Goshawks vs. Depression

Pluvialis has been having a rough time.

I do not think she is ‘whingeing’, in the slightest; as she admits, ‘Death, relationships, job-loss, moving: four biggies in the World of Stress.’ The four I’d say– dealing with only two has on occasion reduced me to near- catatonia.

What fascinates me is that she is finding some relief in manning a goshawk, a kind of falconry some (Matt?) feel is uniquely stressful.

Doing such ‘inexpressibly difficult’ things pull us out of ourselves. That phrase is from T. H. White, in whose footsteps Pluvi is following. He also said: ‘As I put Gos to bed in the darkness, a new thought emerged. This time it was a quotation: to scorn delights and live laborious days. But it presented itself the other way about, saying: To live laborious days for their delight’.

Need I say that Pluvialis has also, once again, made a brilliant mini- essay out of it all? (With ballooning baby spiders!)

Oh and– new edition of that book, which in my edition I called both ‘a book about excruciatingly bad falconry’ and ‘the best book on falconry, its feel, its emotions, and its flavor, ever written’, coming soon, with a brilliant cover by Bruno Liljefors, the best it has ever had.

Opening day

Libby here on our opening day (took the shotgun for doves too but intense dog activity sort of kept them away!)

“Yesterday we had a splendid, heavy rain here, which turned the streets into rivers, an then today we went out on our friend Lee’s ranch (100 sections) with the dogs and had our first hare chase of the season. When we first let them out of the truck, the dogs ran amok — they were SO happy to be out they just had to run as fast as they could to burn off energy. I put up a hare that they had run past, and it took off in the opposite direction. I almost didn’t yell to the dogs as I thought they would never be able to close in on it. But I did and our youngest tazi, Larissa, spotted it first and took off after it, with the others following, from about 100 yards behind. This was her first real hare chase, and she poured it on, closing in on it. At first the hare was running with its ears up — it didn’t think it was in any danger. But as the dogs started gaining, it realized that it was going to be in big trouble if it didn’t get moving. When it laid its ears back the serious chase was on, and they ran for about four minutes, turning it twice. Four or five horses in the next pasture came right up to the fence to watch…way more interesting than watching cows! Finally the hare, who had run to a corner of the fencing very intelligently ran through it twice, and lost the dogs. We had parked the truck by a water tank that had collected a lot of rain water around it from yesterday’s storm, so the dogs all ran over to it and had a wonderful wallow to cool off, grinning at what fun they had had. Luckily it was a sandy are so they mostly got wet rather than covered with mud and cow shit, which they always enjoy but we, for some reason unfathomable to dogs, don’t like. A good start to the season for all of us.”

Season Opener

In the absence of cool weather or fall color, two things define the change of seasons in this part of the world: football and dove hunting.

The LSU Tigers won their season opener against Mississippi State in at 45-0 rout, which, best of all, occurred on a Thursday and left the long Labor Day weekend open for dove hunting.

I don’t shoot but always notice the opening day of dove season; it’s hard to miss here. I’ve seen hunters set up shop—blinds, dogs, blaze orange, the works—nearly in the middle of town. It’s handy in the heat to hunt close to the corner quickie mart.

It’s handy anyway to hunt near home. As a falconer I’ve had this pleasure almost everywhere I’ve lived. It’s a strange irony of the sport that while the vast open spaces are nice places to hawk every once in a while, there is also plenty game in town and generally no restrictions to flying hawks. If you hunt often, as falconers do and must, there are a dozen common-sense reasons to hunt close.

For years the same held true for shot gunners. Steve remembers hunting woodcock in the sparse subdivisions of New England, just walking distance from home. And down here, as mentioned, dove hunters have been easy to spot along the road to Wal-Mart. But as Steve found on a more recent trip to his home woods, bird gun in plain view, the times they have a’changed.

I saw no gunners in Baton Rouge this weekend. There is no place left in town to host them. But a trip across the river to Port Allen found them out in force.

Port Allen, a tiny point of transfer for raw materials—sugarcane and petroleum—is growing. I was wrong in 2003 to predict its shrinking population to bottom out, leaving more of its choice hunting land open to me. A movie studio, of all things, 800 acres big, is going up on the north end of town. To the south, huge tracts of land are being cleared and turned into housing and industrial space at a rate that seems almost apocalyptic.

Yet Sunday, literally between the bulldozers, dozens of cammo-clad gunners staked out small territories and patches of overcast sky.

There was a black lab for every two or three men, and a jacked-up four wheel drive truck for every one. The vehicles sat along the road and crosswise in empty parking lots beside plowed fields. Men crouched behind blinds of sugarcane, or stalked along its rows or simply sat upright in the open on stools. All together, across both sides of Highway 1 just north of downtown, maybe two dozen hunters could be seen.

Above and around them, hundreds of mourning doves whirled and landed or tried to land in the newly turned earth. However many the guns killed, there seemed no shortage of birds and no particular hurry on their part to clear the area.

I was looking for a place to fly my hawk, so I didn’t stop. But I wished them well, hunters and their quarry both.

Where will these guys go next year? It’s likely they were citizens of Baton Rouge, not local to Port Allen. In recent years, some of them would have stayed within the city limits on opening day. Why not? All else equal, being home for supper is still the best way to build good will at home for another day of hunting.

This is where the rubber and the road meet on the downward trend in American yeoman hunting. Yesterday’s AP story outlines the decline in hunters’ numbers as if it’s news. Everyone who hunts on his own time and own dime knows it’s getting harder to do, and why. The article contains some important quotes:

“We hear concerns about land access,” [New Hampshire Fish and Game Department spokeswoman, Judy Stokes] said. “People grew up hunting — you went out with your family, your uncle. And now you go back, and there’s a shopping plaza or a housing development. Some of your favorite places just aren’t available anymore.”

National hunting expert Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Virginia-based research firm Responsive Management, says America’s increasingly urban and suburban culture makes it less friendly toward the pastime.

[Duda] “…In a rural environment, where your friends and family hunt, you feel comfortable with guns, you feel comfortable with killing an animal.”

Indeed, the article continues, “hunting remains vibrant in many rural states — 19 percent of residents 16 and older hunted last year in Montana and 17 percent in North Dakota, compared with 1 percent in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.”

In Baton Rouge (capital city of The Sportman’s Paradise), residents are already driving west to hunt doves on opening day. Most have given up hope of hunting anything else in town and have either bought into distant deer and duck leases or got out of hunting altogether.

As the population ages, this will certainly continue. The number of people who grew up hunting will shrink to vanishing. Today’s kids are otherwise distracted (and distracting to their parents), making interest and patience for hunting a near-equal problem to access. As Duda notes, knowing better than anyone the shape of the curve and of things to come, “You don’t just get up and go hunting one day — your father or father-type figure has to have hunted.”

So we might end up like Wayne Pacelle’s pets after all, “one generation and out.”

New Dawg, Part Deux

Travelling duo Dan Gauss & Margaret Fairman own and operate Shot On Sight Photography, a provider of fantastic images of performance sighthounds and regulars on the lure coursing and OFC circuits. Dan and Margaret are obligate, itinerant RV enthusiasts and bone-deep longdog people, pursuing their dreams.

You can follow their travels at http://shotonsite.blogspot.com/, where you’ll also find some great shots of their new pup.

Cheers, guys!