They’re not like quail, which suddenly explode from the weeds underneath your feet, scaring the daylights out of you and causing you to throw up your scattergun and wildly blast away at the whirring little buzz-bombs.
You can spot doves ‘way off on the distant horizon, faint specks against a blue sky, slowly growing bigger and bigger as they wing your way.
You have plenty of time to get ready.
You can take a sip of water, wipe the sweat off your palms, scratch a chigger bite, text your buddy over the next field.
Finally they get within range, flying right overhead, close enough to see their beady little eyes. You click off the safety, spring to your feet and starting blasting.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a dove comes tumbling down in a puff of gray feathers. More often, however, it just shifts into over-drive, darts left, dips right, and sails away to torment another hunter on down the line.
A firearms company once conducted a survey that found the average hunter burns at least one box of shells (25) to collect a 15-bird limit of doves. In my experience it’s more like two boxes.
I think part of the problem is that when we have too much time to think, we over-think and make a mistake. That’s why opposing football coaches often call a time-out to “freeze” a field-goal kicker – give him a couple of minutes to think about it and watch the uprights shrink.
Maybe it’s the same with doves. We have too much time to think about taking the shot, and it goes wide-right.
Also, doves make that unnerving whirring sound with their wings just as they dart over. It’s very distracting, like your opponent suddenly sneezing on your backswing.
And in our defense, doves don’t present much of a target. They are golf-ball-sized bird-breasts with marble-sized heads. Those long, fanned-out tail feathers and wings don’t count. No. 8 shot goes harmlessly through them.
As if all that’s not enough, we’re nervous about the possibility that we’re inadvertently hunting over a baited field. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re looking over your shoulder for the game warden.
Most of us wouldn’t know a baited field if we saw one, which is the problem. We have to take someone else’s word for it. But ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the warden; a prominent state wildlife commissioner once was cited for hunting over a field he didn’t know had been baited.
That makes us jittery. We notice a lot of grain scattered on the ground. It is there legally or illegally? You need at least two certified wheat farmers to determine if it got there through “normal agricultural practices,” and a defense attorney waiting back at the truck in case they’re wrong.
If you’re lucky enough to knock down a few doves, you have to worry about chipping a tooth on a lead pellet when you eat them. The dove is annually honored as the Bird of the Year by the American Dental Association.
So why, considering all the frustration, consternation and aggravation, will hundreds of thousands of dove hunters be hunkered down in fields on Sept. 1st’s opening day, scanning the sky for those far-away specks?
Because we’ve got a score to settle, that’s why.