Life’s Too Short to Hunt with an Ugly Gun

Pursuing woodcock on a snowy day.

 

I stood under the rear hatch door and watched the snow fall. It was pretty in the way that all first snows of the season are, and it was deathly quiet, too. Every time I exhaled there was so much steam that a passerby would swear I chain-smoked Marlboro Reds.

The only lighting up I wanted to do was with my Parker VH 28, but it wasn’t in the cards. I don’t know what you call pouring rain that is sleet, but let’s just say it was pouring sleet. It was a bad day for bird hunting, and that’s why I sat on the rear bumper and sighed another puff of smoke.

I wanted a repeat of yesterday, for yesterday was the kind of dream we remember for years. About half of the colorful leaves were on the ground while the rest still hung on the trees painting the mountains and the ridges. The wind blew from the west-northwest, the morning frost didn’t burn off until midday, and you couldn’t have asked for better scenting conditions. The dogs—Ocracoke, Rowdy, Albert, and Rebel—were on fire, and they carved up the grouse uplands and the woodcock lowlands like it was child’s play. Their tails were cracking right up until I put them in their boxes, and their tails beat on the sides of the cages until they came out again.

 

Snow couldn’t keep the Parker from slipping out of its gun case and dropping these gorgeous woodcock.

 

Every covert was loaded. Good Shepard started us off with two grouse and 12 woodcock, Black Dog held two grouse and nine woodcock, Cemetery held 11 woodcock, and there were so many in the front half of The Kid’s covert that I stopped counting for the day. The whiff of gunpowder was sweet, the apples we pulled from the trees were tart, and everything was just as it should be. We shot well, Jeff and I, and when the sun headed for the barn, we did as well.

It was a good day . . . scratch that, it was a great day. No, it was a day of days, one to remember for years. We laughed and cut up so much that my wife wondered exactly how much bourbon we had consumed. The fact was we hadn’t even touched a drop.

 

Sometimes a sudden snowfall drops two feet of powder overnight.

 

The temptation to put on a big head ran high, but we were focused on tomorrow. We went light on ribeyes, ate only a sliver of apple pie baked from freshly picked Macouns and Cortlands, and only had a splash or two of Malbec. We wanted to be fresh for tomorrow, to savor a repeat of today, and to test out a different set of coverts and a few new ones, too. “Early to bed, early to rise” goes the saying, and soon enough the alarms were ringing.

I poured a cup of coffee, looked out of the kitchen window, and flicked on a light. The windows were opaque, and I still couldn’t see. I walked to the front door and opened it quickly. Snow fell on my bare feet.

 

Whether your favorite fowling piece is a side-by or O/U, you’d rather make memories with it in inclement weather than play it safe and wish you had.

 

About a foot of snow fell between the time my eyelids had slammed shut and when I wiped away the morning sleepers. The temperatures were starting to rise, and the snow would soon turn to rain. In short, we were in for a soggy, foggy day.

A good rain makes some activities superior. Duck hunting, for instance, is far better during a downpour. Salmon and steelhead push upriver on rising water associated with rain, and an afternoon nap has never been so sound as one accompanied by the pitter-patter of rain on a tin roof.

Bird hunting in a downpour is usually a mixed bag, however, for the low cloud ceiling that accompanies low-pressure fronts can stall woodcock migrations, while grousey stays dry up high in the thick pines. But I was awake and Jeff was too, so I grabbed a spray can of Pam and off we went.

 

Despite the weather, we go. And we bring our favorite gunning irons with us.

 

I don’t need to remind you of how short our seasons are. They’re so short that we don’t want to lose a single day, and that means we hunt in perfection like yesterday or in the wetness of today. I sighed so much under the hatch because today stood in such sharp contrast to yesterday. I reached for my gun case and removed my VH.

“What are you doing?” Jeff asked.

“Getting ready to go,” I said.

“You’re going to hunt with your Parker?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You should use my over-and-under. I brought both the 20 and the 28.”

“Why would I want to do something as crazy as that?”

“As what?”

“Shoot your over-and-under? I have my Parker.”

He paused for a moment. “Why would you want to take your Parker out on a miserable day like today?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

He frowned and shook his head. “Suit yourself.”

 

Jeff Doyle hunts in the rain. He just wipes down his gunning iron afterwards.

 

If I collected vehicles, I’d be sure to have a ’66 Mustang, a vintage Chris-Craft, and an old Willys jeep. I’d take care of them, and I’d spiff ’em up for sure. But I can guarantee you I’d wind up that ’stang and I’d splash the Chris-Craft. I’d drop the top on the Willys, deflate the tires to 16 psi, and take it on the beach. I enjoy car shows and vintage regattas, I salivate over collectors’ pieces, and while I’m certain not to abuse fine craftsmanship, I don’t shy away from using ’em, either.

In his book Eastern Upland Shooting, Charles A. Norris said, “Without a dog, upland shooting is a poor, drab, lonesome, and generally unsatisfactory business. Much of the joy of shooting is dependent upon the companionship of a favorite dog.” So it is, too, with the shotguns we hold when we follow our dogs in the woods. We can’t change the weather, but we can pick which guns we uncase for a hunt. My choice, regardless of the weather, is a Parker. If yours is a Winchester Model 21, so be it. Or a Model 12, or a Fox BE, or an Ithaca Flues. Take care of ’em, sure, but take ’em out of the case.

After all, life is too short to hunt with an ugly gun.