Monday, September 01, 2014

Opening day; Photos not ready, Light guns

Trying to get out of the house and return to serenity or at least not black depression. Had goofy and unsuccessful day opening dove on Piet's Dunhill Ranch but saw all kinds of game-- rain makes a difference. We've got yr address, birds...

Pics tomorrow, the usual 1st day of Pieter and I with nice shotguns and the obvious shirtsleeves of too- warm weather, trying to look as if  we had scouted properly, industriously shifting our doubles as though we had really shot things...

And to those who doubt the .410: ballistics are better than you think, But walking over hill and arroyo and waist- deep- brush at 7000 feet, where you might fall down if you DIDN'T have Parkinson's, a 4 pound gun that comes up to your eye instantly is like a living tool, a steel companion. I know I could not take long passers or incoming geese with it but, you know... for my hunting, it works.

I got it back once because the kind friend who had bought it from me in a tight bind years ago thought it better in my hands, and returned it for less; thanks to him, and Libby of course.

I think I will keep it. 8 years in exile haven't made it any less desirable.


Gratuitous Dog

A little late this week, though I won't apologize. Taalai makes a turn.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Charles Bowden, R.I.P.

"... But I don't think so", as he wrote of his old friend Edward Abbey in my favorite of all of his works, Desierto, the closest thing he ever wrote to a nature book. The inscribed flyleaf (double or right click to enlarge) beneath his terrifying later Murder City, is in that book; he had read my old novel manuscript, and was impatient that nobody would publish it... this would be in the nineties. But publishers' tastes were not as robust as Chuck's.
If we had lived closer we might have been closer friends, though both of us, he even more than I, needed solitude as well as gregariousness. We talked, but had not seen each other face to face in  a decade or more. As it was, we were admirers and advocates for each other's work who enjoyed drinking and furious talk and shared tastes in landscape and writing and firearms and even in women. He had an attitude that could be ironic but never cheap. The first time I met him he had a Deadhead skeleton sticker with a rose in its teeth on the left end of his pickup bumper and a sticker that read "Ted Kennedy's car killed more people than my gun" on the other.

(Re his partisanship, a letter dated 27 Sept 2000 : "I press Querencia on perfect strangers. I am a missionary at heart.")

Another taste from another old letter: "I bought something the Italians call a superautomatic which grinds the beans, tamps them down, shoots one or two shots through them, and then tamps down the grounds-- yes, I am lazy... soon, the process should be as swift as jabbing a needle into my arm... And like your  weaponry it is something I can ill afford but apparently there is nothing to be done about it."

He ventured into places where armed police and even the Mexican army stayed out, blew the lid off the most brutal yet ignored crimes, interviewed 17 year old assassins and serenely corrupt politicians, wrote essays about the innocence and deadly beauty of rattlers and mountain lions. I always feared that he would be hunted down by the cartels, and hoped he would go on one of his long walkabouts in the desert that refreshed his soul, at about 93. Instead he apparently died in his sleep yesterday at 69 in his Las Cruces home. Weirdly, I had begun his last book, Some of the Dead are Still Breathing,  just the day before, and intended to write to him, rather than write his obituary, tonight.

Update: his friend Jack Dykinga does a much better, and darkly hilarious, version here.  HT to Jonathan hanson.

In Season...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fearing What We Don't Understand

A recent Denver Post article featured a woman who fears the Akbash livestock guardian dogs that have trailed with domestic sheep herds into the San Juan Mountains for the last three or four decades. The woman is now carrying a loaded Glock because of her fear the “aggressive dogs” will attack.

Any legitimate concern about hikers encountering livestock guardian dogs was ruined by the article’s closing statement: “ ‘I don’t want to be the Diane Whipple of the San Juans,’said Graham, referring to a woman fatally mauled in San Francisco in 2001 by two large herd guard dogs of another breed.”

Diane Whipple was killed by two vicious Presa Canario dogs in a California apartment complex. These were not livestock guardian dogs. This breed is not used to guard livestock herds in America. Sometimes called Canary Island mastiffs, this breed was developed as a livestock “catch” dog (used to catch and hold cattle!) and eventually bred to be fighting dogs. The New York Times reported that the owners of the dogs that killed Whipple had adopted the dogs – they came from a member of the Aryan Brotherhood who was breeding and fighting the dogs for guarding meth labs for the Mexican Mafia. The reference to Whipple’s tragic death “by two large herd guard dogs of another breed” in the Denver Post showed grossly irresponsible journalism.

Livestock producers using public lands do not want hikers being frightened by livestock guardian dogs. The best reaction is education.

For Dog Owners
For livestock producers, that means discarding those old traditions of not petting your guardian dogs. Instead, raise your dogs in a way that ensures they are well-socialized to humans. The dogs should be petted and fed by the dog owner, family members, and herders. No one outside the family and ranch workers should ever be allowed to feed the dogs. After receiving affection for a few minutes, the dogs should be directed to “Go to the sheep.” The dogs should be exposed to kids on bicycles, teenagers on motorcycles, etc. The dogs soon learn that humans are not a threat to the sheep.

Most livestock guardian dogs used in the American West do not perceive humans as a threat to the herd – that is, unless a strange human is approaching the herd. We’ve had people drive into the middle of our herd on our lambing ground and exit their vehicle with the family dog. Fortunately, I was there to intervene to prevent an intense encounter.

For Public Land Users
In most cases, when a strange human is encountered on the range, the guardian’s reaction is going to be an attempt to intimidate the intruder. That means raised hackles and tail, and loud barking as the dog rushes toward the intrusion. I’ve encountered dozens (if not hundreds) of working guardian dogs in my travels here and in many countries abroad, and I’ve always stood quietly, talking to the dogs until they realize I’m not a threat and go back to their sheep. I would never attempt to hike through the middle of a sheep herd I randomly encountered on the range. Skirting around the herd is appropriate.

Generally, if you are on foot, horseback, or an all-terrain vehicle and come close to sheep, a livestock protection dog should have time to see and/or hear you approach and recognize that you are not a threat to the livestock. But a rapidly approaching mountain biker, suddenly surprising the livestock protection dog, may appear to be a threat. Stop, get off the bike while keeping it between the dog and your body, and talk to the dog so it can recognize you are a human.

Hikers with domestic dogs may be perceived as a greater threat. An unleashed dog encountering sheep likely will be perceived as a predator, which could cause an aggressive confrontation with the livestock protection dog. Uncontrolled domestic dogs are the top killer of livestock in America, and a guardian dog's job is to keep these animals from harming the herd.

People hiking and biking on western rangelands are encouraged to carry pepper spray and be knowledgeable about how to use it. Pepper spray works on many animals that can be perceived as threatening – from bears and mountain lions, to dogs.

The Colorado Wool Growers Association provides the following recommendations for hikers and bikers:

• Keep your dog on a leash and never allow your dog to harass the sheep

• Watch for livestock protection dogs near sheep (usually large white or tan dogs)

• Remain calm if a livestock protection dog approaches

• Stop and get off of your bike, put your bike between you and the dog

• Tell the dog to “go back to the sheep”

• Walk your bike until well past the sheep

• Keep your distance from the sheep

• Choose the least disruptive route around the sheep

• If the sheep are trailing, wait for them to pass

• Chase or harass the sheep or dogs

• Try to outrun the dogs

• Throw things at the dogs

• Make quick movements

• Feed the dogs

• Take a dog with you

• Attempt to befriend or pet the dog

Shared Range
I wish I could meet the frightened woman in Colorado and take her out to meet some working livestock protection dogs so she could have a little different perspective on the dogs and how they work. These Western rangelands are big enough for a multitude of uses, and with a little common sense and understanding to other land users, we can happily continue to share this landscape.

A NOTE ON STEVE: Steve is still doing battle with trying to receive email. We'll keep you posted about a resolution – Cat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Broken Email

Since this morning I have been without Email. No, that sounds like I am the only one; as far as I can tell ALL my server's customers have been without Email. Since I am overseeing the reprinting of  3 more of my backlist, trying to arrange covers and intros, and doing everything from gun repairs to talking* to Russia and Wyoming (and NOT talking to Alaska), it is making me nuts, exacerbated by heat, sleeplessness, and 3 new meds for 2 conditions (or is that ... 2 new meds for 3 conditions or...)

I should Email my consulting doc but NO EMAIL.

I need to arrange for incoming Lily dog but...

I need to research Scott pigeon guns. No Email needed there, but how can I ask questions of my expert friends?

Must get new book reviewed in WSJ about the computer - distracted, The Organized Mind.

*I say "talk". I may mean phone, for those I can talk to on my partly- blocked ancient unlisted landline ( same since I moved here 30- some years ago). But I mostly mean Email, a Godsend for someone who writes at letter length.

And for the young, or at least the smartphone savvy, a few facts.

My left ear is not quite stone deaf, but effectively does not work in the bar or phone.

I am supposed to "swipe" the phone to answer. I CAN'T. I swipe away, and the phone remains unmoved.

Similarly, I can't make it call. Fingers not brains. I use a mouse with my state- of -the- art Macbook Air. Lib wouldn't believe my inability to double click on the touchpad until she watched. Similarly,  I cannot make the phone work by touching it. And that is if I don't DROP the frackin thing.

Call the landline. I repeat, Parkinson's, not senile dementia. Yes, I can shoot, a trigger being more definite than a touchpad. But if you want to talk, better knock on the door,  call the one with wires,  or wait out my server.

For entertainment meanwhile, next cover, by Vadim for Edge. It IS an edge of the wild-- a Gos taking a hooded crow, with his Moscow apartment building in the background.

Working tools can be pretty too

More often than not, I like to publish pics of guns like pre- war English doubles; ones that, at their best, blur the line between art and craft. Only their theoretical utility keeps them to one side of that line, and ideally their utility increases as they approach it, like Daniel's 1870's Purdey.

For my amazement, and because they cross and tie together several of my and I hope  your  fascinations,  I will also present things like Holland's faux Japonaise Water gun, the only gun with gold inlays I ever really liked, or Malcolm Appleby's early guns for McKay Brown, one of which, a feathered Raven, was donated to the Tower of London. He calls such things "totems". When we were there it was in a dark room in a cramped dark space about two feet off the floor, with none of the associated material that even I have.

Despite the "woo" factor, I am less interested in the all- baroque over- the- top creations by England's and Vienna's bespoke makers who once made guns for the maharajahs of the princely states of India, and now design for Gulf princes, Texan oilfield fortunes smoothed by money, and, at the moment, Russian oligarchs.  (Though China is up and coming, recent investigations of provincials who own twenty- plus houses bodes dubiously for them, especially since as far as I know China still virtually bans all firearms more "technological" than matchlocks, which hunters still use in Tibet with the local tazis).

For an example, look for the one with animal skin textures, zebra and worse. Though if it is true that the owner hunts actual game with it in the Arctic and Central Asia, a "Flint's Rules" toast and happy escalation: Nos'drovya!

 I do still fewer modern-- postwar?-- production guns, unless in hunting tales. But because ergonomics, form and function, all work harmoniously together, I realized once again, while photographing my vintage Smith and Wesson revolvers, that they are artful constructions too. No one could have done the amount of handwork they required back in the day without having an aesthetic sense (the blue .22 is almost as old as I am and has a barrel of odd length; the stainless .38 "J frame" is newer but not new).

Of course the figured walnut custom grips by Herrett help. They make them to a tracing of your hand, and it takes a few months, but it is worth it.

Dream Birds

The Green Junglefowl and the Nicobar pigeon resemble chickens and pigeons but pushed to fever- dream intensity. The mere existence of such creatures is at least a partial antidote to the blues.

Photos taken in Indonesia by Federico Calboli


Nhubia sees a roebuck.


"A great many rifles and shooting books have passed through my life since the day I purchased that first 7 X 57 40 years ago this month, and the lessons learned have been many. One was to hold onto rifles and books that continually prove not just practical but delightful, and get rid of those that don't, because both make life so much more enjoyable."

John Barsness,  Rifle Loony News (Vol. 6, issue 2)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lashyn departs

My first Tazi, Lashyn, the "jealous girlfriend" from Kiev, died yesterday on the couch in  our living room where she bore two litters of pups.  She had battled diabetes and cataracts for two years, but could not win over cancer. The first, her last photo, was taken last week.

"...The last look in her fearless eye was trust."

(from Tim Murphy)

Update: the comment by Chas below made me look, and Lashyn's Journey is still up on the Naturalist site in Ukraine. As he says, it seems like yesterday.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Guardians

We moved our sheep flock to grazing range along the foothills of the Wind River Mountains in early July. We've had a refreshingly moist summer, bringing this arid rangeland to life. The ewes are fat, the lambs are growing, and we share the same piece of earth with abundant sage grouse, as well as nesting long-billed curlews. Nine-month old Beyza (an Akbash) has claimed the range as her own, and is a fantastic guardian – as are the others in her lineage, including her mother Luv's Girl, and sister Rena.

When we moved onto the range, my friend Pete asked if I would take care of an extra female livestock guardian dog. She had just given birth to five pups, and the pups were too small to travel with the herd as they moved into the mountains. I tended to the small family for a few weeks, but one of the 7-week old pups started trying to follow my herd as it grazed during the day. After retrieving the pup from more than a mile away from its siblings, we sent the female to the mountain, and brought the pups to our home, where we have a scattering of orphan lambs and adult sheep.

When people talk about getting livestock guardian dogs off to a good start, much emphasis rests on getting pups introduced to the species it will guard at a young age. That's important - bonding is best if if starts early. The introductions to the lambs went well.

But what doesn't get much discussion is how much easier it is to bond pups to a sheep herd that has had a long association with guardian dogs. It's nearly a cultural thing – this relationship is so close, continuing from one generation to the next. When new pups arrive on our ranch, the adult sheep come to investigate. When the pups walk underneath the ewes, and sniff the underbelly of the rams, the sheep are not panicked or upset. They don't stomp the pups, and show an amazing amount of patience as pups chew on the big curls of a ram's horn, or investigate a milk bag on a ewe.

The new pups were soon crawling under the yard gate to hang out with the adult sheep, especially a big range ram. We select and cull sheep based on not just performance and appearance, but behavior. Calm and attentive behavior is ideal. This ram is an ideal babysitter for the pups, and gently disciplines bad behavior.