An osprey I photographed as the sun broke through clouds.
Bolt, being smarter than his two legged hunting partner, determined early that water from a mud hole beat no water at all!
Rich Abdoler hunts doves, while I look for my dog.
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when in this very column I said that I had decided not to hunt doves anymore. I think that was a very good idea. But I went anyway, on opening day, after my old friend Rich Abdoler said he was going by himself.
I got to thinking he would probably need me so I said I would bring my young Labrador, Bolt, and help him get a limit. What a dumb idea that was. It ended up being a great day to go fishing, and instead I went dove hunting, in a sunflower field on Truman Lake.
Just as I anticipated, there were hunters everywhere that afternoon, the first day of September. It sounded like it might have sounded at Wilson’s Creek during the Civil War.
Dove hunting has become a social thing, and I don’t care for that. I like to hunt alone, or with a friend, off somewhere in the woods or marshes or fields where solitude is part of the ambience and mosquitoes aren’t. But if a hunter in this day and time wants to take a boy out to learn to shoot a shotgun and hunt doves, I think he should be able to do that, even if there is a crowd out there, without any interference from me.
I have had my day. I remember great dove hunts in that very same area 25 years ago when you couldn’t hear or see another hunter. It was a different day and time, and it is over. Dove hunting won’t ever be that way again. So I had decided to step aside and concentrate on fishing off somewhere in the solitude I crave, and never hunt doves again.
But what the heck, I went anyway. Poor old Bolt, the third or fourth greatest Labrador in the whole country, went with me. It had rained much of the morning, and when we got out there, about 2 p.m., it was cloudy, with thunder rumbling in the distance.
It was 79 degrees and because I can’t remember September very well, I thought that was going to make for a nice cool day. But the humidity was up there right near 100 percent if I guess right. My camouflaged T-shirt was soaked by the time I locked the pickup beside three or four other pick-ups, and Bolt kept looking back at it like he wanted me to bring the air-conditioner with us.
Surely the two of us could go without water for a couple of hours, I thought. If you bring a gallon of water, which Bolt can drink in less than a minute, it weighs 8 pounds. When you add that to the shotgun and shells and camera I was carrying, that makes more weight than a 21-year-old marine totes in boot camp. And I am not 21.
It was a mile to the dove field, situated a few hundred yards past all the other hunters, who were blasting away. Rich said there were a lot of doves, and I guessed he was right. I closed my eyes and envisioned Wilson’s Creek… or Gettysburg. The thunder even sounded a lot like distant cannons.
My glasses were so fogged over by the time I crouched down in the weeds I couldn’t see a darn thing. Why hadn’t I worn contact lenses? Why hadn’t I brought water and left the camera? Why hadn’t I left the shotgun, now weighing about 30 pounds?
I shot two doves, and couldn’t find either of them. Bolt found both of them, picked them up and dropped them, trying to get the feathers out of his mouth, looking at me as if to say… “I am a duck dog, stupid, and these ain’t ducks!”
He found one more dove before he left. Then he was just gone. Rich said he figured he went looking for water. I panicked. If Bolt was lost, Gloria Jean would lock me out of the house until I found him. While she doesn’t hunt, she loves that big old chocolate Lab. That’s part of the reason he isn’t a better hunting dog.
Spoiled dogs are like spoiled children, they give you lots of trouble at times, and despite my calling and whistling, which he and everyone for a mile around could hear, he wasn’t coming back until he filled up with water. My yelling for him was destroying the ambience.
Rich was yelling at me to shoot, and I couldn’t see anything because of my fogged up glasses. My boots were filling up with sweat! If I could have rung the sweat out of my clothes, I would have lost six or seven pounds. The sunflowers and weeds began to make me itch.
I walked most of the way back to the pick-up and found Bolt in the only mud hole I remembered passing. He was laying in it. I would have given anything to have jumped in there with him. We walked back to the pickup where I retrieved the leash I had forgotten. I drank a bottle of water and left my glasses.
I walked back to where Rich was banging away and tied Bolt to a tree, which provided shade, and killed a couple more doves. Finally it came to me that I wasn’t enjoying this much. The humidity rose, thunder filled the sky to the west and I saw a streak of lightning. Over the years I have learned not to sit anywhere and watch it lightning when I could run for the pickup.
Rich stayed… Bolt and I left. On the way back he lay down in the mud hole again, and I was thankful I brought an old blanket for him to lay on in the back seat of my pickup. I had killed four doves and walked four miles!
I will never hunt doves again, I don’t think. If I do, I won’t take Bolt until he is older and it is cooler and the humidity is somewhere around 20 percent and all the hunters have gone back to work.
I let the motor run, turned the air conditioner on full blast and waited for Rich. Some hunter came by on the way to his pickup and I rolled down the window and asked if he had a good hunt. He said it was all right, he had bagged several doves. “But there are too many hunters,” he said, “and some of them are real amateurs.
One old boy not far away was yelling for his dog the whole time… it just ruined the ambience!”
And that’s what I have against dove hunting… it has become a social event rather than a hunting trip. And there ain’t no ambience. I gave Rich my mangled, sweat-drenched doves and drove home in the darndest thunderstorm I have ever seen! But I might try it one more time about the first week of October.
I have 50 acres and a secluded cabin on a little Ozark creek off away from everyone where I take refuge on occasion to forget the world. I have decided not to hunt deer this year either, as it coincides with some good duck hunting and the fishing might be really good about then.
If you are looking for your own deer-hunting lease, I have one. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. The email address is email@example.com. You can talk to my secretary, Ms. Wiggins about getting a sample of our fall outdoor magazine mailed to you.