Summer Woodcock

Georgia friend Gil Stacy has more sense than we did when I hunted Woodcock: he keeps some for the summer mushroom harvests… chanterelles in this case.
Also notice the color of the cut flesh. Like all good Woodcock (and snipe) cooks, he
sort of passes them through a very hot oven. I get tired of hearing how dark- fleshed birds “taste like liver”- good LIVER doesn’t taste like liver when it is cooked rare, turned over quickly in hot bacon fat and butter. My disgusted French- born gourmand friend Guy de la Valdene, after he read an American recipe for woodcock that involved two cans of cream of mushroom soup and an hour and a half in the oven, wrote (in Making Game in 1990): “As this recipe negates the whole reason for killing the birds in the first place, why not take it a step further and poach the Woodcock overnight in equal parts of catsup, pabulum, and Pepto- Bismol.”

 I need to hunt Woodcock again before I die.  First pic below by Betsy Huntington from 1976, with her Parker 16, in Easton MA in the coverts I grew up in, no longer open to hunting but mercifully preserved from development as a park; second Bar Mills ME, 1987, the year after her death, in a place I still hope to hunt again, with Bart and Darne.

Incidentally, the greatest (and most undeserved ) compliment as a cook I ever had was by Russ Chatham at his old place in Deep Crick, when he and Libby and Guy and I had whipped up something impromptu and good.All I remember now was that it had sweetbreads- Guy I think– and Risott’, from me. Russ suddenly burst out with “This is so good I wish I had FOUR cook stations so we could all cook at once, all the time!” Russ is an emotional half- Italian like me, and  think it was the magical wine from his legendary cellar talking, the best I have ever had, usually with labels falling off. Surely Jim Harrison would have been a better fourth cook. But I will take my compliments when I get ’em….

Tim Murphy

In a just world, North Dakota’s Tim Murphy would be not just the Poet Laureate of his beautiful Siberian state, our truest North; he would be the Poet Laureate of the USA. Good (but lesser) honored real poets, like Dana Gioia, know and say this,..

But like any cradle Catholic, even one lapsed or “relapsed”, he knows this is not a just world. Nevertheless, he sings his songs…

Besides, says the academy, he writes poems about HUNTING DOGS. Says I, so did the Greeks.

Tim has honored me by giving me some of his yet unpublished longer poems, and one for Easter Week. But I thought I would start with these four, from his Hunter’s Log, one of my “Book of Books” 100. Resist if you can…

And NO, I am not going to TYPE them!

I will put the third on Ataika’s grave if I live long enough.

More to come..

Woodcock Here and There..

Well, not really here. The only Woodcock I ever saw in
Magdalena was a storm-blown starving vagrant that some neighbors brought
me and that died of starvation by the next day–being 500 miles off
course does not bode well for birds.  No, I mean in the US, and in the
traditional haunts of ‘Cock in Europe, where the birds are more than
twice as big as our US species. As they are the most delicious bird that
exists, if cooked right, this is a Good Thing.

I have written about the dense cover New England Woodcock inhabit,
to the mild amazement of my Western and European readers. Hers is Gil
Stacy’s pic of GEORGIA Woodcock habitat. There really is a dog in there,
though you have to look hard. (Double or right click to enlarge). Suffice to say that I would not walk or
put a dog in that cover without frost first–it is PERFECT for eastern
diamondback rattlesnakes, the largest venomous snakes in the US.

But they do well.

course, like mine, his dogs are very disciplined. He wrote: “One thing I
find important in training dogs for woodcock is no coddling or
spoiling.  Human contact should be at a minimum except for feeding and
canine work in the field.  It also pays to harden dogs by leaving in
kennels with concrete floors, especially in the cold.  A spoiled dog is a
ruined dog.  Here are Abby and Willa in their kennel contemplating the

partner in the hunt is the sporting wood carver-sculptor Floyd Robbins.
He doesn’t just make images of LIVE birds– he carves dead ones good
enough to fool me.

My e- friend Djamel Talha runs the fine gun blog La Chasse et les Fusils Fin Here are a few of his pics from a Woodcock hunt in Brittany, with a fox and a Red- legged partridge.. 

He wrote: “I was invited by my two friends Patrice Eyrolles, a real purist passionate woodcock and Patrick Morin, a Brittany Spaniel world renowned trainer, in the homeland of the latter, namely, Brittany, a region woodcock ultimate. My wife and I spent a memorable week!

“Woodcock on the photo, it is me that I shot. With the help of the formidable Irina female dog of  my friend Patrice; she just two years and at the edge of a wood, it successively traverses three hurdles surrounding an adjacent field, taking care to have a good side so that the wind brings him fumes. Observation justified by the sudden immobility of Irina on the hedge on my left. Arrived at ten meters two woodcocks off from the other side of the hedge under the nose of the dog. However I could follow their eye off well and I deduced that they would seek refuge down below, on the edge of a wood. As soon as we come to this place a few minutes later, I see Irina petrify, then I follow the flight of Beautiful, to finish the action with a superb shot from about 60 meters, leaving the bird fall by the Holy Spirit to provide the little spaniel pleased to report his trophy.”

Kirk Hogan, who shoots in Normandy, adds this link.

 And for old times sake, me with Woodcock and Parker, ca 1975.

New England Woodcock

I have been saving this for Fall. Nobody in the west knows, or at least believes, how thick the Woodcock (and Ruffed grouse) cover is in the east. This is EXACTLY right; it breeds snap shooters like me, who fire too soon out here, “throwing away” our first shots…

And they are often small, and close in. “Don’t shoot the house…” I was ultimately warned off with a threat of the police the last time I tried to shoot in my old coverts in Easton, MA.

 Far Away and Long Ago, in the coverts mentioned above; me with Parker 16 and woodcock, ca 1978.


 This year a combination of utterly un – concentrated doves (because of widespread abundant rain and food), and deadlines, have delayed my opening day. Not so Carlos in Laramie– Blue grouse AND Snipe. I feel unemployed…

Some years I have actually started on Opening day..

Caroline Gordon

The minor great (is that contradictory?) southern writers are always being revived, sometimes by friends of mine; their agrarian roots make them more appealing to me than old Yankees generally. A person descended from  Alpine peasants and mercenary Celtic soldiers can remember misty maritime coasts with nostalgia, but be impatient with the old cultural hegemony of Puritans; what Betsy Huntington, product of rural squires up the Connecticut River, called “that Boston commercial money.”

So an article pops up in the Catholic mag First Things celebrating Alan Tate. Well, OK, he did some good stuff (he was alleged to be…difficult, too– if I weren’t sober I’d be tempted to say “a dick”), but, OK.

But does anybody outside of academia read Tate? Whereas his wife…

She is not all that popular in feminist circles–as a Southerner and a Catholic convert, she is already odd. But her classic work, Aleck Maury, Sportsman is the tale of a “worthless” Classics prof who wastes his entire life hunting and fishing, while knowing he is doing something as important as anyone engaged in a so- called useful profession. NOBODY in the academy but oddballs like my friend Gerry gets that.

Maury is good enough to have a place as one of the hundred books in my Book of Books, A Sportsman’s Library. But even I can’t say anything as wild as Tom McGuane did back in the interesting book Rediscoveries, more than a decade back (I don’t own a copy, just a xerox of the essay– Google it!) He said: “… there are sections of this book which seem to me to have been dictated by God.”

Is it the best sporting novel ever? Naah– only in the top ten. But the stand- alone story about Maury, “The last day in the field”, available in Old Red and other Stories, may just be the best story- with- bird- shooting ever; its most likely runners- up are McGuane’s “Flight”, and any of, say, five of Turgenev’s reminisces…

And I have a treat. Caroline Gordon was a great friend of Father Anderson Bakewell SJ, scientist, hunter, explorer, drinker and teller of tales, and my Explorers Club patron. I didn’t get the .416 Rigby when he died, but i got all the Gordon books, and their correspondence. I had forgotten that he had a Mannlicher Schoenauer, my own favorite rifle, as it was overshadowed by his Rigby .416 “Rifle for heavy Game” and his two Italian over and under rifles, but you see it mentioned here.

Letter below, cut for relevance; inscription in Old Red;  and Andy with his last feral hog (maybe HIS Last Day in the Field), using a Zoli over and under 8 X 57 JRS and custom loads with Barnes X (“my X- rated”) bullets.

Happy New Year Hunt

I try to hunt at least a little on New Year’s Day, which is a bit superstitious (Thanksgiving too, another story). I have been worried that Ataika, best of all dogs, was getting depressed from lack of activity; hell, I was, beleagured by, first, lack of feedback and misleading written advice from the new Rheumatology office, which caused one crisis (wouldn’t you think that a bottle that told you to take it for “one month” meant THAT, and not “Then come back for another?”) Then, my own stupidity led me to take too high a dose of another med without realizing some rather strong side effects- mea culpa. (I should note here that my “real” docs, Sarah and Jen, are perfect , and have nothing to do with these problems).

But even at my worst, I believe that I have a duty to my animals. Last week I wrote to Gil:

“Yesterday I made some sort of resolution that regardless of what I felt like I HAD to take Ataika out— she, the most cheerful and inteligent of dogs, seemed to be getting seriously depressed.

“Gil, it might be the best decision I have made in months. She and her line continue to be as remarkable as their Kazakh breeders claim. Remember, my old Lashyn died of “old age” when she was younger than Ataika’s mother Oska was when she gave birth to Taik (14!), and Oska then lived to 20! Her mother, Arys,  made 19.

“Taik is ten, and virtually hadn’t  hunted for around nine months. Not only did she seem utterly fit; she put up  a hare, ran it through a barbed- wire fence; remembered to flatten like a snake at full speed to go under the lowest strand; nearly caught up, turned it, forced it to flatten its ears (only hard- pressed hares do); ran it over a hill and out of sight, and returned promptly at my whistle, jumping OVER the four strand fence on her way back. Then hunted attentively for a half- hour over rough ground. As for me, I walked further over that rough ground than I had in a year!

“What a girl she is! I am sore but feeling re- energized. As for my future breeding, I am also thinking of her daughter Larissa, who embodies much of the line’s virtues,  and has already been offered as breeding stock…

“To be continued- I think I will take her out for quail next!”

I  appended this photo of ‘Rissa– who resembles her most of all her offspring– by Shiri, leaping like her mother:

Today I took Ataika out for a run, hoping for a cottontail.

” I didn’t want to go far, so went to the Rodeo grounds across Route 60, almost always good for a bunny or jack run, though it is hard for a single dog to prevail in coursing– you need at least another dog and/or hawk. I took the .410 just in case we saw a close cottontail past the fence that marks Village limits, inside of which you are really not supposed to shoot.

“Instead, we busted a rather large covey of Gambel’s quail– 20? Ataika once again proved her quality and good memory by carefully hunting up and flash pointing the singles and stragglers, five I think, within shotgun range, and standing to the flush (only once did I have to remind her to “hunt close”).  Since this was the first quail hunt for her in 3 years because of drought (she has hunted lagomorphs) I thought that was intelligent of her. Unfortunately all were within the Village. Now some of you may realize why I want an Accipiter or male Harris (or accurate air rifle), legal and effective within the village, where in dry years we often have more game , and still have dirt roads.

“Afterwards she insisted (as she does) on pulling out her own goatheads, and was predictably shy about being photo’d by Libby. “

Happy New Year!

Opening day, Dunhill Ranch, with New Mexico Miscellany…

 2012 and 2014 (what were we doing in 2013?), both with no game in the bag, though this year we saw plenty and expect to get some doves, and with luck GOOD quail. Best grass in years, food plants everywhere, cottontails same, and probably more jacks. Deer sign. If we have a snowy winter we will be back to as normal as erratic arid lands ever are. Too damn warm though.


2012, with a bit of the country. You are looking from Piet and Jessica’s to a neighbor’s place a few miles away, twelve miles or so south of town and further off the
pavement, on the west side of the range. The grasslands are at nearly 7000 feet, the main ridge at ten, the highest peak (off camera to the right) almost eleven. You can see if you look carefully that it was much drier. The first photo, above,  is looking north; this one due east.

Below, P & J’s terrace for post- hunt drinks, looking southeast; highest peak is South Baldy, at 11,720 I think; it  has the observatory and Lightning Lab. Me and Piet, having walked a lot further and seen nothing. For gun geeks, Piet has his old AyA sidelock 20 in all photos; above, my favorite English .410 by Turner; below, Model 12 20.

I wish I had taken a photo yesterday of this view below: it is now all filled in green, and lush. Piet has cut his stock to a minimum and is temporarily feeding them, but apparently the destructive kangaroo rats have taken a population dive, and their mounds, which provide much of the sandy brown in the middle ground, are all fallen in and grown over.

This is good, but don’t look too carefully at your blessings. A neighbor’s dog has just come up with one of the two most unnerving New Mexico diseases- Yersinia pestis; you know, Plague, the Black Death? “Home of the Flea, Land of the Plague”, as the T Shirt used to say. And its reservoir is wild burrowing rodents.

Opening day; Photos not ready, Light guns

Trying to get out of the house and return to serenity or at least not black depression. Had goofy and unsuccessful day opening dove on Piet’s Dunhill Ranch but saw all kinds of game– rain makes a difference. We’ve got yr address, birds…

Pics tomorrow, the usual 1st day of Pieter and I with nice shotguns and the obvious shirtsleeves of too- warm weather, trying to look as if  we had scouted properly, industriously shifting our doubles as though we had really shot things…

And to those who doubt the .410: ballistics are better than you think, But walking over hill and arroyo and waist- deep- brush at 7000 feet, where you might fall down if you DIDN’T have Parkinson’s, a 4 pound gun that comes up to your eye instantly is like a living tool, a steel companion. I know I could not take long passers or incoming geese with it but, you know… for my hunting, it works.

I got it back once because the kind friend who had bought it from me in a tight bind years ago thought it better in my hands, and returned it for less; thanks to him, and Libby of course.

I think I will keep it. 8 years in exile haven’t made it any less desirable.


Another Poet

Tim Murphy is not just one of our finest living poets, and the only one I know who celebrates what I have called “our Siberia”, the chilly plains of North Dakota. He is a living rebuke to stereotypes: a farmer, a businessman, a Yale graduate who studied under Robert Penn Warren; a classicist who writes about dogs; a gay man who is a practicing Catholic; perhaps above all, at least for subjects, a passionate bird hunter who has written the only poetry collection I know of that is dedicated to hunting. I have written about him in my book of one hundred books. Here he talks about all these subjects and more on North Dakota TV.