Mason County News
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Butt Feathers
Wednesday, June 15, 2011 • Posted June 15, 2011

Once, after a column in which I pointed out that mascara is made from bat guano, I got several letters from women who were livid that I would say such a thing. Of course, I apologized up, down, and sideways, and promised never to make that mistake again. And I haven’t. Well, not often, anyway.But the truth is that I didn’t make that up. Bat guano really is one of the main ingredients in mascara, and that won’t change whether I write about it or not. So, if you happen to be a woman of the female gender, and you’re offended by this column, I hope you’ll be somewhat comforted by the fact that I am not making any of this one up, either. This story was sent to me, or at least posted on Facebook, by the editor of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, who happens to be, her very self, a female type person. And a darn good guitar picker and singer, to boot.According to this story, that evidently started with the Seattle Times and is sweeping the country, there seems to be a national shortage of hackles.Now, hackles, in case you don’t waste large sectors of your time tying flies, are feathers used in fly-tying. I have gleaned, from my extensive research on the subject, that these particular feathers come from a certain part of a chicken, known technically as the ‘butt.’ Actually, I figured that out from reading the article Louie Bond posted, but that’s what passes for extensive research in my office.For years flyfishers have been using hackles for their flies. Fishing flies only need maybe a couple of small pieces of feather each, so even with lots of people tying their own flies we’ve been able to get by for years without taxing the nation’s chickens too heavily. Sure, there have probably been some birds walking around with bare backsides at times, but then, sacrifices must be made. And if those sacrifices have to be made by chickens, I’m OK with that.But now things have changed. Women, en masse, have started using hackles as hair accessories. As I understand it, this involves something called ‘hair extensions,’ which would probably be a good name for a rock band. But then, so would butt feathers.Hair extentions, though, are a little out of my area of expertise. I always thought there were basically just two choices if you wanted longer hair – you could either let it grow out, or wear a wig. So I asked my wife about hair extensions, and learned that it involves weaving other peoples’ hair into your own, to make your hair longer. And, apparently, some women like to weave feathers in there, too, for decoration. Why not?If you buy a hackle at a fly shop it will run you maybe five bucks. The same hackle at a hairdresser joint might set you back a C note. So we’re talking a lot of difference in price, for the exact same feather.Plus, it turns out, you can’t just pull the hackles and let the bird keep pecking. The unique roosters that grow these feathers are specially raised, and have to be whacked to harvest the hackles. But the main problem is that it takes a year for them to get big enough to grow proper butt feathers.So the U.S. supply of hackles is being seriously depleted by women who want to pay big bucks to put rooster butt feathers in their hair. It’s getting so fly shops can’t keep the feathers, and fly fishers are having a hard time finding the hackles they need. No one is necessarily happy about this situation, and as far as I know, the roosters haven’t even been consulted yet.Something has to be done, and quick. Women are going into fly shops and buying out an entire season’s worth of hackles at once, sometimes paying far more than the going price. In some places women are being banned from these shops, or if not banned, the owners won’t sell to them, which is further escalating the problem.One rooster farm in Colorado, which raises the special roosters, told the Seattle Times they are killing over 1,500 roosters a week now, and they still can’t keep up with the demand from hair salons. That’s just wrong.And it may not stop at feathers. Any woman who would put a chicken’s butt feather in her hair may decide to throw in a lead weight or two, and maybe a handful of plastic worms. Before you know it there may be a shortage of topwaters or shiners or jigs. The entire pro bass fishing circuit could be shut down to keep the country’s women in disgusting hairstyles. We could end up shipping in boatloads of angling supplies from China or the OPEC nations. And you think oil is a problem. The black market on colored feathers could easily outstrip the drug trade in terms of law enforcement man-hours involved.If we don’t deal with this problem it’s liable to do us in, and Congress does nothing. Maybe when women start raising their own bats to keep themselves in mascara, our leaders will decide to intervene. In the meantime, keep your chickens in the coop, and your tacklebox locked up in your gun safe . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who only uses wing feathers for his flies. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or jeep@verizon.net

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