Monday, September 2, 2019

Dove Hunter

         I hunt doves for four reasons, to sharpen my shooting eye, to give my young Labradors an idea of what it will be like if we ever see an ducks again, and to get out of whatever work my wife has for me around the house.  And I like to eat them, even though I seldom get enough to eat in one hunt.

         One September I told my wife I felt compelled to go over to old Mr. Thompson’s place to help him with his millet field. I went on to tell her how badly I needed to do some things around the house and how determined I was to get her laundry room fixed up. Finally, I put my head on the dining room table and moaned about how hard it was for me to turn down folks in need.

         As I went out the door, my wife was saying something about how her mother had misjudged me. The shotgun and shells were stashed in my pickup, where Gloria never ventures, abhorring the smell of wet dogs. Beau, my six month old pup, and Belle my two year Lab, were in the back, confined and hidden by a camper shell. I got away with it easily.

         It was harder to lie to Mr. Thompson’s wife, who hated dove hunters,-- but not all that hard. After all, Mr. Thompson lied to her all the time. I arrived at the Thompson farm about 4:00 p.m. there were small flights of doves in the air. There she stood in the lawn, the little old lady who would boil a hunter in oil if she could catch one. Mr. Thompson had already advised me how to get around her.

         I introduced myself, took my hat off and commented on how hot it was, adding in the same breath that nothing had been right since the Republicans had taken office. That won her over! Before I could get away, she had me relaxing on the front porch drinking a glass of lemonade while she went looking for a jar of tomato preserves for me to take home.

         I was there at Mr. Thompson’s behest, to wipe out all the starlings raiding the back millet field.

         She said it was sweet of me to help… she feared the starlings might drive off the doves and quail. She said she wanted to see anything exterminated that meant harm to doves or quail, including hunters. When I finally fled the porch, remarking that I had once shot a hunter and dumped his body in a ditch, there was only about two hours of shooting time left. I drove my pickup down the farm lane toward the pond at the edge of the grain field.

         Past the third gate was the millet field. I got through two of the gates with no problem, but the third one was one of those kinds of gates. Every hunter knows about gates like that… an old farm wire-and-post gate with a wire noose that slips over the end post. Mr. Thompson, twice my age, could close it easily, but I couldn’t get the post within six inches of the noose.

         With the gate finally closed, I watched my Labradors circle the field, scaring up a couple of dozen doves before heading toward the pond. I waited there in a clump of weeks, attracting an early flight of mosquitoes. Beau and Belle cooled off in he pond before taking their places beside me, smelling like pond, which held eight inches of water eight inches of algae and 16 inches of mud.

         About that time, several doves flitted by and shots were fired (how many is unimportant). A dove folded into the grain stubble beyond the pond. Belle was on the bird in a minute, closely pursued by the half-grown pup, Beau. She brought the bird back to me and eventually I got it out of her slobbering mouth. By then it looked like something a hoot owl had regurgitated.  Young Beau was watching and learning.
         You could see that he was excited about the aspect of getting one of those birds for himself and there was little doubt in his mind that his master would come through. Actually, I don’t subscribe to that baloney about doves being hard to ht. With five or six boxes of shells, I can hit as many doves as quail or ducks, probably. For me a limit of doves is as easy a limit of quail or mallards. I don’t think I’ve ever had either of them either.

         You can practice in the summer and greatly improve your dove-per-shell ratio, of course. In August I work on my coordination and reflexes by throwing darts at butterflies, or shooting flies off the screen door with a pea shooter. That kind of practice paid off that September afternoon in Mr. Thompson’s millet field. When I dropped my second bird, Belle charged from the pile of empty shot-shell hulls to retrieve it. Beau followed but couldn’t keep up. In the middle of the field, he conceded defeat and sat down. The pup had decided that if he couldn’t outrun Belle, he would wait there where the next bird would fall.

         It was a heart-rendering sight, the young dog so desperately wanting to retrieve a dove for his master. I couldn’t help but feel for the little guy. He lay down, head between his paws and eyes skyward, returning only after I threatened to come out there in the field and kick his backside halfway to Kansas.

         He needed his chance. I took out a piece of cord and tied one end to Belle’s collar. The cord was a bit short, so I tied the other end to my bootlaces. Now with her tied to my boot, Beau would have his chance.

         Belle was a dynamic retriever. Chained to a duck blind, she always waited until I unchained her to go after a fallen duck. But, if the duck blind wasn’t set in concrete, it was better to tie her to a tree, and it needed to be a good-sized tree.

         I don’t know why I forgot that as I tied her to my boot. I dropped the next dove with one shot, then left my gun behind me as my arms trailed behind me and my right leg followed Belle. There are many thoughts that race through a man’s head as he is being dragged across a field of millet stubble by his retriever… foremost among them is the fear of a large, protruding, sharp rock.

         Luckily, my boot came off. I had slowed Belle down just enough and Beau got to the dove first. But with the older dog on his heels, Beau headed for the other end of the field. By the time I got to my gun, both dogs were out of range—fortunately for them. I had terrible apprehensions of Belle chasing Beau back to Mrs. Thompson’s house with that dove in his mouth. Eventually though, Beau circled and headed back tome with his prize. Belle, much wiser than most folks consider a dog to be, stopped long before she got close and began working on developing that, “I’m no darn good for nothing and I hate myself,” look that had saved her fanny before.

         As it grew later, I stashed my all-too-few doves and game vest beneath the seat and loaded the Labradors. With the gates behind me, I could see Mrs. Thompson standing in her yard in the gathering dark, with a jar of preserves. I wished desperately that I had checked Beau and Belle for any clinging dove feathers.

         She thanked me for my help and I told her had raised cane with those starlings, leaving vast numbers of the black-hearted rascals as coyote bait, laying dead in the field.  She said she had heard the shooting and deduced that I must have killed a hundred!!

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