“This is what is sounds like. When the doves cry.” Prince
It’s the quote I wrote on my daughter’s napkin that day. Silly little thing I do. When I make her lunch for school, I always write a quote on a napkin for her. It’s probably something I picked up from Ma. She always made my lunch and would include words of love or encouragement. But this quote was meaningful on several levels. The boy she likes, Brian, is a metal head but he also has a soft spot for Prince and Michael Jackson (RIP). One of his favorite songs is that Dove one off Purple Rain. But she also knew I was going dove hunting that day.
Hunting with Uncle Chinky. One of my favorite things in the world to do. I was about giddy that morning because he was taking me dove hunting. I’ve hunted elk, turkey, goose, pheasant, quail, grouse, rabbit and duck, but never had the opportunity to hunt the small, darting birds. I was prepared with gun, license, shells, lunch, water, vest and chair. Course I didn’t know there was a small problem with my prized Mossberg shotgun.
More on that later.
I got to his house and let myself in through the back door. The newspaper was on the table – he’s a newspaper man like myself after all. Usually when I show up for goose hunting, Arnold has the truck loaded and running and his ready to hit the pre-dawn morning field to wait for geese beneath a chilly corn field.
But on this morning, it was slow going. We chatted and he finished his coffee. My Aunt Irene was up, getting ready to go teach the children. He seemed to know the birds would be there waiting for us. And plenty of them if his friend Terry was right. We finished packing his truck and headed off to Loveland.
We talked about life and family with ease, but the ride still seemed excruciatingly long. I was anxious to try my shotgun skills on the challenging bird and hoped I wouldn’t come away empty handed. That’s the case in many of our hunts, but as Uncle Chinky says: “It’s the hunt, not the kill.”
As soon as we unhinged the barbed-wire fence at his friend Terry’s farm, we saw the gray birds streaking from the fields into the trees nearby. I was already reaching for my gun as he warned again not to shoot by the heavily-trafficked road not 100 yards behind where we were to hunt.
I loaded the shells into my vest pockets, trying not to spill any as I looked to the morning sky for doves skimming the trees. I took several shots, missed badly. But I got lucky with a long shot and knocked one down across the stream cutting the farmland in two.
My first kill! You gotta be kidding me! When elk, goose or turkey hunting it takes hours – not minutes – to get a target. I love this stuff. I raced across the bridge to get my bird, trying to keep my eyes on the spot where I thought it went down. Bam! Bam! Arnold was easily dropping birds from the sky on his own.
I HAD to find that bird!
I walked the part where it went down over and over again, but couldn’t find it. My cousin Dave called then and I frantically told him I had to find the damn bird before Arnold came across that bridge and took my man card! Couldn’t find the thing. Did it fly away somehow? I thought it came down. Of course I was still distracted by the birds still flying over – shooting now and then. Finally he crossed the bridge.
“It’s right here, ya dummy.”
He pointed to the gray lump right next to the walking path – I ‘d crossed her at least three times. I got a little blood on my finger as I picked her up and handed her to my uncle. He helped me find the vest pocket where she belonged – I had never used that pocket before in 7 years of ownership. Felt good to have that warm lump by my side – trophy is an important thing, for some reason, to a hunter.
I dropped another bird shortly after that – then proceeded to plow through some 50 shells as I vainly tried to shoot the birds. They seemed to laugh at me as they would dip in altitude at the last minute. Dart sideways instantly. Leap into the sky on dancing wings. My right ear was ringing. Uncle Chinky was alternately laughing at me, trying to help me shoot straight, complimenting me on how quick I could pump three shells through the Mossberg and insulting my aiming abilities.
When he gave me a double-barrel to shoot, I dropped one more bird and hit the tails of several I tried for. We were literally having a blast. After we used the three boxes of shells he brought (that’s 125 shells for you folks counting), we decided to go to town and buy some more. The birds had stopped flying but would be coming back to the trees in the late afternoon. We put the 12 birds we had in a paint bucket, under a bag of ice, in the shade.
As we drove to town, we started talking about chokes. The things on the end of a shotgun to make the BB pattern wider or smaller. Turns out I had my turkey choke in. Designed for hitting the small head and neck of a turkey, the pattern is much smaller. Arnold was actually impressed I was able to drop even two birds (or maybe he was just not pouring it on my wounded pride). When we got to the sports store, we asked for a better choke. “On opening day. Are you kidding?” Turns out dove hunting is a big deal to a lot of folks in Colorado. How could I have lived here my whole life and never heard of such fun! All he had left was a skeet choke. I almost snatched it from his hands.
When we got back to the field, the birds had started returning all right. My new shells were in the back, but I still had two shells left from the morning. I popped them in my Mossberg. Bam Bam. Two shots, two birds down. I was jumping around like I’d scored a touchdown. The birds started dropping then.
I lost one I’d dropped over a thick weed field. The green stalks were chest high and so thick, you had to pull apart each one to see six inches of ground. Even Arnold couldn’t find it. We finished cleaning our morning birds. Hell of a lot easier than a goose, turkey or elk. Then the shooting continued. I was the only one shooting – Arnold had his fill of killing for the day. I was still in the rush of shooting the birds. Almost dropped a hawk until my uncle yelled at me.
“Ten more, then we’re out,” he said.
At the rate they were flying, I didn’t think it would take long. Dove number 3 – an Eurasian – turned out to be the last bird of the day.
I shot him flying over the old barn and close to the dreaded weed field where Arnold told me not to shoot them anymore. But I swore it fell just outside that. We searched but couldn’t find him. We thought he flew away, even though we both saw him go down. I saw him cowered next to the barn. My uncle had come up on wounded birds that morning and showed me how to bang their heads off your boot heel to quickly put them out of pain. But this guy bolted, one bloody wing dragging behind him. I tried to outrun him, but he was too quick and I was holding a shotgun with one hand while trying to grab him with the other.
He ran to the irrigation ditch, which had steep sides bordered by stout elm trees. He slid half-way down the slope, still hanging on and looking up at me. I tossed a branch at him hoping to drop him in the water and drown him. I had picked a bird from the stream earlier. He went into the water alright. But swam to shore, under the thick root of the tree and out of sight from me. Arnold showed up by then and was on the bridge. That bird hung on.
“I’ve never seen one with such a will to live,” he said. “Those damn Eurasians are tough. That’s why they’re killing off the other doves.”
He handed me his painters pole and I tried to dislodge the poor beast without being able to see it while hanging on to the tree and trying not to fall into the water.
“You got him!”
He went into the water, only to crawl back up on the bank and out of reach.
“You’re going to have to shoot him.”
I walked back out the bridge. He left for the truck. Arnold never believes in killing just for killing sake. He had chided me earlier because he thought I shot a bird sitting in a tree (It took off from the branch, I swear!). Just like he won’t let me shoot a goose that’s already on the ground. Got to give the game a fighting, fair chance. But this bird was suffering by my hand. So I brought my gun up, aimed carefully (like that was necessary with a shotgun) and pulled the trigger. The bird disappeared in a cloud of dirt and feathers. But it wouldn’t be that easy. As he slid into the water, I watching him desperately try to keep his head above water. He gulped three last breaths, then slowly his head slid into the water. I watched him drift away.
“You had to.” Arnold assured me.
I knew that, too. But somehow the fun of the hunt was gone, slowly drifting down the stream.