Archived Story

New season, old memories

Published 6:00pm Monday, September 9, 2013

Dove hunting is a dusty, sweaty, waiting game where most people wind up with sore backsides, briar cuts, poison ivy rash, sunburn and eye-strain … and a few ounces of dove meat that may be enough for a single round of appetizers.
Over the course of my lifetime, I bet the gross weight of dove I’ve harvested doesn’t total more than the back straps from one whitetail buck.
But I love it.
I’d trade the opening day of dove season for a birthday any year. That might sound extreme, but I think it’s really true. I can vividly remember a number of dove hunts over the years and I’m not sure I could say the same for my birthdays.
I remember one year, hunting from the top of a big, steep hill near Lake Tuscaloosa, when the doves actually flew in below me before flaring up as they neared my hilltop.
There were many opening days when I, and everybody else, would take a small transistor radio in the field to hear the Crimson Tide play ball. I distinctly remember feeling all alone on one dove hunt – nobody was in sight in any direction – until Alabama scored. Then suddenly there were cheers coming from the just inside the edge of the woods all around the field, a reaction that happened again and again that afternoon.
Once a friend told me where to sit along a dirt road at the edge of a huge open field, with no cover in sight. For some reason that my friend understood, and I didn’t, the dove flew in a bee line directly over my head. I had to lead the birds up to get the shot pattern in the right place. I dropped the first bird that came over, then did the same thing the next 10 shots in a row, and found all 11 dove without the benefit of a retriever because they were falling on bare dirt.
I remember other days when I shot boxes of shells and finished the day with a purple-blue bruise on my shoulder and fewer birds than I could count on one hand … and was happy to have them.
I had a friend who owned a field just outside the city limits of Vidalia, Louisiana, where birds fattened in soybean fields for miles around gathered to pick up gravel for their crops. I used to go out by myself in the afternoon after work and almost always came back with a game pouch full of birds.
And I remember one opening day in Mississippi when I was looking so long and so hard for dove coming my way that I shouldered my shotgun several times at a tiny black speck in the sky … and then had put it down as the dragonfly got a little closer. I don’t remember even pulling a trigger that day.
A couple of seasons ago here in Coosa County, my son James and I went on a dove hunt and from across the field I saw him shoot a bird and put down his shotgun and catch the bird as it fell out of the sky, something I’ve thought about often but have never been able to do.
Then there’s the social aspect of dove hunting. Here in the South, many who host dove hunts have a big lunch beforehand. Enthusiastic kids on four-wheelers drive around the field to keep the birds flying and to bring around a cooler of much appreciated ice-cold drinks.
Often after a hunt, a charcoal grill will be lit while the dove are being cleaned, and before long dove breasts wrapped in bacon and stuffed with jalapeno slices hit the grill. The excitement of a bunch of guys and dogs gathering before heading into the hot field, and then gathering again as the evening cools off to share a meal and swap stories and brag about their retriever’s field work or their son getting a limit makes for a near perfect day in the field.
I never know what the opening day of dove season will bring, but it signifies the beginning of a new hunting season. And just like every other year, this year I’m as excited as an 8-year-old on Christmas Eve.
Boone is publisher of The Outlook.