Doing what you say you are going to do
WORTHINGTON -- I have always tried to live by the motto of "do what you say you are going to do." My friends are of the kind that can be counted on. When they commit, they actually come across with whatever they have promised. It is this motto that got me wedged up last year on the opener of the dove season.
Months earlier, I had promised my brother that I would help him shingle his roof over Labor Day weekend. Little did I know at the time that the Minnesota dove opener, which is always Sept. 1, would fall right in the middle of that weekend?
I had several hunting friends all primed up to come down and spend some time in southwest Minnesota, but I had to make that disappointing call and cancel on them. It was all about doing what you say you're going to do.
Not everyone can be 100 percent. This was one time I let my buddies down, but not my brother, and it happens very, very seldom.
We shingled the roof in the hottest weather I have ever spent near shingles and the job got finished on time and on budget. I will just do a far better job of checking dates before I make any commitments in the fall again.
The dove season opener is again coming up in a few weeks on Sept. 1. It happens to be a Saturday and this should put extra hunting pressure on the best spots. The problem with dove hunting in southwest Minnesota is there is not an overabundance of good spots to hunt. There are lots of doves, just not a lot of spots.
It's not hard to identify them when you see them. The No. 1 spot to hunt doves is on or near a harvested small grain field and wheat is the best. The second best spot is a recently mowed alphalfa field. Tied for third is a recently harvested corn field cut for silage or a large area of standing water only inches deep.
Dove hunting is one of the most challenging kinds of bird hunting. They fly in very acrobatic fashion and are hard to hit. Many hunters will shoot an average of seven shells for each dove harvested. Doves taste good when you wrap them in bacon, season them and grill them to perfection. As good as they taste, dove hunting is more than just the table fare that results.
Most of the outdoor pursuits I enjoy are for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I love the solitude of being all alone in the field with my dogs. No noise, no one's phone ringing, no one hollering at their dog -- just the sound of the breeze and the dogs as they move through the grass concentrating on locating that one scent that will result in their getting some feathers in their mouths.
Dove hunting, on the other hand, is really more rooted in the social aspects most often encountered by participants. Down South, the dove opener is a bigger community event than King Turkey Day is to Worthington. Towns all across the South gather for big community dove feeds, and this socialization is a tradition that stretches back decades.
Dove hunting is new to Minnesota and has only been around for a little more than five years. We have not had ample time to develop these traditions. Dove season starts Sept. 1, and it is much easier to get a group of folks gathered around an outdoor grill at this time of year than it is to do the same thing mid-October with the pheasant opener.
Many kids across the county will cut their teeth as hunters by starting out with doves. There are many reasons for this. One is that it is warm out. The kid does not have to sit in the cold with a parka on and gloves. In addition, shooting action is generally faster, which helps the novice hunter stay excited and involved. Probably one of the most important factors why kids can and do start out dove hunting is that you don't have to be very quiet and the requirement to sit absolutely still is not all that important.
Some parents will spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in the car and in the bleachers as they watch their kids participate in organized sports. I take nothing away from that; in fact it is absolutely my brother's favorite thing. He does it even when he doesn't really know anyone who's playing.
But for those of you who have never tried it, you too should try spending some time with your child, the neighbors' child or maybe a niece or nephew sitting on a five-gallon bucket in a fencerow near a good dove spot. You will experience a one-on-one kind of interaction that is almost impossible to duplicate or find in any other environment.
Over the years, I have come to enjoy my mentor hunting opportunities almost as much as hunting myself. I have met many great kids as a result and sometimes wonder if I made a difference in their future as conservationists. I have several mounted pheasants in my office at Rall Financial Services and occasionally a client or parent will ask me how I can shoot such a pretty bird. They leave with a better understanding that because there are pheasant hunters and hunters in general there are actually more pheasants.
Hunters are the only ones who will consistently put forth their time, effort, energy and money to ensure suitable pheasant habitat to sustain this great bird. Dove hunters are exactly the same. Dove hunters spend plenty of money.
Dove hunting gets a bad rap in many circles. Opponents will say there is little meat and that doves are shot only for sport. I contend that dove hunters are just one of many in the long list of hunters that pay the price for all persons (hunters and non-hunters alike) to enjoy wildlife by supporting the habitats all animals need to survive.
Add to that the opportunity to spend time with your family, friends and your children and the act of dove hunting changes from harvesting a little bird to something much greater. I have pictures on my wall of fame in my garage of my son and the doves he shot one September morning spaced in between his combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He is currently living in Kuwait and working as a military contractor gunsmith repairing military weapons. He is coming home over King Turkey Day for a few days of R&R. I am cherishing the opportunity for another quality outing in a dove field.
It matters very little how many we bag. It's warm, you're outside in nature, and whether you're with your son, your dad, your grandpa or all alone, there is no guarantee the opportunity will ever happen again. As I have said, dove hunting is really a much bigger picture than the ability to harvest a few birds.
If you hunt doves, continue the new Minnesota tradition. If you haven't hunted doves, start a new family tradition this Sept. 1. You never know where it might lead.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe's outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.