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On The Trail

Deerly departed

It’s gray and raw, storm brewing, stiff wind blowing from the frigid north: perfect for hunting on the day following an election I liked. So here I sit, dry-docked, pinned to this weekly chore, thinking of late buddy Tommy Valiton, a man who glowed with a boy’s enthusiasm every time he exited his red truck in my driveway to chase pheasants.

I miss that warm-hearted, crew-cut Marine, my high coach, for many reasons not related to politics, which we typically disagreed on but could still discuss in a civil manner. He would’ve been a Romney man, I think, but we wouldn’t have dwelled on that, maybe just touched on it in passing before flittering off to more agreeable topics. What I miss most are Tommy’s deer-hunting insights, especially his telephone alerts to bowhunters who had bagged monster bucks that had hilltown coffee shops abuzz. From our frequent evening chats and hunts each fall, I would know what stage of the rut bucks were in, what the does were up to, and whatever else he was observing from his productive tree perches, always helpful information for a man assembling a weekly column like mine. Of course, back then, a Tommy-tip would spark a quick call to familiar checking-station sources who’d confirm his tales, often furnishing additional anecdotes to spice the flavor. Yes, those were the good old days. Free and easy. Spontaneous. Exactly how I like it. A different story these days, when I’m forced through a stifling bureaucratic process that demands clearance from a state screening agency. To be perfectly honest, this annoying intermediary has never denied my requests, but check-station personnel have been told not to release hunters’ phone numbers, just one more restriction that hamstrings a news-gathering mission.

Because I haven’t heard a word about it anywhere, I’m guessing that the archery deer season has been slow thus far. Yes, it’s true I live in an old tavern, but that’s about as close as I get to barrooms, which I’ve taken off my visits list, eliminating a great rumor mill. But, still, not so much as a gas-station whisper, a lonely email or phone call? Nope. Utter silence. Curious indeed. Which isn’t to say a tidbit isn’t bound to come my way sometime before Turkey Day. Some may recall I lucked out last year when an infamous young Greenfield nimrod I happen to know and enjoy pulled into my yard sporting a major racker worthy of print lying on the bed of his pickup. I enjoyed that morning visit and lively chatter and even went to my study to lend him a book about the four stages of the rut, a hardcover with a plastic sleeve protecting the dust jacket. Unfortunately, I suspect the book is long gone, totally my fault. Although I know better than to loan out books, I thought he’d enjoy it, and believe he did. Now it’s a goner. Oh well. Live and learn. I do understand, did it a few times myself when young. Can’t say I’m proud of it, though.

As for bird hunting, well, I can’t complain. I’ve changed my routine and rediscovered private coverts that are still as productive as they were many years ago when hunting with another late friend I called “Old Smitty” because of the L.C. Smith side-by-side he carried. The poor fella crashed his car into a giant maple tree and died way too young. But, anyway, I’d say that despite receiving fewer birds now than 20 years ago, these private covers I’m revisiting seem to hold birds longer today than they did in the past. Why? Because the state has redirected hunting pressure away from private property to its Wildlife Management Areas, where hunters are well aware most pheasants are today stocked.

Just Tuesday, stopping at a spot where in the past I enjoyed consistent success, sure enough, I got into quite a cluster of pheasant flushes. Hunting with a buddy and three dogs, we shot some and scattered the rest willy-nilly throughout a dense cattail and alder swamp, assuring there’ll be many left upon our return. In fact, I may just head right back there upon finishing the first draft of this weekly chore. I’m running late and am sure the dogs are getting impatient for their daily, mud- and blood-splattered ramble. Young Chubby is really coming into his own. Now that he’s gotten a good noseful of pheasant, he’s showing the same enthusiasm as mother Lily and late distant cousin Ringo. Chub-Chub is big, rugged and athletic, a real brush-buster, akin to a world-class tight end or linebacker, much easier to handle than headstrong Ringy but no less aggressive or tireless, a great nose, to boot. It’s exciting to watch him “lighting up” on a hot scent. He flips his switch to frantic, bouncing, snorting, perking his ears up when he thinks the bird is right there. Give him a little more experience, some one-on-one, and several more retrieves and he’ll surely be giving those “Please?” over-the-shoulder looks Ringy used to flash when he heard a distant cock crowing. When bored by inaction, I’d extend my arm in the direction of the rooster, say “Find him!” and wait as he made a beeline toward the enticing sound. It wouldn’t be long before I’d hear a loud cackle and see a long-tailed rooster fly out of the alders. If it came my way, I’d shoot. If not, no problem, it’d likely be there another day. Trust me, Chubby will soon be begging for similar search-and-destroy permission, and he never witnessed any Ringy adventures.

In closing, I must say I’m relieved that Mitt Romney is gone for good. Don’t let the door hit ya where the lord split ya. That’s my response. We didn’t need him. Now his Neanderthal party better reinvent itself. Either that or brace for Hillary in 2016. Meanwhile, our postal workers and service employees can breathe a deep sigh of relief as the right-wing haters who begrudge pensions shake in their shiny black boots with cleats on the heels.

Glory, glory hallelujah! Could it be that Ronald Reagan’s America is dead and gone? I sure hope so but am not confident. I remember thinking Nixon was gone for good during the Clinton term. Then his diabolical ghost reappeared with Cheney, Rumsfeld and other Nixon retreads in the Bush Administration we’re still recovering from.

It could happen again in a country that doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Read his blog at tavernfare.com. Send email to gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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