Opening Day Blues

J. Guthrie

I could tell you where I was on the opening day of dove season, but seriously doubt you want to hear about a business meeting that didn’t go well or the project that had me behind. For those who don’t shoot doves, it’s hard to understand that opening day is like Christmas and your birthday at the same time. What did I miss?

You pull up to the field to see old friends hanging around, looking for doves. A few Labs and kids are running around, burning off nervous energy. A few doves slip into the field to feed on millet or sunflowers and quicken the heartbeat of observers. There are a lot of smiles, handshakes and laughter—it’s a family reunion without mother-in-laws.

An old friend, who has been cooking for the past decade, calls everyone to a barbeque lunch. He is tired after staying up all night, shoveling oak and hickory coals under a hog. But the food is worth it—you almost forget that you are there to shoot doves the food is so good. You wash down the last bit banana pudding with too-sweet sweet tea and reach down to let your belt out a notch. If it wasn’t the opening day of dove season, you would be looking for a shady spot for a nap.

A sun-dried, wrinkled matriarch in a faded camo shirt and red suspenders gives the safety talk about low birds and then assigns stands. You stand there hoping for The Gap or High Hill or South Corner. It is pretty easy to remember where the birds poured into the field last year or 10 years ago.  Everyone heads to the truck and gathers up shotguns, dove buckets, a half case of shells, water, crackers and maybe the odd decoy.

You plop down on your dove bucket, wipe the sweat off your forehead, break the action on your double and smile as the two red-hulled shells fall into place with a hollow thunk, thunk. Thirty sets of eyes, from kids to labs to me and you turn skyward.

Charlie, the lucky rascal who drew the magic corner, heralds the start of a new hunting season with a pop. You look back in time to see a bird tumbling down, the shotgun’s sound having taken a second or two to reach you.

Then, against a blue sky, you see that distant flicker and know it will soon be your turn as a pair of doves heads your way. Your grip tightens around the shotgun’s wrist and you rest your thumb on the safety. You mind races through leads and angles like a defense department computer calculating a missile intercept—close but not too close, about four feet out in front and remember to follow through. Snick goes the safety as the gun finds its home on your shoulder.

My so-called friends will tell you that I missed with both barrels. Since this is all a dream and my story, it was a clean double. Miss or hit, it was only a dream, because I wasn’t there. Next year, I will not miss it.


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