Friday, August 28, 2009

Almost time...

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the mourning dove.

I consider them the most egalitarian of gamebirds in that they're widespread, numerous and you don't need any specialized equipment or tactics to hunt them.

They don't require a boat, decoys, dogs or calls. They don't make you chase them and when you do manage to hit them they have the grace and courtesy to die fairly easily. Even a half-wit can quickly grasp the basics of dove hunting: find a spot, sit down, and when a bird flies by you shoot at it once, twice or thrice depending on skill and/or luck.

As such, they are easily our most popular gamebird. And therein lies the problem with dove: their familiarity breeds a certain degree of if not contempt then at least a sort of one-dimensional thinking in that the entire arc of the popular notion of the dove-hunting experience can be described in one sentence: Opening day dove shoot.

That's it. That one image conjures up notions of the traditional southern social event, the big party hunt where everyone gets together, has a great time, shoots lots of birds, shoots lots of bull and then packs up, goes home and gets ready for the rest of the"real" hunting seasons to open up.

Basically, dove are considered a one-time celebratory kick-off. And that's it. The vast, and I mean vast majority of dove hunters give absolutely no post-opening weekend thought to the little buggers at all.

Which is a shame, really. Because once you get past the action-packed barrel-burning salvos of opening weekend, dove hunting can be a very mellow and contemplative activity. It gives you time to think. And what's hunting without thinking? Some of my most cherished and memorable hunts have been spent sitting under a windmill with the dog, watching the sky and shooting nowhere near a limit.

I guess I'm partial to dove because they were my (for lack of a better term) genesis bird. I had zero bird-hunting tradition growing up, so I pretty much had to make up my own as I went along.

I had no dog, no dad (my parents divorced when I was ten) and no clue, but I did have a shotgun, a bike, a duffel bag in which to break down and hide the shotgun so the cops wouldn't see me pedaling down the street packing heat, and a lot of open fields and riverbottom to hunt.

So I hunted dove, and the occasional kicked-up quail and pond-jumped ducks. But local dove were my main bird-hunting species until well into my later teens and my friends and I finally had access to cars and distant destinations. And since I didn't know any better I hunted dove on into October right up to the archery season opener.

Sure there weren't nearly as many birds as there were in early September, but I could always find a few, and a few were all I needed. Besides, what else was I going to hunt besides squirrels?

Maybe that's why I don't mind the slower pace and lighter gamebags of the mid and late-September hunts: it's merely a conditioned response from my misspent youth.

And here we are again, on the eve of what will be, as close as I can recall, my 25th straight dove opener ( Setting a lifelong tone of shirked responsibility, I always managed to skip school when it fell on a weekday...).

Seen from that perspective, it's a bit hard to reconcile the memory of the 13-year-old me furiously pedaling my bike down to the South Canadian river - hidden shotgun strapped to the handlebars - with the pushing-forty me; the chronically melancholy, none-too-successful misanthrope who, when he's drunk and thoughtful, sees those 25 season openers as a chronology of the ever-widening gap between what he is and what he once thought he'd be, each date a waypoint along a route that never quite made it to the original destination.

But whose ever does, right? Hindsight may be 20/20 but it's also like straight liquor: best consumed in moderation lest it consume you.

So here I am. Tomorrow will bring another waypoint, another rollover of the seasonal odometer and I will dutifully note it in the the only way I know, really the only way I've ever known how to track my life's progression or lack thereof.

Hopefully a few dove will be flying. And if I'm lucky I might shoot a few. Or I might not. Either way is fine by me. I can certainly think of worse ways to dwell on one's life.


  1. Beautiful melancholy writing. I'll shoot one for you - perhaps.

    God bless.

  2. Chad
    That the boy still finds joy in such simple excursions is proof those 25 years may not have brought him what he thought he should have, but they brought you what you need.

    Wrap some breasts in parma ham, fry them 'till the ham browns and the breasts are still bloody, serve with whiskey or a red. You'll see.


  3. Wise words from SBW, I couldn't have put it any better.


  4. Thanks, guys. The season's off to a slooow start so far, a combination of cool, rainy weather and the fact our area's wheat crop was a total bust this year...

  5. Chad,

    Great remembrance!

    I grew up with doves as a major focus, too, although it was a matter of family & friends and fields. Not much else doing in far west Texas in September, so we hunted all season. Of course, the season down there stays good as those northern birds filter down.