As Ty pulls into Les Schwab to pick up his trailer, one white rim now a dingy shade of gray-brown from the axle grease that had exploded all over it the previous weekend, a funny feeling creeps down my spine. We get out of the truck and I peer into the back seat. A hodge-podge of Rubbermaid totes, dog food, and gun sleeves. Only... two... gun... sleeves. Ty's 12 gauge is there, and his backup 20 gauge.
In a panic, I rummage through the cab, then the bed. Dogs laughing at me in their kennels, as they clearly know that there's a double-barrel Remington, lovingly stowed in its case, resting comfortably on the couch back at Ty's house. Thanks for reminding me, you jerks.
Thankfully, Ty agrees to part with his 20 for the trip, but not much of a shot with my own gun, the prospects with this shiny new Silver Pigeon aren't looking good.
Few more hours behind the windshield and we reach our destination. Dogs giddy with anticipation, the sinking feeling in my stomach almost crowded out by thoughts of hard points and dead chukar. Out of the truck, collars on and boots laced. Side by side swerves over bumpy roads and muddy puddles. Up into rimrock and cheat grass and freedom.
Sawyer is what our friends at Mouthful of Feathers call a bootlicker. Too much waterfowling and planted birds, fairly incompetent owner, and not enough of the big, wild country where one goes to find chukar. She stays close while Frank, Ty's two year old GWP, ranges over ridges, down draws, goes on point. She bounds past him and flushes a covey of twenty birds. Frank's not happy. Neither is Ty.
We go out separate ways, with me feeling like I did when I first started fly fishing, my gut like my line- a tangle of knots, back-cast caught in a tree. Hopeless, dejected, why the f$%# am I here right now.
Down, out of the rimrock we go, towards willows and cottonwoods that look a little more like Sawyer's speed. Gunshots ring out from above. Ty and Frank do a lot better without us monkeying things up.
Three steps into the first willow patch, an explosion of wings as twenty valley quail flush before Sawyer even knows we're hunting. Further into the thicket, she locks up. I walk in and two more flush beneath her. Two shots, no birds. Sorry Sawyer.
Back at camp, our WWII-era storage container of a hotel room is warm from the electric faux-fireplace that's been running since we checked in. Ty runs the Camp Chef while I drown my sorrows in High Life. There's a hotspring here, where I wash away some of the disappointment and the Milky Way is shining, as if to make a few blown coveys and a couple of missed shots seem pretty small in the grand scheme of things. There's beers to drink and laughs to be had.
There's no rush in these things we do to fill time and space. Dwindling need to be the best, or even marginally adept. Ego beat down, eroded over time just like these hills we hike in search of birds. So long as the adventures continue and lessons keep getting learned, there just isn't much to complain about 'round here.