Shooting Doves

Dove season opens at noon today. That brings back many great memories of my youth, and a very bad one after I moved to Griffin.

Daddy was the shop and agriculture teacher at Dearing High School in the early 1950s and his degree in agriculture meant he had a lot of skills useful to local farmers. We often spent Saturdays “cutting” boar shoats for them, as well as other jobs. For these services he was invited to many dove shoots.

I started going to dove shoots with him when I was about five, acting as his retriever. We seldom missed a Saturday during season. I prided myself on finding even the most difficult doves, no matter how thick the briars and brush. And I loved the camaraderie of the men at the shoot. But I longed for the day I could actually shoot at doves.

I got a single shot .410 when I was ten, but daddy made me hunt for squirrels with it, learning safety skills, for a couple of years before I could join the men on a dove field. And even then, I went only to family shoots with just a few folks on the field for a couple of years.

I was not a good shot. Darting, diving doves are much harder to hit than a squirrel on a limb. In my first shoot I was sure I had hit one, but Uncle Adron had also shot at it. He was deadly with his “Sweet 16” but he graciously let me claim it.

My best day with that .410 was on a big field with many shooters that kept the birds flying. I killed five that day and shot only a box of shells doing it. But what stands out in my mind even more from that day was trying to cross a fence to get a bird. I did not notice the top strand of barbed wire was electric. But that is another story.

Daddy had two shotguns, both 12-gauge semiautomatics. The short barreled one was for quail and the long barreled one was for doves. And we shot quail with #9 shot and doves with #8 shot. I learned to shoot both by using them for squirrels, just like the .410, but they were overkill for tree rats.

I had real good luck using it, killing my limit most shoots when I could use the long barreled 12 gauge. It throws out a lot more shot than the .410 and has more powder for a better pattern. I went to many shoots with my uncles and used it when daddy could not go.

I still have both those shotguns, I just wish I could use them more!

My bad experience was in 1972, my first fall in Griffin. I wanted to shoot doves and found a pay shoot out near Senoia. A week before the shoot I went out to pay my fee and look at the field. I should have been suspicious since it looked like a hay field, but birds were on it.

That Saturday I got in a blind on a fence row. There were not many birds, but I killed two the first hour or so. Then two men in green uniforms drove up, got out and started going to shooters on the opposite side of the field. I thought about easing into the nearby woods but was sure I was doing nothing wrong, I had my license and my gun was plugged.

As they walked up to me I saw they were federal game wardens. When asked, I gave them my license and they put it in a stack of others one of them was carrying. They then told me to come to the farmer’s house.

There they told us the field was baited and showed us photos taken from an airplane, plainly showing strips of wheat put out on the field. They informed us we would all have to go to court. After they left with our licenses the farmer assured us there was no problem, he knew the judge, and we would not be fined. He also provided cases of beer to ease our minds and calms us down.

A few weeks later I got a federal court summons and my license. It said come to court in Atlanta or pay a $75 fine. I paid it rather than go to court since I knew I was guilty. That was a lot of money back then, three times what I had paid for a day of shooting. I also heard the farmer was fined $1000!

That is the only time in my life I have ever gotten a fine for breaking game and fish laws. I am always careful to follow the law but that was a costly mistake. And I never went to another pay shoot.