then, in true aguish, he’d look down at his kill and say, “I should have known.”
I couldn’t fathom why he felt he should have known such a thing. But the gravity of what he felt I took to my own gut, his sadness became mine. I was so impressed that he felt as he did. We couldn’t have put it into words then, being as young as we were, but what I know now is that Tommy felt he’d wronged something in the scheme of nature’s cogs and wheels.
He’d given clues before. We’d walk down the long dirt road that fronted the farm, and he’d peak into a bird’s nest woven amongst the branches of some tree, making sure it was empty of eggs and weathered enough to be called abandoned before he’d gently pry it loose and hand it to me. We’d pick watercress for the dinner salad from the myriad rivulets that ran through the cow pastures, but just a little here, a little there, so as not to denude one area completely. Yet it wasn’t until those shiny pregnant trout fell to his pocketknife that I realized there was something more to our romping around in the sunshine than just a basic consideration for that which surrounded us, more than just a slightly tangible acknowledgement of being a part of the bigger picture.
I don’t know how such a boy
Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
Starting in March 2010, the Ithaca Gun Company will begin shipment of a waterfowl pump gun that’s infused with a weather and scratch resistant treatment believed to be the second application of this formula for a civilian shotgun – the first coming with
I know that if you want to hunt wild and hard to find pheasants in Montana you have one of two choices, either cold weather or very cold weather, and lots of hard hunting which means a bunch of miles on foot.
Another time, I was duck hunting with a good friend on the Massachusetts coast and taking a few pictures at sunrise. It was very cold and I tucked my very expensive camera into my gunning coat. Suddenly, a banded Red Leg came over the decoys and I leaped up and dropped him into the blocks with a single shot. In my zest, my camera flew out of my gunning coat and landed in a tidal pool that was several feet deep. We figured that northern red leg duck cost about $1,800 dollars to bring down, not counting guns and ammunition.
I once shot and killed a hen mallard and drake stone dead with a single round from my 12-gauge Browning Gold. The pair landed belly up on the other side of a small river. I walked up river looking for a place to cross, and fell through an iced-over ditch up to my neck. It was January 17th and I nearly drowned. A do-gooder, watching through his telescope from his trophy home, called the police – not to report a man through the ice, but to complain about a hunter in the marsh that he could see from his property!
Ever get caught in a forty-knot blow while sea duck hunting three miles offshore – in an open skiff – with the anchor lines and decoy lines wrapped around each other and then firmly wrapped around the prop – with your stern to the wind and sea in January with sub-freezing temperatures? I have. The water was over my knees and going over the gunwales. It scared me enough to re-think my idea about "hardcore gunning" for sea ducks. I still go, but I go differently than I did.
On a more pleasant note, when I was ten years old Dad took me rabbit hunting on the Island with my new shotgun I got for Christmas. I looked over a cliff, saw some ducks, and crept back and asked if I could try for them. He said, "Go ahead." I went back and shot my very first duck, an eider drake. Mum took my picture in the kitchen when I got home and Dad had the eider mounted. Thirty-eight years later I still have the mount, Mum's photo and my first shotgun. Thanks Mom and Dad. You have no idea how much that meant to me.