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Dove hunting as a kid — it was ‘seventh’ heaven
September 04,2004
Otis Gardner
Special to The Free Press

Dove season is upon us. Since I no longer shoot things, its arrival doesn't signal anything for me but old and warm memories.

When I was a kid, this kind of hunting was my favorite sport. In my world, doves had everything going for them.

Not the least of their appeal was the fact they were first on the calendar. The season opened a full six weeks prior to squirrel and deer, 11 before rabbit. I counted down days to Labor Day with sweet anticipation.

Making it all the more pleasurable was the prohibition against taking the field before noon. That meant no crack-of-dawn, sleepy-eyed routine. No rushes, no hassles … noon to sunset. In the inspiring words of Emeril, "It was a beautiful thing."

My family revered hunting as a noble activity for a boy, so the first day of the season meant no school. My parents didn't lie or beat around the bush about those days off.

No nonsense was written about being sick. My notes simply read, "Please excuse Otis from school. He went hunting."

Above all else, the best part of that sport was the action. Most other types of hunting involve a lot of standing still or walking with relatively little shooting.

Dove hunting burns more ammo than all others. Many shots go up, but very few birds fall down.

The skill required to consistently knock doves out of the sky is enormous. These birds regularly humble the best of shots.

I don't know what average ratios are but I know about what mine were. It generally took a box of shells for me to bag six or seven birds. At 25 shells to a box, that's a 25 percent success rate. Or put another way, 75 percent failure. And I was a pretty fair country shot.

Many years ago, I had a near-mystic experience on a dove hunt. It was a brief moment that I'm told golfers dream about when everything comes wonderfully together.

On that trip I carried my brand new Remington Wingmaster 20-gauge pump shotgun. This was our first hunt together. It was the only small-gauge I ever bought. It was a perfect weapon for dove and quail.

It felt good in my hands, light and agile. I didn't suspect what miracle the next hour was to bring. The first seven shots I fired with that new gun brought down seven doves!

It was awesome. My gun was magic. George Lucas' mind hadn't yet created "Star Wars," but I understand how a Jedi must've felt wielding his lightsaber.

My gun and I were wedded into a single, all-powerful hunting machine. We were "one" with our prey. I expected the next dove flying into range might simply land at my feet with wings raised in surrender.

It's nice I remember the sweetness and power of my "seven-shot, seven-bird" run through all these years because it ended then and there. I shot the next 18 shells without bagging another bird. My Jedi gun and I got a divorce. I was again mortal.

My hunting days are over. I stopped turning live things into dead things. Today, I watch doves forage around my back yard and can't imagine killing them.

I view my attitude as a natural progression of age and comfort. I'm a predator as we all are, but no longer have any interest in prey - at least not up close and personal.

I'm a true hypocrite. I love a pink slab of prime rib but wouldn't swing the hammer. I love hunting and the memories it gave me but won't shoot anything.

The fact that I no longer take part doesn't diminish the sport. The very best memories I have of hunting don't involve what was killed. They're a collage of tiny moments dangling from synapses in whatever neighborhood of my brain pleasure lives.

I remember the aroma of coffee, mixed with cigarettes and gun smoke. I can almost hear muffled, predawn conversations between Kelton and I, waiting for enough light to enter the woods. He died more than 10 years ago.

Starting next week, shooting from cornfields will rekindle thoughts of those wonderful days. I'll drive and grin … and go home and feed "my" birds.

Otis Gardner_s column appears each Saturday. Contact him at

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