A Tough Old Dove

Early on, my father taught me how to hunt and specifically, to shoot doves. The first gun I ever carried into a dove field was a .410 single shot shotgun. I thought I was really something that day. The first bird I ever bagged while it was flying was a Field Lark. Some call them a Meadow Lark. I was standing by a tall pine tree at the edge of the corn field and this Field Lark flew right over the top of that pine. I took good aim and when he emerged from behind the boughs of that tall Georgia pine, I let him have it! Down he came. I took him home and prepared him for supper. A Robin tastes like a Dove and you clean them the same way. The Field Lark has white meat and you must skin him like you do a Quail. The main difference is that they have a smaller breast than the Dove or the Quail. Well, anyway, we cooked him along with the doves of the day and he ate really good. Looked and tasked like a Quail.

I became very proficient at dove hunting, so much so that I regularly beat my dad in the field by taking home more doves than he did. He once told me, "when you can consistently out shoot me, I will quit." And, he did. But, in between my first hunting experience and his quitting, we had many wonderful times together shooting doves.

One day we were on a hunt in a field a few miles out of Tifton, GA, our home town. It was a large corn field with hogs in it and there was a section right near the middle of the field that was filled with wiregrass and smaller pines. The doves loved to used that spot in the field as sort of a "sighting" spot for entering the field. We had a great hunt that day with lots of doves coming to feed. Men were positioned all around edge of the field which was shaped like a handgun. The shoot heated up about 2:30 p.m. and the doves began to invade that field. It was a dove shooters dream hunt. All of a sudden I happened to look up and I saw a dove coming so directly toward me that, for a second, I didn't recognize what he was. But, I quickly saw that it was a dove coming to the small savannah filled with scattered pines. I quickly raised my gun, a 20 gauge Winchester, Model 12, sighted the gun directly at him, sent the load at 1100 feet per second and dropped him stone cold dead (or so I thought) at about twenty five yards. After all, how could a dove survive such a force striking him directly in the face. Right?

After retrieving the dove, I placed him in the game pouch on my hunting vest and went back to my stand in the wiregrass and pines. The birdshot had done a job on this dove. It looked like a skilled surgeon had separated his skull just above his eyes and laid it back on his neck, exposing his brain just sitting there in that neat little "bowl." I gently pushed the skull and feathers back in place as I put him in my bag and started shooting more doves. In about ten minutes, as I was squatting down about to shoot another dove, I heard this frantic flapping and felt something moving in my game pouch. Scared me about half to death! All of a sudden a dove, which I thought was dead, came flying out of the pouch and getting away. He didn't get far because I shot him again and downed him at about twenty five or thirty yards as he was speeding out across the wiregrass. When I picked the dove up, I was shocked to find out that it was the dove that had had his skull laid back on his neck exposing his brain. Somehow, he lived through that ordeal, recovered in a few minutes and then tried to make his get away. He was A Tough Old Dove but he didn't survive the second load of number 7 1/2 birdshot. Ate real good too!

I have told this story over the years and people always look at me with a raised eyebrow and a questioning look on their face. Sure, I ate the evidence, but the story is absolutely true even though I consumed the evidence long ago. I wish I had possessed an iPhone in those days. I would have taken a picture for proof. You'll just have to believe me. That was truly A Tough Old Dove.

William F. Harrell

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