Labor Day, Dove Season, and Gumbo Night
One of my family’s oldest traditions is heading towards the nearest sunflower patch or water hole and slinging lead into the air in hopes of downing small, blue-grey missiles darting by at 40 MPH. Dove seem to materialize out of nowhere, appearing as small dots in the blue background before disappearing into the horizon. Most shooters have only a moment (maybe two) to draw a bead and pull the trigger. Missing is the norm. Seeing poofs of feathers after a direct hit — satisfying.
Dove hunting is the perfect gateway to hunting in general. Unlike deer hunting, you don’t have to sit in the cold in complete silence. Unlike quail hunting, you don’t have to walk for miles hoping to jump a bird. Unlike turkey hunting, you don’t have to be a skilled linguist. Unlike elk hunting, you don’t have to combine the silence of deer hunting, the walking of quail hunting, and the linguistic skills of turkey hunting. No, dove hunting is about sitting in the shade, visiting with your buddies, and waiting for the birds to come. Children can easily sit next to you, play in the dirt, eat snacks, drink water, and play “bird dog”.
Dove hunting was a mainstay ever since my youth. In the beginning, we walked the Salt Fork of the Red River. We would set up near a bend in the river and wait for the birds to fly by. Originally, I went wearing an oversized camo vest and a disproportionately large hat to match. Then I took my BB Gun “hunting” the passing dragonflies or the swaying sunflowers. Finally, I got to hunt with my first shotgun: a 20 gauge single-shot New England Firearms Model SB1. Eventually, I upgraded to a Benelli Nova Pump 12 gauge (which I use to this day). But, regardless of the equipment, the people, or the number of birds, one constant always intersected each of those moments: great memories. In fact, during my lifetime, Labor Day Weekend has always been met with great fondness, anticipation, and laughter. It is probably my one of my family’s greatest, most constant traditions. No matter where life took me, each Labor Day Weekend, I found myself in that old sunflower patch playing the lottery with each pull of the trigger, hoping to down a bird or two.
This year was no different. Due to some scheduling conflicts, we were able to only utilize two of the four days constituting Labor Day Weekend. But, we utilized it to the fullest. On Friday, we went to the family farm. Unfortunately, all the ponds were dry and the feed was short. We saw a few birds. However, most were too far away to capitalize on. In the end, after some shots, we all came home with an empty satchel. Saturday we tried again. This time, we set up on a pond in a different spot. Again, bird’s were sparse. But, we all got an opportunity to shoot. We all got a few birds to put in our pouches. The kids got to play retriever.
As the sunset, we retrieved our gear, piled into the truck, and congregated at my parent’s house. Along with our Labor Day tradition of hunting, we incorporated another tradition about five or so years ago: Gumbo Night. My mom makes a huge pot of gumbo, rice, and a dessert. The kids would eat while we cleaned the birds. Once the birds were put away, we would dive into a hearty bowl, eating until we have to unbutton our pants. We would share stories of the weekend, hunts long ago, hunts yet to come, and other hopes and dreams not yet realized. We would look at the next generation, eating around a circular table and smile, knowing this tradition will continue well into the future. In fact, my youngest, waking late after staying up so late, ran into my office first thing this morning and asked, “Dad, are we going to go hunting again?” Yes, son, we are going hunting again. God willing, we we will have several hunts left in our future. In fact, plans are already being made for next year’s Labor Day Weekend and Gumbo Night.