Labor Day. The last of two holidays that mark the summer. Labor Day comes in and white clothing becomes a faux pas. Shorts are no longer allowed at work. Swimming pools close.
And hunting season arrives in all its glory.
The first of the many hunting seasons is dove season. Usually it arrives the Saturday before Labor Day, however this year with the month of August still hanging around during the weekend, we get a Labor Day Monday opening day. Dove season has always been a special time for me. Doves were the hunt of choice as a kid.
The abundant game bird taught me a lot about hunting and the outdoors. They were responsible for me learning how to shoot for one. Action is constant and frantic at times. It is funny how the childhood mind can wander. With a combination of patience and observation, I remember catching sight of a small flight of birds just over the horizon laden treetops. I would picture myself as a soldier manning the artillery as enemy planes headed my way. “I have to bring them down,” I would think.
I would count my shotgun shells; I used 9 shot back then, and try to keep up with my efficiency. I still do. My father was one of the best wing shooters I have ever seen, often taking his limit in under a box. That was my goal, to shoot as well as him. I never out shot him. He is a marksman for both his skill and his patience. He would pick his shots, never taking one at a bird too far, too fast, or at the wrong angle. Seldom would he ever take two shots, unless he was going for a double. If the first shot missed, he figured the bird had an even greater advantage on the second.
I learned how to clean game animals from dove hunting. Doves are relatively easy to clean. No gory mess left behind; just clean breast meat with a bunch of feathers. In fact, if done right, the breast meat is clean enough for my wife not to refuse to touch. She even enjoys playing with the recipes.
The dove hunts taught me how to be a safe and courteous hunter. I observed where other hunters were located to know where not to shoot as well as to notify them when a bird was headed their way. On a downed bird, we would watch where it would land in order to help the successful shooter find his quarry, or help in the search if necessary.
I learned an appreciation for the animal. I watched the flight patterns. I studied its tendencies in where they would land. One of my most proud moments in the dove field was when I left the cover of the wood line one year and marched right to the middle of the field. The birds were funneled to me from the shooters on either side and rather than having them land in the fields, I was able to keep them in flight as well as get my limit early.
When a bird was not killed immediately, I learned to dispatch the animal ethically and quickly. Many think a common oxymoron is hunters having a heart, but contrary to this belief we care for the game.
The hunts also gave us a sense of tradition and family. Whether hunting with my father and grandfather, or hunting with my friends, or hunting with my son, father, nephew, and brother-in-law as I do now, it provides a bond that has lasting effects.
It is no wonder that dove hunting means so much.