Sporting Life / Story

Doves: A Story

* Doves is a chapter from Providence: The Story, a book I wrote for my family in 2013.

Story XVIII

Doves

Gill Jr and Gill III – 2012

It had been a few years since Gill spent a fair deal of quality

time at the place. Daily life was busy and he rarely made the voids

to break away, but Labor Day was different. He had never missed

the opening day of dove season. Neither, despite his general

absence from the outdoors, had his dad. His grandfather never

missed one either. Perhaps they hunted in Old Red’s honor and

did not know it. Opening Day was obligatory. There were trucks

lined up at ten o’clock in the morning. Rain or shine, hell or high

water, folks looked ahead to the dove hunt. Most years there was

a race for shade among the millet, corn, or sunflower on treelined

edges of gravel roads. Cool spots with no sun in the long view.

The opening day hunt was usually unpleasantly hot. You could

tell a once a year hunter from an old vet from their outfits as they

left for the fields, the former in new full length camouflage, the

latter in shorts and a camo T-shirt with plenty of sunscreen and a

big cooler. It was a social event. As folks gathered, men would

introduce guests, which now included daughters and wives.

There was no alcohol before shooting but the conversation and

banter painted the scene of a cocktail hour before the call to hunt

assembled. Men would show off and compare shotguns. Worn

heirlooms and new synthetic killing machines. There were those

of the younger generation getting instructions on safety off to the

side. Some dogs ran around. Others more polite, either mature or

pedigreed, stood by their owners. They were mostly labs,

occasionally someone had a good mutt or another hunting breed.

The preacher, Stuart McIntyre, always brought his poodle and

explained to folks that they were bred in France as a waterfowl

retriever and made excuses that his Muffin’s bouffant hair was

traditionally a natural flotation device. Gill III brought along his

Lab pup, Julep, to socialize but would put her in the kennels when

he went to field.

Now, every year now Ole’ Hargrove took the role of

huntmaster. For years Gill Sr had seen to tending to planting the

fields and organizing the hunt. On the day of the hunt, he would

gather up folks, give a few instructions, and bless the day. When

Gill Sr passed away, Earl Hargrove stepped in. Not on the side of

labor and preparation, just printing invitations and being the

master of ceremonies. Earl was one of Hank’s buddies. He hunted

a good bit, mostly with hired guides throughout the country,

sometimes abroad. He held rights to a huntmaster week in the

Providence Hunt Club. When Red could no longer get the fields

ready, Hank let his men take over. They could come in with a big

combine and plant a field in an afternoon easily. They did not do it

for pleasure, but for the pleasure of those who would for one big

day, hunt it. Along with Hank’s help came the Morrison’s hunters.

It was John Morrison’s hunt now. Bankers, lawyers, board

members , and city boys. For four hours they owned the place.

Gill III had a hard time hearing one of them say, “When I get to my

old spot.” Unlike any family lease hunts when folks just talked it

out and there was no ownership of stands or blinds, there were

assigned spots in the field on Labor Day. On a dove field, the

sweet spots do not change much from year to year. At first, the

chalkboard filled with the names of older gentlemen that would

have difficulty getting far in the field with a silent irony that those

accessible spots under the powerwires held the best shooting.

There was no coincidence that the folks John deemed old were

men he was bound to kiss up to. Conspicuously the names of

dignitaries would begin filling in. Finally, signaled with a head

nod from John, Ole’ Hargrove would announce, “Folks we’re

drawing spots, if you arent paying attention you need to get down

here and pull your tag.” Fortunately, Hank had a healthy respect

for putting Gill’s family where they wanted to go.

As it became time to hunt Gill III put Julep in the kennel and

switched from his khakis, loafers, and seersucker button down

into olive drab swim trunks and a fishing shirt of roughly the

same color and material. He was happy to get to hunt his year.

The year before he made the mistake of showing everyone how he

could fashion custom fitted earplugs with his dental molding

material and got stuck on the porch fabricating them through the

balance of afternoon.

“Gentlemen let’s do a gather round,” Ole Hargrove said from

atop the tailgate of a shiny new imported truck. It was twelve

thirty, most folks were convinced he made everyone wait an extra

thirty minutes just because he liked having control.

“Welcome back to Huston for another great day of dove

shooting. Hank’s fellows say the fields have been covering up

with birds in the later afternoon and the rain we got this summer

made a bumper crop of sunflowers and corn for the birds.”

-Everyone here should have their spots now and they all

should be good for fliers.

-Be sure that you are at least sixty yards apart.

-Do not shoot unless you see blue sky. There is no bird worth

shooting somebody over.

-If you are shooting a repeater, you need a three shell plug on

your guns.

-The limit is twelve birds.

-After you shoot your birds you can bring them up to Speck

here and he’ll be glad to clean them for you.

-Guys that are having a hard time getting a limit are welcome

to move into a better spot if the other guy leaves.

-Again guys, the limit is twelve, if you feel like you need to go

back out there, its your business, but dont put your birds on our

pile and I’d advise you to put them in your truck, ’cause its right

likely that the game warden might check you.

-After you’re finished hunting we’ve got a pig cooking, some

peanuts a-boiling, a pot of gumbo, and of course some dove

breasts that have been waiting since last year to be eaten.

“You know Lady Sally and B-Bob are going to do it up right!”

-There’s beer up there and we ask you to refrain from drinking

any before you’re done shooting.

“Before we bless the hunt, I wanted to give a big thanks to

John Morrison for making this possible today. I encourage you

guys to pat him on the back. You know Hank is a little under and

could not be with us again this year. John really is great to keep

this tradition alive. Okay, because we are all coming off the field at

different times, we’re going to pray together now before we hunt.

Pastor Stuart, could you please come up here and return thanks?”

Heavenly Father we are gracious to gather here today on the

beautiful land to share in fellowship, pass the ways of sportsmanship to

our sons, and enjoy what you have made for us. We are thankful to live

another day. Father we ask that you provide a safe hunt for us today and

bless the food that we will receive when we are finished. All this we ask in

Your Son, Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.

Both Gills climbed onto the backward facing seat of Paul

Bartholomew’s club cart for a ride out to the field. It was a luxury

for the son, sore from twisting his body over clients the week

before. For two hours they had looked upon the fields as people

bragged about how great the shoot was going to be while the sky

was empty. Riding along the gravel road along edge of a deep

elliptical field of millet, the sky began to fill with birds and shots

began to fire and lead volleyed. Tiny shot splashed into the tree

lines.

“Damn it Paul, hurry up,” commanded the father over the hum

of the carts small engine.

“Dont worry they’re not going to shot them all Dad.”

Gill Jr and Gill III where both jammed into the back of the

repurposed golf cart. Along with his favorite Ithaca 16 gauge

pump that his father gave him, Gill Jr had a full sized campaign

chair, a Little Playmate cooler full of diet drinks and a large bag

with shells, gun tools, and who knows what else. Gill III packed a

little lighter with just his gun, shells in his pocket, a wadded

plastic grocery bag, and a cooler to sit on. Their provisions

together made in tough to move. It was not much to look at, but

Gill III always took a once-orange Igloo water cooler with him, the

kind on the back of work trucks and in between tennis courts.

Though it easily came off, he had dressed it with brown spray

paint. With his brown layer over the olive drab paint of his

grandfather’s doing, it had worked itself into a respectable

camouflage pattern. The cooler had become a bit of a fixture at the

hunts and had a story. Old Gill Sr used to mix Orange Palmers

into the cooler, a concoction of sweet tea and orange juice. He

would top a couple gallons off with a bag of ice and take a stack of

coldcups to refresh his sun parched friends. As the hunts ended,

Red would field dress his birds and throw the breasts into the

remaining liquid as a convenience to free his hands and to keep

them from getting spoiled in the hot sun. It was serendipitous that

the beverage imparted a very pleasant flavor to the meat. Now the

traditional recipe for the dove breast served at the hunt included

freezing the cleaned meat in tea and orange juice, thawing them

out the day before they were cooked and adding some brining salt

to the marinade they wintered in. B-Bob loved old Mr Red and as

long as he was cooking he served the breasts that way. Most folks

probably never knew why, others had forgotten, but the recipe

had a warm sentiment for Gill and his Dad. They were glad B-Bob

felt the same.

Rising to the height that divided the three fields being hunted,

they approached a large yellow and white broad stripe colored

tent. In its center was a table adorned with linen and a crystal

bowl full of a lime green punch with a football sized piece of ice

suspended in it. Sunflowers adorned the table amongst a large

platter of delicate sandwiches. Along the shaded edge of the tent

where two long rows of chair donning white slip covers with

ABM monogrammed on the center of each.

“Damn-nation, if aint Georgio of Beverly Hills!”

“Looks like Adalene is going to have a wedding party up here

again.”

Adalene Morrison had invited the wives of John’s business

associates to her gallery to gaze over the hunt.

“This isnt exactly what I would think of as a spectator sport. I

wonder which team they are routing for?” Paul spoke with

reserved sarcasm.

“Kinda reminds you of something they would do back at an

old Edwardian pigeon shoot or something . . . maybe she’s got

some royalty coming,” mocked Gill III.

“Or what the ladies would do when they had a Civil War

battle on a farm near their town. I wonder if they are bringing fans

or someone to fan them.” Gill Jr snarked in a regal voice.

Paul brought the cart in close to the tree line, close enough that

momentarily the cart scraped against the honeysuckles blanketing

the pushed up piles of brush in the edge. He could smell that

nectar and imagine the bees swirling in them. When he was five

he played in those honeysuckles for hours, pinching sweet dew

out and dodging bees. Gill played in there in those thick BDUs

that his old Papa Red bought him, but he did not know why he

was not there. And his father had him there for the first time and

laughed and said, “I need you to come and do something special

with me son.” His father had told the papa, being funny, that he

could take the boy to the Army-Navy store downtown, but he

figured they didnt have surplus uniforms for the boy, unless they

started taking midgets into the service. But the papa was not there

and the boy playing in the honeysuckles was not ready so he

would wait until next year. Then the next year, Gill was eager to

go again and his father put a bolt action single shot .410 in his

hands and he waited and could not see the birds, but stayed out of

the honeysuckle he could smell behind him. His father put a Coke

can in the dirt in front of him and he shot it full of holes and then

blew the smoke off of the barrel and the father quickly took the

gun from his hands and scolded him.

The father and son nestled in. Before they could load their

guns, waves of cooing birds dipped overhead obliquely from the

dead trees behind. Gill III and his dad had a unspoken shooting

competition on the dove field. The father, despite not being an

avid hunter throughout his adult life like his own dad, was well

trained as a boy and a really good shot. He found rebirth and

secret pleasure in his new found hobby of shooting skeet. Any

discussion about guns led to bragging about his ability to “point

shoot” like they trained Marines for Vietnam and that he was able

to “hit aspirin with a BB gun and take out whole platoons of green

army men in the sand box at twenty feet without missing.”

Gill III had a English made 28 gauge over and under, it was a

fine gun with a Prince-of-Wales grip and a Schnabel style fore end

with a button latch. His dad poked fun at him, not because he

really had an opinion, but because men jeer when they go into a

competitive mode, “Son that’s a sissy lookin’ gun with that Kraut

grip.” What hid in Gill’s smile that followed was knowing that he

was left eye dominant and even his father did not not know it.

Since his was young, less he had closed his left eye and when he

got older smeared grease on the left lens of his shades, all he saw

was the left side of the gun from the trigger finger sticking

through to the muzzle. Growing up when nobody expected much

of his shot they figured he was just slow to get on his gun or slow

to commit when in reality the birds were coming into his view late

with his left eye closed. Shooting like that figured just fine for

scoping a rifle or taking long shots on high flyers, but in the quail

woods and the clays course he learned to take to shooting left

handed. He did it quietly in those times he was by himself and it

worked in success on account that he was ambidextrous anyhow.

Gill figured the only downfall was that his left hand was

controlled by the side of his brain that was less analytical and

shooting was not the place to be creative– but at least he could see

straight down the rib with some peripheral vision. He never

found himself bragging about the skill and spent equal time

sharking right handed and shooting in wagers with the left. The

weakness in shooting to the dexter was his proclivity to throw his

right hand out past the forestock of the gun so that is why he

always picked guns with a Schnabel. That prissy little beak always

gave him a firm, reliable purchase for his long arms. The gun, like

many he hoarded away, had a custom engraved receiver and he

kept his hand over the art to keep his dad from commenting. It

was one of many bespoke guns he had amassed in his collection.

He did not have much time to get out, so he spent his money on

things he could admire in his study. A little gaudy for a dove

shoot, perhaps well suited for a quail hunt, but that day perfect for

competing with Gill Jr.

“Ya see, all I’ve got’s a little 28 gauge, Dad. You’re almost

throwing twice the lead as me and I’m still smoking you,” he

prodded his father, bragging.

“Yep, nice gun sissy boy. How many boxes have you shot

though? I’m five for five. With no second shots, ” As the father

spoke he rose up and popped a fast low flier, one handed, coming

out of the trees, “Six for six!”

“Maybe we need to make a little wager,” temped Gill III.

“Son, this old rusty pump gun has knocked down more birds

than you’ll ever see in your lifetime.”

“Well I’ll tell you what, let’s each line up five shells. Then

when they’re gone we’ll line up birds. Five dollars to the man with

the most and if we get five for five, the first to finish.”

“Son, I think I’ve already beat you in that contest today,“ Gill

Jr pointed out.

“Alright then, let’s do it left handed.”

“Damn that’s a crazy dog, I’d rather have Little Julep’s crazy

ass out here than put up with that,” the son said, playing

distracted.

“Shoot ‘er.”

Down the line of trees they could see and hear other hunters

and across the field of sunflowers left fallow, there were others

scattered little black dots that occasionally moved when a bird

came at their face.

“Bird in the corner!” hollered the son.

“Blackdog, blackdog you got a bird. Bird!” hollered the father.

“Dammit. Guess these guys dont help each other out like we

always do.”

“And man, that dog out there is driving me crazy.”

The Gills were hunting amongst John’s people. Their

experience was that a good dove hunt was as much of a team

effort as it was a social event, not an individual sport. When

someone saw a bird they called it. “Bird!” When one came in the

field the purpose of being spread out was to keep them in the

perimeter of the hunters. After a good shot was made, you let

them know about it. When they missed, you vocally gave them a

little guff. After a few hours Gill Jr had hollered out enough that

others were catching on.

“Bird. Bird!”

“Corner! Treeline!”

“Shoot ‘er”

It became very apparent that one of the executives up the row

had a house dog out to hunt. The dog did not stay perched at his

owner’s position. He was chewing up other hunter’s birds,

without honoring them, before their dogs could get to them.

“You oughta shoot ‘er for me. She aint worth a damn!” shouted

the embarrassed owner.

“Come on down there, shoot ‘er for me. She aint comin’ back.”

BAM.

Either somebody got into the beer cooler early or did not have

the same manners as everyone else.

The poor fellow ran out from under the tree line.

“That’s my baby. I’m so sorry. Baby.” He looked down to the

dog and up through the length of men hunkered on the treeline.

“You bastards! My wife is going to kill me!”

He sobbed with his dog in his arms.

“That’s not the first time that has happened. Probably wont be

the last,” remarked Gill Jr with a solemn grin.

PROVIDENCE

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