Wingshooting's Biggest Little Game
If the truth were known, I honestly can't remember the first time I went dove hunting.
It was sometime in the 1980s after I had been introduced to the wonders of waterfowling, an affliction that I still suffer from to this day.
If memory serves correct, it might have been my old duck hunting mentor, the late Mike Horn, who first invited me to go dove hunting near my North Texas home.
Or maybe it was my high school pals Mike Bardwell and Jeff Camp that invited me along on a shoot near the Red River, most likely to have someone else's poor shooting to chuckle at.
But whenever that first dose of September wingshooting actually occurred, the lure of wiping sweat from my brow as I stuff my shotgun with heavy dove loads has grown stronger and stronger with each passing year.
So much so that only three times in the last quarter century – once thanks to a health hiccup, another due to an elk bowhunt and the final one due to work – have I failed to be afield on the first day of September, the traditional dove season opener in much of Texas.
Lord willing, I'll be out there again this season with hundreds of thousands of my Lone Star State kinsmen celebrating the law coming off yet another year of hunting action in my home state of Texas.
That I will be out there somewhere in a dove field is a given, although I'll readily admit that I have trouble describing why this diminutive game bird pulls me afield with such a strong lure every fall.
Maybe it is the thrill of uncasing a shotgun after months of hunting inactivity. While I love to bowhunt whitetails and other big game critters, my first true love in the hunting world is the scattergun and the winged game I am able to pursue with it.
Why? Because few things compare – in my mind at least – to the quick mounting of a shotgun, the fluid swing against a moving target, the thump of a shotshell sending its pellets downrange, and the spectacular intersection of hunter, shot, and game in the air.
Make that connection happen often enough and you'll feel a warm, satisfying heft growing in the back of your game vest. It’s a satisfying heft that leads to some superb table fare, by the way.
Especially when the meal at hand is a collection of dove breasts wrapped in bacon, skewered with a toothpick and a jalapeno, slathered with a bit of barbecue sauce, and grilled quickly over the coals of a hot mesquite wood fire.
Such a meal is fit for a king and best enjoyed in the company of others, a fact that just might explain why Davy Crockett really came to Texas.
The potential of good grub aside, the fact that dove hunting is such a happy social affair is another reason that I love it so.
In my mind, few things compare with the camaraderie of a dove hunting field, from the laughter at clean misses on incoming cream-puffs to the hearty back-slaps after a clean double in front of credible witnesses to the firm handshake after all is said and done at the end of the day.
Where I hail from, at the end of that day, you had better have a good sense of humor around the back of pick-up trucks. Not to mention a strong appetite too.
In fact, the social nature of dove hunting revolves around food in many spots, be it the opening morning pre-dawn coffee and donuts, the mid-day barbecue lunch and iced tea, or the late evening tailgate dinner of your favorite beverage and jalapeno summer sausage produced from last fall's deer.
With every bite and every chug-a-lug, tales of past hunts are told that get better with age, embarrassing tales that continue to grow in their hilarious infamy, and side-splitting jokes that are told to the guffaws of everyone around.
Keep the latter clean, however, since there are probably some young ears around. And when it comes to dove hunting, there should be some young ears around since the sport serves as the perfect introduction for youngsters to the fun of wingshooting.
While the shooting can be humbling at times – including grown adults with many seasons under the belt – even rank amateurs will eventually experience that magical moment when the cerebral cortex makes the proper calculations and the shot string intersects with a dove riding a sultry September breeze.
When that first dove falls, the small puff of gray and pink-tinged feathers seems to be almost larger than life, a surprisingly significant accomplishment even though the quarry weighs mere ounces.
That's why I call the mourning dove wingshooting's biggest little game.
It’s all because that first dove, whenever and wherever it occurs, will prove to be the genesis of another wingshooting career deep in the heart of Texas or in some other southern or Midwestern state.
Dove season has opened, why not join me and countless other scattergunners across the country as we smile big smiles and turn the calendar page from August to September?