The first draw produced no birds. Basil worked in close to Jack, the bell on the dog's collar ringing his whereabouts. We passed a tree laden with ripe chokecherries, and I tried one. "You'll probably find those kind of mealy-tasting," Jack said. The fruit was bitter and dry. "Grouse love 'em."
On we walked, down one hillside, through another stand of aspen, up the next. We worked through some wonderfully tangled cover, but saw no birds other than soaring hawks and a magpie. The scale of things was so immense that it was difficult to tell how far we'd hunted—the blister forming on my left instep gave me a rough idea—but by the end of the morning we could look back and see that the cattle in the first draw were now reduced to specks of brown on brown. Jack, who 17 years earlier had suffered a massive heart attack, set a steady and rapid pace. I asked him how his doctor viewed this sort of activity. "He said that if it hadn't killed me yet, I'd better keep doing it," he said. He called Basil off a pine squirrel which was chattering from a branch. "The birds have gone. It's been raining the past three days, and that must have moved them up to the high country."
We were supposed to meet the other group at the next draw, but Jack saw no point in prolonging the futility and headed down. Near the bottom of the slope we came across an abandoned homestead, the buildings fallen down, an old rusted stove lying on its side. An apple tree was growing there, laden with reddish-yellow fruit, ripe and unblemished. There must not have been an apple-maggot fly within 100 miles. The apples were cool, juicy and tart and, after the long, dry hike, as welcome as any grouse would have been. They were also easier to bag. After eating our limit, we walked back to the four-wheel-drive vehicles. The others hadn't seen any birds either. "Wasn't that amazing?" Fred said with a grin. 'They just disappeared. Let's get out of this valley."
In the afternoon we drove 40 miles to a ranch near Richfield, but it was more of the same, a lot of walking and no birds. The dogs did flush a dozen pheasant, but pheasant season wouldn't open for another three weeks. The dogs were bitter, eyeing us with disgust each time a cock flew away. As we walked back through the fields in the fading light, Jack told me about the book he was writing, The Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman, an autobiography of sorts. After that he wanted to do a game cookbook, and then maybe he'd get around to writing the novel he'd been saving. "I've got the plot and everything," he said, "but I can't sit down to write it because of my old man."
That needed no clarification. It was the straightforward statement of a man who had long since given up competing with the shadow of his father, and who is too fond of the old man's memory and proud of his achievements to be bitter about it. It was then, in the dusky quiet, that my meadowlark took flight, and I sent it soaring out of sight amidst a mood-shattering 20-gauge salute. Afterward Dave, shotgun broken, put a reassuring arm around my shoulder. "The girls always look better just before closing time," he said.
The Sun Valley Inn has a pond in front of it in which live mallards and, sometimes, geese. The ducks awakened me the next morning before dawn, and I lay there listening to their gabble. It made me think of a story I'd read about one of Ernest Hemingway's hunting experiences. In the fall of 1941, he and a group of Sun Valley celebrities—Gary Cooper, director Howard Hawks, Anna and John Boettiger (F.D.R.'s daughter and son-in-law)—were jump-shooting ducks with two of the resort's best Labradors. During a rest, John Boettiger laid his shotgun down without breaking it. When he picked it up, it discharged, mangling the hind foot of one of the Labs. Distraught, Boettiger suggested that any idiot who would do such a thing should be shot himself. An angry Hemingway agreed with him. The day, of course, was ruined.
A few mornings later Hemingway, who was staying in the nearby Sun Valley Lodge, was shaving when he heard geese honking in an adjacent pond. He went to see what was stirring them up, and saw two wild geese among the tame ones that lived there all year. Hemingway ran to the closet for his shotgun, threw open the French doors leading to his balcony and. from inside his room, fired a shot that felled one of the wild geese, which had taken flight when he opened the doors. Hemingway's third wife, Martha Gellhorn, rushed in to find him standing at the window in his pajamas, face still lathered. "Good God, Ernest," she said, "you didn't shoot John Boettiger, did you?"
On the second day, our hunting party was reduced to four. Jack, Lou, Fred and me, which made for a more workable number. We were going after sage grouse, a large, tweedy, brownish bird that I had always heard was inedible and too dim-witted to be hunted for sport. "I couldn't put a fork in its gravy," my uncle had once told me after eating one. Still, Arbona and Hemingway were determined to elevate the sage grouse to its rightful status. "I promise you, this bird is delicious," Fred assured us. "Bui you have to remove its craw as soon as you shoot it. That's the secret. The hunters who know this secret don't share it. That way no one else will hunt for sage grouse. Very simple."
We drove northwest out of Hailey that second morning toward the mountains known as the Lost River Range. "See that hillside over there?" Jack asked, pointing to a steep, rocky knoll on the far side of the pasture. "My old man used to organize and lead a charge of his cronies across there, trying to catch up with the Huns and chukars before they could run up the hill. None of the dogs were disciplined, and there'd be retrievers and people all over the place. He ran it like an army. It was really fun back then. He made everything fun." Jack paused. "Have you ever read the Carlos Baker biography of my father?" I nodded. "I'll tell you why I don't like it. Baker's got his facts right, but none of Papa's spirit was there. I got to the end of it and wondered, who was that sonuvabitch I just read about? Papa was a fantastic amount of fun to be with unless you were a phony, and then he made your life miserable."
The land kept changing before our eyes. We passed the Craters of the Moon National Park, a huge expanse of lava that Ernest Hemingway had called "Mr. Dante's Country." NASA used it to test its lunar vehicles. Eventually, we got into irrigated farm country and split up. Jack and I parked on an overgrown road on the edge of a potato field. We spent the morning hunting the perimeter with Basil, kicking up the huge grasshoppers that clacked in the parched grass and stepping over spuds that had been left in the furrows after the harvesting machine had gone through. Jack shot the only bird we saw, a dove that was a holdover from the huge September migration. It looked like a meadowlark to me. Basil also spooked several jackrabbits. Basil is a sucker for jackrabbits, and he would dash after them, only to be called back by a shock from his electronic signaling collar. The device, which Jack operates by remote control, emits three different "signals." The first is a warning in the form of a low buzz. The second, used only if the dog continues to disobey, is an electric shock that can be powerful enough to cause Basil to yelp. The third is a high-pitched whine designed to reassure when he's back on track, hunting up birds.