Editor’s note: To celebrate David E. Petzal’s 50th birthday at F&S, we asked staff and contributors to choose and share their favorite Petzal story (not an easy task – there are many good ones). Today’s selection, “Perseverance” (February 2013), was made by Phil Bourjaily.
For several years before it occurred to me to try to write, I could read Dave’s work and just enjoy it. Now, the annoying envy bordering on despair nurtures that pleasure: “How does he do it? Why can’t I do this? Why am I worried? ”
Adding to my fear is knowing that for most of Dave’s fifty years on Field & Stream he went to the New York office, which was once full of noise and full of typewriter noise. When he had to write a story, he set aside his editing tasks, eliminated distractions (being dull may have helped) and, those who were there tell me, pulled out that part as if to collect baseball scores.
Except instead of baseball scores, the story would be something perfect like “Perseverance,” a tale of trial and triumph in a deer hunt. As a bonus, it also touches on such essential Petzal themes as the Code of the West and the blowing of horses.
There is no word you would change in “Perseverance” and to say that it is a typical Petzal story does not mean to lower it, but to admit that Dave has worked at an extremely high level for a very long time. tall. We are lucky to have him and we will never see him as his own. – Phil Bourjaily
I learned a long time ago for the Code of the West, a hard and ruthless creed that ruled the lives of cowboys, highlanders, traps and frontiersmen of all walks of life. He predicts among other things not to retreat against a stranger, not to beat the horse excessively, not to burst into tears, and to retreat if things do not go well.
I wholeheartedly agree with Code and had the opportunity to abide by his principles in a deer hunt that took place near Cody, Wyo., In the mid-1990s. Winchester sponsored the affair, transporting a group of gun writers west to hunt antelopes, mules and deer. However, out of about a dozen people involved, I was one of two who drew a deer label, which imposed a heavy obligation on me.
After we put an end to the secret existence of the mule deer and the antelope, my guide and I traveled either to Absaroka or to the mountains of the Great Horn (I do not remember which ones) to do the same with a deer. The guide mentioned was a very young boy named Steve Dube, the son of a famous device called Ron Dube. Steve was not just young; he was tough as a boiled owl.
My horse for that day was a chestnut named Trooper, who was spotted drinking that morning without stopping most of the way up the mountain. It was a startling exhibition of bloating horses. The mountain itself was covered with volcanic rocks of all sizes. This caused it to have a bad foundation under normal conditions, and on this day the ground was covered with snow, making things particularly treacherous.
We were climbing to the edge of a basin and Steve warned me to kick off my boots because if Trooper slipped, I would have to get away from him in a hurry. As soon as I did that, Trooper’s legs came out from below. He fell to his side, struggling not to get the Big Slide, while I struggled to keep the Trooper away.
I was mostly successful, but at one point my face and one of his hooves tried to occupy the same space at the same time. My teeth pushed through the cheeks under my lower lip and I got the bloodiest nose of my career. But I was lucky. I had no broken teeth and my nose was unbroken, although it was pumping blood with great vigor.
Trooper and I got to our feet, and you can tell us because he had four legs and I had blood on me. Now at this point you can expect Steve to say, “Are you okay?”
Instead, because he believed in the Code, he said, “You will have to turn against him.”
Because I subscribed to the Code, I said, “Do not worry, I’m not walking on this damn mountain.”
Trooper, perhaps out of sympathy, stopped swearing. And so we climbed the mountain.
When we reached the top, we found not a trace of deer, and the snow was so deep and strong that the horses just walked away from us – groaning and refusing to move. So Steve and I went down and broke the trail until we found a way down the mountain.
By the time we got back to the hallway it was late afternoon. Bare horses and the last time I saw Trooper, he had inserted his head into the alfalfa, creating a new gas charge.
At this point, we could have called it a day, but the Western Code dictated otherwise, and Steve knew where there was a sage dwelling where sometimes the bull sheep would go out to watch the sunset.
We set off, this time by truck, and found the apartment with maybe five minutes shooting time. However, to get from the road to the apartment, we would have to climb almost straight for 25 yards through a snowy shore that was at least 5 feet deep. Steve volunteered to go out first and take a look as I was older and busy with bleeding.
The snow was well above Steve’s waist, but he managed and then leaned over the edge of the shore and looked at me with an expression of pure joy. Come on, he traffic light, there’s a deer.
Thinking this was a place as good as any other to have a heart attack, I bent down to the top through the snow that seemed to come out from under my chin and there, far, far away under the failed light, was a bull deer.
I got into the supine position, held myself very high on the back of the elk and started shooting. Taurus took a few steps in advance and crashed. I took advantage of 15 years of hunting luck just then and there. Because the snow was so deep and we could not accurately count the steps, there was no way to show how far it actually was – certainly over 400 yards, most likely 500. But in deer hunting in real life, if you have a chance, take it because it is the only opportunity you will have.
The next day we climbed up and got it. It was on average 5 × 5, but like the title of a story that appeared Field & Stream years ago he said, “Every deer is a good deer.”
Live by the Code
Outside Cody, there is a rebuilt border town consisting of ancient huts, huts and nests looted from across the state. In that city is the tomb of Jonathan Johnson, model Jeremiah Johnson, and at his grave mark is the legend NO MORE TRAILS.
You and I will come to the place where there are no more trails, and before you do, I hope you have at least one hunt like this, when everything seems hopeless and yet succeeds against the wildest odds. You can do it, even when it seems crazy to continue – as long as you adhere to the Western Code.