We had a cabin in the mountains for deer-hunting purposes while I was in high school, and we spent most of our fall Saturdays up there, building stands, hunting squirrels and trying to figure out where the deer were - there weren't nearly as many 35 years ago as there are now.
When I moved to Georgia to attend college, however, things started looking up, dove-wise. It was a 2-hour drive to my grandparents' farm, and dove hunts were regular events. Whether you were in the middle of the big field in front of the house or under the powerline that ran to Mr. Floyd's, the action was usually fast and furious.
I think on my first big dove hunt, my dad killed the first and only double in the field. I might have killed a half-dozen birds with two boxes of shells. My shooting eye pretty much sucked back then. But it was unforgettable.
Over the next couple of years, I broke hundreds of clay pigeons, and killing a limit every time out was no longer a chore. The challenge was getting those 12 birds in two boxes of shells. I remember an Opening Day hunt just after daybreak - it was legal that year - when the big feast was breakfast - sausage and ham biscuits and grits before the sun rose. I finished out my limit with the game warden standing next to me, checking my license and counting the 11 doves already in my bucket.
When my dad retired and moved south, he bought a small farm. It wasn't a working farm, other than his garden; it was a place for us to hunt. We killed plenty of deer before he sold it 10 years ago, and for a handful of years, he planted a 4- or 5-acre dove field - sunflowers and sorghum - and we had some killer hunts. I remember one September afternoon when I killed a relatively easy limit, and after the hunt when we'd finished cleaning the doves and eating all the fried chicken, I climbed up in a tree stand overlooking a half-acre clover field that backed up to the dove field and killed my first deer with a bow.
The one thing I love about dove-hunting is that you can be a zero one minute and a hero the next. I once spent a couple of Labor Day afternoons on big hunts set up by a pro bass fisherman I knew. Once, while he was visiting my part of the field with a cooler full of cold beverages on the back of his 4-wheeler, I killed two incoming doves with one shot. A moment or two later, before he moved on, I killed a triple.
Four shells, five doves.
John Elway, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Drew Brees - none of them have ever had a 2-minute drill as good as the one I had in that dove field. When the third bird of the triple hit the ground, the bass pro turned to his black Lab and said, "Nixon, you have just seen a miracle. Five doves have just died without any of them being hit by a single pellet."
I'll be thinking about those kinds of hunts when Labor Day weekend approaches. Give me a dove stool under a dead chinaberry tree at one corner of a field or a spot in a row of uncut sunflowers in the middle of the field. Will I ever kill five birds with four shells again? Probably not, but lightning might just strike twice in the same place. If it happens, I'll let you know. But you'll have to take my word for it.