By Alex Glass
Every September during our college years, a few buddies and I made the yearly pilgrimage to my family’s ranch land in West Texas to dove hunt. This year however, we took a rookie. The first-timer was my dear friend Leo, a Houstonite who had very little experience in the field. We were skeptical at first, but he had the spirit and we had the open spot, so we took him.
Leo borrowed my childhood shotgun from the back of the old gun safe—a worn-in 20 gauge Mossberg 500, that may have cost $200 when she was first bought. The old gun had shot plenty of birds before and scared off even more, but she could certainly do the job. I handed the old pump action to him and he shouldered it, seemingly like a natural. After a brief species recognition class and an impromptu hunter safety course held around the beer cooler, we were off to knock down some birds.
“Shit, missed again!” Leo yelled as he cycled the first box of shells through the old Mossberg. Each of us had bagged 5 or so birds a piece, minus the newcomer. He’d been having a good time priming the air for the first hour or so, but it was evident that he was tired of being the bad shot of the group.
The rest of the group (3 rowdy good ol’ boys) started to key in on the poor new guy’s frustrations and let him have it after each miss. They began to chant “0-for!” after each consecutive missed shot, and eventually made it upwards of 0-for-twelve. The poor Houston kid had more beers drank than birds in the bag—which could’ve still been said if he only had one beer that night.
After the chants subsided and the birds slowed, we began to settle in and wait for the last few flights before sundown. Each member of the group had spread out and was roughly 50-60 yards away from each other, so it was up to each man to spot his own birds and determine whether they were shooters or not. I positioned Leo in a spot that was very limited in flight paths, just to make sure all the birds that flew through were picked to be shooters initially by more experienced eyes. As the evening proceeded, Leo gained his own recognition privileges and began to shoot at his own birds.
“Hey! I got one!” Leo yelled from across the field. After a look of disbelief between the other members of the hunting party, we approached the dead bird shortly after Leo picked it up. “Do doves have talons?” Leo asked as the party stopped dead in its tracks.
The dead adolescent hawk lay lifeless on the Texas sod, so Leo got a lesson in responsible hunting as well. After a call to the game warden and a stern written warning once he arrived, the grizzled warden interjected some well-timed humor: “Well son, there’s a bright side to all this.”
Leo looked puzzled in the somber moment and quizzically asked “What’s that sir?”
“At least you didn’t go 0-for on the night.”