Thursday, September 2, 2010

No DNA Test Needed...

He opens the breech of the single-shot 20 gauge and the smoking hull traces a little yellow arc into a rapidly-expanding pile of its boxmates. He looks up at me.

"Yes, son?"
"Dove are a lot harder to hit than targets, aren't they?"
"Yes, son, they are. But you're doing fine. Don't worry about it. Remember how I told you that I didn't shoot a dove the first time I went dove hunting? Didn't even come close. All I did was burn up every one of my shells. And I was shooting a 12 gauge."

A few minutes later another bird comes in, fast and low on the strong southwest wind. A tought shot, for anyone. Today, for a nine-year-old, they're all tough shots. He raises the gun, tries to swing through the bird like I've tried to teach him, shoots. The dove flies on. Little shoulders slump, and another yellow hull is added to the pile.

"Yes, son?"
"How did you learn how to shoot dove?"
"Honestly? You really want to know?"
"By missing a whole lot of them first. And I still miss a lot of them, so I guess I'm still learning, too."

Minutes pass, and the maybes begin swirling in my head. I wonder if this is such a good idea. Maybe I should have spent more time on shooting lessons. Maybe I should have waited one more year. Maybe instead of bringing him out here on public land with a half-mile walk into the stock tank on a 98-degree day I should have looked around and tried to find a private spot to hunt, a place where we could drive right up and sit in camo lawn chairs under the shade of a tree with a cooler full of drinks next to us as we hunt over a just-cut field with so many dove flying into it we can pick and choose the easiest shots, the most confidence-building shots. A fun place. An easy place.

But I don't have any places like that. All I have is right here. No crop fields, no easy walk, no shade, no cooler, no clouds of birds. Nothing but heat, sky and the sting of sweat in your eyes, the taste of sweat in your mouth, the feel of sweat soaking the back of your shirt. A desiccated, hard-edged, sharp-pointed  place where nothing is given, and the price of earning is high. Not a place to bring a nine-year-old on his first hunt. I'm an idiot.

A thunderstorm is building just off to the northeast and the birds are riding the inflow winds. Another bird crosses in front of us, a blur, impossibly fast. He raises the gun, shoots way behind it. The smoking hull traces another yellow arc to the pile of empties.

"Yes, son?"
"Are you coming back out here Friday?"
"Yes. Do you want to come with me?"

Hesitation. But just a little.

"Yeah, you can pick me up from school again."
"All right."
"But dad?"
"Yes, son?"
"Can I use a different gun? I think there's something wrong with this one."

My god, he really is my son...


  1. Beautiful, Chad!

    Those doves are sure a hard way to learn wingshooting, but most of us have been where your son was. The bright side is that when the time comes for him to draw on his hunting memories, this one will be factored in not for the misses and frustration, but for the time he spent with you in the field.

  2. That's a *beautiful* photograph there (and a lovely piece of writing, too!).

  3. a hunting access tech for Montana FWP, all I can say is, you took him with you. That has more could be on a private lease, smoking and joking with your buddies.Way to go Dad.

  4. Hey, a single shot 20 and plenty of chances has probably made more wingshots than anything else. I've been right where your son was and eagerly awaited those after school evening hunts. Maybe they'll have to fight into a headwind next time. Hope the rest of the season is good to you all.

  5. Ditto on the beautiful photo, and my heart goes out to the boy - I remember all that missing like it was yesterday.

    Wait, it was yesterday. Dammit.

  6. Great tale, only this morning my son told me it was important not to be late for school. DNA sample has been posted.

  7. Thanks for all the nice compliments, everyone.

    A pretty strong cold front rolled through yesterday, but we're going back out this evening and if there are a few birds around and the area hasn't been pounded too hard yesterday and this morning we'll try it again.

    Hubert, what you didn't see in that pic were the stinking cows that kept milling around the stock tank. We'd run 'em off and they'd come right back. We'd run 'em off, they'd come right back. I have a sea of running cow asses in at least half the pics I took, the dumb brutes...

  8. Aww...he looks so sad. Better take some earplugs for him this time!