Friday, June 19, 2015

La Paloma

The dove is never an easy bird to hunt.  I say that after losing a bet with a friend over 40 years ago.  Hank and I were not much for bird hunting, but we did do a little.  He and I had both hunted ducks and quail, and he had hunted dove, but I had not.  I was decent with a shotgun, although I wasn’t great, and I had discovered there are differences in shooting skeet, trap, and live birds, but birds are birds—right? 

Over the years I had run many boxes of shells through the old bolt-action twenty-gauge I had inherited from my grandfather, and I thought there were no birds that could fly through the pattern that gun made.  Hank bet me some small change that the dove could do it.  No Way!  But Hank insisted it could be done, so I took that bet, and we went dove hunting.

My cousin’s family had some property in west Texas where the doves were plentiful in the fall.  One particular stock tank must have had the right flavor of water, because the dove population would always be rather dense for two or three hundred yards around it.  I didn’t remember ever hearing of anyone hunting these birds here before, so I thought it would be a perfect place to test Hank’s theory and take his money from him.  I didn’t think about the fact that the cost of the gasoline just to get there was several times the amount of the bet.  Sometimes cost doesn’t matter when money is involved.

As we were driving from Fort Worth to the ranch, I decided to make a second bet.  I told Hank I could take the limit of birds (I think it was fifteen) with one box of shells and have several left over for the next hunt.  I drove from Mineral Wells to Abilene before he stopped laughing, and we were past Odessa before the snickering subsided.  Come to think of it, his big grin never did go away.

When we arrived at the ranch, my cousin was waiting on us.  I had talked to him for permission to hunt the property, but I didn’t expect to see him at the ranch.  However, there he was, and he was planning on joining in on the hunt.  When he found out about the bet, he sided with Hank.

“I’ll double Hank’s bet.  Shooting dove is like shooting a hole in a cloud.  It can be done, but it ain’t easy.”

Two against one.  Great.  I’ve seen dove fly, so why are they supposed to be so hard to hit?  Both of these guys know my hunting ability, yet they think I’m going to have a difficult time filling my limit.  They should know better.

We were up very early the next morning, and by first gray light we were near the stock tank awaiting the sun’s rays.  Just before the first long shadows appeared we began to see flights of white wing dove, and we were ready.

All three of us let go at about the same instant.  The double boom of Hank’s Ithaca twelve and the rhythmic pounding of Vern’s Browning pump along with the unsteady popping of my little Mossberg 185d made the morning sound like a war zone.  And the dove fell.  We gathered our first round of birds and settled in for three more rounds before the flights became more sporadic.  Hank and Vern had their limits and I had one more to go to fill my bag, but that one proved to be my undoing.

By now the birds were flying alone, and every shot could be judged on its own merit.  No more of the ‘two birds with one shot’ scenario.  I had to make this work.  I had just seven shells left in my pocket, and I had to go back with 1) my limit, and 2) several shells left over.  I wish I had sneaked in a few extras, but I was just too confident.

I wasted two or three shots on cross flights about thirty yards out.  Another shot followed a bird as he flew from behind me, over my head, and in front of me, but he was just too fast for the pellets.  And then it happened.  I loaded my last three shells, two in the magazine and one in the chamber.  In the distance was a dove flying straight toward me.  When the bird was about forty-five yards away, I pulled the trigger and immediately chambered the second round.  Again I pulled the trigger, and the last round went into the chamber.  And I fired again.  I had seen that dove fly right through the oncoming shot three times, and then it flew over my head and away to the nearby hills.

I paid my bets, and I took a lot of ribbing, but later on I discovered the real quality of my friends.  I never heard about my humiliation after that day—not from Hank or Vern or anyone else for that matter.  They never said a word about it to another person.  And I learned a valuable lesson.