Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Birds of September

        Once years ago I was hunting with the publisher-owner of Gun Dog Magazine, who was from Iowa.  Back then there was no dove season in Iowa; we were  hunting a harvested grain field in Missouri and he had a friend along.  His friend sat at the edge of the field and killed five doves with his first five shots.  Then he commented, “I always heard doves were hard to hit, but heck, this is no challenge at all.”

         The fourth member of our group was a Corps of Engineer Ranger who had hunted doves since he was a boy. He could scarcely be heard from his hiding place a few yards away. But I smiled when I heard him mutter to himself… “He’ll regret saying that!”

         Sure enough, our newcomer from Iowa missed the next 7 shots. That’s a lot the way dove hunting is.  Sometimes they aren’t too hard to hit, and then you see a few winged acrobats and wish you’d have a bigger shot pattern.

         Many of the old timers I knew were river-men who hunted most everything… but not doves.  Some of that attitude came from believing that God had designated the dove as a bird of peace. When grizzled old veteran hunters and trappers felt that way it was usually because they had mothers and wives who recoiled against the idea of shooting a dove.  But usually they just didn’t have the guns to do it.
         In that time I remember many of them never bought a full box of shotgun shells. You might get 10 or 12 but never a full box.  It cost too much.  And there was common sense to it.  You didn’t go out there with a Winchester model-97 long-barreled pump shotgun with a full choke in it and shoot at doves.  There was no good reason to spend 2 or 3 shells on a bird that only provide one man about 1/5th of a meal, even if he had poke salad and beans and cornbread to go with it.  Dove hunters sort of sprang from quail hunting… men who used open-choked short-barreled shotguns and a little bit of money to buy shells with.  They could afford game vests and supporting a good setter or pointer, which required more food and upkeep than a beagle or a coonhound.

         But personally I am losing interest in dove hunting because on September 1 every year is hot and muggy and my hunting partner, Bolt the Labrador, don’t like getting out there in the weeds if there is no water close.  Now, hunting over water-holes in the evening is another story.  We don’t mind that so much, and we might do that a couple of weeks after everyone else has quit hunting them. 

         But I have seen a few dove fledglings in nests in early September.  If I were setting dove seasons in the southern reaches of the Midwest I would set the dove season’s opening date back to September 21.  It makes sense, fewer nestlings wasted, a cooler time when more doves are migrating down from the north.  If that makes sense to you, you might see when the season on doves ends and make a late season trip to a grain field or water hole.

         Before I go I just have to pass on a conversation I had with a lady who wasn’t all that fond of hunters.  She said that I ought to be ashamed of myself for hunting God’s bird of peace, the dove. I told her that I was indeed a little ashamed of that, but she had morning doves confused with the birds of peace discussed in the Bible.  They were different birds, I assured her, but not a lot different than the quail God provided for the Israeli’s in the desert. Those birds of peace were white and they didn’t get trichomoniasis.  She looked at me for a minute and then wanted to know what that big word meant. I told her about that, an awful mass which grows inside the throat of mourning doves and their fledglings, which cause them to die a slow death because they can’t swallow food.  She looked skeptical, so I told her about how some northern doves actually do not migrate and many freeze to death or have toes frozen off.
         I told her how our Great Creator allows doves to be caught and eaten by hawks and cats while they were still alive.   “You don’t have any cats do you?” I asked.  She didn’t answer.  Then I said, “You know ma’m, doves can’t feed on standing grain, they have to have grain on the ground to walk around and feed that way.  So I am going to buy a bunch of wheat and sunflower seed to feed them through the awful cold months of the winter, and if you would like to help them just give me a twenty dollar bill and I’ll use it for more seed.”  She looked at me and smiled a little and said, “You are a bit of a shyster aren’t you?”

         I told her that indeed I was, and she told me she was going to get on the computer and find out if all that stuff I said was the truth.  But when I asked if she’d like to try some baked doves with gravy, she kindly declined…. and frowned a bit at the thought of it.

OUTDOOR NOTES… Cool weather will send the blue-winged teal into the lower Midwest.  There is a special hunting season for them in September.  They are the earliest migrators of the waterfowl species, a harbinger of the true fall season.

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