Mouthful of Feathers

It’s hard to put a label on the book Mouthful of Feathers: Upland in America. There’s the title, for starters. Apparently, “upland” is the new shorthand for what used to be called “upland bird hunting.” As in, “Hey, man, do you do upland?” 

Then there’s this, from the back cover: “The blog that spawned the book . . . has been described as the ‘OG’ of hunting blogs.” Having no idea what that meant, I discovered that “OG” stands for “Original Gangster” and that it refers to someone or something that’s broken new ground, set a new standard or is just ridiculously cool.

Well, OK. What these clues tell you is that Mouthful of Feathers is a decidedly untraditional entry in the bird hunting genre, the voices of most of its contributors coming from places far removed from “mainstream” outdoor writing. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just that, as a reader with certain expectations, it can be a rough ride at first. It’s like breaking in a new pair of boots: You have to put some miles on before they get comfortable.

For my part, Mouthful became a lot more accessible the second time around. The stories, almost all of them highly personal narratives set on the plains, mountains, deserts and rimrock canyons of the American West, cover an enormous swath of territory—literally and, perhaps most tellingly, emotionally. And while the title, again, suggests that this is a book of dog stories, it really isn’t. There are stories in which dogs—Labs, English setters, German shorthaired and wirehaired pointers—are front and center, but there are just as many in which they play supporting roles or don’t appear at all.

The subject of one story is a falcon; the subject of another is a shotgun, in this case a Browning Superposed. Friendship acquired is at the heart of a terrific piece by Ryan Busse, a piece that includes what may be my favorite line in the entire book: “We don’t waste time discussing the fates or wondering why it happened, because all we have ever done is follow our dogs and tell stories.”

Similarly, in an elegiac meditation on the ache of friendship lost, Chad Love muses, “These days, I tend to follow dogs and birds, leaving matters of the heart to others who can better bear the wounds.”

Amen, brother.

With a foreword by Michael Keaton—turns out Beetlejuice is a setter man—Mouthful of Feathers: Upland in America is available for $17 from amazon.com.


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