Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gear for the Marginal Lands: Footwear on the Margin

© 2010 Joshua Stark

I am a big fan of buying American made products when I can. In the case of double-barrel shotguns, as seen by my recent post, I couldn't quite get there - and besides, I haven't seen a double trigger double-barrel side-by-side from our side of the pond in quite a while - but, in many other cases, I really look for American made.

When it comes to footwear, that means biting the bullet and paying a bit extra, but it also means guaranteeing quality. Many of the remaining American footwear manufacturers cater to specialty groups, in particular safety and military personnel, who often either require or highly recommend American products in their uniforms.

For years, I wore Hi-Tech brand boots, because they were cheap and pretty comfortable. However, a few years back, I slipped on a particularly wet step at work, and slammed my back on a wooden staircase. It was quite painful, but thankfully there were no broken bones or punctured organs.

At that point, I swore off cheap footwear, and began looking for something with a good sole, waterproof, and comfortable. For me, comfortable means well-balanced first, then lightweight. Other factors, like warmth and insole support, are usually so personal that I recommend tweaking them with aftermarket products (socks and inserts).

Believe me, before I settled on my boots, I tried on a ton of shoes. I also did a lot of research. It's silly, I know, but I have a hard time letting go of that much money without making sure it's a good decision. After a month or so of reading and fitting, I found the boot for me: Danner Acadias. Not only are they pretty, they are super comfortable, and nearly indestructible. They are lightweight, and only take a couple of days to settle in. My Danners came with hard inserts that were fairly comfortable, but squeaked when I walked, so I chucked them and bought some insoles (I'm still looking for good insoles, by the way). They are completely waterproof. I love them.

But boots aren't the be-all and end-all of footwear for the outdoors.

When I met my wife, I got a number of great and wonderful surprises, not the least of which is the fact that she is a kayak instructor. At the shop where she worked, she introduced me to Chaco sandals, and changed how I wade fish and hike most Summers.

I have a couple pair of waders, one breathable and one neoprene, and for years I'd pulled them on when fishing the Sierra Nevada streams during the Summer. No longer. I've worn Chacos for years now, and fish in either shorts or pants, and just get wet.

I was going to go into the great features of these sandals, but sadly, I've found out while writing this post that Chacos are no longer made in the U.S.A., nor are they even an independent company, having been purchased by Wolverine last year. If it's one thing I cannot stand, it is a company saying that it must move it's production overseas for costs, and then not lower the price of the product on the market. Chacos made in China are not worth $95, so I officially remove my endorsement.

My advice for footwear: Take the time to find a pair that fit your criteria and will last. And save up for quality, this one time. Six miles after a hike through the Sierra or desert, you won't even remember what you are wearing if you bought the right pair, and that would be great.

What do you all wear? Are you happy?

Monday, February 22, 2010

An ominous season, too

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Shortly after posting about dandelions and weeds, and especially after Hank Shaw's great post (Eat Your Lawn), I noticed that something else happens this time of year.

This time of year, masked men in white Tyvek suits slowly drive ATV's and tractors along the edges of roads, fields, and ditches...

This time of year, when things are at their most green in Northern California, our marginal lands are visited by the sprayers.

So please, as you take to the fields to pick all those great greens, make sure you know your land and place, including the spray regimes. Also, keep an eye out for the signs that the place you may pick has been sprayed. For example, here are two pics of some local mallow:

The second shot is healthy, unsprayed mallow. The first shot, however, is mallow that had been sprayed maybe just two or three days ago. Note the leaves are drooping, and the stalks can't keep the leaves up, either.

A very important part of foraging, and a wonderful benefit to it, is getting to intimately know a place. This includes knowing what sprouts and blooms, and how it behaves and should behave. It also includes knowing how you and others impact it, and hopefully, with time, learn how to impact it more positively. I do not subscribe to the "leave no trace" philosophy (although it has been great at getting people to tread more lightly and litter less), because we are physical creatures. Also, because we are physical, natural creatures, our impacts are not all bad. However, some are, and the beauty of foraging and other interactive outdoors activities (like fishing and hunting) is that we come face-to-face with our impacts, and we get to grow in a place as a part of a place.

I highly encourage folks to get out and pick good things from the margins, but please be careful. Also, if you've found a particularly good spot, perhaps it's time to notify the local authorities about their Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs, and encourage them to use techniques other than spraying pesticides.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

You've got to crawl before you can walk

©2010 Joshua Stark

I haven't tied flies in a long time.

I have a great setup: a perfectly functional kitchen spice desk, a good vice, enough materials for what I need, and enough hooks. Heck, my wife even let me put it all in the living room (don't you wish your girlfriend was swass like her?). But, until this week, I hadn't tied a fly in over two years, maybe even three.

Sometimes, life gets you going on other things, and the things you'd once felt so important doing get put aside. For me, tying was the victim of moving, getting laid off, family loss, but also new happy things like raising my (now) three-year-old, raising ducks for the first time, hunting ducks a lot more, and blogging.

But, as any fly fisherman who has trimmed every Chrismas tree and willow along their favorite stream knows, at some point you open your fly box and grimace. All that remains are those flies you bought because the guy at the shop said they were all hitting that new flashy fly that more closely resembles an 80's girl's lip gloss than any living thing, and flies you tied, spent maybe an hour on, and didn't have the heart to just cut all that lumpy, fluffy crap off and start over.

I'm not original when I say that every cast in fly fishing is like a prayer, and do you really want to pray with profanity? So, you beg flies from your pal on the river that day (usually my wife), and you make a mental note that you need to tie more flies (especially because you supply your pal, and you don't want to ruin your own fishing).

Also, I enjoy tying flies, and hunting and raising ducks have provided me with some great, beautiful feathers. But, having been out of practice so long, I was concerned with what I would come up with, and so I didn't start with a cinnamon teal-and-snipe salmon fly, but instead broke out my book, and went back to basics. I'm glad I did, not because I was so bad, but because it provided a refresher for the techniques and routines.

I'm also happy to report that I still enjoy it. It's a good, simple, calm hobby that lets me still interact with family, and when it's done right, we get to eat fish.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Marginal markets: Craigslist 'free' posts!

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Is "free" a market activity? I ask this question after rushing my child and myself off to an empty parking lot to pick through wooden frames offered on the Craigslist free site in Sacramento.

I am very excited about these boxes, because I've been A) looking for a good box to make worm bins, and B) dreading having to build boxes for drying. These boxes will perfectly provide for both endeavors.

Really, this post could go at my "Agrarianista" blog, which will probabaly pick up soon, since Spring is threatening here in California. However, I think the free site at Craigslist represents a sort of marginal lands concept. People have things that they don't want, but that other people can use, and nobody gets to be stigmatized by getting caught dumpster-diving. It's a win-win.

And yes, of course it's a market activity, and it would make for some good behavioral economics research.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Picking dandelions, & what is a weed, anyway?

© 2010 Joshua Stark

There is a small patch of green things growing wild on my walk to work from the parking lot. Nobody has bothered it, and it has grown up fairly tall. In this nice, verdant fieldlet, I've ID'ed dandelions, wild oats and radishes, and mallow, and it's been nice watching them all reaching up, up. I'd guess the dandelion leaves are about 18 inches long, and I've watched them from tiny sprouts.
So it was nice to find a lady picking those dandelion leaves the other day, on my way home from work. She'd kicked out her kickstand, stooped down, and was pulling the leaves as I walked up, and I asked her, "picking dandelion leaves?", but with a knowing smile, and when she looked up, she knew I knew, too. She smiled.

"Yeah! My grandfather, from Italy, raised us on dandelion greens. I see people call these weeds all the time, and spray malathion and diazanone to kill them. And then they wonder why they are so fat! They should get off their butts, bike some and pick things that are good for them to eat!"

She introduced herself, and we talked a bit about how great green things are, and we went on our ways.

It's so nice to meet other folks who notice little places on the edge, who realize what treasures they hold.

In this light, then, it was unfortunate to read just how lightly the Sacramento News & Review took the notion of weeds a couple weeks back, only mentioning the coming war with weeds that the Ag. Department plans to pursue.

But they didn't answer the basic question: What is a weed? The best definition I've found is that a weed is a plant growing where it doesn't belong. That is an important, and deeper concept than it sounds, because it goes to the definition of belonging.

I've found more space in my heart for what others would call weeds, and non-natives in general, because I had to do some thinking about it during a previous profession. As a park interpreter at Seacliff State Beach outside of Santa Cruz, I heard about a number of folks fighting over these very issues. The two that stand out in my head are the feral cat problem on the Monterey Bay, and the fight over eucalyptus trees. Both species are non-native, and both do have impacts on the ecosystem.

In the case of feral cats, they eat wild birds and small reptiles and mammals. They also (through oocysts in their poop) help to kill sea otters. In the case of eucalyptus, they, at times, may shade out lower-canopy, native habitats, but they also provide winter habitat for native monarch butterflies and hummingbirds, because they flower in the winter.

Through these controversies, I developed a general paradigm for determining whether a non-native should stay or go. Basically, I do a simple cost-benefit analysis from the point of view of habitat, considering the habitat's current state: Does the non-natives provide any benefit to the habitat? Does it possibly take the place of or augment existing habitat? Does it crowd out or create "dead zones" for other species? &etc. I also ask whether the impacts in removing them will be more damaging than their presence. I determined, in Santa Cruz, that the cats have to go, and the eucalyptus can stay. However, my positions can always change, as new evidence comes to light.

In the case of many species of non-native 'weeds', I think we should let them stay. The impacts to removing them from many roadsides and vacant lots may be more harmful than keeping them, especially considering the skimpy funding that cities and counties provide for these endeavors. There are particular species that need to be removed (I'm thinking star thistle), but for the most part, it would be preferable to encourage communities to recognize the value of plants like chicory and dandelion, and encourage controlled picking instead of pesticide regimes.

Weeds, like most everything else, don't take well to being generalized. So next time you are outside, looking over your lawn or patch of earth, notice these little plants, take some time to learn about them, and maybe eat one or two. You may start down a strange road, but it may be for the better. And, you just might meet me next to an Italian lady, picking dandelions.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gear for the Marginal Lands: Shotguns on the Margin

© 2010 Joshua Stark

I start my series on gear for the marginal lands with guns partly because I love guns, and partly because guns tend to be more controversial than, say, pants. I think this is because a gun purchase is expensive, regardless of your choice, and people just have a natural inclination to defend their purchase of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
(For those of you who do not hunt, don't despair. My series will include fishing gear, gear for foraging, boating, hiking, birdwatching, and the like. Just stay tuned. In the meantime, if you are curious as to the world of hunting and guns, read on!)

I have a decent gun collection, although "collection" is not the right word for it, as I use them all. Most guns automatically tend to be generalist, but with some major hemispheres in which each operate. For example, I can hunt just about any typical mammal in California with my 30-30 - although I'd be pushing it on the bigger hogs - but I can't legally hunt birds with it.

Many people like one of two guns for marginal lands: the 12 gauge or the .22. These are two extremes, in my opinion: The former, a great gauge, is usually too big and bulky for the kind of hunting I do; the latter is just about useless in my case (you can't hunt hardly anything with it).

This is because the lands I hunt are Northern California, the most varied terrain in the U.S. I can hunt subalpine country in the morning, and desert-plain in the afternoon. I can hunt white-fronted geese, band-tailed pigeons, and mule deer on the same day. Often, when hunting BLM or USFS lands, I can walk six miles in a day, and I have to be ready for a shot at a covey of quail or turkeys, a squirrel, a mallard, or even a chance to fill my deer tag. My gear needs to be lightweight and generalist.

Over the years, I've had a number of opportunities blown by the wrong shell in the chamber. On one particular trip, after having heard some quail in a blackberry bramble, I rounded a corner to find find 30 or so turkeys, their necks craned, staring straight at me at about 40 yards. I felt naked, standing there with my 12 gauge pump loaded with 8's.

That was the most stark example of my gun's inefficiency, but similarly frustrating scenes have happened a number of times.

So a couple of years ago, I began a serious quest for a new shotgun. I'd thought up an ingenious design: A gun with not one, but two barrels. Each barrel would have its own trigger, and I could therefore choose which barrel I would use as I was pointing the gun at my prey. I'd modestly hoped to make a little money off the patents, to found a non-profit, of course.

Alas, it seems somebody had beat me to it by a few hundred years.

In reality, all my life I'd wanted a double gun. I've always been preferable to the side-by-side, so I started a search for one with the following criteria: Inexpensive (under $800), new (if bought online), lightweight (under 7 lbs.), 20 gauge, double triggered, with an English stock.

I had eliminated all double guns due to my first and last criteria, and so I had to back down from one of them. Though I preferred to dump the first one, I grudgingly let go of English stocks (who knew it would cost so much to saw off a horn?).

"Lightweight" was another concern I had trouble matching up with chea... er, inexpensive. There are a few nice guns on the market for under $600 even, but all their 20 gauge models were built on their 12 gauge frames, so all of their guns were 8+ lbs. My 12 gauge pump gun already weighed as much.

For braver folks than I, one can purchase a used double gun online, but since this was going to be a major investment, I couldn't bring myself to trust that route.

Then I stumbled upon a great little gun. 20 gauge, double triggers, under 6.5 lbs., and new. So I bought it.

It's a Huglu, imported from Turkey through TR Imports.

I "researched" many gun sites on the web, and heard mixed reviews of them, but when I held one at a local gun shop, it fit me wonderfully, so I knew I'd love it. And I do.

It's just a good little gun, and it lets me get better. I won't write about all its wonderful features, because I've found the anecdote-couched-as-expertise a terrible medium for others trying to find a good gun, but I like it. It points well, it's comfortable, and it is the perfect size. Two barrels gives me great confidence; I love walking the woods in the fall with no. 6 steel in one barrel and a slug in the other.

But, for the bigger question: Why 20 gauge?

Simply put, the twenty, for me, is the most versatile gun for North America.

My claim is not meant to argue that every North American animal can be taken with it. I wouldn't try to hunt grizzlies, or elk, or a few others with it, because it doesn't have the power. (Besides, if I was ever blessed enough to get a bison hunt, I would acquire the appropriate gun for the occasion.)

However, for 90% of the hunting that folks do, and probably 99% of the hunting I do, a twenty gauge is more than adequate, and it comes with additional benefits that make it more versatile, even, than the venerable 12 gauge.

When shooting shot, a twenty throws pellets as fast as a twelve, it just throws fewer of them. So, what benefits, you ask, come with less shot? Most people who start shooting a twenty do a couple of things: They practice more, and they wait for their shots. In hunting situations, this means they are often more practical with their guns, and they usually have practiced stalking, calling, or decoying to a great extent. In addition, 20 gauge guns built on 20 gauge receivers are lighter, and so they walk better in the field. Take a Sierra hike with me, you with your 12 gauge pump, and me with my 20 gauge double, and after three miles, hold my gun. You'll swear I've been cheating, and you'll secretly want one, too.

The counter argument to the twenty is that it is not adequate for some bigger birds and mammals. To that I respond that I don't hunt waterfowl bigger than Canada geese, and I can take a Canada with a twenty - and I can surely take turkeys with it. As for mammals, I hunt mule deer and blacktails with my 20, because where I hunt, I won't take a shot longer than about 80 yards. Honestly, no gun built to hunt birds should be used much past that range, even a 12 gauge.

The only drawback I've found for my twenty gauge double is the lack of non-lead slugs for smoothbores.

The waves of the future have been to build up the 12 gauge platform to cover as much as it can. Rifled barrels, 3 1/2" shells, etc., have been ways to convince consumers that the 12 gauge is the consummate gauge, but in doing this, they have overspecialized the individual guns. To me, the 12 is a fine gun, but because of recent marketing trends, it's capabilities are oversold, an illusion built up that the typical Joe should be shooting ducks at 60 yards, and whitetail at 150. I think commercials give 12 gauge shooters a false sense of confidence in the field, letting them think that a 3 1/2" shell has enough pellets & power to justify sky-scraping and shooting cold, without practicing.

Meanwhile, the twenty gauge, like the 30-30, remains a consistent, reliable gauge with enough power, great weight, and versatility to do the jobs a hunter needs in the margins. Now, if only someone will come out with a smoothbore nonlead slug...

I know I may have riled some feathers here, because I know that guns are touchy subjects. Now, let me hear your thoughts: What is your best gun for the margins?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Doldrums, & Best Gear for the Marginal Lands

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Pat McManus wrote well about early Spring being the cruelest time of year for the outdoorsman. Here in my part of California, it rarely drops below 50 during the day, or 40 at night, but we do get all our rains from November through April, making for really big water in a short period of time, and locking people inside.
For me, this time of year is best described by the doldrums, the equatorial calms that trapped sailors in a vast expanse of quiet nothingness. In February almost all hunting seasons are over, and trout in the Sierra won't start for another three months. Some fishing is available, weather permitting, but most of it is catch-and-release, and there is no shad until well into May. And gardening is a gamble - it's okay to put in the garlic and maybe some peas and greens - but a gigantic storm can threaten any time, bringing high winds and dumping inches of rain in a day, and the likelihood of at least one more cold snap looms.

Right now, then, is when I harbor illusions of perfecting my gear and equipment. I imagine a day all to myself, taking turns breaking down my guns and giving them a real work-over, then putting on a pot of coffee, eating some slow-cooked oats, and tying a pile of flies after throwing the pants, gloves, and waders in the wash. Maybe I'd sew up that gun case I've planned out, or break out the shoe polish and shine up those Danners that have saved my life. Then, I'd mosey out to the shop and cut some forms for next season's duck and goose decoys, as I dream of hunting over my own, hand-made dekes.

But the workshop is a shambles, and it's tiny, too - plus, balsa and cork are exorbitantly expensive. Gun oil and solvent in the house make my wife very unhappy. The fly bench is strewn with papers and unorganized pieces and parts. It's really hard to sew a four-foot case without a machine. I have no idea where I put my shoe polish.

If this were the Fall or Summer, I'd look at all of these, get overwhelmed, and do my version of a Calgon commercial: grab my gun or fishing rod, and leave the chaos for some relaxing, quiet spot. But, it's February, and there are no winds to blow me out the door, so I'm writing, instead.

Granted, I've recently taken on another hobby that gets me out-of-doors, foraging, and this time of year is a good time for gathering greens here, but only when the weather hasn't completely waterlogged the countryside. That's the case this week, so far (well, that and work).

Since my mind is left wandering over my gear, I thought it best to consider what gear works best in the marginal lands.

Hunting, fishing, and foraging in the marginal lands is a place-based experience, so I don't expect my favorites to be everybody's. My places tend to be either watery or very dry, either verdant or very crunchy, but big, and full of varying opportunities with little warning.

In case you didn't know, California has quite a few climates, even in the same place.

My most typical haunts split their climate patterns between 5 months of Mediterranean Winters and Desert Summers. Temperatures range from 40's in the Winter to 110+ in the Summer, and with little humidity to speak of, the green hills of the California Milk commercials (which were filmed in New Zealand, but look surprisingly Californian) turn a golden brown very, very quickly.

Because of these characteristics, I need gear that is lightweight, waterproof or water-happy, able to layer (if clothing), able to multitask, and pretty tough. I also need it to be inexpensive, for the most part.

What works for me, I've found, has run the gamut of outdoorsman cliques, from "army surplus" to "upland gentleman", and I'd never make it on the cover of some magazine. However, I'm comfortable most times I'm out, and I rarely feel like I've left something behind.

Of course, I could always use something new, and I do have my wish list (fillet knife?), but nine times out of ten, I'm set for the types of activities I pursue on my marginal lands.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll highlight the gear that has worked best for outdoors activities in the marginal lands. I hope to hear from you all about your best gear, and the trials and tribulations you've suffered to come to your conclusions. If this still interests you, stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The last day of the season, thoughts on respect and wonder and SCAIP!... dang, missed 'im!

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Last Sunday, I hunted the last day of California's seasons for waterfowl, snipe, quail, squirrels, and rabbits. My cousin met me at my parents' house down in the Delta, and we hit a friend's property looking, first, for geese. When that didn't pan out, we lit out for snipe.

Gallinago gallinago, the common snipe, is the only shorebird still legal to hunt in California, and it provides an experience unlike any other. A small, beautiful, wily bird, snipe make for a tough, but exciting hunt. Their environs - flat, open bogs, peat marsh, flooded harvested fields - prove deceptively difficult to traverse, and the open expanse of their habitat makes long shots the norm. Their mottled feathers provide perfect camouflage, and without their tell-tale scaip! sound upon flushing, they can be difficult to identify among other shorebirds.

However, it is snipe's ability to fly that makes this bird one of the most challenging prey in hunting.

Snipe can fly. Imagine hunting quail that flush at 30 yards, immediately flying as fast as an already-shot-at dove. Snipe lift off of the ground with a jump, zigzag down an invisible snowboard half-pipe about two to five feet off the ground, and then, suddenly, hit the afterburners and push straight up, like an F-15 on a short runway. Once into the sky, they circle for a few minutes, then attempt to alight as far from you as possible, but often still in the same field or bog.

Typically, snipe flush in singles - if more than one jumps at the same time, it is usually a coincidence. If the field has more than a few snipe, once they are airborne, they tend to group up into small flocks or pairs, circle a while, swing down at just less than the speed of sound, and drop into a landing at such a velocity, that one half-expects to see a small flock of snipe legs sticking out of the ground, their beaks buried into the mud.

Add to their aerobatics the fact that snipe are native to my home and are effectively a marginal prey species - most people don't believe they exist, much less actually try to identify and hunt them - snipe are just about my favorite game.

Two weekends back, after frightening a good number of geese with my impersonation of a speck with whooping cough, I decided to wonder over where I'd heard a snipe flush earlier that morning. As I stepped out into the field, I saw two shorebird species take off in two large flocks. One flock was killdeer, an easily recognizable plover. The other looked like a brownish bird, and I knew a couple of snipe were in there with them; I'd heard 'em call out. I watched that flock, trying to pick out the snipe, but they all looked so similar... they banked in, low and fast, and passed me at about 25 yards... they actually all looked like snipe... but in a flock of perhaps 60 birds?

I watched them land in the far end of the field. As I started towards them, they kicked up, and you could have knocked me over with a feather. They were all snipe! I hunted that field for about 45 minutes, trying to figure out how to hunt so many birds. I took two before heading home for a baby shower (that's right).

So Sunday looked like we'd at least get some shooting in this field. As we walked out, we were met by dozens and dozens of birds. In this 10-acre check, maybe 200 snipe flushed, and the shooting quickly started. Most of the birds were passing by Kevin, but I took a couple of shots, and got one bird.

When you shoot a snipe, you have to completely block out all other snipe flying, look straight at the spot it landed, and get there fast. Their camouflage is near-perfect, their boggy habitats are only illusions of flatness, and the muck and water can swallow up a small bird. Once in hand, I looked up, and here came a big flock, passing left-to-right. Kevin had shot at these birds, and so they were really ripping, but I raised, and with a lucky shot, got my first Scotch double (two birds in one shot). My heart jumped from elation to despair, ack! Which bird do I follow?!? I screwed up big-time, and split the difference.

I found one bird, but the second was lost forever.

While looking for it, I noticed a man walking up with a yellow lab. This being private property, and a friend's, I immediately walked over to him. He called out, "Do you have permission to hunt on here?" I said yes, named the owner, and mentioned that I'd hunted here my whole life.

He asked what all the shooting was about, and I said snipe. He repeated it to himself, with an "ah", and then told me he'd gotten permission to hunt, and he had a goose setup a few hundred yards away. I told him I was sorry to have been so close (it was foggy), and that we'd bug out in a couple of minutes.

I felt bad; I'd always had permission to hunt this property, but this guy set up a big rig of decoys, and it was the last day. Kevin walked up to me, and I explained the situation. My cousin was disappointed, and understandably so: He is a refuge hunter, where you need to elbow your way in, and he saw no reason to leave when we were clearly 300 yards away. I told him that folks out here, hunting on friends' lands, have an expectation that it won't be like a refuge hunt.

So we hit another spot, found a few snipe, but the big news about this spot was a beautiful, fat greenwing teal drake that refused to leave a patch of water on the flooded field. Kevin flushed it to me, and I (of course) missed, and it headed back around to Kevin, who dispatched it with a great shot. So all was not lost. In all, we brought home three snipe and that teal, and made for a great morning to the season's close.

That afternoon, I drove back out to the fellow's goose spread, and when I saw him picking up his decoys for the day, I headed out to him, introduced myself and apologized again. He was gracious, and said it hadn't been a good late-season hunt anywhere this year, anyway. We talked for awhile, and he invited me out to goose hunt next year, on property across on another island. From this gaffe, I now have another friend and hunter.

There is a gentlemanly graciousness that goes into hunting, a romanticized ideal that attracted me to the endeavor almost as much as the stalking and shooting and being outside, and I love to play that role whenever I get a chance. Sometimes, it even gets me another hunt.

If you ever find yourself out in a flooded field or bog next year, and you jump a snipe, give it a try. Grab some steel 6's, and walk straight out right where that bird jumped, and you'll probably get a couple of shots. Folks tend to ignore them, but snipe make for a fine hunt, arguably better than sitting in a blind on a blue-bird, windless day.