By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
The cold November sunrise set a world of fog aglow. The temperature was crisp but the air was still. The three of us sat on buckets and stools a hundred yards apart on one end of a small field, and the low cloud that obscured us from sight created an odd acoustic effect. We couldn’t see at all but we conversed in a normal voice as though mere feet apart, white water transmitting sound better than air.
We’d returned to the dove field that had seen us last in September. It had long since sprouted a patchy crop of winter wheat and the soil between stalks stood crusted and cold, but the area’s roost trees and water still made it a tempting southbound stop for migrating birds. We’d seen them here in droves during the week before and, after consulting the hunters’ almanac to make sure it was legal, organized an impromptu shoot.
Rounding up dove loads and shaking out green camo seemed a strange task in cold weather, a process somehow out of sync. Like the atmosphere around a spring football game, the setting and purpose was familiar but the enthusiasm oddly misplaced, the whole event slipped in time. Likewise the proposed change to tighter chokes, heavier loads and larger shot seemed odd, so odd that, in the end, we decided against it. We’re only willing to separate ourselves from tradition so far, after all. We all have our limits.
Presently, as the sun climbed higher in the sky, visibility improved from feet to yards and the doves began to fly. By the time I could see 40 yards we had birds in the bag and, as the air finally cleared to reveal the perimeter of the field’s hot corner, we stepped from the remaining fog with limits in hand. At least, that’s how I recall it in my mind’s eye. I’m sure I’ve forgotten the small hardships and discomforts along the way, erased easy shots missed from the record, but there’s no doubt it was a special morning. It’s part of how I remember the people who were there. It’s a mental strongpoint, at times, an anchor whose chain can draw me back to the person I was when I feel lost.
After my first experience with a dove shoot held later than college football’s first weekend I was forever hooked on the idea. In some seasons since I’ve been able to make it happen, in many others not but, always in my mind come November, I think of my Dad, my Grandaddy and I shooting high, fast doves on a late fall day, looking up into the gray, listening for shots from each other, waiting for the birds to come.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.