They never knew what missed them

Dove season is just around the corner, and it’s time to start getting ready for the first hunt of the year. Time to drag the shotgun out from under the bed, rummage around in the storeroom for the hunting vest, and check to see how many shotgun shells you have left over from last year. Time to start running innocent civilians off the streets, because you’re watching the sky for birds instead of watching the road, hoping to find a field of sunflowers or doveweed that hasn’t been eaten down to bare stalks. Time to call up farmers and ranchers you haven’t seen in a year, hoping for an invitation to come hunt. I’ve always looked forward to the opening of dove season with a mixture of anticipation and dread. By the time September first rolls around it’s been several months since I’ve been on a real hunt, and it’s always nice to get back out in the field. And dove season marks the beginning of hunting for the year, with archery season following in October, and then the general season in November. The only problem is that doves are so hard to shoot. One of the reasons for this is that shotguns, when left unattended for six or eight months, accumulate an alarming number of misses. These have to be gotten out of the gun before you can hit anything, which sometimes takes the entire first hunt of the year. This can be embarrassing, but it’s just one of those unpleasant things that has to be done. I’ve tried shaking my shotgun real hard before the first hunt, or cleaning it several times, or hanging it in the back of the closet, muzzle down, to keep the misses from getting in there to begin with, but nothing seems to work. It would seem that a weapon which makes as much noise and throws as much lead as a shotgun would be difficult to miss with, but I don’t have much trouble. I bought a clay bird thrower a couple of years ago, thinking I could improve my shooting and avoid embarrassing myself in front of my friends, but it hasn’t made a lot of difference. I quickly learned that if you aim the thrower toward a grassy area the skeet don’t break so often when they hit the ground, and you can pick them up and use them again. Although I’ve never been much of a shotgunner, I’ve figured out a way to improve my odds. I plan to go to Uvalde the second weekend in September and hunt whitewings, which are larger and easier to hit than the mourning doves I’m used to. I hunted down there for a couple of days last year with several other outdoor writers, and the only one of us who didn’t get a limit every day was a fellow who works at TPW headquarters in Austin. I’d tell you his name, but he’ll probably be there again this year, and I don’t really want him mad at me. I had never had a chance to hunt whitewings before, so that was a treat in itself. I had also never had a chance to hunt where the birds float slowly into the fields in bunches of thirty or so, about fifteen yards high. You could almost shut your eyes and shoot up in the air every now and then and get a limit. Which was a good thing, since my shotgun seemed to have an awful lot of misses in it the first day. But after several boxes of shells I limited out, and wandered over to where the other marksmen had gathered to encourage the expert, who had several birds lying on top of a ten inch pile of hulls. We helpfully pointed out birds for him, and offered to make a run to town to get him some more shells, if we could find a trailer. He tried three or four different shotguns before picking the one he most enjoyed missing with. The second day was pretty much a repeat of day one, except that I left my hunting license in my room at Frio Country in Concan, and didn’t realize it until we got to Uvalde. I had ridden with Lee Leschper, the outdoors editor at Amarillo Globe News, and Lee calmly turned around and drove the thirty miles back to Concan so I would be legal. It’s a good thing, too, since we were checked by a couple of game wardens later that morning. So if there aren’t a lot of doves where you usually hunt, I highly recommend a trip to Uvalde. The birds are large, slow, and numerous, and just about anyone can fill a game bag down there. And if you happen to run into me leaving my room, remind me to go back and get my license. Lee will appreciate it . . . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who buys shotgun shells by the pallet. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Tx 76856 or email

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