John Harrigan: Both hands royally full on the hike into camp
New Hampshire's upland game season is coming up, beginning the first of October. This is something of a misnomer because rabbits (technically snowshoe hare) and partridges (technically ruffed grouse) exist south of the notches as well.
The fly-fishing season ends on Oct. 15. Thus, if one is inclined to take a stroll into camp, as I might be, one can carry a shotgun in one hand and a fly rod in the other, which indeed I might. Sometimes this makes an interesting yet elegant mix for supper. On Jack Heath's Friday morning show on WGIR radio, on which I'm a regular, he wanted listeners to know about my recipe for partridge, which is not at all complicated.
During the hunt, I pocket a couple of wild apples and a third for lunch. This is not difficult because birds tend to hang around apples and cranberries and the like, and if you know where the better trees are, the apples are delicious.
I field dress a couple of birds, which is about the norm for an early morning hunt, and at home rinse the breasts and wings and place them in a cool spot. I make a stuffing of torn-apart bread, diced apples and onion, stuff the body cavities, add a little thyme and a generous pat of butter, and wrap each bird in tinfoil before putting them into the oven at 350 degrees, cooking time about half an hour, which gives you just enough time to get side dishes ready when the birds are.
My foster father Rudy Shatney liked to sing a little ditty when he was especially happy, such as when we were dragging Christmas trees (they meant money) or getting ready to fry up some fresh-caught trout on a sandbar. "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight," it went, with variations, sung by a guy without a farthing in his pockets.
This is why I feel like royalty on the hike into camp. In much of Europe three centuries ago, peasants like me had to stick to the common path, doff their caps and tug their forelocks to the passing gentry, and keep in mind that the fish and game all around belonged to the nobility.
- - - - --
Right about now, hunters are sighting their rifles in or shooting at clay pigeons (skeet) to be ready for the fall hunting seasons. Frequently, I get calls or letters from hikers worrying about whether it's safe out there.
First, those shots might sound close, but odds are that they're not. And after the hunting seasons begin, my take is that most hunters know where the hiking trails are and do not want to be there because (A) hikers scare the game away, and (B) why risk an unpleasant encounter?
Hunters already have enough on their plates, stemming from several factors, but largely from the yawning and growing gulf between Asphalt America and rural and small-town life.
Second, hunting accidents are statistically rare compared with accident rates in just about all other sports and pursuits, and almost all involve other hunters. But they get a lot of publicity because to a large percentage of the media and the public, hunting is just plain unfathomable.
- - - - - -
Fall signifies, among other things, the fall of leaves. This is one of two seasons when the true lay of the land is revealed, the other being early spring. Spring can drag out, but fall tends to land with a thud.
Rudy's father, Arnold, and then Rudy, and then various foresters I went along with later in my career to do stories, pointed out relics from the great hurricane of 1938. Even today, a sharp eye can spot them, although now mostly in the form of mounds of earth marking the roots from which the giants fell.
- - - - - -
Down below the notches there seems to be a "black fly season," which is apparently over by the Fourth of July or so. This mystifies me because black flies hatch out in the North Country all summer long, admittedly ceasing the farther north you go. Even with that caveat, I'm not exactly endearing myself to the tourism industry here.
Never will I forget a mid-'80s hunt in Desmond Valley, well north of Pittsburg village, with John Lanier and Ivan Lefebvre. It was early November, and it had been a soft and rainy fall. (Save me, please, as in "A dark and stormy night.")
A new high-altitude bunch of black flies had hatched and were biting like mad.Lanier and I had worked the swamp like moles, like downward-bound dervishes, like Sherpas, like hunting camp hired hands, like peons, while Ivan sat picking his teeth up on some dry promontory until a deer we'd bumped out of the morass sallied forth (Ivan might dispute this account).
Even at that somewhat advanced age, I did not have the sense to ignore the call of "Hey, yoo-whoo," and wound up helping drag Ivan's too-huge buck.
John Harrigan's address: Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576, or firstname.lastname@example.org