Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Last Bird

The dove can humble the best of bird hunters, and since I am not the best, one can only imagine my humiliation.  But I’ve already told that story (La Paloma).  Over a period of about 20 years I hunted a number of birds including the dove, but it was the dove that had the last word.

In the ‘80’s my wife and I lived in Arizona where hunting is almost mandatory, and from time to time I took advantage of the opportunities.  It seemed to me dove were  everywhere just begging for me to shoot them, and I tried.  I really tried.  I spent a small fortune on shells for the old 20-gauge, and I believe the dove I brought home ran me between $25 and $30 apiece.  But I kept trying.

About 10 to 12 miles from where I lived were some canals providing water for the city of Phoenix, and the dove came there in large numbers all day long.  In the fall, during dove hunting season, the numbers seemed to increase.  It was a dove hunter’s paradise.  I went out regularly during each season, and I always managed to bring home a limit.  Dove was on the menu several times each week, and I didn’t care what it cost to bring them home.  I knew this would not last too many years into the future the way Phoenix was expanding.

On the last day of the season I arrived ready to fill my limit once again.  The night before I had eaten the last of the previous hunt’s birds, so this last day would provide my final taste of dove for another year.

I dropped a box of shells into my vest pocket and walked over to my favorite spot.  The sun was just up when I arrived there, and within a minute I could see dove in the distance.  Suddenly a lone dove flew in front of me about thirty yards out.  Quickly I brought up the 20-gauge and squeezed the trigger.  Click.  It might help if I loaded the shotgun first.

I noticed the dove had circled back and was crossing in front of me again as I loaded up.  As soon as I was ready, it flew back by.  Boom.  I missed.  Again it circled around.  Boom.  I missed.  And again it turned and flew in front of me.  And again, Boom.  And again I missed.  I reloaded while watching the dove sit on a branch of a Palo Verde tree about forty yards out.  It was watching me.  We played this game a few more times before I began to have flashbacks of a dove that had flown through my pattern on my first dove hunt.  (La Paloma).  This couldn’t be happening to me again.  It just couldn’t.

Several more birds began to fly by, but they were in no danger.  I couldn’t hit one if it were looking down the barrel of the shotgun while I pulled the trigger.  It didn’t take long for me to use up the entire box of shells with nothing to show for it.  I thought of the extra boxes in the car, but enough was enough.  I decided to go home.

Just as I was turning to walk away, the dove sitting in the tree flew over to within a few yards from me and landed on the ground.  It turned sideways to look at me with its right eye, and then it turned around to look at me with its left eye.  I think it was laughing.  But I walked on back to my car, got in, and drove to the skeet and trap range nearby.

I went through four trap rounds without a miss.  I used up the last of my shells on skeet with only two misses out of about twenty pulls.  I don’t get it. 

The next year I was not able to spend any time in pursuit of the dove, but the following year I was prepared.  As I got near the area, the first thing I noticed was paved roads.  Not good.  Then I noticed the construction sites.  Oh well.  I drove around for a while watching the dove still occupying the area, but the hunting was gone.  I drove out a few more miles, but it was useless.  The doves were staying near the canals, and the canals were in the construction zone.

A year later I was living in California.  I packed away the shotgun and never used it again, so I must say that the last statement about bird hunting belonged to the birds.

Friday, October 7, 2016

When Things Were Black and White

When I first entered college, money was very tight.  College was expensive, and my wallet was cheap.  I lived in the dorm on campus, but the first semester I couldn’t afford the cafeteria, so I did the best I could to survive by fishing at a nearby lake for something to eat.  I was usually successful, but not always.

During this first semester I heard that a city close by was having a skunk problem and the city council was having difficulties securing a pest control company to remedy the situation.  I found out when the next meeting of the council was, and I made certain I was there to offer my services.

I was a bow hunter, and I thought a bow would be perfect for hunting in the streets and alleys after midnight two or three times a week.  It was quiet, and I was normally very accurate with my arrow placements.  It made sense to me, but when I proposed it to the council, they snickered and showed me the door.  Oh well.

A few weeks later I was summoned to the chancellor’s office at the university.  For the life of me I couldn’t figure what I had done to deserve this, but when I arrived I was met by one of the councilmen who had refused my service offer.  It seems things weren’t smelling too good for the city, and they had reconsidered what I had proposed.

Paperwork and legalities move at a snail’s pace, and it was the beginning of my second semester before everything was in place for me to venture forth among the high-rises to hunt the critters.  I was thinking at a few dollars per skunk, this should the answer to my financial problems.  And it certainly helped.  But I soon learned the smell of money wasn’t as sweet as I had hoped.

I had the expenses of using my old car and hiring a driver to patrol the streets while I sat on the hood of the car with bow and arrow ready.  It worked like a charm.  Each time we went in search of PepĂ© we managed to quickly fill the big ice chest I carried in the trunk of my car.  After expenses for the driver and gasoline, I was actually earning a decent amount of money.  But there was another cost.

The one thing I didn’t fully prepare for was the one thing that makes a skunk a skunk.  No matter how tightly that ice chest lid was closed, the skunks it contained smelled like the skunks it contained, and eventually so did my car.  To top it off, I could deliver the skunks to an animal control compound only once each week, meaning the skunks stayed in the ice chest (without ice) far too long.

Slowly my classmates at the college began to sit in small groups as far from me as they could.  I noticed the professors would open windows in the room even if it was raining or cold outside.  And my roommate in the dorm starting spending nights “studying” with a friend in another room.

The end came when one night I walked over to retrieve a skunk, and I didn’t see its friend in the shadows.  It was the only time I got sprayed, but it was one time too many for my compatriots at the college.  At least the semester was almost over, and the skunk project was ending anyway.  The smell of money was not as I had expected, and I didn’t pursue the skunks in future semesters.  But those times of black and white made certain I no longer had to fish to eat.