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On The Trail: Drydock Blues

I’m starting to feel guilty. The dogs know. I can sense it, see it in their step, their demeanor. Hunting season is here. They know.

Problem is I’m getting off to a late start because I procrastinated on a few key matters down the stretch. Here’s the checklist:

1. Purchase hunting license (done);

2. Purchase hunting bibs (done at last minute, awaiting delivery, could get by with tattered pair hanging in carriage shed);

3. Purchase waterproof boots (also ordered late, still awaiting package, no appropriate boots to carry me through before new ones arrive).

Oh well, no one to blame but myself. I shouldn’t have delayed so long before motivating, but in my own defense, I’ve been busy with other stuff, all of it interesting, dynamic too, more and more archaeological information coming at me daily; stapled documents, books and notes accumulating rapidly, piling up on my desk, a candle stand, chest of drawers, Queen Anne tea table. That plus an interesting home visit a couple of days after a lively public presentation in Deerfield. Yes, it seems it’s been one interesting conversation after another — some on the phone, others face-to-face — all part of an information-gathering process that should bear succulent fruit. It seems there’s always some new angle or accusation to ponder, the loose ends dangling here and there, willy-nilly in opposite directions like roots on an uprooted tree.

But, hey, that stuff’s gotta wait. It’s hunting season, I own two good bird dogs born to burst through muddy, thorny tangles, and we only get six short weeks to pound the swamps together in search of stocked pheasants, migratory woodcock and diminishing partridge. I remember daily youthful frolics when partridge seemed to startle us around every corner in my travels out and about looking for and often finding mischief. Not anymore. No sir. With our forests older and taller, partridge are scarcer, which isn’t to suggest I’m a proponent of bloody biomass rape to solve the problem by irresponsible clear-cutting that would indeed stimulate fresh new growth and a partridge comeback, not to mention dirty, smoky air. Wouldn’t that be selfish of me? I think so. Besides, I like forests with majestic hardwoods, cool upland ridges and hard protruding ledge.

Actually, above all it’s the boots that have me drydocked. I was trying to make a decision on a new style, hesitated and lost. Quite by coincidence and necessity a few years back, I threw on my Cabela’s insulated leather and Gore-Tex 12-inch “Outfitter Boots” purchased for deer hunting and, although hot, was pleased with the comfort and ankle-support. So, with those stiff, rugged, upland boots destroyed after a few years, I figured I’d look for something similar this time around, minus the insulation. When I emailed a Cabela’s contact person listed in my outdoor-writers’ directory for advice and didn’t receive and immediate response, I didn’t want to be pushy and waited patiently. But the fact is that I waited too long and am now paying the price, twiddling my thumbs and waiting for that familiar UPS truck’s roar approaching my yard. I went with the 16-inch waterproof Boa Snake Boots, although a little worried that they may not hold up to the punishment they’ll endure. We’ll see. What the heck? If I get three years out of them, I’ll be happy. If not, I’ll try something else next time.

I need a boot that will stand up to thorns, vines and hidden, rusty barbed-wire fences hugging the ground as I plow through black cattail mud and puddled depressions holding extended ankle-deep water from rains and overnight beaver dams. If these new boots don’t hold up, I could always go back to my old standby 16-inch L.L. Bean Hunting Shoes to which I was loyal for more than 30 years. The problem with them was that after a year or two (which adds up to 12 weeks of aggressive bird hunting), the stitches attaching the leather uppers to the rubber bottoms above the heel would break and leak. The new snake boots I selected are just as high as the Bean boots but lined with waterproof Gore-Tex top to bottom, no stitched seams to leak above the heel. We’ll see what transpires. I’m confident they’ll be fine, my feet warm, dry and comfy.

Something else that my friends wear and I’ve many times considered are those pricey high rubber boots you see English gentlemen hunters wearing in the field. Though knee-high and supposedly made of tough, space-age rubber, I have two serious reservations concerning durability: 1. they’ll tear in the thorny cover I frequently hunt and, more importantly, 2. they won’t provide the needed support for my loose right ankle the fellas shot up with Novocain at halftime of a high school football game against Mahar my senior year. It’s true, but no names. What were they thinking? Playing for a terrible team that won one freakin’ game in two years, you have to wonder whether it was really worth it? Looking back, I’d say no.

Oh, how clearly I recall that doctor at my first UMass baseball physical examining the floppy ankle, holding it between his hands on opposite sides of my heel and wiggled it to check stability. Concerned by the range of motion, he suggested surgery that would require drilling a hole through my leg bone, pulling the loose tendons through it and fastening them to the other side for tightness. I wasn’t interested, assuring the man I could live with tape. So here I sit nearly 45 years later, still going strong on that balky right ankle which got me through the second half of that 1970 football game in South Deerfield, the painless throbbing eventually turning into sharp stabbing pain by late in the fourth quarter — all for the sake of athletic glory. Am I missing something, or is it ridiculous?

Anyway, back to my current predicament while awaiting hunting boots, I did make use of the idle time for backyard leave removal, then picked away at my side-by-side shotgun with paste wax that has it shining like a newborn’s behind. Problem is that the anxiety-soothing polishing activity uncovered yet another unexpected issue I am still at this point trying to resolve. You see, my European walnut stock feels a little loose and, with time on my hands, I sure would like to snug it up before it gets worse. Unfortunately, I don’t know where the screw to tighten it is and am unable to disassemble the shotgun’s receiver from its stock, if you can imagine that with a sweet little double-barrel I have owned for at least 25 years. On American shotguns and rifles I’ve owned, the stocks are typically attached to the receiver by a single screw that’s tightened with a long screwdriver through a hole in the base of the stock. Not so with this French double, and where does a man find a gunsmith these days? Trust me, I’ll find someone who can help but it won’t be as easy as hopping in the car and driving downtown. Not in today’s world, especially in a state unfriendly to gun owners. Maybe I can find some sort of instruction or a diagram online. If not, I can always drag out my 12-gauge Citori, which I haven’t used in ages. The issue is that to my knowledge I have no 12-gauge shells.

Oh my! Can it get any worse? Maybe I won’t get out at all this week. If so, I’ll feel bad for the dogs. They so love to hunt, and so do I. And hunt we will, promise, as soon as I get everything sorted out, which should have been last week but may not be till next week, eight days late, by then likely chasing stragglers that escaped the first furious push I unintentionally avoided and perhaps didn’t miss.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll kill time reading that Daedalus Online bargain-bin book I bought by Good Father Daniel Berrigan, one Catholic priest I can agree with on some matters. Better still, maybe I’ll hear that UPS truck pull into my driveway today, in the nick of time.

Old Jean Breuil wants to bark with both barrels, and the dogs are eager to “Fetch it up,” both music to their ears.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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