The Bee’s Knees

I have become increasingly aware that there’s a hunting life expectancy in this body of mine

By Rob Breeding

October has been pretty fair so far. It was too warm early in the month, and more recently we got buried in a winter storm that arrived a couple months too soon. But the snow is mostly melted now, except the stuff up high where we need it.

More importantly, this fall I have become increasingly aware that there’s a hunting life expectancy in this body of mine. And while the sell-by date isn’t looming anytime too soon, I probably need to start paying more attention to those aches and pains, and to reducing, rather than expanding, my waistline.

I want to be sure I’ve got two more bird dogs in me beyond Doll, my 6-year-old English setter and current hunting companion.

I’m not getting old, mind you, just older. There’s good reason for concern, however. The stitches came out of my left knee this morning. The surgery was a minor arthroscopic procedure.

My meniscus, the pads of cartilage that separate the femur from the tibia was torn and the flapping bits were causing so much inflammation that I’d been reduced to a gimpy bystander as the fall hunting and fishing seasons kicked off. I did get one day of good bird hunting in, but otherwise I’ve been pretty sedentary.

The meniscus in my right knee required a similar procedure about 15 years ago. That knee failed after an intense two-day quail hunt with my friend, the Long Walker. It was our first time out together, and I didn’t know he meant business when we left the truck late in the morning. We didn’t get back until nearly dusk. We saw plenty of birds, and I even managed to kill a few, so I didn’t mind.

At the end of day two, however, my knee was done. I nursed it through the winter and spring, hoping for a miraculous recovery, but it never came. In June, I went under the knife.

When knee No. 2 went south this spring, my doctor speculated that I just had joints built in a way that eventually wore out that knee cartilage. Like the right knee, the left seemed to just fail over time. It started aching last spring, after a casual jog with my daughter. It was fine the day of the run, but I couldn’t walk the following morning.

So both knees just wore out. The right has been fine since surgery, and I hope the left will settle down soon so Doll and I can return to the chukar grounds. But the experience has been a bit sobering. While I sat in the waiting room at my orthopedic surgeon’s office the other day, a video in the corner, running on a continuous loop, demonstrated the latest advances in knee replacement surgery.

You can get away with a bit of trimming on the meniscus, but that cartilage is there for a reason. Without it, bone starts riding on bone, which leads to arthritis, which can eventually ruin the joint entirely. That’s an outcome I hope to avoid.

I’m figuring that, barring calamity, I’ve got another 15 to 20 bird hunting years in me — but probably not for chukar. The cliff climbing skills required to chase those buggers probably won’t last that long. But for farm-field pheasants or flat-land quail, I plan to be in the game well into my 70s.

Calamity, in the form of knee failure, could change all that. Still, considering the wear and tear I’ve put on them, my knees are in decent shape. But the 10-to-20 pounds I’ve been trying to lose since, well, forever, that’s no longer a matter of just trying to look good. That spare tire puts extra wear on the joints below.

Eventually, I’ll reach the end of my hunting shelf life, but I’m trying to put off that date for as long as possible.

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