Growing up hunting in the sisterhood

WICHITA, Kan. (MCT) - The Davis sisters alternated between giggling and bickering as they shared doughnuts and driving duties late Saturday morning.

Three hours earlier, Hailey, 14, and Holly, 12, shared a scene that's very common for them.

As the sun rose on Saturday's opening of late zone duck season, the girls were cradling shotguns, one on each side of their father, Jeff.

They've already sampled a wide range of hunts.

"I really like pheasant hunting the best," Hailey said as she waited for ducks. "I like moving from field to field and the walking... and when everybody yells when they see a bird."

Though she's a big fan of spring turkey hunting, Holly said deer hunting's her favorite.

"I like just sitting there," she said, "watching all of the other stuff, like turkeys, while you're hunting."

Until the past few years the girls were mostly tag-along partners with their dad on hunts ranging from local doves to Rocky Mountain elk.

"For years they walked on pheasant hunts and in (2006) I let them carry empty shotguns," Jeff Davis said. "Last year they got to put one shell in their gun. They both got their first pheasants."

The sisters shoot twin 20 gauge semi-autos their dad purchased when they were about 4 years old. The guns were recently custom-fitted for the girls.

"We'd been just getting by with short-stocked guns," Jeff Davis said. "I figured they were big enough to get going right."

Saturday's trip to a private wetland gave the guns plenty of use.

A half hour before legal shooting hours, the girls split the chores of helping their dad spread decoys and keeping a hand on Sage, their year-old black lab.

Wound tight on her first duck hunt, Sage never saw a tossed decoy she didn't want to chase.

With the legal shooting time came the first flights of the day. Several early flights of blue- and green-winged teal were in and out of range before the girls could get a close shot.

A flight of ringbills gave a low pass and dad dropped a bird. Sage handled her first waterfowl fetch with more enthusiasm than the girls on Christmas morning.

A few minutes later a mallard drake decoyed beautifully. Holly hit the bird with two quick shots. Sage was on it no more than two seconds after it hit the water.

The personalities of both girls were evident as they waited between flights. Hailey talked nearly nonstop with her dad, tried his duck calls and eventually laid her head on his shoulder to relax.

Holly sat a few yards away, patiently scanning the skies, often announcing incoming flocks.

Between calm skies and sitting on a wide-open, sun-bathed bank, Jeff Davis struggled to get more mallards or pintails within range. Assorted divers and teal were more cooperative.

Time after time the girls emptied their guns as their dad encouraged them to keep trying and Sage ran the shallows looking for ducks that weren't there.

Yellow 20 gauge hulls littered the bank like dandelions after a spring rain. One greenwing was dropped from a passing flock of at least 50.

Jeff Davis was soon figuring a way to better hide his daughters to get them easier shots on their next hunt.

"A blind would sure get the birds closer and let the girls shoot while standing," he said. "Tomorrow afternoon's project will be to build a blind out here."

The sisters will probably be there to help. Pre- and post-hunt preparation have always been expected chores.

At a nearby cabin the girls stored decoys and put up equipment before grabbing the chocolate doughnuts and taking the utility vehicle for a spin after the hunt.

Jeff Davis shot frequent looks outdoors as he cooked skillets of bacon, eggs and panc akes.

"I think a lot of it for them is just getting outdoors together," he said as he watched the utility vehicle streak past and listened to the laughter. "This time in our lives doesn't last very long. I try to get them out a lot."

© 2008, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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