Diary of a Dove Hunt
Part social event, part feast, and part ritual
The shooters began arriving a little before noon, dressed for the occasion. That is, poplin and cotton in various patterns of camouflage. Mossy Oak, Realtree, and the occasional boutique or specialty design. The men tended to be indifferent about how their clothes looked, some of them wearing pants that showed old blood stains and shirts that had been laundered down to a faded shapelessness. The women were more particular and tailored, in their fitted and ironed shirts with recoil patches on the shoulders. The look was right out of Stafford’s of Thomasville, Georgia, where it seems like all the fashionable ladies shop for their dove-shooting clothes.
Many of the shooters were accompanied by dogs. Labs, of course, and one small, hyper English cocker who couldn’t seem to understand why we didn’t just go on out into the field and start killing birds. That was, after all, what we’d come for, wasn’t it?
Well, not entirely. This was an opening-day dove shoot in South Alabama, and there were certain rituals to be observed. There was a time for visiting and saying to people you hadn’t seen for a while how nice it was to see them and, then, how good they looked in spite of the years. I made a point of talking to my host, Kenny McLean, whose thirty-acre field in Point Clear, just a few miles from Mobile Bay, we would be hunting.
“We’re just glad you could be here,” Kenny said. “And now that you’ve come all this way, I just hope we’ll have some birds.”
I had, indeed, come a far piece. All the way from Vermont, where I spend too much of the year. But when old friends Jimbo Meador and Winston Groom told me about the shoot and that I was invited, it was an easy call. Fifteen hundred miles didn’t seem too far to travel for a good opening-day dove shoot, especially with old friends.
Kenny told me that he’d had the field planted in peanuts and that it would be good for another four or five shoots this dove season.
“But this one here is the fancy ball,” he said. And, he explained, the reason for the little building where he could store furniture, grills, and cooking implements. Because if you were going to put on a shoot like this, then you had to include lunch.
So there was a picnic table covered with damask and decorated with wildflower arrangements. The serving dishes spread out on the table held jambalaya, Rendezvous ribs, field peas, creamed corn, sausages, and other good things, including some desserts. There were pitchers of tea—sweet and un. The guests drifted by the table and filled their plates and complimented the ladies who were catering the affair. Normally, they did weddings and such.
“This is our first dove shoot,” one of them said. “I think it’s fun.”
And why not a catered lunch at the edge of the dove field, before the birds start flying and it is time to get down to work? A dove shoot can be a lot of things, including just a couple of old boys staking out a water hole and knocking down a few birds at the end of the day, after work. Or it can be a dozen men who have known each other since way back and like to get together at a field planted in sunflowers or browntop and burn up some ammunition and then rag on one another about missed birds while they are drinking canned beer out of a cooler at the end of the shoot.
And, then, a dove shoot can be a high-church deal with, for instance, a catered lunch before the shoot, or, more aspirationally, a cocktail party and dinner after.
I went on one such shoot in South Carolina where at the end of the day my wife and I stood around on a well-tended lawn under some tall loblollies with the other shooters drinking white wine from crystal glasses. The cocktail hour was followed by an oyster roast and even a little music and dancing.
At the other end of the spectrum, I can remember being a teenager when money was scarce and my buddies and I would each throw something into the kitty for the gas to get us to a field where we had permission to shoot. Whatever money we had left went for shells. The economics of the game made good shooters of most of us. Every miss was painful to pride and pocketbook, and a dove, sailing downwind and juking, is an easy thing to miss.
“Jeesh, you didn’t even scare him,” I remember my best friend shouting to me from down a fence line after I’d pumped three through my old Model 12 at a dove that had passed right over my head and was flying serenely on, undisturbed by a single pellet.
The shame of it. And three shells.