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