The Tailgate Shot
A recent post on the Facebook group Grouse Dogs about ATVers displaying birds they had ground-swatted and shot out of trees set me to thinking about my own hunting practices, as well as how I convey my success to the world. I'm guilty as charged (see above) of using the tailgate pose to demonstrate success in the field for a variety of reasons. Many times I forget the camera at home, or don't use it in the field in the rush of the moment, and the only way to record the day is a snapshot in the driveway like this. Other times, I fall into the trap of the numbers game.
What doesn't get photographed are the many days, like yesterday, when I come home empty-handed, but still enjoyed the hour or so Jenkins and I rambled through the woods. Perhaps I should start photographing the birdless tailgate shot because those days can be just as, or even more, successful than heavy gamebag days. Here in America we use the tailgate pose because we too often get caught up in numbers, like comparing salaries to determine who has the more successful career. And when the limit is four or five or whatever, we use that as the measuring stick. It's not like we drive 55 or 60 when the speed limit is 70. We drive 75 or 80 usually. (My speed limit analogy isn't suggesting, dear readers, that you're poachers). Numbers, however, don't tell a quarter of the story.
Sure, there's not much more I like than the warmth and heft of a just shot grouse riding in my gamebag up against the small of my back. A bird in hand does define success: all the hours of dog training, the miles of walking, the shells spent practicing a quick and smooth swing. Not much beats seeing that bird tumble out of the sky. More birds should mean more success compounded exponentially, right?
The older I get the more I value each and every bird. These days I worry about shooting too many birds and the law of diminishing returns. Each bird is a gift, not a number to be tallied on a scoreboard. I hope you don't think I'm a softie, but sometimes I feel like kneeling down next to the dog with the bird in hand and crying tears of joy. I feel like I have won the lottery, like manna from heaven was just dropped into my hands, and it just takes that one bird. I need to remind myself of this from time to time. Especially at this time of year.