On The Trail: Swamp bustin’

  • Tattered and torn Filson double-tin hunting bibs and game vest hang over sturdy rubber boots, with a left-knee brace dangling from a vice to the left, in the sunny carriage shed Wednesday after a day’s hunt through a deep, dense swamp. recorder staff/gary sanderson

  • Tattered and torn Filson double-tin hunting bibs and game vest hang over sturdy rubber boots, with a left-knee brace dangling from a vice to the left, in the sunny carriage shed Wednesday after a day’s hunt through a deep, dense swamp. recorder staff/gary sanderson

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Tan and tattered, they dangle from their shoulder-straps’ bridle-leather diamond tab on a wooden clothes hanger looped over half of an old, wooden yoke’s bow screwed to the carriage-shed wall as a hook. Who put that creative shed hanger there I do not know, but there are two just like it in the stables, plus other old, dusty, yokes strewn among old boards on the shed-loft’s floor, and yet another yoke wired for lighting and suspended by chains from a rafter at the mouth of the shed’s western-bay garage. Thrifty old packrat Yankees didn’t throw anything away, and were clever at finding uses for obsolete tools, contraptions and parts thereof.

The tattered garment hanging inside the breezy, sun-splashed eastern carriage shed is my Filson, oil finish, double-tin bibs that I believe I’ve seen marketed as “rugged field and workwear” that’ll last a lifetime with proper care. A coat of that material, yes, maybe a lifetime. But not hunting bibs, which take thorny abuse. Still, for my money I have learned through experimentation that double-tin cloth offers swamp-busting bird hunters the best, most durable and protective attire available on today’s market.

In nearly 50 years of plowing through dense, punishing, swampy tangles and brambles, I would wear nothing else for bibs or vests, which actually last a little longer than bibs. With proper touch-up application of waterproof wax, the bibs will indeed stand up to the most destructive wetland terrain for awhile. For the sake of your well-being, though, don’t attempt to navigate such coverts without shooting glasses to protect your eyes from scratches, and proper waterproof footwear for traction and comfort. But a lifetime of wear for double-tin bibs? Uh-uh, ain’t happenin’. Maybe for walks in the park, yes, or for touring high, lonesome, hardwood ridges, Harvard Yard, or even, maybe, patches of upland juniper and laurel. But rosebush, bull briar, blackberries, grapes and bittersweet? Not a chance, Pal.

In my heyday, I would get three years, tops, from these bibs, but closer to two. By the middle of the third six-week upland-bird season, the tattered legs would routinely have crept to mid-shin, which is high time to break in a new pair for the next season. Please, don’t misread me, though. I’m not complaining. Just stating facts based on decades of field-testing by brush-busting dense, wet, intimidating swamps where cackling cocks, whistling woodcocks and motoring partridge furiously flush through tall alders.

I admit I’ve probably been rougher on tin-cloth than the average Joe. But that’s why I buy it: to make otherwise impenetrable tangles accessible and safe as I try to follow and handle my gundogs as a buddy parallels me along the edge. It’s always worked, has been the same challenging routine for decades, hunting with a long list of devoted hunters, fine wing-shooters and spirited characters — among them the likes of Fast Eddie, Ol’ Smitty, Hopper, Count and brother Young Count, Dr. Bruce, Tomcat, Cooker and Killer. That’s quite a mix, three of them dead, all joined by a common thread — their love of hunting and action. Among them were outlaws, brawlers, medicine men, coaches, trappers and gamblers — all of them participating, like me, for the love of hunting and shooting, enjoying the dogs, the chilly air and robust exercise. Call it busting loose, with loud, continual playful banter and insights going back and forth.

Swamp bird-hunting is not like sitting still and quiet in a stand or blind and waiting for or calling your prey to pass. No. This is a noisy, chaotic chase through daunting cover. It’s getting hung up on low, undetected vines or hidden, rusty strands of barbed-wire, and falling face-first, bracing the fall with your elbows in soft mud to keep your horizontal shotgun out of it. It’s bleeding from your cheeks, neck, and outer ears, your hands, wrists or forearms. It’s sweating profusely, glasses fogging up when you take an anticipatory stand for a flush. It’s quickly removing the fogged glasses and spinning them across the back of your shoulders on their retainer cord just in time or maybe a too late to bring down a flush through woody, leafy obstructions.

Age brings with it complications that cannot be avoided. Your eyes, ears, legs, dexterity and endurance diminish over time. Your waistline expands as your muscle mass contracts, and you’re just not as strong, limber or stable as you once were. Plus, your reflexes, your quickness and gait slow down just enough to transform old, consistent success to new, humbling failure. It’s inevitable, no matter who you are or how well you take care of yourself. There’s truth to that old saying that you can’t hold back Father Time.

Though I recognize aging setbacks, I’m not ashamed to admit it and can’t say my enthusiasm has waned. My stamina, speed and agility? Yes, unavoidable. But not my passion for the hunt, the chase, the camaraderie and sporting challenge. Like those Filson bibs we started with, though tattered, torn and shredded, we both answer the bell. Come to think of it, that can be said of old hag Lily, my 13-year-old springer spaniel pushing 100 in dogs’ age and still wagging her tail to thorny hell and back. What spirit. I was looking for a suitable grave a year ago after her second TIA. Now she’s on the hunt. Miraculous.

Even my shotgun’s aging. For the past 20-some years I’ve been shooting 2½-inch shells with ⅞ -ounce loads through my pre-WWII 16-gauge Jean Breuil side-by-side, which increased the degree of difficulty since all but retiring my trusty old 12-gauge Browning Citori over-and-under. That gun destroyed too much meat, thus the move to a smaller shell and lighter load, both of which limit range and reduce your success rate.

No, I ain’t complaining or making excuses; just fessin’ up to the fact that age is creeping up on this whole damn shootin’ match. But like those tattered Filson bibs waiting out in the shed for their daily hunt, and like my current 73-year-old hunting buddy, Killer, I still go to the post and enjoy every minute, hit or miss. Still, I prefer the former. When I hit ’em, I avoid Killer’s baritone barbs, which can be and often are even more penetrating than those long Hawthorn spikes that can do a job on you.

A man must try to avoid that stuff. It’s irritating, poisonous and, well, part of the game — kinda like fouling out to the catcher on a cookie served up in right your wheelhouse by a pitcher.

You gotta just let it go and wait for your next at-bat, understanding that failure rears its ugly head even to the best of ’em.


Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.