Friday, August 29, 2014 12:21 AM
Man, beast celebrate dove season opening day
By Bill Howard
Special to the Times
“It’s like Christmas,” I thought to myself. The unexpected and unknowing of what was to come, but I knew it would be good regardless.
We all gathered together around 10 a.m. to prepare for lunch. We would be sharing chicken, pulled pork, potatoes and green beans. Well, except for me. I am not really big on eating anything green unless it has M&M stamped in white on a hard candy shell. The chicken, pig and potatoes would do me just fine though.
The family that gathered numbered over 300. I only knew a few of the names and hung around the close family that I rode with. This family was a little different than the family that gathers on most holidays. This family consisted of mostly men and boys, dressed in camouflage, and kin in spirit rather than blood.
Gosh, I love opening day of dove season.
“Whenever two or more gather in my name, I am there with them,” goes the verse and we shared a blessing of the food, the hunt and our country. Looking at the beautiful day we had been given, it was clear the verse was true.
The field was set up in rows of sunflower, corn and milo around 30 yards wide. Flags were staked at intervals to allow the field to be well covered by hunters, yet safe in distance. Any well-seasoned dove hunter knows one key to a great hunt is to keep the available birds flying. Don’t allow anywhere for the bird to land in the field, and you will not have to worry about low shots.
My father, my son and I rode our four-wheelers to our marked locations. Dad was trying a wind driven dove decoy for the first time — setting it about 20 yards in the cleared lane in front of him.
Turner backed his dove stool a few feet into the milo rows. I did the same further down while getting my shells and cooler out of the bucket that served as my stool. Now we just had to wait until noon.
It was hot. In fact, it was very hot, just like any day in early September. There were just enough white clouds floating by to break the sun’s otherwise constant beating to make it tolerable. On the horizon we could see birds jetting over the edge of the fields.
BOOM! The first shot rang out and we could see a small speck spiral earthward. The hunt was on. The doves flew steadily throughout the day. Several dogs worked the downed birds for their various owners. Once and a while one young lab would lose his search and spot my birds beside my stool and take one thinking he had found his target.
If it wasn’t for any worry of the possession limit I would have let the retriever continue until I knew my kill limit had been reached. Instead, whenever I would take down another bird and go to pick it up, I would stop by the dog’s owner’s spot where he kept my stolen birds in a separate pile.
We both understood the nature of the hunt and enjoyed watching the dog as much as the dog enjoyed satisfying his owner.
Everyone has heard of Murphy’s Law. Dove hunting has its own law too. I call it the Law of the Find. In short, it means whenever you go to find your bird, there is sure to be five or six great shot opportunities while you are standing and walking. For this reason, I carry my shotgun and half of a dozen shells.
The problem is the birds offer such great shot opportunities that you drop several more birds and have to remember where they fell as well. On a 15-bird limit, I would guess a third of it is birds shot while searching for one that was already down.
This is what makes Opening Day (yes capitalized like any other national holiday) so special. The gathering of people both young and old, enjoying the exact same activity in the openness of the outdoors. Expectations being met and exceeded. Observing both man and beast learn about each other and working together.
Even when the beast is a young lab sneaking off with a mouth full of feathers from one of your birds.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.