Tuesday, December 9, 2008

In honor of Patrick F. McManus

No, he didn't die. However, after 28 years at Outdoor Life magazine, he is being let go for budgetary reasons. The man is 75, and has recently published another book (he has many), so it's not the most horrible thing, but it is the end of an era. No longer will young boys be flipping through OL on a whim while Mom is shopping for groceries, and discover this man writing in the back of the magazine. Now, McManus is officially something we fans need to pass on as tradition, and I'd be hard-pressed to find a worthier one.

If it is possible to be one without ever meeting your pupil, McManus is a mentor of mine. Beyond my family's tolerance for my early love of hunting, McManus taught me about the outdoors, taught me to appreciate the outdoors as a thinking man.

So, in honor of Patrick McManus' storied career of stories, and (to make this an ethics and environment post) to follow the advice of Norman Maclean that, "agony and hilarity are both necessary for salvation", I officially make my first reader request: Take a moment to write something, or dredge up an older writing, that is just fun or funny. I got this inspiration after reading NorCal Cazadora's recent blog.

I'll get back to my serious, snooze-inducing commentary on the problems of our times soon, but first, here is my attempt at preparing some novice hunters for their first trip after wild chukar in Northeast California:


Lady & Gentlemen,

It is with great satisfaction & anticipation that I send forth this First Letter of the 1st Annual Upland Game Bird Safari. You have each been chosen to embark upon this journey due to your adventurous spirits, your genteel, civilized natures, your zeal for the hunt, and your skills with smoothbore and knife. The tangential fact that one of you happens to be married to me and the other two are now relatives has in no way influenced this invitation.

The following letter hopes to accomplish two tasks:
1) To inform you of the nature of Our Prey and Environs;
2) To provide a list of suggested gear and requirements of the local and state constabulary.

Our Prey:

Our Prey is as wily and powerful (pound-for-pound) as any you will ever encounter. The 'Ghost of the Rimrock' has outwitted, outrun, and outmanuevered many a breathless and frustrated hunter and dog. And we have no dog. We have Irma, a dog-shaped person who may or may not walk behind you while making noises.

Chukar utilize a variety of techniques to avoid capture. As a covey, they begin by 'chucking', a sound not unlike a soprano chicken, but much shorter in duration. The purpose of the 'chuck' is twofold: To increase the adrenaline level of potential predators, that they may use up this valuable asset before the pursuit; and to increase predators' anticipation and frustration, as the birds remain well-hid on the absolutely barren hillsides. It is deadly effective. Next, as the hunters approach, the birds run up very, very Large Hills, into the exposed rocks at the top (the
'Rimrock'). Once there, the covey feels safe, as only a Great Fool would dare scale such a precipice in pursuit of such tiny portions.

As one approaches the top of the Hill, it is advisable to listen carefully to one's own heartbeat, to identify any abnormal palpitations. This should not be difficult to do. In fact, it may be rather difficult to carry on normal conversations at this point, due to the incessant racket your heart insists on putting up in your eardrums. You will also find here a disconcerting lack of oxygen, due not only to the elevation of the Hill, but also the selfish nature of your compatriots, who will attempt to suck the atmosphere with impunity.

It is true that one may track chukar. Novices invariably express doubt as to this claim, contemplating the prey's tiny feet, but the degree of incline of the typical hill in chukar country decreases the proximity between the earth and one's eyes to a sufficient degree (see 'moleskin' in the equipment list).

Now, it is well believed that the birds always run to the top of the Hill. This is not the case. Typically, the birds will sit tight at the exact spot where one loses oneself in a dream of owning the passing jetliner, or in the curiosity borne of the leak in the oil pan caused by the boulder on the
drive in, or where one sets one’s gun down to wipe one’s brow (at this point in the climb, two hands are necessary to wipe one's brow). Thankfully, usually just a few carry out this heartless, brutal act ('a few' ranging from three birds to seventy).

Upon reaching the Top of the Hill, birds will issue forth from the Rimrock and associated brush at the rate of one every time you look away or stop paying attention, one every time you set your sights on the other one, and one when you stop to relieve yourself.

Chukar take to the air not unlike a jet-pack laden pheasant, achieving speeds only slightly past sound. They also jump with a noise similar to a small surface-to-surface missile. Upon regaining one's composure and picking up one’s shotgun, it is customary to shoot in the direction of the now-imagined bird, a gentleman's note to fellow hunters that you haven't hit anything.

Items of Interest:

Below you will find a list of suggested items for the trip and the hunt. If I have forgotten anything here you think I should bring, please inform me and I shall consider it.

Long-sleeved clothes (it very well may drop below freezing)
Short-sleeved clothes & sunscreen (it very well may reach 100 F)
Moleskin (while climbing hills, some hunters find this helps prevent scratched noses)
Shotgun (please do not forget this, it looks bad)
Heavy Game load or High Base sizes 9, 8, 71/2, 6, 5, 4, 3, & BB in the gauge of your gun
Upland Hunting Vest or lanyard for holding birds (hope springs eternal! Also, you may hold your sandwich and water bottles)
Seven (7) water bottles
Hunting license & Upland Game Bird Stamp (see note for shotgun above)
Approximately 25k Calories of foods high in fat and carbohydrates
Whiskey (antiseptic. Please bring at least 2 pints - there are many sharp rocks)
Knife (in case you slip on the hillside, it may be used as an anchor)
Binoculars (you will really want these, the place is gorgeous, and Big Country, and watching fellow hunters on opposing hillsides has its merits)
Camera (some fellow hunters may find themselves in compromising situations)
Chukar call (For fooling and annoying fellow hunters)

It will be a pleasure to hunt together.




jerry said...

Hi Josh!!
Enjoyed your chukar story. Pat McManus has influenced me much in the same way as you, especially in the hilarity of the agony. I wrote a couple stories for the local paper here this year that were influenced by mcmanus... check it out at www.sierramountaintimes.com and search "jerry maxwell" there. I wrote one in October called "Fall Fishing Or What To Do When Rivers Take Control" then in December I had "Deer File, Episode One: Never Rope A Deer" All in the tradition of Pat McManus. Good to see you too are a true fan of one of the best writers ever to come our way. Keep writing!!! jm

Josh said...

Thank you, Jerry! I really appreciate the encouragement. I'll check out your writings, too!