Dove Tales – Part 2

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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.

Mourning Doves

Dove Tales – Part 1

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In my mind dove season in West Texas is a September sport. It could involve some cool evenings, but more often than not I sweated under the not-yet-winter sun while buried in patches of six feet tall Helianthus annuus (the native sunflower). Or I sweated as I walked the dry creek bottoms of mesquite scrub corridors. Or I sweated buried up to my raised gun barrel among Johnson grass next to the infrequent stocktank. No matter what form it took, dove hunting involved sweat.

However, unlike Quail, Ducks, Deer or Rabbits, it felt right to sweat while hunting dove. In fact, the smell of perspiration + musty game vest + dove + old blood always brings a smile to my mouth and warmth to my soul. This olfactory experience evokes feelings in me – solid feelings, real-life feelings, feelings of accomplishment that can’t be equaled by earning money or accolades. Oddly, this sentiment was well-described by one of my non-hunting friends. I had spent an extended time describing to him the process of trip planning, hunting the game, collecting the quarry and then processing the meat for my family’s consumption. He looked thoughtful and then observed that this is something to take pride in, something that our forefathers knew as a worthy accomplishment, something that hearkens back to days before the soul-darkening that marked the advent of the industrial revolution. Each time I hunted, I would be renewed; it was that simple and that significant.

During my childhood, dove hunting involved one of three methods, mainly depending on time of day. Morning and early afternoon hunts took one of two forms, but began in the same way. We would walk through the back gate of my parents’ horse pasture into a mesquite scrubland. We would load our guns, form a line and begin walking through the trees and cactus. I shot more branches and leaves off of mesquite trees than I did dove, but I loved trying to guess what gaps they would go through next and thus have a load of shot waiting. If we were to continue ‘still hunting’, we would follow a tree-lined, dry creek bed that wound for three miles between cultivated fields of grain and cotton. As we walked, we would whistle or call as we lost sight of each other among the trees and thorns. It was inevitable that I would walk straight into a patch of prickly pear cactus, while staring at a nervous, head-bobbing bird in a mesquite. I would try and skirt the patch while keeping my game in sight. As the bird lifted from the branch, I would hear the characteristic whistle and glimpse the awkward, feather-in-every-direction, launch into the air.

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Actually, as awkward as it appears, every takeoff by a dove is a marvel of perfect design for getting there-from-here in the smallest amount of time. A trip to ‘there’ almost always began with a dodge to the other side of a tree trunk. However, if my attention did not waver, I would see the telltale crouch indicating the imminent leap. My gun would be on my shoulder and the metallic click of the safety would barely precede the boom and the rattle of my Humpback Browning’s barrel-sliding, ejection system. The dove would disappear into a blizzard of gray and white feathers and there would be a pregnant pause followed by the thump of the deceased on the ground.

Other shots would come as dove whizzed left to right or right to left across the narrow openings between the mesquite trees. I would swing with the bird while they were zigzagging between the trees and slap the trigger when they entered a clearing. Because of their speed, they would, if hit, usually bounce into the next grove of trees and grass. Many times, I would have to call my Dad and brother over to help find the beautifully camouflaged object. Another indelible memory is the way in which my Father would hold his gun and kick impatiently at the tall stalks of grass. I loved the feel of the birds in the back pocket of my game vest, bouncing against my tail bone with each step and making me smile with that sense of shared experience with my brother and Dad. I love hunting alone – the feeling of a successful hunt accomplished by myself – but there is nothing that brings greater joy than sharing a hunt with someone who loves the chase as much as you.

Still hunting dove was not my favorite way to pursue this marvelous animal. Instead, I preferred to wait for them along their flight path between roosting site and feeding site or between feeding site and watering hole. I prefer to wait. Waiting lets me watch for my quarry, but it also lets me watch nature going about its business. I always get a thrill when I watch wild animals that do not know I am there. In the case of dove hunting as a boy, this could involve turning away from the Mesquite scrubland and going to sit in the grain or sunflower fields frequented by hungry dove.

So, the final method that we used to hunt Dove was my favorite. Unlike the first two approaches, this strategy involved first climbing into the back of my Dad’s 1963 Chevy pickup. As a kid, this started the trip off in a grand fashion. What kid doesn’t routinely bug their safety conscious parents to let them ride in the very back of their pickup?  The wind would blow, the smell of whatever had been carried most recently in the bed of the pickup would waft up, and any little bits of hay, dry horse manure, etc would land in our eyes, nose and ears – for a kid, this is what dreams are made of. It would only take about 20 minutes to reach what we had named the ‘double-stocktank’; there was a body of more or less permanent water on either side of a 20 feet tall by 15 feet wide levee. My Dad would position one of us on each side of the levee. He would then place another person along the edge of the trees that bordered the north side of one stocktank and the last person on the creek bed leading up to the southern stocktank.

Stay Tuned for Dove Tales – Part 2

Doves 1 : Hunters 0

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Though we saw our quarry in the distance, today the Mourning Doves were victorious. But, then again, we hunters won by just being in the field to witness such a beautiful, North-Georgia sunrise.

Thank you again to Jérôme Lanoue (Verney-Carron) and Ken Buch (Kebco), along with our South Fork hosts, Colby and Jacob.

We will return to South Fork at the end of October for the European-style Pheasant hunt, and I’ll be carrying the Verney-Carron Azur SD Eloge Grade 20-gauge once again.

Until then!!

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Bubba and the French Aristocracy

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I thought the time had come to introduce two of tomorrow’s companions who will accompany me on a Georgia Dove hunt with our friends at South Fork Hunting Preserve.

In a past story, I named that padded bucket in the above photo my ‘Bubba-Stool’.

So, “Bubba, meet the French Aristocracy in the form of the Verney-Carron Azur SD Eloge Grade Shotgun.”

“V-C, this is Bubba.”

“O.K., you two, let’s go collect some Mourning Doves!”

Georgia Doves with a French Accent

Mourning Dove

Well, my friends Ken Buch and Jérôme Lanoue of Kebco/Verney-Carron along with Colby Phillips and Jacob Nash from South Fork Hunting Preserve have done it again. They have given me the opportunity to hunt with a wonderful shotgun on an amazing property. A week from now, Frances (photographer) and I (hopeful hunter) will head to the South Fork dove fields near Danielsville, Georgia. Cannot wait!! There will be more on this from me in the near future.

2) Whole shotgun 2 copy

Verney-Carron Azur SD Eloge Grade 20 Gauge