As I understand it, pigeon shooting started in England. The Gentry used to go out to pigeon shooting ranges, where they had to stand in designated spots, and then live pigeons were released from cages, one at a time. The bird had to be shot so it fell within a certain area, or else there was no score, in which case the shooter’s teammates frowned seriously at him. This was a lot of fun, except, of course, for the pigeons.
We don’t shoot pigeons much in America, because civilization has declined. You can look it up. Honestly, I think my county judge, Jerry Bearden, would cheerfully shoot every pigeon he could find if we hadn’t become so uncivilized. The Mason courthouse is besieged by pigeons, and they make a terrible mess all over it. Pigeons have no redeeming qualities whatever.
Which is why we shoot doves, I guess. Maybe it makes sense. Doves are just as hard to hit, and we can eat them, and we still get to frown seriously at our friends when they miss.
The normal procedure is to go out to a field somewhere in the country and spread out around it, leaving about 50 yards between hunters. You wear camouflage clothes, sit on a camouflaged bucket under a tree or big bush, and try to be as invisible as possible. And when doves fly over, you shoot into the air to scare them away. It works pretty well.
The main problem is finding a field that belongs to someone who will let you hunt for free, hopefully one that has doves flying over it. That gets harder and harder to do, especially early in the season when there often aren’t many birds migrating. Doves seem to procrastinate the way people do, and wait until it starts to get pretty cool before they head south. It would make things easier if migratory birds would go by the bank every year, like everybody else, and pick up a calendar.
Except white wing doves don’t migrate anymore. Over the past ten years or so, for some reason, white wing doves have become what the Texas Parks & Wildlife people call ‘urban dwellers.’ They’ve quit migrating, and have started living permanently in towns. They move less often than some people I know. No one has been able to figure out why. It’s not like they have jobs, or anything.
Anyway, changing weather doesn’t affect the white wings, and since they stay in one area it would seem easier to find a field to hunt them. It’s not. The white wings leave town every morning and come back every evening, but they don’t go very far. So you need to find a place very close to town to hunt them. Which is where my friend, Chris Dyer, comes in.
Chris lives just barely outside the city limits of Mason, so this year the boys and I decided to try our luck in his backyard. Chris’s son, Nicholas, wanted to try dove hunting, too. So, starting on opening day we loaded up and went to the Dyer’s dove lease. Since it’s only a few blocks from my office, we decided not to camp overnight.
The Dyer backyard faces away from town, but there are houses all around, which limit our shooting direction to 180 degrees. The big trees in the yard further restrict things, and Chris has a zip line from one tree to another, which gets in the way sometimes. Behind the yard is pastureland choked with thick brush and mesquite trees. It’s hard to find a bird in there, so our goal is to try to shoot the birds so they’ll fall in the yard. Sort of like the old English pigeon shooters.
Being in a yard by a house almost in town, we pretty much ditched the camo. There just didn’t seem to be any point. We wear whatever we happen to have on, and sit in brightly colored lawn chairs, set up in the shade next to the air conditioner. None of that seems to have made any difference. We’ve scared off just as many doves from the Dyer’s backyard as we do from anywhere else. Plus, the refrigerator isn’t far away.
Although he doesn’t hunt, Chris sits out there with us, spotting birds and offering encouragement. “Don’t shoot the zip line in two,” he’ll say, or “I ran over five shotgun shell hulls with my lawn mower today. Yall be sure and pick those up.” Chris is a lot of help.
The neighbors haven’t complained. But then, neither would I. Nobody wants to gripe at a bunch of guys sitting in a backyard with shotguns. It’s like Redneck Central. It does get a little warm sometimes, even in the shade, but I’ve been thinking about that. Chris has some big windows facing that backyard, and a nice couch inside . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who has shot deer, coons, and armadillos from inside a house, but never doves. Yet. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org