You would think a family of five that owns five Remington 870 shotguns would eventually get a call to do a Remington commercial. But then, you would think a guy who has been shooting doves since he was in short britches would average better than five birds per box. Wrong on both counts.
Two of my sons, Paden and Leret, and I headed to Buda for the dove opener this year. My friend, TJ Greaney, invited us to a hunt to benefit Kids Outdoor Zone, a youth outdoor adventure ministry that helps underprivileged kids learn about God and the outdoors, in that order. TJ raised KOZ from a pup, and it’s been growing by leaps and, of course, bounds during the past year or so.
We met TJ and Don Discoe, one of the KOZ directors, at the KOZ bunkhouse, not far behind the Cabela’s store in Buda. The cabin/house and bunkhouse/garage sit on top of Carpenter Hill, the highest point in Hays County. The first thing that jumps out at you as you drive up the hill is a large cross, made from old telephone poles, standing beside the road.
TJ and Don told us they’d had a visit from the police that morning, because of all the shooting going on. They said the dove hunting had been ‘like Argentina.’ I’ve never hunted in Argentina, but I’ve heard of people down there melting their shotgun barrels. Carpenter Hill sits on a natural flyway. It’s not the place to hunt doves if you enjoy a Si Robertson-type nap in the shade.
There are evidently a lot of newcomers to the area, and the local police were having trouble answering their phones on opening morning. It seems most of the calls were from people who wanted to report a young war going on, with people shooting at each other all over the place. They had no idea dove season had opened up. Sad, isn’t it?
The birds took a while to get started that evening, but they flew pretty steady once they found out where they could travel with impunity. I try to lull them with a lot of early misses, and then when I get them coming in good I change tactics and start missing them even more often. It works pretty well. For the doves.
Paden ended up taking top honors with a dozen birds, and Leret and I shot, well, it’s none of your business how many we shot. We cleaned the doves and congregated in the bunkhouse for some crock pot chicken fajitas and a friendly exchange of excuses.
The inside of the KOZ bunkhouse is paneled with the edges of pine trees, the part thrown away by sawmills, because it’s covered with bark and too thin for lumber. The millers call them slabs, and they make great rustic wall covering. But there’s a story behind the slabs in the KOZ bunkhouse.
Frog and Possum are a couple of boys who have been in KOZ for a few years. Frog and Possum are, of course, not their real names. Their real names are Rabbit and Toad.
Frog and Possum never had much of a home life, especially after they lost their mother. Their dad had a rough time, and ended up getting into drugs, and eventually married a woman who was also a user, who had three kids of her own. Things got worse when their dad began selling drugs, got caught, and went to jail for several months.
When he finally got out, their dad came home to a far worse mess than he’d left. He realized it was his fault, and in his grief he couldn’t see a way to make things right, and committed suicide.
Frog and Possum were left with their stepmother and three stepsiblings in a drug-filled environment, but their involvement in KOZ was a bright spot. They had very little to depend on in their lives, and the time they spent at the KOZ bunkhouse and on hunting, fishing, and camping trips provided a respite. A home.
Not long after their dad killed himself their stepmother left between two days, as Elmer Kelton would say, and abandoned all five kids. Frog and Possum went to live with their grandfather, a 70-year-old retired highway patrolman in Bastrop. They at least had a home without drugs. Until the Bastrop fires came along and burned down their grandfather’s house.
After the fires were out TJ drove to Bastrop and found the boys. Their only concern was that their camping equipment had all burned up in the fire, and they wouldn’t be able to attend the annual KOZ Roundup, the camping highlight of the year for them.
TJ, Don, and the KOZ group got together and bought the boys new sleeping bags and other camping gear, and they made Roundup anyway. And when a miller offered the slabs from a lot of Bastrop pine trees he was milling near where Frog & Possum’s grandfather had lived, the KOZ folks hauled them home and used them in the bunkhouse. Some of them are still black from the fires.
Most of us, I think, have become desensitized to the cruelty the world can inflict, especially on kids. We shake our heads, offer condolences, and go on about our lives. TJ can’t do that. He’s driven to help these children, the ones who need help the most, to learn about God and the great outdoors He gave us to use. I think TJ sees himself in some of these kids, because he had a pretty rough time when he was a boy, himself.
KOZ is a fantastic program that is taking root through local involvement all over the U.S., but there’s never enough money to help all the kids who don’t have a father in their lives. KOZ volunteers are giving their time, their money, and their hearts to the program, but they need help.
I know many of you were thinking about sending me some shotgun shells, and goodness knows I could use the practice, but I’d rather you sent a little something to help the boys and girls in KOZ. I can stand to keep missing doves . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who aims using the force. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Send contributions to Kids Outdoor Zone, 9508 Chisholm Trail, Austin, Tx 78748, and visit kidsoutdoorzone.com