As typical of the hunts that went on at this favorite site, I remember one that occurred when I was eight years old. We chose our positions carefully and I edged my way into a clump of Johnson grass. I tried not to break the dried stalks so they would close back around me as I slipped in. The levee curved around the east side of the tank and my position halfway down the side of the dam meant that I could not see birds coming from the east until they were on top of me. Just after we settled in, and while my brother was still walking to his position along the creek bed behind me, I saw a group of four dove coming in from the west. At that time, I had a .410, pump-action shotgun, so I waited until they were nearly in my lap before I punched the safety button, stood, threw my gun up and fired. I missed. That was pretty normal for my first shot of a hunting session, because I usually was still trembling from nervous excitement, and was very likely to aim where my intended victim had just been. My lack of musculature meant that I was unable to pump my .410 while it was mounted on my shoulder. Thus, I had to put my safety on again, drop my gun butt to the ground, make sure the muzzle was pointing away from me, eject the spent hull and feed in another round. The speed at which dove can get out of an area effectively turned my gun into a single shot. This was later rectified when my Dad traded my pump in for a .410 semi-automatic. Of course, this did not change the fact that I was throwing very little shot at the birds. That did not change until I gained a few pounds and was given my, much heavier, 20 gauge A-5.
As the birds swung over the levee behind me, I yelled to my Mom on the other side. This was our system for letting the person behind us know that dove were imminent. The obvious weakness with this system was that the person being yelled at almost always looked back just as the dove were flying overhead and thus missed seeing the birds – that is until they once again faced forward and caught a view of their rapidly retreating tail feathers. Almost at once, I watched my Dad across the stocktank turn and fire at some birds coming from behind him. The forward momentum of the now dead, lead bird caused it to fall into the stocktank in front of him. My Dad held any further shots because it would have meant firing directly at me. The three remaining birds were flying almost eye level with my position. I waited until they were sliding just left of me before I stood to fire. This time the leading bird dropped in a burst of feathers and thumped onto the top of the dam. I jogged up the slope and picked him up, all the while listening to the shots from my Mom’s and then slightly later from my brother’s, more distant, hiding place.
Just as I slipped back into my natural blind, I heard my brother fire twice and my Mom yelled “Michael, over you!”. I turned and threw my gun up at the formation as it crested the rise of the dam. I could not get onto the first three of the birds coming over the verge. I kept trying to swing on them, but would almost tip over backwards on the downward slope. Luckily there were five more to come and I finally fired at the sixth in the line. I did not drop the dove, but he did start a leg-down, wounded glide toward my Dad. My father waited until he lit, jumped him and then busted him as he fluttered off. “Well,” I thought, “I guess maybe I can count that as ½ a bird.” The next several shots were solid misses, but on my fourth attempt since the “½ bird”, I knocked a dove into the stocktank. Since it was now getting close to dusk, I left it in the water and watched for more incoming flights. As it turned out, that was the last dove to come my way.
As the sun disappeared, I began picking up dirt clods and lofting them to the other side of the dove floating in the stocktank. In this way, I slowly rocked the body towards my position at the edge of the water. Finally, I lifted the bird from the green slime that always seems to be found along the margins of West Texas watering holes. I dropped the dove into my pocket, feeling it slide down to the bulge made by the other dove. As my Dad came around to join me from his side of the tank, he handed me another bird. He said the ‘glider’ was mine. He said, “I was too impatient to wait for it to sit and die, so I just finished it off for you.” In retrospect, I realize he understood how much each bird meant to his young son.
As we wound back through the gloom of the mesquite woodland, and eventually into our driveway, I reflected on how tired I could become from just crouching in those weeds next to the stocktank. Of course, as an eight-year old I did not understand the relationship between a three hour long adrenaline rush, and fatigue. All I knew was that I could not wait to have the birds cleaned (dark breasts in a large bowl, hearts and livers in a smaller bowl to prevent their being lost down the sink when my Mom rinsed the feathers from the meat), the guns cleaned (my Dad had ‘let’ my brother and me clean his gun along with our own ever since I could remember), and my bath taken. We relived the hunt at the supper table and I listened as my brother retold how he had taken his four birds with six shells. He would always be a better marksman than I. I was usually jealous of his proficiency, but on that night I was very satisfied with my three Mourning Dove. They would be sufficient until the next time we loaded into the pickup for a ride into the West Texas woods.