Saturday was the opening day of dove season in Florida.
I love dove hunting. Ever since I was a kid, most years, first weekend in October, you’ll find me and my dad in some field somewhere around Polk County. There have been times we’ve had to drive for hours. There have been days in the rain. Some are milder, although it’s usually close to 90 on opening day.
I’ve sat in blackberry patches and palmetto patches and cow pens. Pastures and orange groves and millet fields.
Saturday, we were able to finagle an invite to a private shoot, on a high dollar field. Tickets to shoot this field typically go for $75/person; we were able to go for free, due to a miscommunication on the outfitter’s side (read: he told us we were booked, but he didn’t bother to book it) . . .
So we meet up with our contact, and sit through the safety briefing . . . after clarifying the rules, our outfitter took us to the hayfield.
Y’all, this hayfield was a beautiful hayfield Giant rolls of hay dotting it in a random pattern, edged by palmettos and pine trees. A great place.
The outfitter gets out of his truck and walks back and says . . . “Well, what do y’all think?”
To which I replied “You tell me . . . I’ve never been here in my life.”
Him: “Well, I don’t really know anything about dove hunting. But I’m pretty sure there are birds everywhere. Ya’ll give this a few hours, and we’ll check on you to see how it’s going.”
To which I thought a couple of things:
- I am a fishing guide. I make most of my money doing IT work, but I also guide, mostly in salt water. I take people to catch snook, and tarpon, and trout and redfish. And so I’m looking at this the same way I’d look at a fishing charter, only I’m the customer. You guys, I cannot imagine a scenario under which I’d take my clients out to a beach or dock or island, and drop them off, and say, “Well, I’ve never fished here, ’cause I don’t fish for the fish you want to catch, but you give it a little while and let me know if you don’t catch anything.” Yeah right.
- Um – staying in that same vein – how about I pick up my charter at the dock and say, “well, what do y’all think of this spot? Think it’ll work?” I could probably write off repeat business . . .
- How, oh how, do I not know someone with an extra 20 acres of land? Because if these knuckleheads can take you on a dove hunt without knowing anything about dove hunting, imagine someone, who, you know, had actually done it a couple dozen times in his life could do!!!
Anyway. Pops (my dad, who Will has named Pops) drops Liv and I off and we tote our chairs out to a hay bale. He and Will then drive a quarter of a mile back around the field and park under some trees.
At this point, in most dove hunts, I’d tell you all about how birds began trickling in, one here, one there, blahblahblah.
Only. There was one problem with this dove field. It had no doves.
We saw bald eagles, and purple martins, meadowlarks and kestrels and buzzards and a mockingbird or two. We saw a spider balancing on a piece of hay that was balanced on top of a blade of grass. We saw a banana spider that was as big as my hand.
But no doves.
We drank Mountain Dews and ate candy bars and a good luck bag of M&M’s and a good luck bag of Twizzlers. We had guacamole chips and cheese puffs.
Nary a dove.
The hay bale had bird feathers on it. I’m not an expert on bird feathers, but these were small and gray, and, well, dove like. If this had been an episode of Blue’s Clues, I’m telling you, everything was pointing “Dove” . . .
Have you ever driven around town and noticed doves? There were seven in my front yard yesterday. I don’t have anything special for doves out there . . . grass? Ant beds? Hydrangeas? But seven doves, right there, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
And yet, in this beautiful hay field, where you can pay $75 to shoot doves, with a wonderful breeze and good luck candy and a father/daughter duet of “America the Beautiful” as two eagles flapped overhead – no doves.
So we sat, and we talked, and we joked and laughed and teased. Sometimes we’d just sit in silence, until one of us asked the other “have you killed anything?” Will walked the quarter of a mile to us; twice. Once he was barefoot. He wanted to know if we’d seen any doves. He and Pops hadn’t. Will had successfully shot a palmetto bush 20 times in a row. It was the size of a small farmhouse. But he never missed it.
He had finished all of their Twizzlers, and worked on ours, which was fine, because Liv doesn’t really like Twizzlers; she’d merely choked down a bite of one as a good luck gesture. It didn’t work. Oh well – better to teach the kids that superstitions are silly, right?
Around 5, the outfitter calls to check in with us. How are we doing? Um, bro, did ya’ll line this property with dove repellant? ‘Cause the law of large numbers says it’d be hard to find a piece of property in Central Florida anywhere where you could sit for 5 hours and not see a dove . . .
Still, there’s something special about the opening day of dove season. How often, as a parent, do you get to sit with your kid, uninterrupted, for 5 hours? No cell phone, no iPad, no TV. We talked about school and church and crickets and spiders and buzzards and teachers and boyfriends and fishing and hay bales and palmettos and Duck Dynasty and shotgun shells and Twizzlers and brothers and birthday parties and Europe and passports and . . . and . . . and . . . no doves.
Before we leave, we crack open a 4-pack of YooHoos, and toast to an afternoon spent in the hayfield . . .
No doves? Still a pretty successful day . . .