Doves in Simpler Times

By Joshua R. Quong

Years ago, a schoolmate invited me over for the weekend to shoot doves with his family.

That Friday morning as I got on the school bus, my father handed the shotgun to the driver along with four boxes of shells housed in a plastic tackle box. The bus driver put the box in the empty bus seat directly behind her and propped the shotgun up securely on the floor and against the seat’s cushion.

When we arrived at school, my bus driver and I took the gun and shells to the principal’s office where they were to stay until the end of the day. School went by like any other Friday: lessons, recess, more lessons, then lunch, and then a pep rally for the football team.

My friend didn’t ride the bus. He was a car rider, but instead of waiting outside with all the other car riders, he and I waited in the principal’s office for his mother to come in and get us along with my shotgun and shells.

When we got to my friend’s house, he pointed through the picture window in his kitchen to the small sunflower field beyond the backyard where the two of us would shoot birds in the morning. That night we ate macaroni and cheese, played Street Fighter II, and hardly slept.

The next morning, my friend’s mother put together sausage and biscuits and packed them in brown bags with cartons of Jungle Juice fruit punch. Then we walked across the backyard to the sunflower field.

The birds were sporadic, and we killed few and missed many. When the sun hit mid-morning, we gathered our birds and dressed them behind the house.

After a quick snack, my friend’s father took us a few miles away to a part of their family farm where pick-ups were parked in front of a large tractor shop. A grill fabricated from an old propane tank sat on a set of trailer axles and a steady plume of blueish smoke billowed from its stack. In it, racks of ribs and rows of chicken quarters cooked. There were many men there with their sons. A few of the older boys I recognized from school. 

When it was time for the afternoon shoot, we all loaded into pick-ups and struck out down the turnrows in a caravan dropping off hunters every so often at different sections until all the trucks were empty and the dove field amply covered.

Doves leisurely flit in and out of the sunflower stalks until the barrage of shotgun blasts accelerated their patterns into darting arcs. For hours, we volleyed shots at the frenzied flights. When the young war was over, we boasted about tremendous hits at far flying birds and teased one another at easy shots we missed.

That evening the hunting party gathered back at the shop that glowed in the dusk like a medieval mead hall. We devoured the ribs, chicken, and bacon-wrapped dove breasts hot off the fire. Feathers that had floated from the tailgates where we had dressed birds were now stuck in small pools of oil and hydraulic fluid under the big red Internationals, the front wheels and hoods of which were being used as table tops for beer cans and Solo cups. The younger men pitched washers while the older men pitched fits at the football game broadcast through static ribbons on the television that sat atop a work bench next to a Lincoln welder.

It was the end to the first hunt of the season and the beginning of a lifetime of hunting for a couple of school boys sitting on milk crates among the happiness of grown men cutting up and laughing like little boys.

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